The Golden Panthers are looking to improve this season after finishing last season with a 4-8 record. Last season, the FIU offense ranked 102nd in the nation in total offense with 4,541 yards. They were also the 106th highest-scoring offense in the nation, scoring 24 points per game. That mark was good for last place in Conference USA.
FIU fans should be hoping that this offense can get things turned around and it looks like they’ll have an opportunity too. The Golden Panthers have almost everybody coming back from last year’s team, including every player that got more than one carry, five of their top six receivers, and three quarterbacks with experience.
Their one major loss from last year’s offense is Jonnu Smith. Perhaps you remember him from when his girlfriend poured boiling hot water on him. He was likely the best tight end in FIU history, having put up numbers good enough to give him the career record for receiving yards and recptions by a tight end. Last season against the Hoosiers, Smith had 8 receptions for 83 yards. Smith has moved on to the NFL, where the Titans drafted him in the 3rd round (100th overall).
Another loss for the FIU offense is Dieugot Joseph, an offensive tackle who started 34 games over his four years in Miami. Joseph was an all-conference honorable mention and signed with the Bears as an undrafted free agent.
FIU finished 82nd in passing yards last season with 2,720. They also scored 19 TDs through the air and were picked off 17 times. Their passing game was ranked 85th in S&P+.
Senior quarterback Alex McGough will again lead the Golden Panther passing attack in the fall. McGough, who has started for the Panthers the past three years, is already the FIU leader in career passing touchdowns with 48. He will be looking to break even more school records in the fall, as he is in second place in career completions and passing yards as well. McGough missed the final three games of last season due to an injury, but before he went down he completed 167 passes for 1,891 yards and 13 TDs. He completed 58.4 percent of his passes, had a 121.24 efficiency rating, and was picked off 11 times. McGough is also capable of helping out in the running game. Last season, he carried the ball 45 times for 206 yards and scored four times.
As was earlier stated, five of last season’s top six receivers are back. This includes McGough’s top target Thomas Owens. Last season, Owens had 47 catches for 652 yards and 7 TDs, all of which were highs for the Golden Panthers. Owens had a strong performance the last time FIU was in Bloomington, racking up 166 yards in the 36-22 Hoosier win during the 2015 season.
Stantley Thomas should be another top target for the Golden Panthers in the fall. Last season, Thomas had 35 catches for 485 yards, but only scored once. His yardage and reception totals are the second most of any returning Golden Panther.
The biggest question mark for the FIU offense in the coming season is at the tight end position. The Golden Panthers have to replace Jonnu Smith, but after his very successful run, there isn’t anybody that has proven they can take his place.
There are three players listed at tight end on the FIU roster. Those three players have combined for zero career catches. For a team that is so used to having a dominant tight end, this should be concerning.
This should be another game where the IU defense should be able to get after the quarterback, as the Golden Panthers allowed the 34th most sacks in the country with 31 last season. The FIU offense lost 161 yards total on those sacks.
FIU appears to focus have focused more on the passing game last season, but they are no slouch on the ground.
Last season, the Golden Panthers finished 102nd in nation in rushing yards with 1,821. They averaged 4.3 yards per carry and scored 16 TDs. FIU’s ground game had a S&P+ ranking of 77th.
FIU workhorse from last season, senior Alex Gardner, will be back in the fall. Gardner has been the starter in Miami since his freshman year and is probably the best running back in school history. He owns the FIU career records for rushing yards, carries, 100 yard games, receptions by a running back, and receiving yards by a running back. He is also third in career rushing TDs for a Golden Panther. Last season, Gardner carried the ball 181 times for 930 yards and 6 TDs. He average 5.1 yards per carry and had a long carry of 55 yards. Gardner is also a threat in the passing game. Last season, he had 30 catches for 191 yards.
Anthony Jones will be back this season to spell Gardner. Last season, Jones was FIU’s second leading rusher with 116 carries for 575 yards and 4 TDs. He averaged 4.8 yards per carry and broke a 48-yard run last season as well.
Jose Borregales should take over as the placekicker following a redshirt season. The freshman was a first team all-state selection as a senior at Booker T. Washington HS. He was also a first team All-Dade County selection, making three straight all-county teams. Borregales made 13 of 14 field goals and 48 of 51 extra points as a senior. He should be useful on kickoffs too. On 72 kickoffs, Borregales totaled 60 touchbacks.