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Miami Hurricanes Opponent Q&A: FIU Panthers with Underdog Dynasty

Get to know that team on 8th St and 107th

NCAA Football: Florida International at Miami Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

Miami and FIU are heading into a matchup in Marlins Park, which is always a great way to get the entire city of Miami invested into a football game, regardless of where you went to school or who you choose to root for.

Joining me for a Q&A is Eric Henry from Underdog Dynasty, our SB Nation sister site. Eric has boots on the ground at FIU and gives some excellent insight on the state of the FIU football program and what Miami fans should expect to see from this Panthers team on Saturday.

I also answered some of Eric’s questions which will be included here:

And away we go.

1. FIU had a lot of returning players from their nine-win season last year. What went wrong in 2019?

Three things happened to the Panthers’ 2019 season: Injuries, deficiencies against the run and inconsistent play by the offensive line. Quarterback James Morgan has been a knee injury suffered in the second game of the year. While he’s only missed six quarters of play, it’s clear to anyone who knows Morgan – he’s not 100%. Linebacker Sage Lewis has battled a hamstring injury all year. The list goes on when you add in guys like Maurice Alexander, Dallas Connell, Anthony Jones, Shane McGough, Ike Brown. They’ve all missed time.

The run defense finished 12th in C-USA last year, giving up an average of 192.6 yards per game. One can make the argument that they’ve regressed this year. They’re last in C-USA and the mark has gone up by 14 yards per game (206.4).

Last year, FIU was in the top-five in FBS football in fewest sacks allowed (8). This year, while the number hasn’t increased significantly (13), FIU quarterbacks have been under duress all season and they haven’t been able to generate a consistent push up-front to spark the run game against equal competition.

2. How safe is Butch Davis’ job after losing decisively for the third straight year against rival FAU?

I’ve heard chatter about coaches’ job security following the disappointing season and the loss to FAU, not just specific to Butch Davis. Let me answer this as plainly as possible with facts and not pure conjecture.

Prior to Butch Davis’ arrival, the Panthers held an all-time record of 46-122 – a winning percentage of .273 and two bowl appearances. Since he’s been the head coach, they have a record of 22-14 – that’s a .611 win percentage with two bowl appearances.

Yes, this year has been a major disappointment. However, I can’t see Butch Davis’ job being in danger unless he makes the decision that he’s done coaching – something he hasn’t hinted at in any way.

3. James Morgan has the record for most touchdown passes in a single season in FIU history. How important is he to this offense and how serious is his leg injury which has forced him to play with a brace?

James’ impact on the offensive is huge. As last season showed, when he’s right, he can be as deadly as any quarterback in Conference USA. The difference between last year and this year has been the injury and the protection up front.

Morgan’s injury isn’t serious enough that it’s going to keep him out of a game, but it’s clear that since the injury, he hasn’t been able to do the things that made him C-USA’s Newcomer of the Year a season ago.

4. How important is this game for the FIU football program?

It’s important, in the sense that this game means more to FIU fans than the Shula Bowl and that’s indicative of how personal the rivalry is to them. As a program, this game has the significance of any Group of Five team taking on a Power Five opponent – little to lose and everything to gain.

If FIU wins, it doesn’t count for a conference victory, but it does soothe the sting of losing to Middle Tennessee, Western Kentucky and Louisiana Tech, which were all winnable conference games. If they lose, it’s another loss.

5. What players on the FIU side could give Miami problems in this game?

If provided time, Morgan. Napoleon Maxwell and Anthony Jones are very capable running backs. Defensively, Alexy Jean-Baptiste has made his mark on C-USA since receiving in NCAA waiver in the middle of the season and the FIU secondary are among the best in the nation.

6. Is there a position group in general that you feel could surprise or potentially have the advantage over Miami?

The secondary. It’s not that they have an “advantage” over Miami, as much as they’re all very capable players. The only area that they are susceptible to being a weak link is in size/height. Lawrence Cager had one of his better outings as a Hurricane against FIU last year, because of his size against a couple of the smaller FIU DB’s.

7. How do you feel about FIU being extremely friendly about this game with the Hurricanes with shirts featuring the two mascots as “dos amigos” and the post on their Instagram featuring the two mascots posing together?

To be honest, I’m probably the wrong person to ask, because I don’t have the personal attachment to the situation.

However, I have the utmost respect for those who do.

I’ve spoken to FIU diehard fans over the two years that I’ve covered the program and I completely understand why they’re upset over the tone of the shirts and promotion of the game.

For those fans, this rivalry has less to do with athletics and more to do with the dynamics of the University of Miami, compared to FIU. While I could put my sociology degree to use – I won’t and I’ll let the above suffice.

8. Miami is an 18.5-point favorite in this game. What needs to happen for FIU to keep this game competitive or pull off the biggest upset in the programs history?

Three things: Protect the football, give James Morgan time and play disciplined football against the run. If they can do those things at their absolute best, this one could be close in the second half.

9. Finally, a score prediction

Miami 42, FIU 20

Thank you for your insight, Eric. Make sure to follow him on Twitter @EricCHenry_ and at Underdog Dynasty