Following back-to-back losses by a combined five points, the FIU Panthers look to avoid their first 0-3 start in the Butch Davis era.
Both of the Panthers’ losses have come down to the wire, as their defense gave up scores late in the fourth quarter and their quarterback woes played dividends on the final drive.
A win over Jacksonville State (2-1) on Friday will go a long way for the Panthers, as they look to get back on track and prepare for a road match versus No. 22 Marshall next week.
Here are five questions for FIU before they take the field at Riccardo Silva Stadium.
1 — What type of team is FIU?
Through two games, there’s been an unsure feeling about what type of competition the Panthers can handle. First, they fell in a shootout to Liberty, which is now 5-0. FIU was able to hang until the end with a top Group of Five opponent, despite having recorded just 136 passing yards and committing 15 penalties for 127 yards.
Then when the mistakes were supposed to be aligned in Week 2, the Panthers collapsed and threw for 58 yards while giving up 404 total yards in a 31-28 loss to Middle Tennessee State (1-4).
FIU comes into Friday night’s matchup as the favorite over their FCS opponent, but make no mistake, the Gamecocks could make a run of their own. A win for the Panthers assures that they’re not at the bottom of the C-USA, and gives us a better look at how the season may pan out.
2 — Is JJ Holloman worth the hype?
Heading into the season, Georgia wide receiver transfer JJ Holloman was expected to have a breakout season. And while FIU’s quarterback hasn’t helped his case, Holloman has certainly underperformed.
The former four-star prospect has caught just two of the team-high 12 passes thrown at him this season for 25 yards. He’s also dropped three passes and has graded out as the Panthers’ worst receiver, according to PFF.
Holloman has the ability to excel with the Panthers, given that he caught 24 passes for 418 yards and five touchdowns for Georgia in 2018. Now, FIU’s WR1 has to get things going sooner rather than later.
3 — Will the quarterback carousel end on Friday?
The Panthers’ passing offense grades out as the seventh-worst among FBS teams this season, per PFF. And their average of 4.6 yards per pass attempt ranks as the second-worst in college football.
Kaylan Wiggins has taken the most snaps (65) of the three quarterbacks but hasn’t produced with his arm, completing 5 of his 18 passes for 35 yards, an interception and zero touchdowns. The redshirt junior has been efficient with his legs, totaling 66 rushing yards, but his passing game hasn’t posed a threat to opposing defenses.
Graduate transfer Max Bortenschlager started in the first game, but his 18 snaps are the least among the three quarterbacks. He’s thrown just five passes, completing one.
Then there’s redshirt freshman Stone Norton, who’s been the most effective of the three signal-callers. He’s completed 12 of his 19 passes for 141 yards and two touchdowns. Norton’s 7.4 yards per pass is first among the QB’s, with Bortenschlager (2.8) far behind in second.
Similar to what happens with many young quarterbacks, Norton has struggled to get rid of the ball, as he’s been credited with three of his six sacks.
Friday’s match should see all three quarterbacks take the field, but it’s about time for one to pull away as the starter. Expect a duel between Norton and Wiggins, with the winner being whoever adjusts their flaws from the weeks before.
4 — How will the Panthers’ defense fair versus another mobile quarterback?
Through two games, FIU has given up 191 rushing yards and two touchdowns to quarterbacks. The majority of those runs have come in big gains and have served as momentum swings.
Quarterback Zerrick Cooper leads J-State in rushing touchdowns with five and is second in yards on the ground with 89. Although Cooper isn’t as mobile as MTSU’s Asher O’Hara, who rushed for 106 yards and two touchdowns versus FIU, he certainly is efficient and can pick up solid gains.
At 6-foot-3, 225-pounds, Cooper is the biggest quarterback FIU has faced all season. The Panthers will likely have a hard time bringing him down early, but it shouldn’t be a game-changer.
5 — Can Rishard Dames step it up?
Redshirt junior cornerback Rishard Dames is expected to be a leader in FIU’s secondary, but so far this season, he’s been getting torched by opposing receivers. Of the 19 passes thrown at Dames, 16 have been completed (84.2 percent) for 194 yards and two touchdowns. He has also missed five tackles.
While Dames recorded an interception against MTSU, 10 of the 12 passes thrown at him were completed for 120 yards and a touchdown. He’s FIU’s lowest graded cornerback to play more than one game, per PFF.
Dames, who lines up as a slot corner, likely won’t be targeted as much, as tight end Trae Barry leads the Jacksonville State with 13 receptions for 240 yards this season.