By Brett Shweky/Sports Director
The FIU Panthers are off to their best start in program history after upsetting the Marshall Thundering Herd, 41-30, this past Saturday in Huntington, West Virginia and are now preparing for their Homecoming game against UTSA on Nov. 4.
With an overall record of (5-2) and (3-1) in Conference USA, the Panthers are now just one win from being bowl-eligible for the first time since 2011. If FIU notches their sixth win of the season, it will be the third time in the program’s 16-year history the team will reach a bowl game.
The Panthers are tied with Marshall (6-2, 3-1 C-USA) for second place in the C-USA East Divisional standings and are just a half-a-game away from the top-seeded Florida Atlantic Owls (5-3, 4-0 C-USA).
If FIU manages to secure the top-seeded position in the division, it will be the first-time in program history and will also result in an appearance for the Panthers in the C-USA Championship.
At the beginning of the season, senior running back Alex Gardner said that the team’s main goal for the year is to return back to a bowl game.
“Getting us back to a bowl game and getting this team more recognition is my biggest goal before I graduate,”said Gardner. “I want to have it where more people want to come play here, so that we can establish a tradition within the football program. In previous years, we’ve been so close to making a bowl game, so to bring FIU back to a bowl game would be a huge accomplishment.”
Against the Thundering Herd, C-USA’s top-ranked rushing defense, the Panthers managed to rush for 224 yards and also two touchdowns. Coming into the game, Marshall’s defense was only allowing 109.9 rushing yards per game on average.
Running backs Napoleon Maxwell and Gardner both scored against Marshall and also tallied 164 out of 224 rushing yards for the Panthers. Senior quarterback Alex McGough also contributed with 30 yards rushing off nine attempts.
The FIU offense generated a total of 401 yards and scored four touchdowns overall against Marshall.
Senior wide receiver Thomas Owens dominated the Thundering Herd’s secondary by hauling in seven receptions for 114 yards and two touchdowns. This now marks the fourth straight 100-yard receiving game for Owens.
Through seven games, Owens has accumulated 40 receptions for 728 receiving yards and five touchdowns. The senior out of Boynton Beach is now in third place for career touchdowns with 20 and he is two touchdowns shy of tying Cory McKinney, a former receiver on FIU’s 2002 team.
Owens said in the beginning of the season that he wants to help the team out in any phase possible and is constantly trying to improve his game.
“This year, I’m really trying to become a better player and person all-around. So far, I’ve been trying to help out as much as possible. Whatever the team and the coaches need me to do, I’m going to do it,” said Owens.
Outside of the offense, the Panthers’ defense played an outstanding game against Marshall.
FIU’s defense managed to force three critical turnovers against the Thundering Herd, one of which was returned for a defensive touchdown.
Senior cornerback Brad Muhammad was instrumental in the defense’s success with ten total tackles, two interceptions, and one pick-six. This brings Muhammad’s season total to four and is just one away from tying the single-season school record.
Muhammad because of his stellar performance was named C-USA Defensive Player of the Week, the first of his career.
Senior safety Bryce Candy also secured a crucial turnover for the Panthers on the second offensive play of the game with a fumble recovery. This led to Maxwell scoring the first touchdown of the game for the Panthers.
One aspect that senior linebacker Anthony Wint emphasized during Conference USA’s Media Day at the beginning of the year was the defense’s ability to force turnovers for the upcoming season.
“Not just for the defense but for myself. I’ve put it on myself, and I’ve talked to the other guys too, that we can’t just be tacklers sometimes,” said Wint. “We’ve got to knock the ball out, we have to force interceptions, force sacks and make negative plays like coach (Davis) said. That’s what’s going to elevate our defense. Just not getting off the field, but catching a pick-six and getting back on the field.”
Now turning the page, the Panthers are preparing for their Homecoming matchup against the UTSA Roadrunners (5-2, 2-2 C-USA) at Riccardo Silva Stadium this Satuday at 7 p.m.