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CFN Take: FIU Mauled By Marshall

CollegeFootballNews.com
Posted Oct 18, 2014


2014 Florida International Golden Panthers ... Head Coach: Ron Turner


2014 FIU Golden Panthers


2014 Schedule
Record: 3-5

Aug. 30 Bethune-Cook L 14-12
Sep. 6 Wagner W 34-3
Sep. 13 Pitt L 42-25
Sep. 20 Louisville L 34-3
Sep. 27 at UAB W 34-20
Oct. 2 Florida Atlantic W 38-10
Oct. 11 at UTSA L 16-13
Oct. 18 Marshall L 45-13
Oct. 25 OPEN DATE
Nov. 1 Rice
Nov. 8 at Old Dominion
Nov. 15 Middle Tenn
Nov. 22 at North Texas
Oct. 18 at Marshall 45, FIU 13
And You Care Because … Marshall QB Rakeem Cato threw four touchdown passes with Devon Johnson scoring from 46 and 27 yards out, the defense got a pick six from Corey Tindal, and Steward Butler ran for a 61-yard score as part of a 45-point run. FIU started out the scoring with a one-yard Alex McGough run, and finished it up with a four-yard Clinton Taylor catch, but Cato was too much in between.
What Else? Marshall QB Rakeem Cato completed 15-of-27 passes for 214 yards and four touchdowns with one interception
- FIU RB Alex Gardner ran 25 times for 104 yards
- Marshall RB Devon Johnson ran nine times for 117 yards, and led the team with 79 yards and two touchdown on three catches
- Time of possession: FIU 38:09 – Marshall 21:51
Game Rating: D+

Oct. 11 at UTSA 16, FIU 13
And You Care Because … In a wild finish, Down 13-10, UTSA tied is on Sean Ianno’s second field goal of the game with 1:54 to play. FIU fumbled the ball away, and Ianno came through again, hitting a 39-yard field goal with less than a minute to go. FIU had one last shot, but its desperation pass was picked off. The Golden Panthers, scored the first ten points of the game helped by a 15-yard Jonnu Smith touchdown catch, but could only manage a 24-yard Austin Taylor field goal the rest of the way thanks to an offense that turned it over five times.
What Else? Turnovers: FIU 5 – UTSA 3
- UTSA QB Austin Robinson completed 14-of-17 passes for 144 yards and led the team with 64 rushing yards on 15 carries
- FIU QB Alex McGough completed 11-of-25 passes for 141 yards and a touchdown with two picks
- Total yards: UTSA 317 – FIU 259
Game Rating: B

Oct. 2 at FIU 38, Florida Atlantic 10
And You Care Because … FIU took advantage of four FAU turnovers including a game-turning fumble return for a score, and came up with 28 unanswered points in the second half on the way to the Shula Bowl win. Anthon Samuel ran for scores from one and nine yards out for the Golden Panthers, but FAU had a chance to tie it up at 17 late in the third quarter, but fumbled on the goal line, Richard Leonard, who also had an interception in the end zone, scooped it up, weaved his way for a 100-yard touchdown that turned the tide of the game. FAU only got into the end zone once on a 31-yard Jay Warren score.
What Else? Total yards: FAU 383 – FIU 345
- Florida Atlantic QB Jaquez Johnson completed 19-of-42 passes for 225 yards and a pick, and ran ten times for a team-leading 64 yards
- FIU QB Alex McGough completed 18-of-29 passes for 160 yards and ran seven times for 28 yards and a touchdown
- Turnovers: FAU 4 – FIU 1
Game Rating: C-

Sept. 27 FIU 34, at UAB 20
And You Care Because … Florida International forced six turnovers with Richard Leonard and Demarkus Perkins each returning interceptions for scores, but the offense got into the act, too, with Jonnu Smith taking a pass 75 yards for a score and Glenn Coleman scoring from 85 yards out as part of a 27 point run to put the game away. UAB head a 13-7 run early with a D.J. Vinson touchdown run and a Gerald Everett 29-yard touchdown catch, but the offense couldn’t stop giving the ball away.
What Else? Turnovers: UAB 6 – FIU 0
- FIU QB Alex McGough completed 9-of-24 passes for 204 yards and two scores and ran six time for 13 yards
- UAB RB Jordan Howard ran 21 times for 102 yards
- UAB QBs combined to completed 18-of-35 passes for 196 yards and a touchdown with four picks
Game Rating: C+

