The sense of disgust was evident on the players faces in the press room.
FIU didn’t just let their chance to make a statement that “the old FIU” was a thing of the past slip away.
They had it ripped from them.
But as the Panthers have all season long, they showed resiliency and steamrolled through a reeling UTSA team 45-7, notching their seventh win of the season.
Panther quarterback James Morgan opened the season with an anemic 90-yard passing performance against Indiana.
All he’s done since is play arguably like the best signal-caller in Conference USA.
Morgan went 19-29 for 291 yards with three touchdowns. What’s evident is with each passing week his confidence and comfort level in this offense continues to grow.
Using his legs to move in the pocket, he side-stepped the rush to find C.J. Worton for an early third and long conversion. Later in the drive, he would again rely on his pocket awareness to extend a play and connect with Tony Gaiter IV on third and 18.
Morgan capped the drive with a beautiful back-shoulder fade to Maurice Alexander to put FIU on the board. His 22nd touchdown pass of the season also moved him into the Panther record books, as he broke Alex McGough’s single-season passing touchdown mark.
The obvious question coming into Saturday’s game was how would the FIU defense respond after giving up almost 400 rushing yards to FAU last week.
They answered by delivering their best performance of the season.
UTSA’s D.J. Gillins has struggled most of the season at quarterback for the Roadrunners.
Early on, he had a measure of success. The SMU transfer went 8-12 for 58 yards in the first-half and picked up a couple of third-down conversions.
However, FIU’s best defensive player in linebacker Sage Lewis tipped a Gillins pass, which fell right into the arms of fellow linebacker Edwin Freeman for an interception.
The Arlington, Texas native played his first game in his home state since transferring in the off-season from the University of Texas. He would add three tackles and a sack in his homecoming.
Lewis, the Panthers leading tackler would continue to add those numbers recording 10 stops and four pass breakups.
FIU’s fourth drive of the game would end in a touchdown to extend its lead to two touchdowns.
The 12-play, 63-yard drive was far from textbook. UTSA’s defense forced a Jose Borregales field goal attempt.
However, an errant snap sent holder Stone Wilson scrambling with the ball. Sprung by a Borregales block on UTSA’s Josiah Tauafea, Wilson would pick up the first-down and Napoleon Maxwell would score his fourth touchdown of the season.
The Roadrunner offense would show some signs of life.
But the 128th ranked scoring offense in FBS football continued to have its issues putting points on the board.
Promising freshman Brendan Brady showed flashes of talent that made him a three-star prospect out of high school. Gillins would find senior Marquez McNair for a pair of third-down conversions.
There simply weren’t enough of those to result in points and turnovers didn’t help UTSA’s cause. Gillins threw into into triple coverage and freshman safety Dorian Hall would make him pay, intercepting the pass for his second pick of the season.
The defense sacked Gillins three times and recorded a season-high four interceptions.
Morgan connected with eight different receivers on the night. Austin Maloney led the group with 76 yards and C.J. Worton found the end zone for his team-leading sixth touchdown reception of the season in the third quarter.
UTSA would find the end zone with 28 second left in the game, when Bryce Rivers would come on for an injured Gillins and connect with Tykee Ogle-Kellogg.
FIU clinches back to back winning seasons for the second time in school history, while UTSA is officially eliminated from bowl contention.
The Roadrunners take on Marshall next week, while FIU will head to Charlotte for a match-up with the 49ers.