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FIU Football: 2020 Preview - Offensive Line

The Panthers’ offensive line rounded into form late last season. Entering 2020, they should again be one of the top units in C-USA.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: NOV 23 Miami at FIU Photo by Samuel Lewis/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

With under two months till the season opener against Jacksonville State, here’s the offensive line outlook in our position-by-position series on the 2020 FIU Panthers.

In 2018, the offensive line was nothing short of outstanding.

The unit allowed only eight sacks, which placed them among the top-10 in fewest sacks allowed by an FBS team, en route to the Panthers leading Conference USA in points per game.

Last season, the group again kept FIU quarterbacks off the turf, giving up 14 sacks - good enough for a top-five finish. However, a closer look at the details shines a spotlight on a unit that clearly wasn’t as effective as the year prior.

Let’s take a look at the group that will try to replicate 2018’s success.

All stats listed are for the 2019 season. Projected starter(s) are listed in bold.

Returning: Shane McGough: (R-Sr.)- 6-2, 302, Appeared and started 12 games

Mershawn Miller: (R-Jr.)- 6-2, 313, Appeared in 12 games with six starts

D’Antne Demery: (Sr.)- 6-5. 310, Appeared in 13 games with 12 starts

Tahj Brighthaupt: (R-Jr.)- 6-7, 387, Appeared in one game

Lyndell Hudson Jr.: (R-Soph.)- 6-6, 300, Appeared in 11 games with one start

Shamar Hobdy-Lee: (R-Fr.)- 6-5, 290, Redshirted

Henry Omu: (R-Sr.)- 6-8, 295, Redshirted

Sione Finau: (Soph.)- 6-3, 300, Appeared in seven games with one start

Julius Pierce: (R-Fr.)- 6-5, 265, Redshirted

Logan Gunderson: (R-So.)- 6-5, 318, Redshirted

Noah Quier: (R-Fr)- 6-4, 310, Redshirted

Obinna Nwankwo: (R-Sr)- 6-3, 290, Redshirted

Newcomers: Jose Mirabal: (Fr.)- 6-5, 285, three-star prospect, South Dade HS

Maljon Joor: (Jr.)- 6-3, 318, three-star prospect, Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College

Jahmari Sylvester: (Fr.)- 6-4, 300, three-star prospect, St. Thomas Aquinas HS

Miles Frazier: (Fr.)- 6-5, 304, two-star prospect, Milford Academy Prep

Kameren Williams: (R-Jr.) 6-4, 290, two-star prospect, Trinity Valley Community College

Heading into Fall: The Panthers are in good shape by virtue of the fact they have Demery and McGough returning.

Demery, a former four-star prospect coming out of Brunswick High School, has all the tools to be an NFL left tackle. McGough deserves kudos, working his way from a reserve to one of the better and more versatile offensive linemen in Conference USA.

Shane McGough has developed into one of the top linemen in C-USA.
Photo by Doug Murray/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Lyndell Hudson Jr. has shown promise in a small sample size. The Brooksville, Florida native had his best showing of 2019 in the Old Dominion game, filling in at right tackle against one of the better defensive lines in C-USA.

Mershawn Miller has been more than adequate when called upon at guard and Finau is one of the top young linemen in the conference, as evidenced by his being named to the All-Freshman team at the end of last season.

Veteran offensive line coach Allen Mogridge departed for the University of South Florida following the Camellia Bowl and former Miami Hurricanes’ quality control analyst Joel Rodriguez takes over for Mogridge.

University of Miami vs Florida State
While Joel Rodriguez’ ties run deep to Miami, he also has several years experience coaching the offensive line at the FCS level.
Photo by Robert Laberge/Getty Images

Rodriguez, a former recruit of head coach Butch Davis at Miami, has emphasized his arrival will present new opportunities for the unit.

“We have a good mix of guys who have started a lot of games and young guys,” said Rodriguez. “The biggest thing is it’ll be a clean slate - guys who may have been in the doghouse before, this is an opportunity to reinvent yourself and write your own path going forward.”

Summary: Despite the low sack totals last season, the offensive line wasn’t nearly as effective as their 2018 showing.

Offensive coordinator Rich Skrosky places heavy emphasis on consistent positive plays, with the priority of staying on schedule in down and distance situations.

Seven times last season, the Panthers rushed for four yards per carry.

Yes, that statistic isn’t always indicative of overall rushing success, as a chunk play can inflate the number. Unfortunately, that fact works against FIU’s 2019 rushing totals.

Subtract Napoleon Maxwell’s 75-yard TD against FAU and Anthony Jones’ 65-yard scamper against UTEP and the number increases to nine games that the rushing attack was below four yards per carry.

The fact of the matter is the rushing attack wasn’t nearly as explosive in 2019 as the year prior - despite only rushing 138 yards less than the 2018 team.

While James Morgan wasn’t sacked often - he was under duress incessantly. In the Tulane and Western Kentucky contests, FIU surrendered three sacks - but Morgan was hurried 17 times.

For the first half of the season was spent with the team trying to discover their offensive line rotation.

Instead of the 7-9 players used per game in 2018, the number was shrunk between 6-7 until players like Finau and Hudson Jr. found their footing and McGough switched back to center from guard.

Miami v Florida International
Julius Pierce (left) and Sione Finau (middle) will be part of an offensive line rotation.
Photo by Mark Brown/Getty Images

The positive is that they did come around, and as a result, the unit performed better in the second half of the year - with their shining moment coming on the biggest stage in the win against Miami.

Final Grade: B- The unit has a solid five-man rotation in place. What’s critical for Rodriguez is finding out what’s behind that group.

Pierce is an intriguing player with great athleticism at the center spot. After redshirting last season, he could be in-line to take backup center snaps.

It’s a shame that Miller won’t have the benefit of spring practice, as he’s been on the cusp the rotation for the past two seasons.

Demery was solid in 2019, but he didn’t make the leap that some expected.

Miami v Florida International
D’Antne Demery was named to the Outland Trophy watchlist and preseason C-USA first-team entering 2020.
Photo by Mark Brown/Getty Images

“D’Antne Demery has as much raw talent as any offensive lineman in our league. He made a massive improvement from a physical and mental perspective in from start to finish in 2018, but that didn’t fully translate in 2019,” said an anonymous C-USA assistant coach.

If he can put it all together in 2020, that’s a massive gain for the Panthers.

Behind them, the newcomers will be key. If players like Mirabal, Joor and Sylvester can develop, along with Pierce and Gunderson from last year’s class, FIU will return to its 2018 form.