FIU head coach Butch Davis spoke to members of the media following his team’s 19-10 loss to Jacksonville State, which marked the first FBS loss to an FCS school in 2020.
In the loss, the Panthers became the first FBS team since at least 2004 to score 10 or fewer points and have less than 195 yards in a game versus an FCS opponent. FIU recorded just six first downs and were outgained 444-156 by JTSU.
Davis noted that the defense was on the field for too long and dove deep on the injury situation, lack of experience and the quarterback room.
Here’s everything Davis said in his postgame press conference.
Obviously, Jacksonville State played a very good game tonight. They were very good in all the critical areas that you need to be in to win in football games. They ran the ball extraordinarily well, they kept drives alive.
Defensively, we struggled enormously on third downs to keep drives alive, to keep our offense on the field. Our time of possession was like 46 minutes to 14 minutes or something like that. Completely outbalanced. The defense was on the field for way too long.
There were some decent things that happened obviously, a block on the kick, which was excellent. Tommy Heatherly, again, he’s probably one of the best punters in all of college football. He did a great job in trying to give us some opportunities to have great field position. The ball got downed inside the two/three yard-line. That’s when our defense has to step up. We have to get a three and out, got to force a punt, got to get the ball inside the 50 to give the offense great field position.
It was good to see Bryce Singleton, who two years ago was a really good punt returner. He got an opportunity tonight, I think he had a 20 or 25 yard punt return that gave the offense another opportunity to have some decent field position.
But we got to play better. I’ve got to coach better, our coaches got to coach better, we’ve got to perform and we got to play better than what we played tonight and that’s no disrespect to Jacksonville State, but we didn’t play as good as we needed to play.
How stifling is it offensively when you consistently backed up in the second and long and third and longs?
It puts a tremendous amount of pressure because it takes several things out of the possibility of things that you can do. If it’s third down and less than five, you might be able to run the ball, you might be able to throw screens, you might be able to throw shell crossing routes, you might be able to do a lot of things and convert. The quarterback might scramble for five yards.
But when it’s third down and significantly long, the defense, they’re going to flood the zones. Tonight, there was a couple of times where they dropped eight guys, they rushed three people, there was eight people in coverage, and there’s no chance to get anybody open.
One time, Stone Norton scrambled and looked like he was going to convert it into a first down that would have been down somewhere near the 40-yard-line. It would have been good field position but we turned the ball over and fumbled.
Between that and a couple of other opportunities inside the 50, you just can’t cheat yourself out of having chances to score, whether you drive down and kick a field goal or maybe you score a touchdown and instead of the game being 16-10, maybe you’re up 17-16 or up 21-16. You never know.
In the most critical things that determine whether or not you’re going to win football games, we’re not doing very good. We’re doing [well] at being able to convert on third downs and keeping it a measurable down and distance. It’s got to be less than third down and 7, 8, 6 something like that as the worst and then even better than that if you’re running the ball well. And then stopping the run, we’ve got to do that and if you can’t do that then you don’t have a chance to win.
I know you expect to beat an FCS team like Jacksonville State, but how tough is it with the injuries of D’Antne Demery, Shane McGough, JJ Holloman, etc?
I think between coronavirus, surgeries and injuries, I think we’re down 24 players and we probably lost more tonight. It’s not like a sprained ankle because when you get ACL’s, when you get MCL’s and you get knee surgeries and shoulder surgeries, they’re not coming back.
There’s a lot of kids that were playing, they played last week, two weeks ago and they played tonight, guys that have never played very much football at all. And you know, they’re young.
We’re paying the price a little bit, probably no different than some of the other schools, but you got a lot of young players, and especially quarterbacks. When you don’t get a spring practice, you don’t get those 15 days to scrimmage, and you don’t get to have a great training camp where you get two or three great scrimmages, where you go out and scrimmage for like 90 plays and they get put under pressure.
They’re getting all of their experience in full speed live games, regardless of who the opponent is, and that makes it difficult for Stone and that made it difficult for Max [Bortenschlager], and there’s growing pains with going with a quarterback like that. Obviously, you’d love to play four, five or six games and they would have gotten a little bit better, but we had only played two games going into tonight and I guarantee to you, our team had a lot of respect for Jacksonville State. They were ahead 21-7 over Florida State early in the season and there was nobody watching that film that saw of them as anything other than a talented football team.
