It’s been 1,504 days since the Shula Bowl trophy has called Riccardo Silva Stadium home — and the Panthers will have to wait another season to avenge the 38-19 loss — their fourth consecutive to rival Florida Atlantic. FIU (0-4, 0-2 C-USA) fell to FAU (4-1, 4-1 C-USA) 38-19 as the Panthers’ losing streak extends to six consecutive games following last year’s upset of Miami.
Willie Taggart picks up where former FAU head coach Lane Kiffin left off, keeping the Don Shula Trophy safe inside the Schmidt Family Complex for another season. Redshirt freshman quarterback Javion Posey earned game MVP honors for the Owls while FIU running back D’Vonte Price was given the nod for the Panthers. Let’s take a look at what we learned as Butch Davis’ club looks to earn a win in eight days at Western Kentucky.
The passing game continues to struggle
Redshirt freshman Stone Norton earned his first official start as the number one quarterback for Friday’s Shula Bowl and looked every bit of an inexperienced signal-caller. The first redshirt freshman to start since Maurice Alexander against UCF in 2016, Norton went 4-of-8 for 24 yards passing and didn’t earn his first completion till midway through the second quarter. The Nashville native was also sacked three times in the opening half.
“I’m genuinely proud of what Stone (Norton) is trying to do out there, but he’s still an inexperienced player,” said Davis. “At halftime, I turned to Rich and said let’s give Max a shot and he didn’t practice much the past two weeks so we don’t expect him to be the savior at quarterback.”
Maryland transfer Max Bortenschlager was inserted at the 5:35 mark of the third quarter and subsequently led the team on a 15-play, 79-yard drive that saw FIU make it to the FAU four-yard-line but had to settle for a Chase Gabriel 23-yard field goal — instead of being able to bring the game within seven points. Bortenschlager finished the evening 11-of-21 for 149 yards with one touchdown pass, while Norton didn’t see further action in the contest.
“We’re having to find out what we would have found out in spring practice in games — that’s tough on any player but especially the quarterback,” said Davis.
The offense is stuck in 3rd and long
FIU’s third-down conversion rate entering Friday’s game sat at 37.8% — slotting them second to last in Conference USA and among the bottom third of FBS teams who have played more than one game. That statistic wasn’t helped by the team’s four third-and-long situations in the loss.
“We have to stay out of the third down and long type situations because as an offense it severely limits what we’re able to do,” said Davis.
Javion Posey ignites the FAU offense
FIU has struggled with dual-threat quarterbacks through four games in 2020. Liberty’s Malik Willis and Middle Tennessee’s Asher O’Hara both threw for at least 250 yards and rushed for over 80 in their teams’ respective victories over the Panthers. Redshirt freshman Javion Posey was able to use his legs to extend multiple plays and his dynamic ability as a rusher allowed him to account for over 262 total yards in the FAU victory. FAU head coach Willie Taggart started the Alabama native over redshirt junior Nick Tronti and the decision yielded immediate dividends.
“If the quarterback is a physically talented runner and they’re able to run a ton of misdirection — then throw in the ability to create something that’s not there on third and long, we’ve got to do a better job against those dual-threat types of guys,” said Davis.
After battling injuries throughout the majority of last season, Price has regained the form that made him one of the top backs in Conference USA down the stretch of the 2018 season. He set career-high marks for carries and yards in a game with his 26 carries for 178 yards and one touchdown. His 77-yard TD scamper in the second quarter also was career-long and was the longest rush since Napoleon Maxwell’s 75-yard TD in last season’s Shula Bowl.
“D’Vonte’s really giving us life offensively — really the only consistent life that we’ve had all season,” said Davis.