Butch Davis may not like what he sees when going through the game tape from Thursday’s 61-17 loss to UCF, but in typical Davis fashion, he’s trying to find the positives in it all.
“If there is a silver lining, it’s we got to play a lot of freshmen,” Davis said not long after he lost his FIU debut as UCF rolled up almost 600 yards in offense.
“People will ask ‘what can you learn in a game like that?’ Well, you can see who had heart and determination and the hard working guys who stay in there and keep fighting, competing throughout the entire game.
“If guys keep fighting, never quit, we’re going to turn the corner. Guys will get better.”
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The Panthers stayed with UCF at least for a little bit. After the Knights quickly scored on their opening position, FIU answered with a touchdown of their own as seniors Alex McGough and Thomas Owens hooked up on a 75-yard score.
And, down 14-7, the Panthers got a 39-yard field goal early in the second to trim their deficit to four.
They would never be that close to the Knights again.
UCF scored the next 40 points to take a 44-point lead in the third quarter and never look back.
“We just tried to stay focused on the game,” Owens said. “We have to keep our focus up.”
For Davis, the rebuild of the Panthers is far from over.
The Panthers have a lot of work to do not only looking to the future but to the immediate one.
“I think these kids can still have an excellent football season,” Davis said. “I think they can go out and win games. There’s pain; they’re hurt. They are disappointed in themselves, disappointed in the outcome of the game.
“But sometimes tough things need to happen to you for a great learning experience, to grow.”
Recruiting has always been Davis’ strong suit and after Thursday, he has playing time to sell to potential Panthers.
FIU’s secondary made a few plays here and there but was mostly tuned up by UCF as the Knights threw for 439 yards as starter McKenzie Milton had 354 passing yards by halftime as the Knights held a 30-point lead.
Davis blames a lot of FIU’s secondary woes on communication and a lack of experience. Losing senior cornerback Niko Gonzalez to a targeting ejection in the first quarter sure didn’t help things.
“We had guys thrust into roles and they have to talk,” he said. “We busted some communication, coverages ... guys weren’t on the same page and you would see their guys running down the sideline wide open. That’s just game experience. We played a lot of young guys. But they need to talk.”
As for the Panthers, despite the lopsided score, FIU played hard until the end of the game as UCF’s already sparse crowd thinned to a few hundred.
FIU gets a chance to even its record next week as Davis makes his University Park debut as Alcorn State visits Riccardo Silva Stadium.
“This is just a step,” McGough said. “Not all great things start off good. This is a step in a direction — whether it’s good or bad. We’re just going to attack next week like it’s our first game, keep moving forward and get better.”
UP NEXT FOR FIU: ALCORN STATE
▪ When, where: Saturday, Sept. 9, 7:30 p.m.; FIU’s Riccardo Silva Stadium.
▪ TV: beIN Sports.
▪ Scouting report: The Braves open their season Saturday against Miles College and are looking to win their second consecutive season opener. Alcorn State went 5-6 last season but did play for the SWAC championship — losing to Grambling State 27-20.