Long Island University Sharks (0-0 FCS Northeast Conference) vs FIU Panthers (0-0 Conference USA)
Date/Time: Thursday, September 2nd, 7:00 PM EST
TV: ESPN3 (Play-By-Play: AJ Ricketts/Analyst: Cameron Lynch)
Radio: WQBA 1140 AM Univision Radio South Florida (Play-By-Play: Patrick Murray/Analyst Corey Brooks)
Location: FIU Stadium, Miami, FL
Betting Line: FIU -33.5 O/U 50.5
All-Time Series Record: First-ever meeting
After a season to forget, FIU returns to the gridiron in search of their first victory in 649 days when they welcome FCS Long Island to Miami. The Panthers return 18 starters from last year’s team, so they’ll have an opportunity to show that last year was nothing more than a confluence of extraordinary circumstances.
Maryland transfer Max Bortenschlager arrived at FIU in the midst of the pandemic last year, which hurt his recovery from an ankle injury that ended limited him to three games in 2018 and a lower-body stress fracture that kept him out in 2019 entirely. The 6-3, 210-pound signal-caller was named the starter by head coach Butch Davis earlier this week. He started twice last year and led the team with 284 yards passing. In his last full season, Bortenschlager started eight times for the Terrapins in 2017, throwing for 1,313 yards with 10 touchdowns and five interceptions.
While Bortenschlager will start the season-opener for the second consecutive year, freshman Haden Carlson is listed as the backup and could see time against the Sharks. The former three-star recruit out of Tampa didn’t appear last season. However, Davis noted that Carlson “would have started” had the season continued beyond November. While the passing attack that ranked 121st last year is a work in progress, they’ll undoubtedly be helped by the presence of running back D’Vonte Price, who’s one of the top NFL draft prospects in Conference USA.
Price rushed for 581 yards on 85 carries, good enough for an average of 6.8 yards and 116.2 yards per game, ranking him first and second, respectively among Conference USA backs. He, along with the return of bruising 6-3, 230-pound back Shaun Peterson Jr. and running back/kick return Lexington Joseph give the Panthers a deep backfield.
Keep an eye on another returnee from injury in wide receiver Shemar Thornton. The senior from Miami led the team in receiving (51-668-5) in 2019, before suffering a season-ending injury before the start of fall camp last year. He’s joined by fellow veteran Bryce Singleton and South Florida transfer Randall St. Felix as the receivers.
Davis finally gets his man to lead the defense in first-year defensive coordinator Everett Withers, who was set to take the same position in 2019, before taking a last-minute job with the New York Giants. Withers is a 33-year coaching veteran, who’s spent 24 years at the collegiate level and served under Davis as DC at North Carolina for three seasons (2008-2010).
Withers has emphasized the need for FIU better defend the run, a fact as emphasized by the team allowing at least 170 yards on the ground in 16 of its last 31 outings. Those efforts will be spearheaded by defensive tackle Davon Strickland, who is looking to build on an excellent 2020 campaign. The Hollywood, Florida native was named to Phil Steele’s third-team and a C-USA honorable mention after leading the team in tackles for loss with 4.5. He’ll be paired with Indiana transfer Jeramy Passmore, who transferred after two years in Bloomington.
Seniors Jamal Gates and Daniel Jackson will be paired together at the linebacker spots, looking to build off the time they spent in the lineup together late last year. A new wrinkle in the defense is the Star/Nickel position. Look for Texas State transfer Pierce Withers and returner Benny McCray to see time at the spot.
After 26 seasons at the Division II level, Long Island University made the move to the FCS level in 2019 by combining LIU-Brooklyn and C.W. Post’s programs into one — going by the LIU Sharks. For 23 of those seasons, the program was led by Bryan Collins. However, Collins stepped down as head coach after the Sharks four-game spring season, handing over the reins to interim head coach Jonathan Gill, who served as the team’s offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach.
Like the Panthers, LIU is coming off of a subpar stretch, having gone 0-10 in their first season at the FCS level in 2019, then went 2-2 during the spring season this year. Offensively, the team is led by running back Jonathan DeBique. The redshirt senior rushed for 360 yards on 59 carries in three games during the spring. DeBique has twice earned all-conference honors in the Northeastern Conference over his career.
Junior quarterback Camden Orth takes over for Connor Regan, who started all four games during the spring. The Newberry, Florida native has two games of experience, coming in the 2019 season.
On defense, the Sharks are led by linebacker Dylan Cook and defensive end Thomas Bolesta. Both players had 4.5 tackles for loss, tieing for the team lead during the spring season.
It’s been almost two calendar years since the Panthers won a game. Yes, that’s exaggerated somewhat due to the abbreviated season last year, but it’s been a long time since FIU has experienced a victory. Offensive coordinator Andrew Breiner noted during the team’s media day that Davis emphasized it on the opening night of fall camp, with all efforts focused on defeating LIU. FIU comes into the game a much healthier and more prepared team than they ever were last year. Expect a season and a half worth of frustration to be released on an FCS opponent.
Final Score: FIU 35, LIU 0