Sept. 20 Louisville 34, at Florida International 3
And You Care Because …Louisville bounced back from its first loss of the season with a lopsided win at Florida International. The Cardinals seized control of the game in the second quarter, scoring three touchdowns in the span of four minutes. S Gerod Holliman kicked off the scoring with a 32-yard interception return, and QB Will Gardner had long scoring strikes to WR James Quick just 45 seconds apart.
What Else? There was finally a Michael Dyer sighting for the Cardinals. However, the once-injured Louisville running back didn’t factor into the final outcome, carrying the ball just eight times for 16 yards. Still, the former Auburn transfer will help this offense down the road now that he’s healthy.
- FIU quarterbacks wilted under the pressure of the Louisville speed and tenacity on defense. They threw two picks, no touchdowns and not a single completion over 25 yards.
- Quick is becoming the big-play guy that the Cardinals need in the passing game until DeVante Parker finishes his injury rehab. Quick finished the game with seven receptions for 174 yards and those two key touchdowns before halftime.
- Florida International RB Anthon Samuel had his busiest day since transferring over from Bowling Green. However, he saw little space versus Louisville, carrying 13 times for 38 yards.
Game Rating: D

Sept. 13 Pittsburgh 42, Florida International 25
And You Care Because … Pitt shook off a slow start, erasing an early 16-0 deficit to zip past Florida International. The Golden Panthers pulled to within 26-19 early in the fourth quarter, but the Panthers pulled away for good on a safety and two James Conner touchdowns over the final eight minutes. Pitt showed resiliency, albeit versus a weaker opponent, to run its record to 3-0.
What Else? Conner continued to run like an All-American, carrying the Panthers with 177 yards and three scores on 30 carries. He’s yet to be slowed down by any of Pitt’s first three opponents.
- Florida International got a spark on offense from young QB Alex McGough, who subbed nicely for starter E.J. Hilliard. The rookie hit on 17-of-32 passes for 238 yards and two touchdowns.
- For a time, it looked as if this might be the signature win Golden Panther coach Ron Turner has been seeking. While FIU couldn’t close the deal, there were hints of progress for the program in its second year under Turner.
- If someone figures out how to corral Conner, Pitt is in trouble. The passing game has been impotent so far with Chad Voytik at the controls, producing just 98 yards and a touchdown versus a bad Conference USA team.
Game Rating: C

Sept. 6 at Florida International 34, Wagner 3
And You Care Because … True freshman quarterback Alex McGough threw two touchdown passes, and E.J. Hilliard completed 14-of-15 throws for 169 yards as FIU rolled without a problem against a punchless Wagner team. FIU turned it over three times, but the defense only allowed a 21-yard field goal in the first quarter and was never threatened. Alex Gardner ran 15 times for 138 yards for the Golden Panthers.
Game Rating: D

Aug. 30 Bethune-Cookman 14, at FIU 12
And You Care Because … A Richard Leonard 71-yard punt return set up for a five-yard T.J. Lowder touchdown catch to put FIU within two, but the two-point conversion attempt failed and Bethune-Cookman was able to hang on for the win in the final minutes. Frank Brown gave BCU the lead in the fourth on a 55-yard Frank Brown catch, while FIU didn’t get into the end zone until it was too late with just two Austin Taylor 25-yard field goals in the second. The Golden Panthers managed just 186 yards of total offense and converted just one of 16 third down chances.
Game Rating: C

2014 Preview 

It can’t possibly get any worse than last year. Well, at least that’s the hope around campus.

The Panthers were anything but golden in 2013, losing all 11 games against FBS opponents. Even worse, most of the contests were not even close, making many wonder why former coach Mario Cristobal was ever canned at the end of the 2012 campaign. Was it really just two years ago that this program was appearing in back-to-back bowl games, while looking as if it could be a perennial postseason threat? In a shockingly short period of time, Florida International has essentially been reduced to a startup program.

FIU will be Ron Turner’s responsibility for a second year. He and his coaching staff landed a large class of 26 high school players in February, all of whom will get a shot to play early in their careers. On a team that lost by an average score of 37-10 last fall, absolutely no one’s job will be safe when summer drills begin in August.

The Panthers became a modern-day historical rarity in 2013 by averaging less than 10 points per game. While there are no quick-fixes for such a necrotic attack, there is tepid optimism that baby steps can be accomplished with the help of baby-faced playmakers. Most of last season’s key contributors, such as QB E.J. Hilliard, leading rusher Lamarq Caldwell and top pass-catchers Jonnu Smith and T.J. Lowder, played as underclassmen.

