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Chuck Landon: FIU’s Morgan a tough test for MU secondary

November 24, 2018

MIAMI - There’s a reason James Morgan has been playing like Conference USA’s version of NFL star Aaron Rodgers.

It’s because FIU’s star quarterback also is from Green Bay, Wisconsin.

But that isn’t the only similarity.

The Panthers’ 6-foot-4, 213-pound graduate transfer junior quarterback’s pass efficiency rating, touchdown-to-interception ratio and lack of sacks also are very Rodgers-like.

Guess who has noticed.

Marshall University head coach Doc Holliday whose Thundering Herd has to contend with Morgan when MU takes on FIU at noon Saturday in Riccardo Silva Stadium.

“The quarterback,” said Holliday. “Just look at his numbers compared to everyone else in the league. He may be at the top. He’s very efficient.”

Indeed.

Although Middle Tennessee star senior Brent Stockstill routinely gets the nod as C-USA’s top quarterback, it isn’t the case statistically. Stockstill has thrown 60 more passes, but has only 41 more yards than Morgan. Morgan also has thrown two more TD passes and one less interception than Stockstill.

Morgan is ranked No. 1 in pass efficiency (164.5) ahead of Stockstill (151.5) and North Texas’ Mason Fine (149.7). Morgan also leads all C-USA quarterbacks in touchdown passes with 26 and ranks No. 2 in least number of interceptions (five).

Overall, Morgan has completed 192 of 293 passes for 2,550 yards averaging 231.8 yards. But he has taken it up a notch during FIU’s last seven games.

Starting with a 9-for-14, 341-yard, four-touchdown performance in a 55-9 win over the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff, Morgan has gotten better and better.

In FIU’s last seven games, he has completed 136 of 199 passes (.683) for 1,871 yards (267.3 per game) with 18 touchdowns and only one interception. That’s correct, Morgan has thrown just one pick in his last 199 passes.

What’s even worse from Marshall’s perspective is the Herd hasn’t faced a truly prolific passer since it lost to Middle Tennessee and Stockstill, 34-24, in Joan C. Edwards Stadium on Oct. 6.

“Everyone we play against has a pretty good quarterback,” said Marshall junior cornerback Chris Jackson, “but the last few weeks they have been running the ball a little bit more. They’ve been throwing it around a little bit, but coming into this week we’ve really got to prepare for the passing attack.”

And then some.

Marshall’s defense ranks only No. 61 in the country in passing defense, allowing 226.7 yards per game, as it prefers to concentrate on stopping the run (No. 4 at 91.5 yards).

The Herd secondary proved susceptible against Miami (Ohio) quarterback Gus Ragland (25 of 46, 357 yards, three TDs); N.C. State’s Ryan Finley (23 of 40 for 377 yards); and Middle Tennessee’s Stockstill (25 of 40, 317 yards and two touchdowns).

Next up, Morgan.

“He has been pretty solid all year,” said Jackson. “He has been building every week. He’s been getting better and better. The last few weeks for him have been very good. He’s been throwing the ball pretty much probably the best in the conference right now, so we do have to come in and prepare for that.

“He’s really good.”

It isn’t just a controlled passing game, either.

“I think it is a little bit of both,” said Jackson. “They take their shots (downfield) when need be. And they definitely can spread the field and space everything out and take the top off of the coverage.”

FIU is going to be a handful, especially at home.

MU will win, 31-30.

Chuck Landon is a sports columnist for The Herald-Dispatch. Contact him at clandon@herald-dispatch.com.

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