FIU’s hopes of winning its first Conference USA title are in serious jeopardy.
The Panthers, who set a program record for wins last year with a 9-4 record, are 1-3 overall and 0-2 in the league after losing a 43-31 shootout to host Louisiana Tech late Friday night.
To make matters worse, the Panthers lost middle linebacker Sage Lewis, who suffered an injury to his left hamstring in the third quarter and did not return. There is no word on the severity of the injury to Lewis, the preseason Conference USA Defensive Player of the Year.
FIU has never beaten Louisiana Tech, failing on all four tries.
Here are some takeaways from Friday’s game:
▪ 1: True Grit: FIU senior quarterback James Morgan, who missed the previous game because of an ankle injury, returned to the starting lineup and completed 29-of-41 passes for a career-high 394 yards and two touchdowns.
He was intercepted once, sacked three times and hit on several other plays but still put up impressive numbers.
▪ 2: Controversy: Morgan also scored on a 15-yard run, faking a fourth-and-one handoff and surprising the defense with his gimpy-legged sprint.
However, well after he crossed the goal line, Morgan was popped to the ground by Bulldogs cornerback Aaron Roberson, who was not penalized. But FIU right tackle Devontay Taylor was hit with a 15-yard penalty when he shoved Roberson in defense of his quarterback.
The Bulldogs used that penalty to get great field position — their own 45 — on the ensuing kickoff, and they made a field goal on the final play of the first half for a 13-10 lead.
▪ 3: More Controversy: FIU running back Anthony Jones nearly scored in the first quarter on a fourth-and-goal play from the two. He leaped over the pile and extended his arm to get the ball over the goal-line.
But Bulldogs safety James Jackson poked the ball away a split-second before it would’ve been a touchdown, and Louisiana Tech’s Roberson recovered the fumble.
▪ 4: Not this time: FIU backup quarterback Kaylan Wiggins, who set a school record for rushing yards by a QB in his first collegiate start last week against New Hampshire, was used for numerous snaps.
However, he did not throw a pass, and, other than a five-yard run, he could not find daylight as the Bulldogs were keying on his scrambles.
▪ 5: Defensive issues: Louisiana Tech scored on its final seven possessions. The Bulldogs punted just once in the game – in the second quarter.
The only other time they were stopped was on a fluky interception that hit the foot of FIU defensive tackle Jordan Woods, bounced up and was caught by David Reynolds, a freshman defensive end.
Otherwise, it was a bad day for FIU, which allowed 565 yards and 10-of-17 third down conversions. Bulldogs quarterback J’Mar Smith completed 27-of-41 passes for 290 yards. Bulldogs running back Justin Henderson had a career day, rushing for 141 yards, a 9.4 average and three touchdowns.
▪ 6: Frustrated: FIU left tackle D’Ante Demery, a Georgia Bulldogs transfer considered the No. 1 offensive lineman in the league, was ejected with 51 seconds left in the game for what the referee said was “throwing a punch”. Demery had been beaten for at least one sack in the game, which may have contributed to his frustration.
▪ 7: Kicking Woes: FIU’s Jose Borregales’ slump continues. He made a 36-yard field goal but was wide left from 37.
Meanwhile, Louisiana Tech’s Bailey Hale went 5-for-5 on field goals, including two of them over 40 yards. He tied a school single-game record for field goals and scored 19 of the Bulldogs’ 43 points.