Football teams are expected to make drastic improvements from game one to game two. But in the case of the FIU Panthers‘ quarterback carousel, things took a turn for the worst in their 31-28 loss to Middle Tennessee State.
And there’s nobody to blame other than COVID-19.
Quarterbacks Stone Norton and Max Bortenschlager, along with 15 other players, were held out of practice this entire week after having false-positive COVID tests.
“The only one that got a chance to practice was Kaylan [Wiggins], he took the majority of the reps,” coach Butch Davis said.
Wiggins, a redshirt junior, got the starting nod for just the second time in his collegiate career. But it took two possessions and an 0-1 completion rate for Davis to call on Norton halfway through the first quarter.
Norton, who recorded 120 passing yards and two touchdowns in the season-opener, was clearly shaky after having missed the entire week of practice. His first drive went for just five yards and a quick three and out. The redshirt freshman would find no success on the ensuing drive and the Panthers went to their third quarterback.
Bortenschlager, who started but didn’t see the field much in the season-opener, didn’t get much of a shot once again. His first drive resulted in a one-play, 63-yard rushing touchdown by Shaun Peterson Jr. As for his second time taking the field, the Panthers carried the ball five times before Bortenschlager underthrew his receiver on third down and would be done for the night.
FIU went back to Wiggins late in the second quarter and would keep him for the rest of the match. And as coach Davis would later explain, Wiggins was “the guy who had the most preparation.”
The redshirt junior attempted to rally his troops down three with 1:20 left in the game, but instead, he was intercepted by Miami native Gregory Grate Jr. He finished with 37 passing yards and 20 yards on the ground, completing 5 of his 15 passes.
Coach Davis acknowledged that the quarterback play, which totaled 58 passing yards, needs lots of redefining.
“We’ve got to improve offensively to be a good balanced offense,” he said. “We can’t just go out there and run for 250-300 yards and throw for 50 yards.”
But without a training camp, spring practice and now COVID-19 potentially keeping players out, you have to ask yourself how long will it take before FIU determines a starting quarterback.
“We’re still in the experimental stage to find out which of these guys has got the composure, who’s got the talent and who’s got the ability to go in and make plays,” Davis said.
In a year like 2020, nothing is certain. And with COVID-19 plaguing the win-less Panthers, their quarterback woes following the departure of James Morgan may be their greatest obstacle this season.
“With the quarterbacks and the receivers, we’ve got to be able to move the ball through the air. And that’s going to be a major emphasis for the next couple of weeks and probably throughout the remainder of the season,” Davis added.