As a part of this week’s football preview, ASOR welcomes Eric Henry. Henry is a co-editor for Underdog Dynasty, an FIU beat writer, and also serves as a podcast host for SB Nation, covering Conference USA.
FIU lost last year’s starting QB James Morgan to the NFL. Who is getting the start against the Flames, and what can we expect from him?
Eric Henry: The last public comments that Butch Davis made about the quarterback situation were three weeks ago, when I asked him what his timeline would be for naming a starter. He said that ideally, he would like to have identified who the team will play 10 days before the season-opener. However, there still hasn’t been a starter named. I’m expecting Maryland grad transfer Max Bortenschlager to start. However, similarly to the 2018 season where Morgan and former FIU quarterback Christian Alexander split reps, I wouldn’t be surprised to see a quarterback rotation on Saturday. Bortenschlager is a pocket-passer, similar to Morgan – but can move the pocket with his legs. Kaylan Wiggins is a true dual-threat quarterback that’s more accomplished as a rusher than passer, currently. Redshirt freshman Stone Norton is the other quarterback in the competition and has been lauded by offensive coordinator Rich Skrosky for being an extremely cerebral signal-caller.
FIU had one of the best pass protecting O-lines last season and returns 3 starters. Can we expect to see more of that this season, and does that also translate into FIU having a decent rushing attack?
EH: While the Panthers didn’t allow many sacks last season, that’s somewhat of a misnomer as to how well the offensive line played. In the early part of the season, specifically against Tulane and Western Kentucky, Morgan was under duress throughout those games. As to the run game, FIU was hit or miss last season. Anthony Jones had 100-yard games against UTEP and UMass, two defenses that didn’t stop many backs, while Napoleon Maxwell had similar outbursts. With that being said, the offensive line did round into form towards the end of the season. The Panthers like to use between 8-9 offensive linemen per game and the key will be how quickly they can develop that depth. With D’Antne Demery, Shane McGough, Mershawn Miller and Sione Finau returning, I’d expect the line to come together quickly.
FIU had a plethora of transfers from big-name schools such as: Arkansas, Boise State, etc. Which one will make the biggest impact week 1 and who is it?
EH: From the list you reference, the transfer to keep an eye on would be Alexy Jean-Baptiste. He led FIU in sacks and tackles for loss last season, despite missing the first three games while waiting for his transfer waiver to be approved. The transfer to watch who will be making his FIU debut is wide receiver Jeremiah Holloman. Holloman started four games as a freshman in 2018 for Georgia and would have been a full-time starter in 2019 for UGA, had he not been dismissed from the program. Holloman has the potential to instantly be the most dynamic athlete in Conference USA.
Do you think there is a significant advantage for FIU not having played yet while LU has already played in their first game?
EH: I actually would take it in the opposite direction and say that Liberty has an advantage having already played a game. I don’t know that I would term it “significant.” With that being said, COVID-19 has already wreaked havoc through Conference USA, with multiple teams having to postpone or cancel games due to positive tests or contact tracing. Hopefully, both teams enter Saturday fully healthy. However, FIU could have an advantage in the sense that they haven’t played against other bodies outside of the ones in their “bubble.”
What is your prediction for the game?
EH: The Panthers enter the 2020 season with more unknowns than proven commodities. That doesn’t mean that they lack talent. In addition to Holloman, former Boise State linebacker Tyson Maeva will make his FIU debut, along with Bortenschlager. The team returns veterans like Richard and Rishard Dames, D’Vonte Price and others. FIU’s chances to win the game depend on their ability to stop the rushing attack of Liberty. Over the past two seasons, FIU has allowed over 150 yards rushing 16 times and they’ve especially struggled against dual-threat quarterbacks, such as Liberty’s Malik Willis. I was impressed with Wills’ efforts last week and as optimistic as I am about FIU’s talent, they have to prove that they can stop the run. I expect Liberty to pull away in the second half behind their rushing attack.