Jacksonville State Gamecocks (2-1, FCS Ohio Valley Conference) vs FIU Panthers (0-2, 0-1 Conference USA)
Date/Time: Friday, October 23th, 7:00 PM EST
TV: ESPN 3 (Play-By-Play: AJ Ricketts/Analyst: Cam Lynch)
Radio: WSUA Caracol 1260 Miami (Play-By-Play: Patrick Murray)/Jacksonville State Radio Network WVOK FM 97.9 Oxford (Play-By-Play: Mike Parris/Analyst: Eric Mims)
Location: Riccardo Silva Stadium, Miami, FL
Betting Line: FIU - 10.5 O/U 59.5
All-Time Series Record: First meeting between both schools
While FIU’s two losses this season have been by a combined five points, the Panthers seemingly enter Friday’s game against Jacksonville State at a crossroads. Butch Davis’ team has yet to play a complete football game in all phases. However, bringing the three-man quarterback carousel to a halt is of the utmost importance for FIU to keep the season from careening squarely into the Atlantic Ocean.
Redshirt junior Kaylan Wiggins saw the most action in FIU’s 31-28 loss to Middle Tennessee two weeks ago, going 5-of-15 for 37 yards with an interception as a passer and added 20 yards on the ground. Following the game, Davis stated that Wiggins saw the bulk of the action because of false-positive COVID tests during the week.
Butch Davis revealed to us in his postgame presser that FIU had 17 false-positive COVID tests. The reason Kaylan Wiggins saw the majority of the snaps was because he had the most practice time, as the other QBs couldn't practice late in the week. pic.twitter.com/z1JMoE1xKR— Eric Henry (@EricCHenry_) October 10, 2020
“The other two (Stone Norton & Max Bortenschlager) didn’t practice,” said Davis. “You hate to talk about stuff like this, but we had 17 false-positive COVID tests and by the time we got the actual information, neither QB had many reps.”
Norton has been the Panthers most efficient passer — leading the team with 141 passing yards and two touchdowns — while Bortenschlager has seen the least amount of snaps (18) among FIU quarterbacks.
Overall, the Panther QBs and offensive coordinator Rich Skrosky will have to find a way to get receivers JJ Holloman and Bryce Singleton more involved in the offense.
While the passing game has been a work in progress, FIU’s rushing attack is firing on all cylinders with senior D’Vonte Price and redshirt sophomore Shaun Peterson Jr. combining for 411 yards on 49 carries. Price looks to have regained his 2018 form after battling injuries throughout last season, while the 6-3, 230-pound Peterson Jr. is proving that he made the right choice to play running back, despite being a highly-coveted linebacker coming out of high school.
“A lot of people told me I was only a linebacker in high school and my mindset was I know I can be a running back, so it’s nice to see the results showing that I am one,” said Peterson Jr.
Defensively, the Panthers have been a much-improved unit against the run, compared to their struggles the past two seasons, allowing 355 yards through two games. If you subtract four chunk plays on the ground (67, 33, 31, 20), Jeff Copp’s unit are allowing a stifling 2.5 yards per carry.
Cornerback Josh Turner is coming off an excellent performance against MTSU, recording five tackles, an interception and forcing three incompletions in the loss.
FIU CB Josh Turner (@Joshyturner_) vs MTSU:— Cam Mellor (@CamMellor) October 11, 2020
Only saw 3 targeted passes in man coverage -- he forced every one of them to be incomplete.
Also had an interception in the first quarter.
A dominant performance for the @FIUFootball CB despite the game's final result pic.twitter.com/D7hEmjazdu
Injuries will be worth keeping an eye on as defensive linemen Andrew Tarver and Alexy Jean-Baptiste missed last week, along with linebackers Tyson Maeva and Jamal Gates both missing time during the MTSU game. Also, starting left tackle D’Antne Demery’s status is in question after suffering an injury during the week.
Jacksonville State Preview
Jacksonville State enters Friday’s contest in search of their first win against an FBS opponent since 2013’s upset of Georgia State. The Gamecocks nearly pulled off the feat in their season-opener, leading Florida State by two scores in the second quarter before the Seminoles pulled away in the second half.
Redshirt senior quarterback Zerrick Cooper is considered one of the top FCS quarterbacks and a legitimate NFL prospect. After beginning his career at Clemson, Cooper has started the last 28 games for JSU, throwing for over 7,400 yards and 61 touchdowns while leading JSU to a playoff appearance in 2018. He’s also been the team’s top rushing threat, amassing 89 yards and five touchdowns on the ground.
Through the air, Cooper’s number one target will be tight end, Trae Barry. The 6-7, 245-pound senior has been an all-conference performer and leads the Gamecocks with 13 receptions for 240 yards this season.
On defense, the team is led by safety Darius Joiner and linebacker Kolbi Fuqua. Joiner tops the Gamecocks in tackles with 24 and Fuqua opened the scoring against FSU with a 13-yard pick-six. Keep an eye on defensive end DJ Coleman. The 6-6, 250-pound junior leads the defense with 4.5 tackles for loss and two sacks.
JSU Head Coach John Grass tested positive for COVID-19 last Friday and was forced to miss the team’s 24-17 victory over North Alabama last weekend. His status for Friday’s game is unknown. Should Grass not make the trip, veteran offensive coordinator Jimmy Ogle will again serve as head coach.
It’s make or break time for the Panthers. The key will be them not playing down to the level of competition, because Jacksonville State has enough talent to pull off the upset. Friday’s game provides a chance for one of the three quarterbacks to pull away from the pack, especially with Marshall slated to come to Riccardo Silva next Friday.
Cooper and Barry will make things interesting for Jacksonville State, but Florida State showed that an efficient run game can be enough to secure a victory. Expect Price and Peterson Jr. top 100 yards again and FIU will pick up their first win.
FIU 31, Jacksonville State 17