Preview 2017: FIU Golden Panthers
Previewing and looking ahead at the FIU Golden Panthers season – and what you need to know.
What You Need To Know About The Florida International Offense
Can new offensive coordinator Rich Skrosky start to crank up the Golden Panther offense to start producing on a consistent basis? But here’s the problem – he’s not exactly coming off a rocking run, going 7-27 as the Elon head coach before getting the call from Butch Davis.
The O picked it up after the ugly 0-4 start of the season, but the passing game wasn’t efficient enough and the ground attack didn’t pick up the slack. Fortunately, there’s talent returning to crank it up.
The running back combination of Alex Gardner and Anthony Jones brings the speed, but will they get the blocking? Just two starters are back up front to a group that struggled in pass protection and only paved the way for 1,783 rushing yards – that should change.
Alex McGough is a decent veteran quarterback, but he has to cut down on the picks. Fortunately, even without star TE Jonnu Smith to throw to, McGough should improve the passing attack with Thomas Owens a good No. 1 target to go along with a slew of very young, very promising weapons. In all, nine of the top ten pass catchers are back.
Biggest Key To The Florida International Offense
McGough and the passing game need to be more consistent. With 17 interceptions and a few total dud performances, the FIU passing attack wasn’t able to keep up the pace at times late in the season after going nowhere early on. Can the O connect on more third down chances? After hitting just 36% of the tries last year, moving the chains better is a must.
What You Need To Know About The Florida International Defense
Former Utah State head coach Brent Guy will handle the defense, and he knows how to stop the run.
He has a terrific linebacking corps to build around, getting back the top two tacklers Treyvon Williams and Anthony Wint to lead the way. There isn’t a ton of bulk up front, but the veteran ends should be able to get behind the line. Now Guy needs to come up with his tackles after losing the starting two along with some of the depth.
The pass defense didn’t come up with enough big plays and got hit hard early on, but it has a strong group of safeties coming back with Emmanuel Lubin and Isaiah Brown two promising corners who should grow into the jobs.
Biggest Key To The Florida International Defense
Can the defense start to force more mistakes? The D is going to force takeaways and be more disruptive – at least that’s the goal. Last year, FIU managed to come up with just four takeaways in the first six games, and went eight games without forcing double-digit turnovers. Things picked up late in the season, but overall, the Golden Panthers came up with just 14.
Florida International Will Be Far Better If …
The special teams need to rock. There might be a slew of other big problems FIU has to deal with, but can’t be mediocre in the third phase. Stone Wilson only averaged 37.6 yards per punt, while Austin Taylor is gone after hitting 12-of-16 field goals. The punt return game was fine, but even with Alex Gardner handling the work, the kickoff returns were underwhelming and the coverage teams were lousy.
Best Florida International Offensive Player
RB Alex Gardner, Sr. – With Gardner combining with the speedy Anthony Jones, FIU should have a solid running back combination to carry the attack. The 5-10, 192-pound Gardner is the star, though, with a team-leading 930 yards and six scores – averaging over five yards per carry – to go along with 30 catches for 191 yards.
Fast, shifty, and tough enough to handle the ball 20 times a game or more if needed, he hit the 100-yard mark five times, but when he was keyed on, he was stopped. As long as he gets the ball in open spaces, he should put up huge numbers behind an improved line.
2. WR Thomas Owens, Sr.
3. QB Alex McGough, Sr.
4. RB Anthony Jones, Jr.
5. OT Daquane Wilkie, Jr.
Best Florida International Defensive Player
LB Anthony Wint, Sr. – It might be a bit too much to suggest that the 1-2 linebacking punch of Wint and Treyvon Williams could be the league’s best, but it might not be all that far off. The two combined for 217 tackles with Wint making 108 of them – after coming up with 88 in 2016 – in an all-star season.
The 6-0, 224-pounder isn’t all that huge, and he’s not a pass rusher, but he’s the tough-guy veteran leader who came up with double-digit stops in four of his first five games and six times on the season.
2. LB Treyvon Williams, Sr.
3. S Niko Gonzalez, Sr.
4. DE Fermin Silva, Jr.
5. S Shermarke Spence, Jr.
Key Player To A Successful Season
QB Alex McGough, Sr. – While Davis said early on in the process that McGough was going to be the starter, Maurice Alexander and Christian Alexander have been in the mix just enough to get a shot if one of them lights it up in fall camp. No matter what, FIU needs better production at the position.
The 6-3, 218-pound McGough has size and mobility – he hit 58% of his throws for 1,891 yards and 13 touchdowns, and ran for four scores – but he threw 11 picks. He missed the last three games, but before that he was on, taking to the midseason coaching change with 241 yards or more in each of his last four games – but with a lot of interceptions.
The Florida International Season Will Be A Success If …
FIU wins six games. As bad and as weird as the 2016 season was, the Golden Panthers still managed to win four games and come close in a few others. This year’s team is more experienced, will be better coached, and should be stronger overall. It won’t be easy with six games against teams that went bowling, but FIU should be able to battle and push for bowl eligibility.
Key Game To The Florida International Season
Sept. 2 at UCF The Florida schools are all drawing from the same talent pool, but at different levels. Winning those games against the other teams in the state doesn’t guarantee anything, but it doesn’t help when you lose 53-14 like FIU did to UCF last season.
UCF is better, and it’s a home game for the Knights, but can FIU start the season by at least looking good? There’s no real pressure out of the box, but win it, and all of a sudden the Butch Davis era gets off to a massive start.
2016 Florida International Fun Stats
– 1st Half Scoring: Opponents 234 – FIU 130
– Sacks: Opponents 30 for 154 yards – FIU 17 for 79 yards
– Interceptions Thrown: FIU 17 – Opponents 6