Roughly 65 minutes before kickoff, Butch Davis gathered his entire team and staff at the southwest corner of FIU Stadium before they split up into individual position groups. He audibly uttered two words — let’s go. The energy was apparent from the moment the 2021 FIU Panthers (1-0, 0-0) took the field, eager to show that last year was nothing more than a fluke. While that remains to be seen, they emphatically ended a 649-day winless streak by defeating FCS Long Island 48-10.
FIU opened the scoring with a three-play, 69-yard drive — all coming from the legs of running back D’Vonte Price. The senior would finish the night with five carries for 165 yards and three touchdowns on the evening. The Panthers jumped out to a 28-0 lead in the first half behind Price’s scores and a four-yard TD run from Shaun Peterson Jr.
LIU (0-1, 0-0) sparked a brief rally heading into halftime, finishing the quarter by scoring 10 unanswered points. However, the Panthers engineered a five-play, 66-yard drive that was capped off by a Bryce Singleton 52-yard TD reception to open the scoring in the third quarter.
Let’s take a look at five things we learned from the win as FIU looks towards Texas State next Saturday at FIU Stadium.
Price looked like he belonged during his excellent 2020 campaign. Against Long Island, he looked like the player that has the eye of NFL scouts entering the 2022 draft. The 20 pounds added to his frame in the offseason did nothing to slow down the speedy Price, as he showed excellent quickness and breakaway speed, evidenced by his four chunk runs of 24, 28, 37 and 68 yards. After the game, Price spoke about keeping speed while adding the extra bulk.
“I felt great despite the extra size, I still feel like I have my burst and speed,” said Price. When describing the touchdown runs, Price again referred back to his ability with the added size.
“That’s just a product of me following my blocks, but also I felt strong enough to run through tackles and use my vision to get to the spot I needed to get to.”
Depth at Running Back
A trademark of Butch Davis’ teams have been the ability to use multiple running backs at any given time. Backup running back Shaun Peterson Jr. appears fully recovered from an ACL injury suffered in September of last year. The 6-3, 230-pound Peterson provides another big-bodied back, who’s also capable of providing big plays. He rushed for 36 yards on eight carries and was able to spell Price for multiple drives at a time. Freshman E.J. Wilson came on in the fourth quarter to add 43 yards on five attempts. As a team, the Panthers rushed for 301 yards.
Undoubtedly, last season’s struggles were caused in part by the litany of injuries that the Panthers endured during the year. While the team is in much better shape than they were entering 2020, it was still concerning to see wideout Shemar Thornton and linebacker Eric Mitchell Jr. sidelined to open the year. When asked postgame, Davis revealed that Thornton had tonsilitis and should be back in time for the Texas State game.
“Yeah, Shemar had tonsilitis and we’re expecting him back shortly, I’m much happier where the team is health-wise this year.”
Davis was adamant that he would not rotate multiple quarterbacks this year in the way that the team did last season. Maryland transfer Max Bortenschlager went into the fourth quarter at the position in Thursday’s win. True freshman Grayson James came on with just under nine minutes left in the game, with the score well out of reach.
Bortenschlager set a career-high in passing yards with 266, breaking his previous mark of 255 set against Northwestern in October of 2017 while with the Terrapins. Postgame, Bortenschlager spoke about his comfort level with the team and improved health this year.
“Yeah, I feel great right now, to be honest, this summer is the best I’ve felt in a really long time. It feels good to say finally, my ankle feels good, the back feels good,” said Bortenschlager.
When talking about getting adjusted with these teammates and getting the chance to execute with them, Bortenschlager noted that he’s waited since last year to have the chance.
“It was really awesome to go out there and have the type of performance we did, we got the looks we wanted from their defense and we felt confident taking advantage of those,” said Bortenschalger.
Exactly how much of Everett Withers’ defense was on display against an FCS opponent is unsure. However, outside of a 74-yard TD toss from LIU quarterback Camden Orth to wideout Derick Eugene in the second quarter, the Panther defense performed reasonably well. Richard Dames noted that Withers wasn’t satisfied with the performance as a whole.
“After the game, coach (Withers) was like you did good — but you messed up on some plays. But that’s just how he is, he’s always teaching us to do better and we know he still has some tricks up his sleeve,” said Dames.