Panthers fall to Indiana, 28-38, in season opener

The football team began its 2018 season versus Indiana on Saturday night with a 28-38 loss. Here are some key takeaways from the home opener.

The quarterback battle continues

Graduate transfer James Morgan started under center. On his second drive, the Panthers scored a touchdown with senior running back Anthony Jones leading the way. On Morgan’s third drive, Indiana defensive back Jonathan Crawford intercepted his pass and returned it for a touchdown.

Enter junior Christian Alexander. He, too, leaned on Jones to power a touchdown drive. Alexander was accurate, mobile and efficient throughout the second quarter—until he turned over possession to Indiana on a fumbled snap.

Morgan took back the reins in the third quarter and the offense picked up its tempo. The result: a 78-yard drive punched in for a touchdown by junior running back Shawndarrius Phillips. He also threw a touchdown to wide receiver Maurice Alexander in the middle of the fourth quarter to pull the Panthers within 28-38.

FIU failed to convert an onside kick after that, and Indiana was able to run out the clock.

As far as the quarterback competition goes, Head Coach Butch Davis doesn’t believe he has a clear starter yet.

“I don’t suspect it will be much different until one of them separates themselves and says, ‘I am clearly better than the other guy,’” Davis said.

A learning experience on defense

Saturday was a test for the team’s new-look secondary. Many of its players are young or new to their positions.

Davis was pleased with how they stepped up, but believes that there is room for improvement.

“We replaced all four starters in the secondary, and everybody that played today were basically babies. So for most of them it was their first college experience,” Davis said.

On a positive note, linebacker Sage Lewis recorded 18 tackles—a career high. And after last year’s defeat at UCF to open 2017, they have confidence that they will turn it around.

“I don’t even feel like it is bouncing back because I feel like my team didn’t give up,” Lewis said.

“At UCF, we were at a loss for words. At the end of the day, all the old guys brought the young guys along and we played as a team. I feel a lot more confident this year because we played a great game.”

A strong return for Jones

The Miami Central alum was the primary tailback on Saturday. After missing all of 2017, the senior was strong in his first action back since 2016. He compiled 82 yards on 11 carries with two touchdowns in the first half.

“I just think we had a great tempo. The offense moved well. The offensive line did a great job,” said Jones. “I’m just happy to be back out here with the guys.”