Florida International U

After leading Conference USA in touchdowns, here’s how FIU’s offense is looking for more

James Morgan, who missed the bowl game with an arm injury, is back healthy and in complete charge of the offense.
James Morgan, who missed the bowl game with an arm injury, is back healthy and in complete charge of the offense. dsantiago@miamiherald.com

FIU’s football team averaged 34.6 points per game last season, tying North Texas for the Conference USA lead.

The Panthers also led the conference with 58 touchdowns, and the result of all that offense was a program-record nine wins and a Bahamas Bowl win. It also marked just the second bowl win in FIU history, and it was another positive step for coach Butch Davis and offensive coordinator Rich Skrosky.

With FIU’s annual spring game set for Friday, here are four takeaways on the offense:

1: Morgan’s back: James Morgan, who missed the bowl game with an arm injury, is back healthy and in complete charge of the offense.

A graduate transfer from Bowling Green, Morgan was named Conference USA’s Newcomer of the Year last season, and he looks even better this spring.

“His biggest improvement from last season to now is his footwork,” Skrosky said. “And with that, his accuracy has improved a lot.”

2: Boasting depth: Running back is the deepest position on the offense with four veterans battling for carries.

Beyond that, redshirt freshmen Shaun Peterson and Demarcus Townsend have made strides this spring. Townsend has yet to get a collegiate carry. Peterson had 11 carries for 41 yards last season.

“We’ve been blessed with running back depth the past two years,” Skrosky said. “But — and you hate saying this — usually one [running back] is going to get nicked.”

3: ‘Senior’ citizens: Maurice “Hard Times” Alexander, who made first-team All-Conference USA last year as a kick returner, and Austin Maloney are seniors and the leaders of the receivers unit. They combined to grab 70 passes for 1,084 yards and 10 touchdowns last season. Two senior role players are also back — Tony Gaiter and Darius Scott — and they combined to make 33 catches.

FIU graduated its leading receiver, CJ Worton (37 catches, 627 yards, 6 TDs), but the Panthers are hoping that juniors Bryce Singleton (29 catches) and Shemar Thornton (seven catches) will improve their production.

In addition, Skrosky said younger players such as redshirt freshman Marquel Dillard and sophomore Cadarius Gaskin have “flashed” at times this spring. Gaskin saw brief action last season in five games, making three catches for 82 yards. Dillard has yet to make a collegiate catch.

4: Looking for depth: FIU had one of the deepest offensive lines in the league last year, often playing nine blockers per game. But graduation hits have left Skrosky “feeIing really good where our first six guys are” and worrying a bit about getting the next wave ready.

Skrosky said left tackle D’Antne Demery has been a “mainstay” and right tackle Devontay Taylor “has had a great spring.” That leaves four players to rotate among the three interior spots: Shane McGough, Dallas Connell, Shacquille Williams and Mershawn Miller.

Skrosky has high hopes for junior-college transfer Logan Gunderson, who arrived this spring, and redshirt freshman Lyndell Hudson.

“Our first six guys have played a lot of games. They know the system,” Skrosky said. “Now it’s really about developing depth, which will be our goal in the summer and in preseason camp.”

THIS AND THAT

FIU’s baseball team (13-19, 4-8 Conference USA) snapped a nine-game losing streak on Saturday, sweeping a doubleheader at Rice.

FIU won the first game 13-7 as Javier Valdes hit a three-run homer, Austin Shenton produced three hits, and Logan Allen had the go-ahead RBI single in the fifth. FIU won the second game 5-2 as Jose Garcia hit a two-run homer to left and a solo shot to right. It was also the first collegiate win for freshman Franco Aleman, who allowed just two runs in 7 2/3 innings.

Valdes (team-high seven homers) and Garcia (five homers) split FIU’s catching duties.

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