It’s lit, fam! Shit got real! The FIU Panthers won the Shula Bowl. Going back up to Boca Raton will be the FAU Owls with their fourth straight loss after winning their season opener against the SIU Salukis (what in the fuck is a Saluki?). As for the Panthers, it has truly been a week of change.
Florida International’s, candidly, embarrassing 53-14 loss last week to the UCF Knights finally drove the institution and Athletic Director Pete Garcia over the edge as they decided to make the tough mid-season decision to fire Head Coach Ron Turner. In stepped the newly interim and former Assistant Head Coach Ron Cooper, tasked with attempting to pull the Panthers out of the 0-4 they dug for themselves. An interesting and peculiar decision, to be sure, as the defensive struggles might have been the biggest reason for the lackluster start of this team. However, whether the seemingly just-as-awful defense of the Owls or the uptick in energy that QB Alex McGough and RBs Alex Gardner and Anthony Jones would not stop giving their newly assigned head man credit for, the Panthers really managed to stay in this game tonight long enough to get their necessary, in conference, rivalry victory. In Gardner’s own words: “we wanted this win, we needed this win”.
It didn’t look particularly good for the hometown Panthers out of the gates. FAU’s Gregory Howell, Jr. took the second play of the game to the house with a 68 yard run. While every fan in the stadium, myself included, were keeping their heads down and going through their “here-we-go-agains”, McGough and the Panthers marched down the field in a 12 play drive to answer with a 17 yard run from the QB crossing the goal line. FIU would take a first half lead before breaking down a bit at the end of the first half. A bad turnover (McGough intercepted by FAU’s Jalen Young) led to Owls kicker Greg Joseph giving his team the lead with an impressive 50 yard Field Goal. It got worse as the second half was in its infant stage and McGough was picked off yet again, this one happened to be deep within Panthers territory as Azeez Al-Shaair took it back to the house.
Luckily, for the Panthers, the FAU defense would not be outdone in its vulnerability. FIU’s obvious game plan to exploit the poor run defense of their rivals was effective all night and brought them back from the 24-14 second half deficit. The Panthers would end the night with 270 yards on the ground. That’s right, I said 270. More surprising even was the statistical splits. RB Alex Gardner had 27 carries for 119 yards and 0 TDs. Anthony Jones went 15/90 with a TD. QB Alex McGough – yes, QB – rushed 7 times for 61 yards and 2 TD on the ground. Two late Field Goals gave FIU the lead they would not relinquish as the 4th quarter clock hit 0:00 and the entire Panthers sideline sprinted over to lift the Shula Bowl trophy for the first time in two years.
I don’t know if this is the beginning of the Ron Cooper era for FIU, his players certainly seemed to like the new found excitement in this team. It remains to be seen where the program goes from here due to the weakness in this match-ups opponent. The inefficiencies of this team don’t glare as brightly when the outcome isn’t an L, but the defensive woes were still present (gashed for 236 yards). We’ll gladly take the win, but reserve judgement and excitement until further notice. However, if you’d like to buy in, then maybe you can take RB Anthony Jones at his word: “I know the losing is over”.
For a full photo gallery of this game, CLICK HERE.