Florida International University (FIU) Panthers’ Head Coach Butch Davis revealed at the official Makers Wanted Bahamas Bowl press conference at the Thomas A. Robinson National Stadium on Thursday, that the Panthers will be without starting quarterback James Morgan in the bowl game today. Morgan suffered a triceps injury in their final regular season against Marshall on November 24.
The Panthers, of Conference USA, will battle the University of Toledo Rockets from the Mid-American Conference (MAC) today at 12.30 p.m. at the Thomas A. Robinson stadium. The game is scheduled to be televised live on ESPN.
Initially, it was expected to be a high-scoring game as both teams averaged more than 30 points per game. In the case of the Rockets, they average 40-plus points per game.
Morgan was having a great season, establishing a
single-season touchdown record with 26. He led Conference USA (C-USA) in passing yards per attempt at 8.4 and passer rating efficiency at 157.6. The graduate transfer will be replaced by redshirt junior Christian Alexander. Alexander played in nine games this season, completing 19-of-29 passes for 218 yards and an interception.
Davis said he and his team learnt a valuable lesson after former quarterback Alex McGough got injured in their bowl game last year.
“We went through a similar situation last year when McGough got injured in the bowl game on play number two. We learnt an unbelievably valuable lesson in the sense that we really truly weren’t as prepared as we would have liked to have been,” said Davis. “One of the objectives during our entire season, especially during training camp, was to make sure that the back-up quarterback was prepared to play and step in at any moment. During the first half of the season Alexander played in just about every game we played, at the end of the game a couple of times. Against the University of Texas San Antonio, he was the starting quarterback. We feel that we are much better prepared for the back-up quarterback to step in and play well tomorrow,” added Davis.
The Panthers finished the season with an 8-4 win-loss record. That placed them in second place in the Conference USA East standings. In the middle of the season they had a four-game winning streak in which they defeated Arkansas Pine Bluff, Middle Tennessee, Rise and Western Kentucky University. They lost their final game of the season to Marshall, falling 28-25 at home.
Davis said he has watched film of the Rockets, and said they are a very explosive team.
“They are very talented in all three phases. When you get prepared to play the game and you look at somebody and they are really good on offense, okay at one phase and good at the other phase, that’s going to be a challenge,” said Davis. “When you watch them they are explosive, they are fast on offense, they have big play ability, that part is obvious. They have very good defensive ends that will put pressure on the quarterbacks and very good returners on special teams and their kicking game is good. Jason (Candle) and his staff has done a good job with the team so you have to be prepared to play well in all three phases.”
Panthers’ junior defensive back Tyree Johnson said they need to stop the run and pressure the quarterback.
“The main thing that we are focused on is stopping the run. They are great up front, big and physical, so, the main thing is to stop the run and pressure the quarterback,” Johnson said.
Graduate offensive guard Jordan Budwig said he has faith in Alexander and believes he is ready for the role.
“Christian has been a part of this program and has been the leader of the offense in the spring. On offense, not much changes. He has been in that role multiple times in the season. When we played Marshall, he stepped in and led us on a touchdown drive so we are not worried about Christian. We will continue to do what we have to do and that is to go out there and play well,” Budwig said.
Budwig said that the grass does not present an issue for his team as they have both grass and turf practice fields. They practiced on their grass field in preparation for the bowl game and they have also played on grass a few times during the season.
Smith was very grateful to Mayor of Elk Grove Village Craig Johnson for sponsoring the bowl game and giving college football fans a great experience.
Today’s game will be the fourth time that the two schools compete in football. The Panthers hold a 2-1 series lead. The last match-up saw the Panthers winning 34-32 in the 2010 Little Caesars Pizza Bowl in Detroit, Michigan, USA.