Florida International U

Expect a high-scoring game between the FIU Panthers and UMass Minutemen.

FIU Panthers quarterback James Morgan (12) looks to make a pass against the Old Dominion Monarchs during the Saturday, Sept. 8, 2018 game held at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Virginia. FIU defeated Old Dominion 28 to 20.
FIU Panthers quarterback James Morgan (12) looks to make a pass against the Old Dominion Monarchs during the Saturday, Sept. 8, 2018 game held at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Virginia. FIU defeated Old Dominion 28 to 20. Special to the Miami Herald

The FIU Panthers gave up 45 points to Massachusetts last season … and the Panthers still won.

On Saturday night at 7:30, the Minutemen (1-2) return to face host FIU (1-1). U-Mass has yet to win a road game in two tries this year, and FIU is 0-1 at home.

The bigger trend, however, might be all the scoring that could happen Saturday.

Panthers starting quarterback James Morgan, a Bowling Green transfer, has settled in with his new team and has completed 28-of-47 passes (59.6 percent) for four touchdowns and two interceptions.

Morgan, who is averaging 170.5 passing yards per game, has a favorite target in C.J. Worton, formerly of the Florida Gators.

Worton leads FIU with eight catches and 148 yards. He has one touchdown and is averaging 18.5 per catch.

“I’ve been here for a while,” said Worton, who sat out last season as a transfer student. “I’ve been practicing every day. This is nothing new.”

These first two games, however, were the first chance for Panthers fans to see him in an FIU uniform, and the fit has been excellent so far.

On Saturday, Worton and the rest of FIU’s offense will be going up against a Minutemen defense that has allowed 89 points the past two weeks.

FIU appears deep at wide receiver, even beyond Worton, with playmakers such as Tony Gaiter IV (six catches, 71 yards, 1 TD), converted quarterback Maurice Alexander (5-54, 1 TD) and Austin Maloney (2-52, 1 TD).

Last week at Old Dominion, FIU got sophomore Bryce Singleton off the injured list, and he produced four catches for 62 yards.

Singleton may be the best receiver on the team if it isn’t Worton. Just don’t ask Worton, who has praise for several teammates and can’t pick just one as the top receiver.

“One of the guys who deserves a lot of credit is ‘Hard Time’ Maurice [Alexander],” Worton said. “Coming from quarterback, a lot of guys try to make that transition, and it doesn’t work out. I told (FIU coach Butch Davis that Alexander) has become a guy we will depend on this season to make explosive plays. He deserves credit for his work ethic and leadership.

“Austin played a lot last year, but he has stepped up into a starting role. He makes explosive plays.

“Tony, from Day One, has been a leader, and Bryce was a little banged up, but we’re [happy to have] him back.”

Besides catching passes, Worton said FIU’s receivers are willing blockers.

“It’s every receiver’s dream to be in an ‘air-raid’ type offense,” Worton said. “But we also have three or four really good running backs who need the ball. It’s our job as receivers to make big plays but also to block for them because they are explosive.”

THIS AND THAT

Davis said if he gave out game balls, defensive end Noah Curtis would have one for his performance in last week’s 28-20 win over Old Dominion. He graded out at 93 percent, producing two QB pressures and one sack.

U-Mass is coached by former Miami Hurricanes assistant Mark Whipple.

The Minutemen offense is led by senior quarterback Andrew Ford, a third-year starter who last week surpassed 6,000 career passing yards. Last year, Ford tossed 22 TD passes, averaged 266 yards passing per game and cut his interceptions from 14 in 2016 to just four.

Six of Ford’s top seven receivers are back from last year. The top target is senior Andy Isabella, who last year caught 65 passes for 1,020 yards and 10 TDs. This year, he is averaging 25.1 yards on nine catches.

U-Mass graduated three of its four starters on the defensive line. The back seven, however, are comprised of five seniors and two juniors.

Minutemen middle linebacker Bryton Barr, a sixth-year senior who transferred from Towson, had a career-best 17 tackles in a 55-21 loss to Boston College two weeks ago. Senior safety Brice McAllister, a transfer from U-Conn, had a career-high 13 stops in that game.

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