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FIU Football: Game Notebook - Western Kentucky

Here are the sights and sounds, plus Butch Davis’ postgame comments from Bowling Green.

Gaej Walker had 17 carries for 127 yards and one touchdown in WKU’s 38-21 victory over FIU.
Photo by Steve Roberts/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

One day shy of the one-year anniversary of FIU’s 30-24 upset of Miami, the Panthers’ losing streak following that game extends to seven as three second-half turnovers doomed any chance of FIU (0-5, 0-3 C-USA) picking up a victory over Western Kentucky (4-6, 3-3 C-USA) in Bowling Green.

The Panthers held a 13-10 halftime lead — their first lead of the season after 30 minutes — but two Max Bortenschlager turnovers to open the third quarter resulted in 14 points off turnover for the Hilltoppers. Here’s what we learned from the loss 38-21 in Western Kentucky.

Passing Game Struggles — continue

Maryland transfer Max Bortenschlager earned the start in Saturday’s loss and had his first noticeable success at the helm of the Panthers offense. In the first half, he went 6-of-11 passing for 91 yards and threw a 28-yard touchdown pass to Georgia transfer JJ Holloman. However, Bortenschlager opened the second half with a fumble inside of FIU territory while scrambling that led to a WKU TD — followed by throwing a pick-six on the ensuing drive. Stone Norton was inserted in the third quarter, but went 1-for-8 passing. Kaylan Wiggins would close the game and would finish with 62 total yards.

JJ Holloman had two catches for 54 yards and one touchdown in the loss.

Offensive Line Injuries

The injuries continue to mount for FIU as backup left tackle Dontae Keys missed today’s game with an injury, along with the existing injuries to guard Mershawn Miller and tackle D’Antne Demery. While D’Vonte Price was able to have his third 100-yard rushing day of the season, the play of Western Kentucky’s defense held the Panthers to under three yards per carry on the the afternoon. All three Panther quarterbacks were under duress throughout the game.

Third Down Failures

The Panthers went 7-of-21 on third downs, including 1-of-6 in third-and-long situations. The team’s conversion rate on third down entering the game was 35.2 % — second to last in Conference USA ahead of Western Kentucky. The offense managed a season-high 17 first downs, but the struggles on third down continue to plague the Panthers’ offense.

Butch Davis’ Postgame

Opening Statement

Butch Davis is the sole speaker following Panther losses.

“I’m proud of the way the guys fought. You just wish you could have played the second half the way we did in the first. You turn the ball over twice to open the second half — give up 14 points and the defense isn’t even on the field — it’s almost impossible to overcome that. I told the players postgame that I loved the way you started, but I’m not happy with the way we took care of the football in the second half and we didn’t put together a full football game. The final touchdown was insignificant as far as the score, but it was significant in that the team continued to fight. A lot of guys got hurt in the game and it’s the story of 2020 for our football team — between the coronavirus and the amount of injuries. It is what it is as far as our season is concerned.”

Question — How much did the injuries at offensive line affect what you were able to do out there offensively?

“We’re playing guys that should be redshirting to be honest with you. We lost every single one of our starters from last season and not just on the line — we’ve got 16 or 17 guys that are done for the season. We lost more guys tonight and it presents a significant challenge trying to put together a gameplan and execute.”

Question — Did you get an explanation on the holding penalty that brought back the Fairweather touchdown?

“No, Eric. It was terrible. Not only the holding call but it should have been a late hit — they hit the quarterback on the head. Quite frankly, it should have been a penalty on them on the kickoff after that. I’ll have to look at the film — again it looked like it should have been a touchdown.

Question — The two turnovers from Max (Bortenschlager) how tough is it to come back from that?

“I tell the kids all the time, if you win the turnover battle — you’re gonna win the game. You hate to gift them those points because it’s a blow to your team emotionally and psychologically.”

Question — The team is 0-5 now. Not something you’ve been a part of here at FIU and your coaching career — where does the program go from here?

“Eric, for any football team the only chances you have to get significantly better is to practice and to play consecutive games. One, we don’t get the spring practice or training camp and then when you play games consecutively. We’ve played a game — miss one or two weeks and then repeat the same process. You don’t have a chance to get better that way. If you could see our practices, they’re almost a joke. Two weeks ago, we only had 49 players — how do you get better that way — you can’t especially on the offensive side of the ball with the quarterbacks and continuity. We have guys playing the entire game and guys playing on special teams, some starters playing on kick coverage and kick return — that’s stupid at this level of college football.”