At First Glance: The Hoosiers Will Have a Solid Test Opening the Season at FIU

 The Indiana Hoosiers will open the season for the second time in three seasons at FIU  Image: Sammy Jacobs Hoosier Huddle

The Indiana Hoosiers will open the season for the second time in three seasons at FIU Image: Sammy Jacobs Hoosier Huddle

Written By Sammy Jacobs (@Hoosier_Huddle)

The Indiana Hoosiers will travel to Miami for the second time in three years to open the season against the Florida International Golden Panthers. The Hoosiers are currently 2-0 against FIU with wins in 2015 and 2016 before a hurricane cancelled last season's matchup in Bloomington. The Hoosiers and Golden Panthers will finish their series in 2024.

Week One: Florida International Golden Panthers

Date & Time: Saturday September 1, 2018, 7:00pm

Venue: Riccardo Silva Stadium, Miami, FL

TV: CBS Sports Network

Golden Panthers at a Glance

Head Coach: Butch Davis

Entering his 12th year overall and 2nd at FIU

Overall Record: 71-48

At FIU: 8-5

Golden Panthers Last Season: 8-5 (5-3) Lost Gasparilla Bowl vs Temple 28-3

Golden Panthers Retuning Leaders

Passing: Maurice Alexander (46.1 pct. 174 yards 0 TDs 2 INTs)

Rushing: Napoleon Maxwell (81 att. 477 yards 5.9 YPC 5 TDs)

Receiving: Tony Gaiter IV (34 rec. 314 yards 9.2 YPR 1 TD)

Tackles: Sage Lewis LB (55 tackles 5 TFL, 1 PBU)

Pre-Season Predictions

Athlon’s: 5th in C-USA East

Lindy’s: 5th in C-USA East

Street & Smith’s: 4th in C-USA East

Phil Steele: TBA

Impact Newcomers for the Golden Panthers

1. James Morgan, QB- Morgan is a grad transfer from Bowling Green who should be the starting quarterback in week one. Morgan played in seven games with the Falcons throwing for 1,260 yards and nine touchdowns. However, he did lose his job to freshman Jarrett Doege and decided to finish his college career in Miami. The knock-on Morgan is his accuracy and his propensity to throw the ball to the other team. He only completed 45.3 percent of his passes and tossed seven interceptions in 212 pass attempts.

2. Teair Tart-Spencer, DT- The six-foot-four 295-pound defensive tackle had all kinds of big-time offers coming out of East Mississippi C.C. After being booted from EMCC and losing his offer to Alabama the big fella landed at FIU (Note: He is currently not listed on their roster on the FIU website). If he indeed is on the roster this fall, he will anchor a formidable defensive front for the Golden Panthers.

3. Jamal Anderson, S- A one-time Louisville commit, Anderson will help a secondary that will replace all four starters from a year ago. Standing at six-foot-two and weighing 180 pounds, the South Dade H.S. prospect was a top-900 player in the nation and one of the bigger gets for Butch Jones this off-season. He has excellent ball skills and may beat out several upper classmen for the starting safety position.

4. Donovan Georges, LB- Georges was another big signing for FIU as he held offers from 10 Power Five schools including SEC powers Alabama, Georgia and LSU. He also had an offer from Indiana. Georges may be a little under-sized at six-foot but has the talent to step right in to fill the shoes of the departed Treyvon Williams and Anthony Wint. He has a nose for the ball and can get into the back field quickly and stir things up with big hits.

Offensive Preview

The Golden Panthers will have to replace 5,112 yards of total offense in 2018 after losing a four-year starter at quarterback in Alex McGough, their leading rusher (Alex Gardner) and their leading receiver (Thomas Owens). That is not going to be an easy feat. However, FIU does have some potential answers at those positions.

 Tony Gaiter is FIU's returning leading receiver  Image: Miami Herald

Tony Gaiter is FIU's returning leading receiver Image: Miami Herald

At quarterback, graduate transfer James Morgan has the lead for the starting job but will have to beat out redshirt sophomore Christian Alexander who has not thrown a pass since the 2016 season when he completed 20-of-34 passes for 216 yards, four touchdowns and zero interceptions. If Morgan struggles early or he brushes off the rust quickly, Alexander could find his way onto the field week one.

