Butch Davis didn’t hide from the truth.
Losing star wide receiver Thomas Owens less than one week before Saturday’s 52-24 loss to rival Florida Atlantic was a crushing blow.
Owens was hurt in practice on Tuesday. He jumped and made a difficult catch, suffering a knee injury when he landed wrong.
“It’s very difficult,” Davis said when asked about having to proceed without the player who leads Conference USA with 100.0 receiving yards per game.
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“The good news is that it’s not something severe. He had to have a (medical) procedure, but there’s no ACL damage. You could call it a mild strain.”
Davis said FIU (6-4, 4-3) could get Owens back in time for its bowl game.
In the meantime, the Panthers have a short work week – they host Western Kentucky (6-5, 4-3) on Friday at 7 p.m.
FIU then closes its regular season with a home game against Massachusetts (4-7) on December 2. Massachusetts has won four of its past five games, including a victory over Brigham Young on Saturday.
It won’t be easy, but FIU can still win nine games, including its bowl. Even so, getting blown out by FAU was painful.
The Owls rushed for 333 yards, including 164 yards on 25 carries by Devin Singletary. The speedy sophomore scored twice, including a career-long 70-yard run up the middle, and he has a school record 24 rushing touchdowns this year.
FAU also hurt FIU through the air as junior quarterback Jason Driskel completed 18 of 25 passes for 239 yards and a career-high four touchdowns. Owls senior wide receiver Kalib Woods caught seven passes for 172 yards, two touchdowns and one two-point conversion, earning FAU’s MVP honors.
In all, FAU scored seven touchdowns and kicked one field goal.
“It’s quiet,” FIU senior middle linebacker Anthony Wint said when asked about the mood in the locker-room after the blowout loss.
“Losing to them, losing that (“Don Shula Bowl”) trophy … it hurts.”
As soon as the game ended, virtually the entire FAU team sprinted toward the end-zone seats where the Shula Bowl trophy was being held.
“It’s exciting when you have (the trophy) because you know you have bragging rights for a whole year,” said Wint, who won the trophy twice in his four-year college career.
“It’s tough. As seniors, we’re never going to get a chance to get that trophy back.”
FAU leads this series11-4, but this year’s game had the biggest stakes. Before the game, FIU still had a chance to advance to the Conference USA title game if it won out and FAU lost out.
Instead, the Owls clinched their first berth in the championship game and will host North Texas on December 2 for the C-USA title. FAU coach Lane Kiffin – he’s being called the “Lane Train” by Owls fans – has turned the program around in his first year on the job.
The same can be said about Davis in his first year at FIU, although perhaps not to the same extent.
Senior quarterback Alex McGough, who was named FIU’s MVP in Saturday’s game, was sacked four times but still managed to complete 20 of 31 passes for 218 yards and two touchdowns.
McGough refused to use Owens’ absence as an excuse, blaming himself instead.
“We’ve got to make more plays – I’ve got to make more plays,” McGough said. “It’s not like we were upset. Injuries happen in football.
“I could’ve played better. I could’ve thrown better. I could’ve made better decisions.”