Florida International U

Focused FIU pummels UMass 63-24; now the Panthers can look ahead to this crosstown rival

FIU Golden Panthers running back Shawndarrius Phillips (22) and Golden Panthers wide receiver Austin Maloney (15) celebrate in the end zone after Phillips scores in the first half as Florida International University raced to a 42-10 lead in the first half.
FIU Golden Panthers running back Shawndarrius Phillips (22) and Golden Panthers wide receiver Austin Maloney (15) celebrate in the end zone after Phillips scores in the first half as Florida International University raced to a 42-10 lead in the first half. adiaz@miamiherald.com

If the FIU football team had only one eye on Saturday night’s opponent, Massachusetts and perhaps the other eye to sneak a peak at next week’s opponent, a highly anticipated matchup with the University of Miami, you would’ve never known it on the field.

That’s because the Panthers, led by running back Shawndarrius Phillips, did whatever they wanted against the outmatched Minutemen en route to a 63-24 rout at FIU’s Riccardo Silva Stadium.

Phillips and the Panthers offense practically owned the UMass defense in the first half as they fired a near perfect game, scoring six touchdowns on seven drives for a 42-10 lead. Phillips had 96 yards on 10 carries and two touchdowns, not to mention his three catches for 56 yards, one a layout 35-yard diving catch — all in the first half.

He finished the game with 124 yards on 16 carries, and the 42 first-half points tied a team record first set against Texas-El Paso three years ago. The total of 63 points also tied a team record, set last year against UMass, a 63-45 win.

“I just have to give it up to my O-line tonight,” said Alexander a junior who starred at Delray Beach Atlantic High. “Any good night rushing starts up front with them, and they were really blowing open some big holes for me and I just hit it. We broke things down all week and felt like we would have that kind of success on the ground and we went out there and executed.”

But the burning question for Phillips, his teammates and head coach Butch Davis was about the opportunity now in front of the Panthers.

For the first time since 2007, FIU and the Canes will square off with the game slated for Saturday at Hard Rock Stadium, which will be shown nationally on ESPN2 beginning at 3:30 p.m.

It will mark Davis’ first matchup against his old program since the last year of his head coaching tenure at North Carolina in 2010.

“I think the last time they played, it was obviously embarrassing for both programs,” said Davis referring to the bench-clearing brawl in 2006. “But you know, these kids, a lot of them know each other, they played against each other, maybe even played with each other and I’m sure there will be a lot of competition. It’s not too different when Miami plays Florida or Florida State, any time you play people in your own backyard, there’s some added excitement about it..”

Asked if he was concerned at any point during the week that his players might be caught looking past UMass in anticipation of the big game, Davis didn’t hesitate with an answer.

“We learned a lesson last year,” Davis said. “Once we became bowl eligible, I don’t think they knew how to handle that success, maybe went out and patted themselves on the back and we went out that week and lost a game to ODU [Old Dominion]. As a result we’ve tried to convince them that whoever we’re playing, just stay in this week and whoever we’re playing beyond that, it will come up and we’ll focus on that team then. They did a good job of that this week.”

“We have a saying in our meeting room, play the play and be where your feet are,” Alexander said. “This past week, our feet and our play was UMass. Now we move on and for sure we’re excited about next week. We will have an opportunity to showcase this program and to show that this program is changing and on the way back.”Story goes here.

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