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FIU Football: Game Notebook — Charlotte

FIU’s most complete performance of the season saw Mike MacIntyre’s young team continue to mature.

Kim Montuoro

On the game’s second play, FIU defensive end/linebacker Shaun Peterson Jr. was matched up against Charlotte tight end Jake Clemons.

Listed at 6-6, 260 pounds, one would imagine that Niners offensive coordinator Mark Carney felt comfortable leaving his blocking tight end on the running back-turned-linebacker in Peterson Jr.

Four seconds, one bull rush and an outside move later, the Charlotte coaches box could be heard collectively groaning as Peterson Jr. strip-sacked and recovered the fumble of Charlotte quarterback Chris Reynolds — setting the tone for FIU to decisively beat the 49ers on their homecoming day, 34-15.

The two-touchdown underdog Panthers were lead by rushing touchdowns from quarterback Grayson James and Lexington Joseph, along with a stifling defensive performance and excellent receiving days from Kris Mitchell and the returning Tyrese Chambers.

Here’s the game notebook from Jerry Richardson Stadium.

Shaun Peterson Jr.

As a 6-3, 215-pound two-way coming out of Nova High in 2018, Shaun Peterson Jr. had interest from several SEC schools as an outside linebacker. However, he had his mind made up on playing running back and chose FIU, in large part because of a promise that he could play on offense.

Peterson Jr. showed flashes of potential during four seasons as a reserve back, even having a 100-yard day against Middle Tennessee State in 2020 — but suffered a torn ACL the following week. After spending last year as the RB2/RB3, followed by a brief entry into the transfer portal in the offseason, Peterson Jr. switched to the defensive side of the ball full-time late in spring and hasn’t looked back since.

The redshirt junior had three sacks in FIU’s victory over Charlotte, including the aforementioned tone-setting play on the game’s first drive. Peterson Jr. spoke about the play and his confidence following the contest.

“They left the tight end solo on me, not sure why they did that, but I ended up beating him pretty quickly and getting to the quarterback,” said Peterson Jr. “Ever since I made the switch in spring, I’ve felt confident about being on defense and I feel like I can help the team best on defense.”

Peterson Jr. has been ranked by Pro Football Focus as one of the highest-rated pass rushers in FBS football several times this year, including as the sixth-best for week eight following his three-sack outing.

Big Time 0 is Back

After missing most of the UConn game and the entirety of the UTSA contest because of an ankle injury, FIU’s star wideout in Tyrese Chambers returned in a big way against Charlotte.

The Biletnikoff Award watchlist member hauled in a career-high 10 receptions for 143 yards in the victory, finding his way behind the Charlotte defense for big chunks several times. Noted as a ever-effusive and high-energy personality, Chambers’ return provided a jolt for the entire team — that started roughly 39 minutes before the opening kickoff.

As the Panthers finished their pregame warmups, Chambers fielded a warm-up punt near the endzone, held the football over his head and circled the FIU end of the field in a full sprint on the way back to the locker room — with the entire Panthers’ roster following behind in pursuit.

“Having Tyrese back as you saw provides a huge boost of energy for us,” said quarterback Grayson James. “Not even just during the game but even in warm-ups, he’s a guy who gets everyone going and we’re obviously better with him.”

Andrew Volmar

Entering Saturday’s contest, much of the talk was around how would an inexperienced FIU secondary handle the task of facing three of the most gifted receivers in Conference USA in Charlotte’s trio of Grant DuBose, Vic Tucker and Elijah Spencer.

Through three quarters, the Panthers’ secondary held a dynamic 49ers’ passing game to 126 yards through the air and the three receivers were held without a touchdown in the win.

Notable among the group was FIU sophomore cornerback Andrew Volmar.

After getting thrown into the fire as a freshman last season, Volmar showed signs of being a rising player but opened this year as a nickel and dime coverage corner. With former starter Henry Gray’s entry into the transfer portal, Volmar was inserted into the starting lineup and has responded with strong play.

Michael Berlfein/FIU Athletics

“Andrew Volmar from spring practice through fall camp and to now is probably the most improved player on our defense,” said MacIntyre. “The play he made where he pressed the receiver, ran down the field and picked it off, he couldn’t do that in spring, he’s a really good player,” said MacIntyre.

Following the game, Volmar spoke about his performance.

“It’s been a while since I’ve had this much fun in a game,” said Volmar. “Our gameplan was to read their tempo off the line and follow their breaks, we were holding it down on the outside and keep them in front of us.”

When made aware of MacIntyre’s praise, Volmar was grateful and noted his journey entering his second season.

“That means a lot, I’m someone who has always had to fight from the bottom up and I’m just working to be the best player I can be,” said Volmar.

Mike MacIntyre

The conversation around Mike MacIntyre’s hire at FIU has been a constant roller-coaster ever since he took the job in December 2021. After winning the offseason following the staff he was able to put together, the season has had highs and some not-so-highs.

Following last week’s loss against UTSA, there was some consternation among former FIU players regarding MacIntyre’s humorous response to the final question that was asked of him by a student reporter, inquiring his thoughts on the “Vice” themed field.

During his postgame presser, in response to a question asked by Emily VanBuskirk, MacIntyre acknowledged the feelings and emphasized the reasoning behind his positive outlook.

“You have to be positive, now there will be times that you’re not and (the remark about Vice night) was taken out of context for those who weren’t in the media room,” said MacIntyre. “I’m going to stay positive and they’ll be on the wagon with us when we get this thing turned around fully, I promise you that. The public doesn’t see me all the time, I’m a fiery and tough guy, but I love these kids and I’m going to keep loving them.”