Florida International U

FIU football has improved under Davis, but loss to Miami shows it still has work to do

FIU coach Butch Davis says their defeat against the Miami Hurricane will only make their team better

FIU coach Butch Davis says their defeat against the Miami Hurricane will only make their team better. The Canes beat the Panthers at Hard Rock Stadium 31-17.
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FIU coach Butch Davis says their defeat against the Miami Hurricane will only make their team better. The Canes beat the Panthers at Hard Rock Stadium 31-17.

In the opening eight minutes on Saturday — and the final seven minutes — FIU looked like a team that could contend with the Miami Hurricanes.

For the 45 minutes in between, the Hurricanes simply overmatched their crosstown opponent.

No. 21 Miami dominated the Panthers for the first three quarters before turning the game over to its backups in a 31-17 victory at Hard Rock Stadium. FIU (2-2) scored all 17 points in the final seven minutes on two touchdown passes from James Morgan to CJ Worton and a 28-yard field goal after getting the ball in the red zone following a Hurricanes fumble.

But before those late scores, Saturday brought forth a sobering reality for FIU: While the team has improved mightily during its first 18 months under coach Butch Davis — including an 8-5 inaugural season last year that ended in FIU’s first bowl berth since 2011 — the Panthers still have a way to go before they are able to compete with the big-boys, let alone the neighboring Hurricanes (3-1).

With the loss, FIU is now 1-30 all-time against Power 5 opponents, with the lone win being a 24-17 win against Louisville in 2011. Fourteen of those losses were by at least a 25-point margin.

But the two under Davis’ regime have been decided by a combined 24 points: Saturday’s 14-point defeat and the 38-28 season-opening loss to Indiana.

“When you play against really good and talented teams, it gives you a chance to benchmark and find out whether or not you’re getting better,” Davis said. “Beating somebody 70-0 doesn’t show you anything. If you’re going to play programs that are good football teams ... you find out if you’re actually getting better.”

The Panthers’ offensive numbers tell the tale of the loss. In summary:

After averaging 450.7 yards of offense through three games against Indiana, Old Dominion and UMass, FIU recorded just 187 yards against Miami, with 139 of those yards coming on those two fourth-quarter touchdown drives. Worton, the former University of Florida Gators receiver, finished with five catches for 123 yards and the touchdown catches of 35 and 5 yards. Worton leads the Panthers this season with 14 catches, 294 yards and three touchdowns.

FIU went 3-for-14 on third down — failing to convert its first 10 — and picked up just seven first downs in the game.

Of the Panthers’ 51 offensive plays, 25 resulted in no gain, a loss of yards or a turnover.

“I was very disappointed offensively that we struggled,” Davis said. “We knew going into the game that their defensive line far and away was the best defensive line that we’ve played in two years. ... They really gave us some disruptive issues.”

The defense wasn’t much better. FIU gave up 478 yards to the Hurricanes on Saturday and allowed the Canes to average 6.3 yards per play. The group did, however, force two turnovers on a third-quarter interception of N’Kosi Perry and a fourth-quarter fumble recovery against Cade Weldon.

But Davis points to the group’s youth, citing the eight defensive starters he had to replace from last year’s team and the fact that he has played close to two dozen players who never played a down of college football this year.

“Every time they play, every time they compete, they’ll grow and get better,” Davis said. “I like the future of this program.”

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