FIU entered Friday’s game against FCS Jacksonville State as a two-score favorite. They ended the night as a program clearly in search of answers as JSU (3-1) left Riccardo Silva Stadium with their first victory against an FBS program in seven years, defeating the Panthers (0-3, 0-1) 19-10 and sending an FIU season that was already spinning, directly into the Atlantic Ocean.
For a program that had qualified for three-consecutive bowl games entering 2020, Butch Davis’ team is searching for an identity. Unfortunately, an undefeated Marshall team is up next for the Panthers in seven days. Here’s what we learned from the disappointing loss.
The defense is on the field for too long
The opening-week loss to Liberty saw the FIU defense on the field for just over 37 minutes, with the Flames nearly doubling the Panthers in first downs, 31 to 16. The FIU offense was able to control the ball for 28 minutes but couldn’t get a first-down conversion down the stretch to put the game away against Middle Tennessee.
Tonight, Jacksonville State had possession of the football for over 42 minutes, leaving the FIU defense to defend 81 plays. Postgame, Butch Davis noted that the defense can’t continue to see the field for extended periods.
“They ran the ball extremely well and the time of possession was completely outbalanced, the defense is on the field for way too long and we can’t expect them to defend forever,” said Davis.
FIU are being besieged by injures
Entering Friday’s game, the Panthers were already down multiple starters, including last year’s leading receiver in Shemar Thornton, defensive end Alexy Jean-Baptiste and defensive tackle Andrew Tarver. It was learned during pregame that left tackle D’Antne Demery will be lost for a significant period of time, center Shane McGough was in street clothes along with receiver JJ Holloman.
“Between injuries and COVID, we’re down 24 players and we lost a few more tonight,” said Davis. “These aren’t just minor injuries like ankles and whatnot, we have guys going in for surgeries and they’re going to miss an extended period of time - the young guys will have to step up,” said Davis.
The depth on the offensive line will be tested as Mershawn Miller made his first start at center and Florida A&M transfer Obinna Nwankwo earned the start at guard, while both Tyson Maeva and Richard Dames suffered injuries during the game.
QB Carousel is down to two...maybe
Redshirt freshman Stone Norton made his first career start, but wasn’t able to find his footing in the loss. The Nashville native went 5-of-14 for 66 yards but threw a third-quarter touchdown to redshirt freshman receiver Nate Jefferson. Maryland transfer Max Bortenschlager saw the second set of reps, going 2-of-5 for 18 yards. Davis noted postgame that the play of the quarterbacks has to improve, but he also felt that the team as a whole didn’t do much to help their cause.
“It’s a team thing - it’s not just Max and Stone,” said Davis. “We had a play in the endzone where the receiver gets turned around and he can’t locate the football, we need guys to make those plays and help our quarterbacks out.”
The Penalties have to stop
Against Liberty, FIU had 15 penalties for 127 yards. Two weeks ago, while the number of penalties decreased dramatically, the Panthers were called for multiple timely offsides penalties, allowing MTSU to extend drives. Tonight, the defense extended two Jacksonville State drives by lining up offsides.
“We didn’t do a good enough job as a team with the penalties on the offsides and quite frankly, I have to coach better and we have to play better,” said Davis.