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FIU Football: Fueled by a second-quarter explosion, Middle Tennessee routs FIU 50-10

Middle Tennessee jumped on FIU from the opening start, putting this one out of reach early.

NCAA Football: Troy at Middle Tennessee Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

The obvious question following the upheaval atop FIU’s athletic department was how would the Panthers respond on the field. Exactly how much Butch Davis’ team was affected by the events of Wednesday is unknown. However, FIU (1-9, 0-6) fell victim to another disastrous first half, falling to Middle Tennessee (5-5, 3-3) for the third straight season by a final score of 50-10.

Floyd Stadium has been a house of horrors for the Panthers, as FIU has lost by an average of 30 points in the team’s last three trips to Murfreesboro and they haven’t won at the site since 2011.

True freshman Nick Viattiato led the Blue Raiders on a 14-play, 75-yard drive to open the game, culminating with a 12-yard touchdown reception from wideout Jimmy Marshall. Viattiato, a South Florida native, went an efficient 20-of-24 for 147 yards and two touchdowns in his second career start. FIU responded by driving to the MTSU 30, but the drive stalled following Panther quarterback Max Bortenschlager being sacked. Chase Gabriel tied the program record with a 53-yard field goal to put FIU on the board.

Viattiato again marched the Blue Raiders on an extended drive for a touchdown, this time going 75 yards on 15 plays and ending with wideout Yusef Ali hauling in his third touchdown reception of the year. On the next FIU drive, the Panthers would go three-and-out as Bortenschlager was sacked by MTSU’s Jurriente Davis on 3rd-and-6.

Rick Stockstill’s club would take a three-score lead when the Blue Raider offense drove 58 yards in just over five minutes. MTSU running back Frank Peasant scored from two yards out to make the game 21-3. The second-quarter onslaught would continue as Bortenschlager would be picked off by Blue Raiders redshirt freshman cornerback Quincy Riley, jumping an out route and taking the interception 45 yards for a touchdown.

On the next offensive play for FIU, bad became worse as wideout Tyrese Chambers was stripped by MTSU safety Greg Grate Jr. and the defense recovered inside the Panther 25-yard line. Grate’s secondary mate in all-conference performer Reed Blankenship would intercept Bortenschlager on the following drive MTSU ended the quarter with two Zeke Rankin field goals, leaving FIU down 34-3 at the half.

Middle Tennessee v Florida Atlantic
Rick Stockstill has MTSU one win away from bowl eligibility.
Photo by Mark Brown/Getty Images

MTSU outgained FIU 239-51 in the first half and the 121 rushing yards for Middle Tennessee was a season-high on the ground.

Middle’s first score of the second half came as Bortenschlager was sacked in the endzone by redshirt freshman defensive tackle Marley Cook for a safety. On the next offensive play for the Blue Raiders, Pettaway raced 57 yards for a touchdown to put the home team ahead 43-3.

Defensively, Blankenship led the way with eight tackles, while the unit as a whole held the Panthers to a season-low in passing yards and under 100 rushing yards for the eighth straight week.

The FIU run game was virtually non-existent, as star running back D’Vonte Price did not make the trip following his shin injury against Old Dominion.

Lexington Joseph earned the start, but rushed for 11 yards on five carries and shared the duties with Eric Wilson Jr. who had 42 yards and Shaun Peterson Jr., who finished with 39.

Bortenschlager finished the evening 9-of-20 for 68 yards and the two interceptions before Grayson James closed out the contest.

Middle Tennessee picks up their fifth win of the season, pushing them one game closer to earning bowl eligibility for the first time since 2018, while the Panthers’ winless streak against FBS competition continues as they return home to face North Texas. MTSU welcomes Old Dominion to Floyd Stadium next Saturday.