FIU coach Butch Davis says their defeat against the Miami Hurricane will only make their team better
Practice was over … but then it wasn’t.
FIU running back D’Vonte Price had mentioned to quarterback James Morgan that the bubble screens they had worked on in Tuesday’s just-concluded practice had felt a bit off.
So, despite the fact that all the coaches had already hit the showers, Morgan, Price and other players stayed on the field, attempting to perfect their timing.
That dedication is symbolic of the 2018 FIU Panthers, who are 8-3, 6-1 and can clinch a berth in the Conference USA title game if they can defeat visiting Marshall (7-3, 5-2) on Saturday. Beating Marshall would also set FIU’s school record for most wins in a season.
Much of FIU’s success this season can be attributed to Morgan, a graduate transfer from Bowling Green who has been a revelation in his first season with the Panthers, setting a single-season school record with 26 touchdown passes.
“[Morgan] is one of the best quarterbacks I’ve ever coached in terms of preparation,” said FIU coach Butch Davis, who mentored Ken Dorsey with the Miami Hurricanes. “Endless hours of film — [Morgan] knows the opponent.
“The biggest struggle he had at the beginning of the season was not knowing his teammates. How do they run their routes? Now, 11 games later, he can anticipate where to put the ball, and his accuracy is excellent.”
Morgan, who has been intercepted just five times, ranks first in C-USA in TD passes, fourth in completion percentage (65.5) and fifth in yards (2,550).
A 6-4, 215-pounder from Wisconsin, Morgan appears vastly improved from his days at Bowling Green, where he threw 25 TD passes but was intercepted 22 times in a two-year span of 18 games.
Why is he so much better?
“I think it’s me,” Davis joked.
The serious explanation as to why Morgan’s interceptions are down and his touchdowns are up is not quite as simple.
For starters, he has received excellent blocking — Morgan has been sacked just nine times in 11 games. There are other factors, too, such as the switch from Bowling Green’s “Air Raid” offense to a pro set at FIU.
“It’s probably a combination of things,” Morgan said. “I’ve always felt I’ve had a big arm, but sometimes that gets me into dangerous situations, forcing the ball.
“In the Air Raid, you rip [the ball]. That’s where maybe I go, ‘OK, I can throw this’, but I probably shouldn’t have.
“I’ve taken [those lumps], learned from it, and with this system, it’s take what the defense gives you. … So it’s a mixture of experience, system, coaching and evolving as a player.”
FIU offensive coordinator Rich Skrosky, who last year helped quarterback Alex McGough become a seventh-round pick by the Seattle Seahawks, has stressed attention to detail with Morgan.
“With our offense, there are so many little details that are critical to success,” Morgan said. “It’s eye discipline. It’s going through the correct progressions. Turnovers are also a huge thing. [Skrosky] hates those, and I do, too.”
Morgan also praised his teammates.
Just as it was Price who mentioned the extra work needed on the bubble screens, on other occasions it has been center Dallas Connell wanting to work extra on snaps or wide receivers and tight ends looking to smooth out pass patterns.
Davis, after his comical answer, said scheme has a lot to do with Morgan’s success.
“We don’t ask him to do things he can’t do,” Davis said. “He’s not a gun-run quarterback. He’s an NFL, pro-style quarterback. He’s got a great arm.
“Get the ball to the players who can make plays.”