Florida International U

Five takeaways from the FIU Panthers’ season-opening loss to Indiana

Indiana University defensive lineman Allen Stallings IV braces for a tackle in the second quarter of a football game against FIU at Riccardo Silva Stadium on Saturday, September 1, 2018.
Indiana University defensive lineman Allen Stallings IV braces for a tackle in the second quarter of a football game against FIU at Riccardo Silva Stadium on Saturday, September 1, 2018. Daniel A. Varela

It was a rough weekend for Conference USA football teams.

Western Kentucky lost to fourth-ranked Wisconsin by 31 points, Florida Atlantic lost to No. 7 Oklahoma by 49 and Middle Tennessee lost by 28 points to Vanderbilt.

FIU’s season opener at home on Saturday night was also against a school from a “Power Five” conference. Granted, the Indiana Hoosiers are a basketball school and not a football power.

Still, FIU played a respectable game, losing 38-28.

The Panthers won the second half 14-10.

FIU is now 0-11 in its history against Big Ten Conference teams, and the Panthers are 3-13 in season openers.

Here are five takeaways from FIU’s first performance of the season:

1: Coach Butch Davis said there is no real separation between his top two quarterbacks.

James Morgan, the graduate transfer from Bowling Green, started, suffered a pick-six interception in the first quarter but then rallied with a fourth-period TD pass. He completed 11-of-20 passes for 90 yards.

Junior Christian Alexander, who has yet to start a collegiate game, came off the bench and completed 6 of 8 passes for 67 yards. He did not throw a TD pass or a pick, but he did lose one fumble.

“You could see why it was such a close contest,” Davis said when asked about his team’s ongoing quarterback battle. “James didn’t do as well his first couple of possessions. Christian came in and drove us to a touchdown. He did a good job, and then James came back.

“I worry about both of them putting too much pressure on themselves. They don’t have to be [previous FIU quarterback and NFL draftee] Alex McGough. They just have to be themselves.”

Morgan, who played the entire second half, led FIU to three of its four touchdowns.

“James played significantly better in the second half,” Davis said, “even mobility-wise, extending plays outside the pocket.”

2: Florida Gators transfer C.J. Worton led all FIU receivers with five catches for 69 yards.

“C.J. sat out all last season [as per NCAA transfer rules],” Davis said. “It was good to see him do well.”

3: Maurice Alexander, playing his first game since announcing this past summer that he was switching to wide receiver, caught four passes for 25 yards and one touchdown. However, he also lost a fumble.

“I think he played OK,” Davis said. “Anytime a kid is making a transition to a new position, it’s a little bit of a challenge.

“Sometimes, as a [former] quarterback, he maybe over-thought the routes. Just run the routes. He has the skills.

“But I think he responded [to the fumble]. I think he will continue to blossom as the season goes along.”

Alexander was one of five FIU captains named for this game, joined by defensive tackle Anthony Johnson, center Dallas Connell, cornerback Ike Brown and punter Stone Wilson.

5: Morgan and Worton were two of eight Panthers who earned their first starts in FIU uniforms. The others were safeties Dorian Hall and Olin Cushion, linebacker Edwin Freeman, left tackle D’Ante Demery, right guard Shacquile Williams and defensive end Kevin Oliver.

One of the most impressive of the first-time FIU starters was Hall, a 6-foot-4 redshirt freshman who grabbed his first career interception.

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