The UTSA Roadrunners (5-2, 3-0 CUSA) came into Friday night’s matchup as heavy road favorites over the FIU Panthers (2-4, 0-2 CUSA), and walked out of Florida with a 30-10 victory that was never in doubt.
First year head coach Mike MacIntyre is in a full rebuild year for FIU while UTSA is aiming to repeat as conference champions under third year head coach Jeff Traylor. It was evident on the field that UTSA had the skill to outlast FIU, but the Panthers refused to fold early and made the Roadrunners work for their win. Despite the score, there were bright spots for MacIntyre and Traylor to take away for their teams’ respective seasons.
UTSA’s Frank Harris continued his dominant quarterback play, throwing for 303 yards and 2 touchdowns with no interceptions. He had 195 yards and the two scores by halftime. But he was limited in the running game, where FIU found success where other teams have failed. The Panthers sacked Harris 2 times, held him to -10 yards rushing, and forced a fumble in the 1st quarter.
Even so, the Panthers couldn’t stop UTSA’s wide receiver trio of Zakhari Franklin, De’Corian “JT” Clark, and Joshua Cephus. Harris spread the ball evenly between the three, giving Franklin the ball 6 times for 68 yards and 1 touchdown, Clark 5 times for 60 yards, and Cephus 6 times for 55 yards. Harris also got the tight ends more involved, throwing to sophomore Dan Dishman 2 times for 49 yards and 1 touchdown and to junior Oscar Cardenas 2 times for 19 yards.
In sum, UTSA was able to pass the ball at will and were able to relieve Harris in the 4th quarter to rest, giving back-up quarterback Eddie Lee Marburger some game time experience. Marburger’s performance wasn’t strong—he failed to complete a pass and fumbled the ball—but the Roadrunners lead was large enough to give Marburger multiple offensive series for valuable experience.
UTSA also got solid production with the running game, amassing 130 yards on 36 carries. As a team the Roadrunners were not terribly efficient, but Freshman Kevorian Barnes stepped up when he was given the ball. UTSA rested Trelon Smith while starter Brendan Brady only carried the ball 7 times (gaining 19 yards), giving Barnes the primary running duties for the game. He took that opportunity well, rushing 20 times for 128 yards—a 6.4-yard average—and 2 touchdowns.
UTSA’s offensive line has dealt with significant injuries all season, which likely contributed to Harris’s lackluster running performance, but the line held up well enough for Barnes to set career highs and for the Roadrunners to keep control of the pace of play. They also only gave up two sacks and three quarterback hurries. FIU’s defensive front couldn’t overpower the offensive line but going forward the Roadrunners will have to plan well against stronger competition if they want production in the running game.
But while UTSA prevailed, the game was a grind-it-out affair instead of an outright blowout. Neither team scored in the first quarter and at halftime UTSA only held a 17-3 advantage.
Credit FIU’s defense. Coming into this game the Panthers were giving up an average of 38 points per game and even gave up 73 points to conference rival WKU earlier in the season. But on Friday they held UTSA to its second lowest point total this season and forced two fumbles, recovering both.
The Panthers also ran the ball more effectively than UTSA. FIU gained 137 yards for a 3.8-yard average and spread the ball fairly even between three running backs: junior Lexington Joseph, freshman Kejon Owens, and sophomore EJ Wilson. Both Joseph and Owens averaged over 5 yards per carry—Joseph had 6 carries for 56 yards while Owens had 10 carries for 52 yards and 1 touchdown—and all three were able to break off a 15+ yard run.
In fact, FIU was typically more successful running the ball than they were passing the ball. On the Panthers’ opening drive the team marched downfield to the UTSA 24 primarily by running the ball but were unable to capitalize when Chase Gabriel missed a 41-yard field goal. The next two drives saw miscommunication with quarterback Grayson James and the wide receivers with two dropped passes and only one rushing attempt.
To be fair, UTSA’s defensive line were able to sack Gabriel 3 times and forced Gabriel to throw the ball away frequently, and FIU was down their best wide receiver in Tyrese Chambers, who did not play because of injury. But when the Panthers ran the ball, they typically found more success. Indeed, on FIU’s final drive Owens was able to run in a 15-yard touchdown score, with Owens pushing through the line at the very end to get into the end zone. Owens is just a freshman and shows a lot of promise for MacIntyre’s planned rebuild.
But overall, what this game showcased was a stark difference in talent and skill. The Roadrunners had the playmakers and depth to overcome mistakes and never truly gave the Panthers an opportunity to keep the game close.
Next week UTSA faces conference rival UNT, and Jeff Traylor will no doubt be happy that the team took care of business, suffered no additional injuries, and gave younger players quality playing time in case they are called upon against the Mean Green. Mike MacIntyre still has a lot to build upon to bring FIU back to relevance, but the younger talent showed flashes that should give some support to that process.
UTSA returns home to face UNT on Saturday, October 22 @ 3:30 PM ET.
FIU travels to North Carolina to face Charlotte on Saturday, October 22 @ 3:30 PM ET