College FIU Panthers

FIU Concludes Spring Practice With Annual Spring Game

There is something good happening at FIU.

Not just the typical seemingly perpetual bustling around the campus. Something good is brewing within the Florida International University’s football program.

Building on the momentum of an 8-win season and appearing in its first bowl game in six years, there was a palpable optimism and buzz in the air as FIU held its annual “offense vs. defense” spring game Friday night at Riccardo Silva Stadium.

Nearly 1,000 fans and recruits looked as the team was split and it went through a live, yet controlled, scrimmage that rewarded the offense for touchdowns and field goals and the defense for 3-and-outs, 6-and-outs, and turnovers.

As it usually is with most teams during early practices, the defense got the best of the offense for most of the night – taking a 13-6 lead after senior Emmanuel Lubin recovered a fumble.

But the offense ended up winning the matchup on the final play of the night – a touchdown reception by Hallandale High alum Richie Cooper followed by a two-point conversion scramble by redshirt freshman quarterback Kaylan Wiggins – taking a 14-13 win over the defense.

Panthers head coach Butch Davis said overall, he liked what he saw out of his team Friday night, but was most happy with the fact that everyone walked off the field safe and sound.

Davis, entering his second season leading FIU, made a huge impression on the South Florida community with the work he did with the Panthers in year one – considering what he inherited from former head coach Ron Turner.

Turner’s tenure was quite a forgettable one – winning just 10 of the 40 games he coached at FIU and worse yet, losing the recruiting connection with the extremely fertile grounds of South Florida (Miami-Dade, Broward and even Palm Beach Counties).

From the time of Davis’ introductory press conference through Friday night, just about every move he’s made had the intent to embrace the state of Florida – South Florida especially – and bring increase the community’s support of the program.

Adding two former Miami-Dade high school coaches – Aubrey Hill and Earl Little – to his staff while also retaining Tim Harris Jr. played well as did Davis’ two signing classes, which included a total 21 players from either Miami-Dade or Broward County high schools.

Also, after the game, fans were invited down on the field for autographs, photos and a meet and greet with players and coaches.

Davis said getting players that play their high school football careers right in FIU’s backyard is paramount to the program’s success.

“I’ve said before it, if you just drive up I-95 through Dade, Broward and Palm Beach, and get a kid from schools right there – you can win a national championship,” Davis said.

“The community support has been great and we want to continue to welcome them into our program so they can see all the great things that we have going on here.”

Making Plays

Because graduation took away a significant amount of leadership and playmaking from the Panthers, FIU’s coaching staff has used the spring to identify players that are ready to step up and assume bigger roles on both sides of the ball.

While it was a scrimmage between teammates, that didn’t stop the players from getting a little physical with one another.

Replacing career rushing yards leader Alex Gardener won’t be an easy task, but Davis had to be pleased with what he saw from Napolean Maxwell – who led with 54 yards on six carries.

Shawndarrius Phillips finished with six carries for 21 yards, senior and Miami Central alum Anthony Jones carried the ball five times for 21 yards, and freshman running back Jordan Atkins had 29 yards on six carries.

Redshirt junior Austin Maloney led all receivers with four catches for 74 yards including a 50-yard catch and run. Also, Bryce Singleton hauled in a 36-yard catch on a double reverse that was thrown by fellow receiver C.J. Worton.

The most impressive pass catcher was probably 6-foot-6, 235-pound, early-enrollee, freshman tight end Sterling Palmer caught two passes for 28 yards.

The quarterback competition continued Friday.

FIU rotated three quarterbacks in the game, looking to find Alex McGough’s replacement.

Redshirt junior Maurice “Hard Time” Alexander, who saw action during FIU’s bowl game after McGough exited with an injury, completed 3-of-6 passes for 18 yards Friday night.

6-foot-3, 225-pound redshirt junior Christian Alexander completed 7 of his 11 passes for 89 yards, while Wiggins went 8-for-13 for 68 yards and the late touchdown pass to Cooper.

Friday was the three signal callers’ last chance to impress coaches before the impending arrival of graduate-transfer quarterback James Morgan, a 6-foot-5, 225-pound former Bowling Green quarterback.

The defense was led by defensive end Kevin Oliver‘s five tackles (four solo), one sack and one pass breakup. Linebacker Sage Lewis finished with four tackles while defensive tackle Anthony Johnson added four tackles (two solo) with a sack and a pass breakup.

Davis said he’ll look at the film to gauge where his team is after the spring, but said he mostly wants to see who’s invested the most.

J.T. Wilcox
J.T. Wilcox is an award-winning sports journalist who has worked in South Florida for more than a decade. He authors "The Bald Predictions" blog and "The Baldcast" podcast.

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