Butch Davis’ team entered Saturday’s contest as two-score underdogs, having not won a road game in 1,042 days. Through three quarters, the Panthers were well on their way to ending the streak that dates back to November of 2018.
After FIU (1-3, 0-0) took a 27-10 lead into the fourth quarter, Chippewas head coach Jim McElwain turned to former starting quarterback Daniel Richardson, who responded by going 16-of-23 passing for 276 yards and three touchdowns in the second half, including a game-winning five-play, 80-yard drive that ended with Richardson finding receiver Dallas Dixon for the go-ahead 27-yard touchdown reception that gave Central Michigan (2-2, 0-0) its first lead since midway through the opening quarter.
The Panthers were able to muster a final drive that gave the team a chance at a final hail mary toss into the endzone, but Max Bortenschlager’s pass fell safely into the waiting arms of CMU defensive back Donte Kent — sending FIU to its worst start to the season since 2016 — and heads back to South Florida to take on rival Florida Atlantic.
Let’s take a look at four takeaways from a disappointing loss against Central Michigan, that leaves FIU in desperate need of a win.
Butch Davis repeatedly preaches needing consistency from his football team. In games that FIU has lost by tight margins, a saying of his has been “Sometimes, you get what you deserve.”
There’s no doubt that FIU played well enough to win in Mount Pleasant — just not long enough to secure the win on the road. FIU took a 27-10 lead late in the third quarter on Rishard Dames’ blocked punt and subsequent recovery for a touchdown. In the final 15 minutes of play, the Panthers allowed Richardson to pass for over 200 yards and three touchdowns. On offense, FIU managed three punts, a badly-missed 28-yard field goal attempt by Chase Gabriel off the right hash and the interception to end the game.
On FIU’s penultimate drive of the game, Davis decided on 3rd-and-two to try and pass and put Central Michigan away. From the Chippewas 49-yard-line, Bortenschlager fired a pass to Tyrese Chambers, but it was knocked away — stopping the clock as FIU was forced to punt. CMU responded with the game-winning drive following the decision.
The Panthers’ offense looked beyond anemic in the opening period of play. Through 15 minutes, FIU had zero first downs and zero yards of total offense. On the team’s second drive of the second quarter facing a 2nd-and-12, Bortenschlager found Chambers downfield for a 45-yard strike to put them in CMU territory. Chambers would cap the FIU drive by hauling in a 31-yard touchdown. The FCS transfer ended the day with his first 100-yard day at the FBS level, finishing with six catches for 175 yards and a touchdown. Redshirt senior Bryce Singleton also provided a spark with a 76-yard catch — the longest catch of his career. He ended the afternoon with six grabs for 173 yards.
Special Teams Miscues
Davis has long preached the value of special teams, going back to his time as head coach at Miami. Saturday’s loss was very much a mixed bag. However, the unit undoubtedly played a factor in the outcome of the game. Gabriel missed the 28-yard kick that would have put FIU ahead by seven and leaving the offense in need of a field goal, instead of a touchdown in the final moments. The protection on Gabriel’s third-quarter extra point try broke down, resulting in the PAT being blocked. Singleton had an excellent game as a receiver, but an odd bounce on a punt return ricocheted off of his right shoulder, giving CMU an opportunity before half to score. Central Michigan starting quarterback Jacob Sirmon found Dixon in the endzone with 10 seconds left in the first half to bring CMU within four, instead of FIU entering the intermission ahead 14-3. While punter Tommy Heatherly had a solid afternoon and Dames had the punt block and score, the miscues on special teams helped keep CMU around for much longer than they should have been.
After an excellent opening-day performance against Long Island, FIU quarterback Max Bortenschlager had two subpar performances against Texas State and Texas Tech. In the opening quarter of play against CMU, it looked as if Bortenschlager was on his way to a third consecutive game of struggles. He was sacked twice in the first quarter and five times overall. However, when provided time, the Maryland transfer was able to connect on the aforementioned deep balls to Chambers and Singleton. He finished with a career-high 395 yards, the most by a Panthers’ quarterback since Paul McCall passed for over 400 yards against Florida Atlantic in 2008. FIU will still need more consistency, as Bortenschlager finished 20-of-37 for 395 yards with two touchdowns and one interception.
Arguably the most disappointing aspect of the loss offensively was the lack of running game. D’Vonte Price was held to 57 yards on 17 carries, as the CMU defense never let Price develop a rhythm. Backup running back Shaun Peterson Jr. had 40 yards on nine carries. Taking away an 11-yard gain by Price and a 12-yarder by Peterson Jr., FIU’s backs were held for short gains throughout the afternoon. It’s hard to argue that the lack of success in the run game didn’t play a factor in Davis’ decision to pass late in the ball game.