Dalton Tevlin/Sports Director
It was a difficult start for the FIU Panthers after their record setting 2018 season, which saw the Panthers go 9-3.
This being the final year with with quarterback James Morgan under center, Linebacker Sage Lewis as the anchor of the defense, and other seniors who have laid a foundation here at FIU, there was a lot of expectations for this team to improve on their 2018 campaign.
Those hopes didn’t go as planned. The Panthers opened up the season at Tulane where they were trounced 42-14. The offense looked sluggish and a far-cry from the Conference USA leading offense in 2018.
The Panthers tried to rebound at home against Western Kentucky but after an injury to Morgan saw sophomore backup Kaylan Wiggins take the field, they fell 20-14.
Morgan’s injury wasn’t considered serious but he was sidelined for their next matchup against New Hampshire where Wiggins came alive. Wiggins carried the ball 14 times for a school-record 191 yards and two touchdowns along with 127 yards in the air.
The Panthers would pull out a 30-17 victory on the back of Wiggins and the future began to look promising for FIU’s offense.
They then took a trip back to Louisiana to face LA Tech where Morgan found success through the air but could never get into a rhythm. They lost that game 43-31 and it was officially panic time for the Panthers.
1-3 in their first four games was far below the expectations set on this team in the preseason.
The bye week seemed to come at a perfect time for the Panthers as they had a week off to prepare for their matchup against UMass.
The Panthers made a statement with a 44-0 win and the season finally seemed to be on the right track.
They would go on a three game streak that included wins against conference rivals Charlotte and UTEP, getting them over .500 on the season.
That momentum seemed to come crashing down with the 50-17 loss against Middle Tennessee. They were able to salvage some of that momentum with a 24-17 win over Old Dominion but the most trying part of the season was yet to come.
In what was perhaps their most disappointing loss of the season when the Panthers took a trip to Boca Raton to face FAU in the Shula Bowl. FAU running back Malcolm Davidson put on a show with 153 yards and three touchdowns.
The Panthers lost 37-7 and hopes to make a bowl game were looking grim for the 5-5 Panthers.
The Panthers would have a bye week before taking on their cross-town rivals, the Lewis dubbed “University of Coral Gables”, University of Miami.
This game would become one of the only bright spots for the Panthers this season. They pulled off a stunning upset victory over the Hurricanes 30-24 and the city of Miami was reeling. It was one of the first times in school history that students were playing the part of active fans that you would find at a power-conference football school.
The Panthers then needed one win to secure a bowl game and get to 7 wins on the season. They faced a tough test against conference rival Marshall but came up short 30-27, ending their regular season.
The Panthers were unable to guarantee a spot in a bowl game but were eligible with a record of 6-6. They were lucky to get a bid in the Camellia Bowl against Arkansas State where they hoped to end the season on a good note.
However, the Panthers were unable to win their second straight bowl, falling to Arkansas State 36-24. Senior kicker Jose Borregales, who was perfect on the night on field goals, missed a 30-yard chip-in field goal with five minutes left, which would have put the Panthers up two. Senior receiver Tony Gaiter IV was ejected in the third quarter for throwing a punch at an Arkansas State defender and Jams Morgan threw a horrendous interception on the final drive of his FIU career.
The Panthers left Montgomery, Alabama with questions on both sides of the ball. The team that finished 6-7 on the year has multiple departing seniors and a lot of question marks on both side of the ball. On top of that, Borregales announced via Twitter that he would be entering the transfer portal and leaving FIU.
This will be the first season in his three years with the program that Coach Davis will have a roster full of players that he recruited, not players he inherited.
While his tenure at FIU has to be seen as a success, with 3 straight bowl game trips, there is still more to improve on.
Establishing consistency should be the main priority for Davis and his staff. The Panthers shot themselves in the foot countless times with mindless penalties in key moments games throughout the entire season.
The offensive play calling needs to improve if the Panthers hope to be less one-dimensional heading into the 2020 season. Lack of innovation in play calling lead to more third and long situations than manageable for any offense any level.
The offense begins and ends with the quarterback. The future at quarterback is unclear for the Panthers but they have some young talent that can light a spark in the stagnant offense we saw this season.
Wiggins was impressive in his limited action this year and was mainly effective running the ball. If he wants to be the quarterback of the future at FIU ____
The strongest candidate to take over the starting job is three-star Freshman from Nashville, Tennessee Stone Norton. Norton was highly touted by the coaching staff and will have a lot of competition heading into the offseason.
This season was a huge disappointment for FIU considering the expectations around them. While the team hit some roadblocks and struggled with injuries in the early part of the season, they were unable to capture that consistency from the 2018 season.
The only thing that made the season easier to swallow was the shocking win over the University of Miami. This win gave fans a reason to be excited but considering the season that the Hurricanes had, it wasn’t as glorious as people thought.
With a couple of fresh faces and some returning upperclassmen, it will be interesting to see how the team transitions into this new generation of FIU football.
Another sub-.500 season could spell the beginning of the end for Davis’ tenure at FIU and the pressure is higher than ever.