Suddenly, what would be a program-changing, never-forgotten FIU win over the Miami Hurricanes on Nov. 23 is seeming less impossible.
The FIU Panthers football team produced a rather easy 32-17 win over Texas-El Paso on Saturday night, improving to 4-3 overall and 2-2 in Conference USA.
Miami, which has never lost to FIU in three tries, fell to a fairly awful Georgia Tech team 28-21 in overtime on Saturday. Georgia Tech lost this year to The Citadel, a team that could not handle Towson … or Elon … or Samford … or VMI.
In addition, Miami last month barely hung on for a 17-12 win over Central Michigan, a team that got doubled up by Western Michigan.
Miami dominated FIU 31-17 last year in a game that the Hurricanes led 31-0 before taking their feet off the proverbial pedal. But Miami was also ranked 21st in the nation at that time, and that is far from the case now.
One other thing about the upcoming FIU-Miami game at Marlins Park: The Hurricanes are losing games in large part due to their kickers, and they have questions at quarterback, and those are two strengths for the Panthers.
With that said, here are three more takeaways on FIU football:
1: Mr. Efficiency: During FIU’s current three-game win streak, quarterback James Morgan has passed for 573 yards and five touchdowns with zero interceptions. He has also completed 41-for-64 passes — 64.1 percent.
The competition Morgan faced during the streak was far from stellar — Massachusetts, Charlotte and UTEP — and the yardage totals are not eye-popping.
But Morgan has been playing winning football, and a lot of that he attributes to his extensive film study, which includes four to five hours on Mondays and two to three hours on Tuesdays before tapering off the rest of the week.
“I have a check-list of [film-study] things I want to get done every day, whether it’s base looks, third down, red zone,” Morgan said. “It’s segmented by days so that I know that by the end of the week, I’m prepared.”
Morgan, a graduate transfer known for his academic excellence, clearly has the respect of his teammates. But it works the other way, too.
“I feel comfortable going up to guys and telling them they have to adjust in a certain way,” Morgan said. “Those guys don’t take it personally if I’m coming after them. They usually know I’m saying it for a reason.
“They will say, ‘This is what i saw [on a pass route]. This is why I ran it this way.’ I will say, ‘This is what I saw. Let’s figure this out together.’ ”
2: Turnover battle: During this three-game win streak, FIU has won the turnover battle 5-1, getting two interceptions from Rishard Dames and one from Sage Lewis, and fumble recoveries from Olin Cushion and Chris Whittaker.
In addition, FIU safety Dorian Hall had a pick-six taken off the board against UTEP because a teammate lined up offsides.
The only turnover blemish for FIU during this streak: a fumble by wide receiver Shemar Thornton against Massachusetts.
3: Road trip: FIU plays at Middle Tennessee on Saturday afternoon, and it will be a challenge.
Middle Tennessee’s record — 2-5 overall, 1-2 in Conference USA — isn’t impressive. But FIU is 0-2 on the road this season, and Middle Tennessee is 2-1 at home with its only loss to Duke.
With four league games remaining, FIU sits in fourth place in Conference USA’s East Division, and the Panthers trail leader Western Kentucky (4-0) by two games. In addition, WKU owns the tiebreaker with a head-to-head win over FIU, making the Middle Tennessee game crucial for the Panthers’ title hopes.