As a current FIU senior, this game hits me slightly different. Getting caught up in school pride and fandom is always tough, but I have to say I’ll be wearing Blue and Gold at Marlins Park.
PSYCH, THAT’S THE WRONG NUMBER!
While I appreciate FIU and their commitment to my education, I frankly would love to see Miami bring the hammer down on the Panthers in their first football game on the grounds of our beloved Orange Bowl, which should still be standing till this day.
Regardless, there will be football played in a baseball stadium the night of November 23rd, giving the Hurricanes a break from their ACC schedule after six straight conference games.
The Panthers have a bye week following the Shula Bowl and will have two weeks to prepare for Miami, the only power five team on their schedule.
It will be interesting to evaluate FIU by the time they get to Miami. They play seven teams that finished the 2018 season under .500, who have a combined record of 26-57. Two of their three non-conference games come against Tulane, which is their first game of the season, and the University of New Hampshire.
Butch Davis won a record nine games in 2018 and gave the Panthers their first bowl win since 2010 when FIU was lead by current Oregon coach Mario Cristobal.
And the former Hurricanes head coach will be returning eight starters on both offense and defense, headlined by quarterback James Morgan and MLB Sage Lewis.
Morgan led an offense that averaged 34.6 points per game by throwing for 2727 yards with 26 touchdowns, an FIU record for touchdown passes in a season. The Panthers QB also threw just 7 interceptions on the year and completed 65.3% of his passes.
In last years matchup between the two, Morgan went just 12-24 passing for 168 yards 2 touchdowns and an interception.
FIU is also returning every back that got playing time in 2018 led by 6th year senior Napoleon Maxwell, who led the team in carries, yards, and touchdowns with 128 for 697 yards and 7 scores. They also return D’Vonte Price (90-571-5), Shawnderrius Phillips (94-413-4), and Anthony Jones (67-343-6) who was shot and only played in six games.
In the bowl game, Jones ran the ball 15 times for 92 yards and three touchdowns. Coach Davis has said that he believed Jones could have been a 1,500 yard back last year, so look for him to be the feature guy in 2019 now that he is perfectly healthy.
They are also deep at receiver as they lose just their top receiver from a year ago in C.J. Worton. A couple of Miami-Dade products will be leading their receiver room in Austin Maloney (Columbus) and Maurice Alexander (Booker T. Washington), who led the team with 40 catches last year and finished first-team All-CUSA as a punt returner.
Junior Bryce Singleton is expected to be the third starting receiver alongside the two seniors. He brought in 29 catches for 368 yards and two touchdowns in 2019.
Last year, FIU brought back all five starters on the offensive line, including two time first-team All-CUSA LG Jordan Budwig and they allowed just eight sacks on the year. This year they lose their star guard, but they bring back three with starting experience. The career starts drop to 53 from 120 (!!) in 2018, but they should still be a strong unit.
Defensively, the bring back six of their top seven tacklers, including Sage Lewis who led the team with 132 tackles. Despite the big tackle numbers, the projected CUSA Defensive Player of the Year only had 3.5 tackles for loss and just a single sack.
They lose their sack leader and second leading tackler in Edwin Freeman, but still return three linebackers with starting experience, including junior Jamal Gates (three starts) and Rocky Jacques-Louis, who made the CUSA All-Freshman team and had two pick-six’s in 2018.
On the defensive front, they lost 2nd team all-conference DT Anthony Johnson and two other tackles with starting experience, but gain a body in Arkansas transfer Alexy Jean-Baptiste and are looking for junior Teair Tart (four sacks, three tackles for loss in two starts in ‘18) to make a big jump.
On the back end of the defense, the Panthers are projected to start three seniors, so it will be another very experienced unit for them, despite losing CB Emmanuel Lubin (13 starts in ‘18). Their projected starters at corner, seniors Stanley Thomas-Oliver and Isaiah Brown, combined for 15 PBU’s.
At safety, they’re projected to start CUSA All-Freshman team S Dorian Hall, who was tied for the team lead for interceptions with three, and senior Olin Cushion, who finished third on the team in tackles. Richard Dames is another key member of the Panthers secondary and finished fourth on the team in tackles with 45 tackles.
This should be a very experienced FIU team that is likely going to be feeling very confident after flying through the 124th ranked schedule, according to Phil Steele.
This should be the best FIU team the Hurricanes have ever faced, and Butch Davis is as good a coach as any. I’m definitely not putting Miami on upset alert, but this won’t be an easy win on the schedule. The Panthers felt like they hung around the Canes a year ago and they are going to bring it and try to knock off their big brother.
Both teams will have a bye week before facing off so it should be an intriguing matchup all around. The city is surely going to rally around the game and Marlins Park is going to have a strong Orange Bowl vibe with nostalgic Canes fans tailgating in the same places they would back in the day.