The FIU football team’s 24-17 win over the last-place Old Dominion Monarchs on Saturday might have come at a cost to the Panthers.
FIU coach Butch Davis didn’t offer specifics but did confirm that several of his players suffered injuries in the game, including Maurice Alexander, who made first-team all-league last year as a punt returner, starting right tackle Devontay Taylor and his backup, Lyndell Hudson. Center Shane McGough missed the entire game due to injury.
Still, the Panthers improved to 5-4 overall and 3-3 in Conference USA. But the Panthers are expected to be underdogs in all three of their remaining games — at Florida Atlantic this Saturday followed by the University of Miami (at Marlins Park) and a trip to Marshall.
FIU will need to score one upset to become bowl eligible for the third straight year, and the injuries on the offensive line could make things difficult at FAU (6-3, 4-1), which is the co-leader, along with Marshall, in C-USA’s East Division.
“Today wasn’t a great performance,” Davis said after beating an ODU team that has lost eight straight games. “But it was a gutty performance.”
Here are three takeaways regarding FIU football:
▪ 1: O-line shuffle: FIU started left tackle D’Antne Demery, left guard Marshawn Miller and center Dallas Connell with Shaq Williams and Taylor on the right side.
But after Taylor and then Hudson got hurt, Williams moved to right tackle for the final three possessions.
“[Williams] hadn’t taken a snap at right tackle in three years,” Davis said. “We finished the game with just five [healthy] offensive linemen [who have played this season].”
Because of the injuries, FIU played Sione Finau, a true freshman from Texas, at right guard.
“Unbelievable,” Davis said of the 6-3, 300-pounder. “His upside is outstanding.”
FIU is hoping to get McGough back on Saturday. The biggest question is the status of Taylor and Hudson.
▪ 2: Focus on specials: It’s likely FIU’s special teams will have to improve on Saturday, and that could be difficult without Alexander, who appears to have an ankle injury that could force him to miss the FAU game.
In addition, kicker Jose Borregales and punter Tommy Heatherly didn’t have their best games against ODU. Borregales made three field goals, with a long of 42, but he missed from 50 and 32. And Heatherly averaged a season-low 29.6 yards on five punts. For the season, Borregales is 12-on-19 on field goals with five misses from less than 40 yards, and Heatherly has averaged 43.3 yards per punt.
One major positive on special teams was Daniel Jackson blocking a field goal, although he later left the game with a leg injury.
▪ 3: Improved run defense: FIU held ODU to 64 yards and a 2.6 average. The previous week, Middle Tennessee crushed FIU 50-17 by running for 471 yards and 8.6 per rush.
Davis credited the effort against ODU to “penetration and aggressiveness” by defensive linemen, naming Chris Whittaker, Teair Tart and Alexy Jean-Baptiste. But another major force was middle linebacker Sage Lewis.
“This was the first game in close to a month that Sage was close to 100 percent,” Davis said of Lewis’ leg injury. “He was able to fly around, and that helped our defense.”
Indeed, FIU’s defense made several big plays against ODU, including an interception by Olin Cushion and a fumble recovery by Noah Curtis. Tart forced a fumble and had three tackles for loss, including one sack.
THIS AND THAT
▪ FIU’s men’s soccer team fell 1-0 at South Carolina on Friday. It was the first loss for FIU (9-1-5) since Nov. 7, 2018. The Panthers, ranked 13th nationally, close out their regular season by hosting Marshall on Friday, and a victory would give FIU the Conference USA title.
▪ FIU’s men’s basketball team opens its season with a difficult game, at Mississippi State, on Tuesday. FIU’s women’s basketball team opens Tuesday at home against Florida Gulf Coast.
▪ FIU’s women’s soccer team (2-15, 0-10 C-USA) ended its season with a 2-1 loss to Florida Atlantic on Friday. FIU’s last winning season occurred in 2012. In the past four years, the program has a 6-57-4 overall record.