Did you see anything that gave you some hope that maybe you can kind of settle down to less than two [QB’s] coming into Marshall?
There’s a lot of things about this. Quarterbacks is a part of the issue, and this is no different, I’ve been through this before, trying to find out who’s going to be that quarterback. But then when you look at the fact that we lost JJ Holloman, we lost Shemar Thornton, we lost Teddy Richardson, we lost a bunch of receivers, now, we’re playing a receiver that was a quarterback a month ago.
And that makes it difficult, as guys are trying to learn a new position, guys are young, there’s young kids tonight. We played a true freshman as an h-back, we played another redshirt freshman as a tight end. These guys are young, they’re inexperienced, they’ll get better.
They’ll learn from some stuff tonight as long as they keep their attitude and their effort and their knowing that the only way to dig yourself out of things like this is that you’re going to have to work your way out. You got to practice and learn to play and when you learn to play, then you’ll perform on the field on Saturday.
How important was it to come out today and really put your foot on the gas pedal and why weren’t you guys able to do that?
Obviously, in the first two games we had significant success in running the football. We lost Shaun Peterson [Jr.] tonight, and they loaded the box and they were going to try to put a lot of pressure on us to try to throw the football.
If we would have had some success throwing the football, they would have had to get out of the eight-man front and the bear where they played eight-man boxes and they played what’s called a deep bear defense where the nose, three tackles and two ends and the loaded linebackers. It’s hard to run that, it’s a gut check.
The only way to get out of that is to have some success throwing the football so that they can get out of those kind of fronts and open up some gaps like we had saw in the first two weeks.
Did you see anything from the young guys that maybe you hadn’t seen before that is something positive going forward?
Every week we see a little bit of some of the young guys doing some things. Obviously [Lexington] Flex Joseph has been outstanding in kickoff returns. Getting Bryce Singleton back as a punt returner, that was excellent. Those were things that we weren’t sure when we lost Maurice Alexander last year, whether we would have somebody to be back there who would be a dangerous weapon on punt returns and stuff.
But you have to make them punt. You got to play defense and make them punt for that to be something that’s effective. There are some young kids that were playing, and they’re not always perfect and it’s not their effort, their doing as hard as they can, but they just don’t have much experience. I mean going into this game, and I’m not going to quote this exactly, but between Stone Norton and Max Bortenschlager, I think Max going into this game had only like 20 snaps in the first two games [FACT CHECK: 18 snaps] and Stone went into the game with maybe 50 plays [FACT CHECK: 38 snaps].
You should get 50 plays in three-quarters of the game, not for a whole three games in the season. We’ve got to get those guys where they’re more comfortable, we’ve got to get the offensive line, I mean losing D’Antne Demery, one of the best tackles in Conference USA, and losing Shane McGough, a four-year starter at center and a leader, those things are hard to fill. You lose a guy who’s a three-year starter and you lose a guy who’s a four-year starter and it’s a gut check, you know.
Do you guys plan on keeping both quarterbacks for the entirety of the season?
I don’t know. In the perfect world to be honest with you, no.
Two years ago in 2018, James Morgan and Christian Alexander were splitting time for the first four games. It started drifting at the end of the third game and into the fourth game that James was starting to separate at that time.
And we’ll see. If one of those guys has the confidence, they go in the huddle, they make the plays, they can make the audibles, they can check the protections, if they can do all of those kinds of things and they start making the throws [then they’ll start].
But that’s just them. Other guys have to do their jobs. The offensive line has to be better in their protections so the quarterback isn’t running for his life and the receivers have to make plays, they have to get open and they have to make catches when they’re there. We had a complete slam dunk, a wide-open touchdown in the corner of the endzone and the receiver turned and twisted the wrong direction. If he turns the other way, it’s a touchdown.
We had a drop late in the half over the middle of the field which would have been a 22-yard gain. Guys have got to make some plays for the quarterback. I mean it’s not all just on the quarterback.