It’s clear that the FIU Panthers are directing the rest of the season towards developing its inexperienced players. But head coach Butch Davis has also stated that he wants to win.
And that draws up this question: will Davis make another change to the quarterback room?
FIU released its two-deep depth chart ahead of Saturday’s road match versus Western Kentucky. And opposite to last week, the starting quarterback slot is up for grabs, as redshirt freshman Stone Norton and redshirt senior Max Bortenschlager have been listed as co-starters.
Last week, Norton became the first Panther quarterback to start a second game this year. But his lack of experience was displayed, as he completed 7 of his 12 passes for just 43 yards. He didn’t record his first completion until the 12:53 mark in the second quarter and was sacked four times.
“I’m genuinely proud of what Stone [Norton] is trying to do out there, but he’s still an inexperienced player,” said Davis.
Norton picked up only two first downs through the air, which served as the primary reason he was benched at the 5:35 mark of the third quarter. Davis emphasized post-game that converting on third-down and picking up first-downs is a must for the offense and that a lack of it has “suffocated” the defense as they have to stay on the field for the majority of the game.
FIU has converted 41.30 percent of their third downs this season, which ranks them at No. 63 in the country and is the third-worst among Conference USA teams. Prior to the FAU game, it was 37.8 percent, the second-poorest in the C-USA.
Bortenschlager’s first drive was his best of the year, as he went 7-of-10 for 44 yards en route to a 15-play, 79-yard drive that was capped off with a 21-yard field goal. The University of Maryland transfer completed 11 of his 21 passes for 149 yards and a touchdown pass in the match. He was also efficient, garnering seven first-down completions.
Bortenschlager’s primary target was freshman tight end Rivaldo Fairweather. He threw eight passes to him, six of which were caught for 101 yards and a touchdown.
“I don’t know what his stats were, but for the first time probably all year long we legitimately had the ball in the hands of some of the receivers,” Davis said.
Davis added that Bortenschlager hadn’t practiced much in the past two weeks and took just about 30 percent of the QB reps in practice leading to the game. Nonetheless, Davis believes that Bortenschlager, who earned a 2-6 record as a starter against Big Ten competition in 2017, can bring experience onto the field.
“When we brought him in here, we thought we were bringing in an experienced, veteran guy that has been in Big Ten games — starting versus Penn State and Michigan State — so hopefully his confidence can become contagious in that huddle,” Davis said.
When looking at the final four-game stretch of the season, it’s important to state that the priority should be giving young players experience so their better prepared for the 2021 season. But in the case of the quarterback room, Bortenschlager, a senior, is allowed to return for an extra year of eligibility. And coming off his season-best performance, a good week at practice should do the work in terms of earning the QB1 job.
It’ll all come down to FIU’s long term plan. Would they want to work Bortenschlager into the offense? That would mean a former Power 5 starter, whose career was derailed by injuries and missed the 2018 and 2019 season, could potentially earn his groove back and make an impact with a more experienced team next season. The Panthers could also be bought in on the development of Norton. And the idea of him gaining in-game experience could best suit them for the next two to three years.