After entering Friday night’s nationally televised contest against Conference USA heavyweight UTSA (5-2, 3-0) as 33-point underdogs, FIU (2-4, 0-2) put up an admirable fight against the Roadrunners. However, as has been the case in the team’s losses this season, a lethal combination of youth, injuries and timely miscues cost the Panthers a shot at an upset at FIU Stadium.
UTSA had over 400 yards of total offense, spurred by freshman Kevorian Barnes’ 128-yard, two-touchdown performance and quarterback Frank Harris’ 303 passing yards en route to a 30-10 victory.
FIU held the Roadrunners scoreless in the first quarter, but couldn’t capitalize on their chances inside of UTSA territory. Roadrunners’ defensive back Corey Mayfield Jr. intercepted Panthers’ quarterback Grayson James in the third quarter, ending the last chance of an FIU comeback.
Running back Kejon Owens added the game’s final score on a 15-yard touchdown to earn his first career score. Here are five takeaways from the UTSA game.
Entering Friday’s game, MacIntyre made it known that FIU would have to account for number zero on both sides of the ball for UTSA. Roadrunners’ safety Rashad Wisdom had a pedestrian outing, but star quarterback Frank Harris showed why he’s one of the top dual-threat signal-callers in America in the victory over the Panthers.
The sixth-year senior’s veteran presence was display throughout the evening, steadying the UTSA offense despite a slow start that saw FIU hold the Roadrunners’ offense scoreless after a quarter.
“Frank Harris is like Houdini out there, he’s a very talented quarterback and he made things happen all night,” said Panthers head coach Mike MacIntyre.
Harris waisted no time in the second quarter, leading UTSA on two touchdown drives of 70-plus yards and using his legs to elude FIU defenders in the backfield several times.
“I felt like we kept him in the pocket a bit and forced him to throw but he’s obviously a great player and made things happen that way, I talked to him after the game and you can tell how mature he is,” said linebacker Gaethan Bernadel.
On the evening, Harris finished 24-of-35 for 303 yards in three quarters of work. He had touchdown tosses to wideout Zakhari Franklin and tight end Dan Dishman, both in the second quarter.
Earning his fifth consecutive start, Panthers’ quarterback Grayson James guided the offense for the majority of the contest and made several trips inside of UTSA territory. However, the sophomore finished the night 18-of-36 for 174 yards with no touchdowns and one interception on night.
“I thought Grayson did some good things, we have to do a better job as a staff of putting him and the offense the best position to succeed,” said MacIntyre.
As has been the case throughout the season, James used his legs to scramble and to keep plays alive, but spent a solid chunk of the evening having to make decisions quickly as UTSA managed 11 pressures and four sacks in Friday night’s loss.
For almost a decade, FIU fans were treated to excellent linebacker play headed by standouts Treyvon Williams, Anthony Wint and Sage Lewis. This season, the Panthers’ duo of middle linebackers in Donovan Manuel and Gaethan Bernadel have been constants around the football this season.
The two combined for 23 in the loss to UTSA and both have had double-digit tackles in the first-half of games on several occasions this year.
“It’s obviously nice to have a career-high in tackles, but it’s not about me it’s about the team and we have to keep growing as a defense and keep them out of the endzone,” said Bernadel. “We did some things and made plays in the first half, but 30 points is entirely too many points to allow.”
The Panthers held UTSA to 30 yards rushing in the first half, in large part due to the play of the two linebackers.
FIU’s Achilles’ heel in the loss to UConn was an inability to finish drives once getting inside of opposition territory. Unfortunately, any chance of the Panthers pulling off the upset was thwarted by those same struggles on Friday night.
Following the game, MacIntyre spoke at length about the inability to finish drives and how it’s hurt his team in their last two outings.
“Part of it is indicative of a young team learning to play together, it’s not just one phase on offense, it’s every single phase where were just a bit off on one thing or another,” said MacIntyre. “We as a staff have to do a better job of doing what we need to do to help our team finish drives.”
FIU had three drives in the first three quarters that made their way inside the Roadrunners’ 25-yard line, including two in the first half — only to come away with just three points. Arguably the toughest one to stomach was a seven-play, 73-yard drive in the game’s penultimate quarter. After starting at their own 20, FIU drove to the UTSA seven, but James and wideout Kris Mitchell couldn’t hookup.
After averaging under three yards per carry in the team’s first four contests, the FIU run game has found success in back-to-back weeks. Sophomore Lexington Joseph rushed for 103 yards last week against UConn and followed that up with a 56-yard game on six attempts against UTSA.
“I’ve learned a lot waiting my time behind guys like Anthony Jones, Napoleon Maxwell, D’Vonte Price and I just want to show that I can be that guy,” said Joseph.
There’s no doubt that Joseph’s attempts have been stifled somewhat by the Panthers falling behind in games — forcing FIU to have to turn to the pass. The 5-9, 205-pound Joseph is becoming one of Conference USA’s most dynamic all-purpose threats, totaling 776 all-purpose yards on the season as a returner, receiver and on the ground.
“Getting touches in different aspects helps keep me in rhythm and gets me going and it’s just another way I can help the team,” said Joseph.