Will Duval | Sports Director
The FIU football team went through a major overhaul in the 2023 offseason and brought in a plethora of new players.
Following a four game losing-streak to end the 2022 season, the Panthers finished with a 4-8 record and seeked to rebuild on both sides of the ball.
Gaining key offensive and defensive pieces since then, they have gotten off to an identical 4-4 start this season. While bearing the same record, the team’s method of attack has been fundamentally different and has been more effective.
Offense in 2022:
Led by junior quarterback Grayson James, FIU averaged 18.64 points per game in the 2022 season. They struggled to keep up with the scoring of other teams, as they allowed 37.25 PPG to other teams.
When passing the ball, they averaged only 5.61 yards per attempt and threw 16 interceptions in 12 games played. In terms of scoring, the offense totaled 16 passing touchdowns for the season, equaling their number of interceptions.
Giving their opponents ample scoring opportunities, two of the interceptions resulted in defensive touchdowns. Unable to limit their turnovers, they also allowed a 50-yard fumble recovery in a 73-0 loss to the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers.
They couldn’t help their cause running the ball either, as they scored 11 rushing touchdowns and averaged 105 rushing yards per game.
All together, they only could average 4.7 yards per attempt on offense, which made it difficult to keep up with the six yards per attempt they allowed.
Offense in 2023:
In their season opener against the LA Tech Bulldogs, it appeared as if the Panthers took a step back in terms of passing the ball.
Playing all four quarters of the game, James could only amass four passing yards and threw an interception. He completed five of his 14 attempts and had more completions than passing yards.
Despite their lack of a passing offense, they found all of their scoring through their running game.
Sophomore running back Shomari Lawerence led the offense with 139 rushing yards and a touchdown. Accumulating 9.4 yards per carry on 15 attempts, he helped FIU in keeping the game competitive.
After a fruitless passing game, freshman quarterback Keyone Jenkins was named the starter for their second game against the Maine Bears.
Using that game as an opportunity to prove himself, Jenkins shouldered the majority of the offensive load. Playing in his first college football game as a true freshman, he seized the moment.
Leading the Panthers to their first win of the season, he completed 15 of his 30 passes and threw for 292 passing yards. Accounting for both of the team’s scores, he threw two touchdowns and one interception.
Jenkins’ performance not only secured his starting spot, but broke program records, throwing for the most passing yards in a game as a true freshman. The record was previously set by quarterback Jamie Burke in 2002.
Taking command of the offense, Jenkins led FIU to a three game winning-streak and a 3-1 start. His deep throwing ability and mobility added a new layer of complexity to the offense.
Proving himself as a dual-threat, he has amassed 1,656 passing yards, six passing touchdowns, and five rushing touchdowns this season. He has rushed for one touchdown in each of his last five games.
A quarterback can’t find success without competent receivers and junior wide receiver Kris Mitchell has made a significant impact.
Totaling 711 receiving yards and five touchdowns this season, Mitchell ranks eleventh in receiving yards in the FBS. He averages 16.5 yards per catch and leads the team in every major statistical category for receivers.
All three of the Panthers’ leading contributors this season were acquired during the offseason and have made their mark on the team in relatively a short amount of time.
When all put together, FIU has statistically improved in almost every major category this season.
Limiting their turnovers, they have thrown eight interceptions this season, which is half of what they accumulated last season.
Even though they’ve played four less games so far, they’re still on pace to throw fewer interceptions than last year, given the offense continues at the rate it’s been going.
Not to discredit the defense, but limiting turnovers has helped FIU keep pace with other teams. Through having more time with the ball, they average 21.38 PPG and allow 27 PPG, improving in both since the previous season.
While not throwing for as many touchdowns, their running game has provided them with the majority of their points. They have rushed for a total of 15 touchdowns this season, already accumulating four more than the previous season.
Opting for more rushing touchdowns has made the passing offense more efficient. By having a threat on the ground, the Panthers have been able to complete 58% of their passes.
By lowering the volume of passing attempts and increasing the amount of rushes, they’re not being forced into as many risky passes.
As a whole, the offense has statistically improved, as they average 333.4 offensive yards per game. Improving by nearly ten yards per game, in 2022 they averaged 323.8 offensive yards per game.
Since undergoing a massive overhaul in the offseason, the FIU football team has dramatically improved statistically. Despite having the same record at the same point last season, the statistics indicate that they won’t end the season in the same fashion.
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