Florida International U

Panthers aiming for strong finish amid all the changes

Butch Davis is named head coach of FIU Football at FIU Stadium on Tues., Nov. 15, 2016.
Butch Davis is named head coach of FIU Football at FIU Stadium on Tues., Nov. 15, 2016. adiaz@miamiherald.com

It might be hard to fathom, but Butch Davis is the third coach running the FIU football program in less than two months.

Ron Turner was still in place on Sept. 24 but was fired the next day amid an 0-4 start to the season.

Ron Cooper has been the interim coach since and will finish the season with two more games, including the home finale against the Marshall Thundering Herd at 7 p.m. Saturday.

“It is adversity, but we’re dealing with it, and we will get the guys to buy in,” FIU quarterback Alex McGough said of the coaching changes. “Turner was my coach for three years. Then with Coach Coop, he’s a great guy and a great coach — I respect that man heavily. Now I’m getting a new coach for my senior year.

“Our morale is high. These next two games are like an audition. You have to prove your worth.”

The Panthers will try to prove their worth against a Marshall team that is coming off an impressive 42-17 win over a Middle Tennessee squad that beat host FIU 42-35 earlier this season.

However, Marshall is 0-4 on the road, and all four of those defeats have come by double digits.

Still, FIU is not taking the Herd lightly. The Panthers are 0-4 all-time against Marshall, including 0-3 in the Conference USA era, and the Herd won 10 games just last season before suffering through a rebuilding year in 2016.

Former University of Miami football coach Butch Davis talks about taking over as coach at FIU during a press conference on Tues., Nov. 15, 2016.

FIU’s Anthony Wint, who has established himself as one of the top linebackers in Conference USA, said even though his Panthers are out of the running for a bowl and have clinched their fifth losing season in a row, the Marshall game and next week’s finale at Old Dominion are important.

“Our guys are still pushing,” Wint said. “We have never beaten Marshall. We have never won five conference games in a season. Those are goals we can still accomplish.”

FIU has faced several strong quarterbacks this season, and Saturday brings another one in 6-6, 210-pound sophomore Chase Litton, who has thrown 45 touchdown passes since arriving at Marshall last year.

This season, he is completing 61.4 percent of his passes with 22 touchdowns and seven interceptions.

Litton’s top receiving threats are 6-1 senior wideout Josh Knight, who has 53 catches, a 10.8 yard-per-catch average and five TDs; 6-7 sophomore receiver Michael Clark (32 catches, 17.6 average, 5 TDs); and 6-3 junior tight end Ryan Yurachek (27 catches, 10.9 average, 4 TDs).

Clark, who is from St. Petersburg, transferred last year from St. Francis (Pennsylvania), where he was a scholarship basketball player. Before this year, he hadn’t played an organized football game since his freshman high school season at Tampa Catholic.

McGough missed the Panthers’ most recent game, a 49-21 loss at Western Kentucky on Nov. 5, but appears poised to return against Marshall after getting healthier during the bye week.

Freshman wide receiver Tony Gaiter IV, who missed the past three weeks after sustaining an ankle injury, is also set to return.

But starting tight end Jonnu Smith will reportedly miss the rest of the season after police said his girlfriend attacked him, poring boiling water on him and causing burns on multiple parts of his body.

“It’s been a very up-and-down season, but we’re fighting through it,” FIU running back Alex Gardner said. “These last two games, I want two Ws.”

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