Florida International U

These are 4 things to look for in Friday’s FIU Panthers football game against La. Tech

FIU quarterback James Morgan is expected to return to the starting lineup Friday when the Panthers visit the Louisiana Tech Bulldogs.

It’s a crucial game for FIU (1-2, 0-1), which finished a school-record 9-4 last year. However, a loss on Friday — it’s a short week and a road game — would put the Panthers at 1-3 with games remaining at Florida Atlantic and at Marshall. FIU also plays the Miami Hurricanes at Marlins Park on Nov. 23.

Last year, FIU went 0-3 against Miami, FAU and Marshall, getting outscored by a combined total of 108-56.

Meanwhile, Morgan, who had been slowed by an ankle injury, missed half of this year’s loss to Western Kentucky and then sat out all of last week’s win over New Hampshire.

Redshirt sophomore Kaylan Wiggins replaced Morgan during those times and set a school record for rushing yards by a quarterback with 187 against New Hampshire.

But the hint about what happens next came after the New Hampshire game when FIU coach Butch Davis said: “I would never say this 100 percent, but [Morgan] could’ve played, maybe, tonight.”

Skip Holtz, who coaches Louisiana Tech (2-1, 0-0) and is the son of former Notre Dame coach Lou Holtz, said he’s preparing for both QBs.

“Morgan’s got a great arm,” Skip Holtz said. “He can pinpoint passes. I think he’s one of the better draft-eligible prospects in the league this year. And Wiggins brings a different dimension to their offense.”

Here are four more takeaways regarding FIU football:

1: Making Strides: Senior FIU middle linebacker Sage Lewis, known for his tackles and not his ball skills, grabbed his first career interception against New Hampshire.

Lewis set the FIU record for solo tackles last year, ranking first in Conference USA and ninth in the nation. He’s also the Conference USA preseason Defensive Player of the Year. Yet, this interception thing is new.

“The single biggest improvement in his game is playing in coverage,” Davis said.

Lewis was in zone when he made his interception.

“The quarterback tried to look him off, and they had two wide receivers running down the field,” Davis said. “But as soon as his head turned back, you could see (Lewis) flip his hips and go.”

2: Chasing Chippewas: FIU announced on Tuesday that they will visit Central Michigan in 2021. Central Michigan will visit FIU in 2024. These will be the first times these school have met in football.

In previous weeks, FIU has added a home-and-home series against UCF as well as games Arkansas and Texas Tech to their future schedules.

3: J’Mar-velous: A big part of FIU’s challenge on Friday will be stopping Bulldogs senior quarterback J’Mar Smith. The 6-1, 220-pounder from Mississippi has 30 career starts, and it shows. He ranks second in the league in passing yards per game (273).

Louisiana Tech’s offense also features first-team all-league right guard Ethan Reed and wide receivers Adrian Hardy and Smoke Harris.

Hardy, a 6-2, 200-pound junior, caught 75 passes for 1,145 yards and six touchdowns last season, making second-team all-league.

Harris, a 5-6, 175-pound redshirt freshman, is eighth in the league in all-purpose yards.

“They may be one of the fastest teams we play all year,” Davis said of the Bulldogs. “(QB Smith) can extend plays.”

4: Ball Hawk: FIU must also beware of junior cornerback Amik Robertson, who leads the league with five passes defensed, including a pick-six interception. He’s a first-team all-league player.

Robertson is one of four returning starters in the secondary, but the defense did lose its coordinator, Blake Baker, to the Hurricanes and its top player, Jaylon Ferguson, to the NFL. Ferguson led the NCAA last year with 17.5 sacks and was drafted in the third round by the Baltimore Ravens.

Louisiana Tech has just four sacks this year, although that is two more than FIU.