Behind Enemy Lines: FIU football beat writer Jonathan Mayer discusses CMU game
Central Michigan Life's Christian Booher spoke with PantherNOW FIU beat writer Jonathan Mayer to preview CMU's game against FIU at Kelly/Shorts Stadium.
FIU is 1-2 this season, coming off a 54-21 loss to Texas Tech.
CMU and FIU have never played.
Mayer discussed players to watch on both sides of the ball, the state of FIU's football program and more in this exclusive Q&A.
*NOTE: These responses have been edited for length and clarity.
What is there to know about FIU heading into week four?
There’s been a lot of disappointing things, but there’s things you can look on from the individual side that makes you think this team can win more games. Results wise, besides the win against LIU that was expected, the game against Texas State, a team they really should’ve beat, there were so many mistakes and penalties that really pushed them back from winning that game in that overtime loss. You can talk about how great the running backs were, the wide receivers were but either way, there were mistakes that forced them to lose the game.
Against Texas Tech, they had the lead, they were up 7-0. A lot of FIU fans thought they had a chance of playing pretty well against a Power Five school. Once again, mistakes proven, there was an interception that kind of led to things not being on their side. Texas Tech took advantage of the run defense and it was just horrific. I think FIU is in a place where there are match-ups that they feel really confident about how the individual play has gone so far.
What do the Panthers like to do on offense and who are some playmakers to watch for?
On offense, you can really talk about D’Vonte Price. He’s a senior and one of the best running backs in Conference USA. He's already ran for 327 yards and four touchdowns on the season. In his first game, against Long Island, he ran for 165 yards on five carries and three touchdowns.
NFL scouts were asking about D’Vonte Price last year, but he still decided to return to FIU. He’s someone they’re going to rely on for the rest of the season.
On the receiving side is Tyrese Chambers, a JUCO transfer out of Baltimore, Maryland. He’s someone that was a FCS All-American, finalist for the Jerry Rice award and looked terrific in the first three games. Nine receptions, 217 yards and two touchdowns. He looks like a guy that quarterback Max Bortenschlager has really relied on.
Speaking of Bortenschlager, he’s looked average. He looked uncomfortable last week against Texas Tech against a rush defense that was really attacking him heavily. He’s someone that when he’s given good plays that are drawn up for him, he’s able to make those spot on throws.
One more person to look out for is tight end Rivaldo Fairweather. His past two games, he’s had some great receptions. He’s a big guy at 6-foot-6. On the football field, FIU doesn’t have a lot of big guys that are able to carry a team but I think Fairweather is one of those guys who’s looked good this season.
On defense, who are some players CMU should pay attention to?
FIU's run defense has been one of the worst in college football. It has been for the past five, six seasons.
I think you’ve got to look out for Davon Strickland. He’s a Conference USA honorable mention selection, he had a lot of tackles and a sack last week. He’s someone who CMU needs to be a little concerned about because he’s someone who can tear up a football field.
On the pass coverage side, that’s a place where FIU is a little more experienced. They have guys in Rishard and Richard Dames, twins that really are good in coverage. Also, Josh Valentine-Turner is someone as well who, this season, has already had 10 tackles.
What is the state of the program under head coach Butch Davis?
I think expectations are a little bit high. You’re coming off a season where you went 0-5 that I think most fans have just drawn off. Davis said last year was a waste.
I think at one point in the beginning of the year (in 2020), against Liberty, they were moving offensive linemen to defensive line positions for practice because they had no one to play. I think it showed the lack of talent and players they have to field a team. So, I think last year was a waste of a year.
Looking back, two years ago, 6-7 with a win over Miami. But still, they went 6-7 and they were really expecting to compete for a championship in the C-USA.
And so, coming into 2021, Butch Davis is still here, you’ve got a quarterback with a loaded body of experience in Max Bortenschlager, you have a running back in D’Vonte Price, you have talent at wide receiver. However, there’s still problems that you’ve got to fix.
The run defense, the penalties have to be fixed. FIU has new coordinators, so over time those things can be fixed. But down here, in Miami, fans really want to see this team go to a bowl game and they don’t feel comfortable with constantly losing these games due to mistakes.
What is your score prediction?
CMU 24, FIU 20