While the Golden Panthers lose the services of Alex Gardner at running back they do have some intriguing returning backs.  FIU has three players who had a better yard per carry average than Gardner last year (4.37) in Napolean Maxwell (5.89), Shaundarius Phillips (4.51) and D’Vonte Price (8.73). While none of them had more than 104 carries, they all showed explosiveness that can cause issues for the IU defense. Look for the FIU rushing attack to spread the carries around, especially since it will probably be muggy on September 1st down in Miami.

The Hoosiers have now played (or have been scheduled to play) FIU in each of the last three seasons, so many names on this FIU roster may be familiar to fans. One of those names was Thomas Owens, who torched IU in 2015, before being shut down in 2016. However, he is now gone and junior Tony Gaiter IV is the leader of the receiving corps. Gaiter was second on the team in receptions, behind Owens, in 2017 hauling in 34 passes for 314 yards and a score. The five-foot-nine speedster also is a factor in the punt return game. There isn’t a whole lot of size in the FIU receiving corps, as they have two wide outs who at six-foot-one or taller on the roster as of the spring but bring in two tall wide outs in the recruiting class in Ivan Thomas (6’4”) and Cardarius Gaskin (6’3”). Production wise, behind Gaiter is junior Austin Maloney who finished fourth on the team in catches last season with 21 for 304 yards. Depending on what Butch Davis wants to get out of his offense, the two incoming freshmen could push their way into the starting lineup.

FIU will also have to replace a productive tight end in Pharoah McKever, who caught 27 balls for 301 yards and three scores. FIU has five other tight ends on the roster and brought in two big tight ends in the 2018 recruiting class in Sterling Palmer and David O’Meara.

The line returns three-of-five starters from a season ago. That unit is headlined by junior right guard Dallas Connell who is an Athlon’s Sports third-team All C-USA selection. Stepping in to replace the departed are center Shane McGough (So) and left guard D’Antne Demery who is also a sophomore. The offensive line has some size, but their depth could be a concern.

Defensive Preview

 Fermin Silva (7) will make the move from DE to LB  Image Getty Images

Fermin Silva (7) will make the move from DE to LB Image Getty Images

FIU’s defense was not immune to gradutation either as the experienced lost on both sides of the ball will make the Golden Panthers one of the least experienced teams in the FBS.  FIU will have to replace seven of its top nine tacklers from a year ago, but the cupboard is not bare. FIU returns defensive lineman Anthony Johnson and Fermin Silva, who will switch to linebacker. Both are preseason Athlon Sport’s second team All-CSUA.

Johnson, a six-foot-three, 291-pound lineman was a thorn in the side for opposing offenses last season making 39 tackles, 8.5 tackles for loss including seven sacks. He will be circled in the game plan for the IU offense. Silva, who played defensive end a season ago, will be moved to linebacker to offset the loss of Anthony Wint and Treyvon Williams. Silva was an under-sized defensive end and should fit in well at LB. Last season Silva made 50 tackles, 14 tackles for loss including seven sacks and a forced fumble. These two will headline a pretty solid front seven for the Golden Panthers. Junior linebacker Sage Lewis will also be back after posting 55 tackles in 2017.

The most question marks on defense for FIU occur on the back end. Out of the four players who recorded interceptions in 2017 only one returns, junior Olin Cushion, who may not start. FIU will be extremely young on the back end with only one upper classman slated to start (they have some veteran depth though). The youth movement on the back end will put the pressure on the front seven to get pressure on IU’s quarterback.

Special Teams

The Golden Panthers have two all-conference caliber specialists in senior punter Stone Wilson who averaged 41 yards per punt and  sophomore kicker Jose Borregals who did not miss a field goal under forty yards and finished the year hitting 15-of-18.    If there is an aspect of the game where FIU may be better or equal to IU is on special teams.

Sophomore Bryce Singleton has the ability to be a game changer in the return game as he made an impact as a freshman as he averaged close to 23 yards per return.