Frighteningly, Turner’s defense is almost as feeble as his offense. The Panthers got bullied around the field in 2013 with a unit that was senior-laden. Now, two new defensive tackles and the program’s best linebacker and corner will need to be replaced. At least in the early going, FIU will lean on a seasoned secondary that’s getting back S Justin Halley and CB Richard Leonard, who missed all of last season to academics.

Turner is well-travelled, having held more than a dozen NFL and college jobs since his coaching career began in 1977. He’ll need to call upon all of his past experiences to gradually turn things around at Florida International. The Panthers played with all of the competiveness of an NAIA squad last season. But it was also just two years ago that they were upsetting Louisville and UCF, en route to an 8-5 campaign. Turner will have to drive home the latter message to keep spirits afloat at arguably the worst of the FBS programs.

What to watch for on offense: E.J. Hilliard’s learning curve. The Panthers know their young quarterback can make plays, with his feet and his arm. But now he has to start delivering on the potential. Yes, he needs more help in the form of improved pass protection and fewer dropped passes. Still, Hilliard is the new man in charge now that Jake Medlock has transferred, and he’ll be expected to operate Ron Turner’s pro-style attack with more pop and far greater effectiveness than a year ago.

What to watch for on defense: The new men in the middle. Throwing on the Panthers could be a little dicey, with Richard Leonard, Justin Halley and Randy Harvey roaming around the secondary. It’ll be up to the new tackles to make opponents think twice about simply running the ball right up the gut. Florida International gave up 5.3 yards per carry in 2013, a number that could actually go higher now that underrated interior linemen Greg Hickman and Isame Faciane have exhausted their eligibility.

This team will be far better if … it has more success on the ground. Florida International wants to run the ball to set up the pass, but it never had a chance last year. Poor blocking and large deficits contributed to a ground game that normed 79 yards per game and an FBS-worst 2.1 yards per carry. If the Panthers can even reach three yards per carry, everyone in blue and gold is going to benefit, including a defense that spends far too much time on the field trying to catch its breath.

The Schedule: All things considered, with eight games in Miami, there's not much to complain about. There aren't two road games in a row and there aren't any really rough stretches, even though Pitt and Louisville come to to Miami in back-to-back September weeks. There's no complainin; FIU starts out the year with Bethune-Cookman and Wagner. Marshall and Rice are home games, and getting Middle Tennessee at home helps. Going to UTSA, Old Dominion and North Texas won't be easy, and only getting one week off isn't a break, but overall, it's a decent slate.

Best Offensive Player: Sophomore TE Jonnu Smith. Toward the end of last season, Smith became the preferred safety valve for young QB E.J. Hilliard. Hilliard is back, and he’s going to be looking for No. 87 plenty this season. Smith has soft hands and the wheels to create mismatches with linebackers and safeties. And after just one season of activity, he’s on the verge of becoming one of the most dangerous pass-catching tight ends in Conference USA.

Best Defensive Player: Senior S Justin Halley. Halley is the leader of a Panther secondary that actually has a chance to be pretty good in 2014. The senior will once again bring experience and flexibility to the defense. He has the size to support the linebackers against the run, yet he also led FIU in interceptions and pass breakups. A year after earning honorable mention All-Conference USA, Halley is eyeing additional personal accomplishments in his finale.

Key players to a successful season: The offensive linemen. The Panthers need to evolve on both sides of the ball, but it’s particularly important that the offensive skill position players are given an opportunity to do their thing. The O-line got abused in 2013, which thwarted the potential of the backs and the receivers. The front wall, which brings back all of last season’s starters, must protect Hilliard, while creating a little more daylight for backs Lamarq Caldwell and Silas Spearman.

The season will be a success if ... the product on the field is more competitive than it was a season ago. Forget the record. The Panthers might start 2-0 against Bethune-Cookman and Wagner, and then not win again all season. The record is kind of irrelevant for a school that went 1-11 last year. After losing games by an average of 27 points in 2013, it’ll count as progress if FIU can reduce that margin this fall … regardless of what the final mark says.

Key game: Oct. 4 vs. Florida Atlantic. The Shula Bowl has become the most important game of the year for both of these local south Florida rivals. The game, which plays homage to former Miami Dolphins head coach Don Shula, has been dominated by the Owls, who won in Boca Raton last November, 21-6. Holding serve at home would provide a nice boost for Turner, who can ill-afford to lose any ground to Florida Atlantic rookie head coach Charlie Partridge.

2013 Fun Stats:
- Points scored: FIU 444 – Opponents 117
- Yards per rush: FIU 2.1 – Opponents 5.3
- Sacks: FIU 15 - Opponents 52

- 2014 FIU Preview - What You Need To Know & Top Players


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