FIU football coach Butch Davis discusses the fall season
A tragedy occurred.
A family was left hurting, and Thursday’s football game between the host Tulane Green Wave and the FIU Panthers might have seemed inconsequential to some.
Tulane starting quarterback Justin McMillan, a graduate transfer from LSU, lost his grandfather less than 24 hours before kickoff.
“His grandfather [Ronald McMillan] passed away getting ready to come to the game [from Detroit],” Tulane coach Willie Fritz said in the press conference following Thursday’s game. “Justin handled that as well as he could, and the guys rallied around him.”
McMillan handled it incredibly well, completing 78 percent of his passes as Tulane defeated the FIU Panthers 42-14 in New Orleans.
McMillan went 14-of-18 for 199 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions. He also ran nine times for 51 yards and one touchdown and had an astronomically high passer rating of 207.3. He is now 6-1 as a starter at Tulane.
“This was one of the most important games of my life,” said McMillan, who exited the game late in the third quarter having produced touchdowns in six of his eight drives. “A bad situation happened. My family and I talked about it, and you can’t take it back. It’s the way of life.
“God bless [Ronald’s] soul. I played this game for him.”
FIU (0-1) had a hard time stopping a Tulane team that finished 2018 by winning five of its final six games — including the Cure Bowl. Tulane never trailed on Thursday, racing to a 21-0 lead midway through the second quarter, leading 28-7 at halftime and 42-7 halfway through the third.
“We played poorly in all three phases,” FIU coach Butch Davis said. “I thought we had a really good camp, but, tonight, we didn’t perform well.”
FIU, which went 9-4 last season to set the program record for wins, got a one-yard touchdown run by Anthony Jones in the second quarter and James Morgan’s 17-yard scoring toss to Shemar Thornton in the third. Thornton made a spectacular one-handed grab on that play.
Morgan’s final stats included 19-for-34 passing for 208 yards and one interception, which occurred in the first quarter.
Jones was FIU’s leading rusher but averaged just 3.4 yards per carry. He ran for 48 yards on 14 tries. Fellow senior running back Napoleon Maxwell had even less success against Tulane’s swarming defense — six carries for 17 yards.
Maurice Alexander led FIU with five receptions, but he got just 30 yards. Thornton had four catches for 40 yards, tight end Sterling Palmer had two grabs for a team-high 49 yards, and Austin Maloney had two for 45.
FIU’s defense could do little to stop Darius Bradwell, who ran for well over 1,000 yards last season. He ran 13 times against FIU for a game-high 90 yards. His backup, Corey Dauphine, ran three times for 76 yards and two touchdowns.
“We did a terrible job stopping the run,” Davis said.
Davis also said the protection for Morgan broke down at times.
“I’m anxious to see on film where the breakdowns where and why we didn’t keep our quarterback cleaner,” Davis said. “[Morgan] was scrambling, extending plays, forced to make some throws we really don’t like from him. But he was trying to make plays to win the game.”
Next up for the FIU Panthers is its home opener on Sept. 7 against Western Kentucky, and Davis was asked what can be fixed in time to face the 0-1 Hilltoppers.
“I hope a lot of it,” he said. “Western Kentucky is right around the corner. We’ve got to learn from our mistakes.”