Following last year’s 58-21 trouncing of FIU in Shula Bowl 20, social media video showed several Florida Atlantic (5-5, 4-2) players using the removable FIU (4-6, 2-4) helmet affixed to the Don Shula Trophy as ashtray as they enjoyed victory cigars. Fast forward one year later, the Owls figuratively smoked the Panthers from the opening kickoff en route to a 52-7 victory in Shula Bowl XXI — the largest margin of defeat in Shula Bowl history.
“We got bull-rushed by FAU, they beat us every which way,” said MacIntyre.
After a truncated pregame warm-up session that saw heavy rain and lightning delay both teams’ entry to the field until roughly 36 minutes before kickoff, FIU quarterback Grayson James was picked off on the game’s first offensive play by Florida Atlantic linebacker Jaylen Wester.
With the ball at the FIU 4-yard-line, Willie Taggart’s club wasted no time, as veteran quarterback N’Kosi Perry scored on second down from one-yard out to put FAU on the board.
Entering the game, Mike MacIntyre’s team looked to solve their offensive woes as of late — specifically the early game three-and-outs. On the team’s second drive, the Panthers’ first drive went exactly three plays, before being forced to punt after a minimal gain on a first-down run.
We’re not hitting on any cylinders offensively or defensively, the last two weeks have been deplorable,” said MacIntyre. “We as coaches have to do a better job to try and get the run game better, whenever you’re in the third-and-longs you’re not going to be successful and we have to find ways whether it’s in the run game or passing to play better next week.”
While the final rushing output may look like a solid performance, remove three chunk runs of 28, 20 and 14 — and FIU had 62 yards on 18 attempts midway through the third quarter.
On the next FAU drive, the Owls would embark on a 13-play, 60-yard drive in just over four minutes powered by 24 yards on seven attempts by Larry McCammon and two completions from Perry to redshirt junior wideout Je’Quan Burton. The drive culminated with Perry finding Burton in the back of the south endzone for a five-yard touchdown reception as the Panthers again found themselves down multiple scores before reaching the midway point of the opening quarter.
Taking over on their on 25, the FIU offense — promptly went three and out after gaining eight yards and a third-down pass attempt was nearly picked off by FAU cornerback Romain Mungin.
An Owls offense that’s showed moments of being dynamic all season, but has struggled with consistency made sure to find a way to get points early and often on Saturday night.
After finding Burton for a gain of 19 on the drive’s second play, the Owls exposed the FIU run defense struggles, using McCammon and reserve backs Zuberi Mobley and Johnny Ford to go 83 yards on 13 plays, with the drive ending in Perry’s second TD rush of the game to put FAU ahead 21-0 at the end of the first quarter.
McCammon ended the evening as the game’s leading rusher, gaining 104 yards on 26 carries.
“It was embarrassing tonight, we practiced hard and good, we had energy at practice so I was surprised that we started out so poorly and we have to do better than that,” said MacIntyre.
Again the FIU offense would take over at their 25 — and again the offense would go three-and-out, following James’ incompletions on second and third down and the unit finished the first quarter with nine total yards. In fact, the Panthers’ offense wouldn’t find its first conversion of the game till the 13:25 mark of the second quarter (via two runs) and James’ first completion came at the 10:59 mark of the second quarter.
James finished the night 9-of-26 passing for 56 yards with two interceptions.
By the time both of those achievements were made, Taggart’s team extended its lead to 24-0 via Morgan Suarez’ 31-yard field goal.
Following James’ first completed pass, he rushed for a 26-yard touchdown to put FIU on the board. After an FAU punt, the Panthers’ best chance to make it a viable game was lost when James fumbled on a miscommunication with the running back at the FIU 45-yard line.
MacIntyre’s youthful team have spent the majority of the season not being heavily penalized — but that changed at an inopportune time on Saturday. With less than three minutes left in the first half, the Panthers’ defense held FAU to three points. However, true freshman cornerback Hezekiah Masses jumped early on the attempt, giving the Owls new life. Two Johnny Ford rushes later, FAU extended their first-half lead to 31-7.
“Some of the miscues are guys trying hard like the facemask penalties and horsecollar, but the offsides penalty costs us a four-point swing,” said MacIntyre.
For MacIntyre and offensive coordinator David Yost, the game’s penultimate quarter didn’t offer much in the way of success, gaining just 45 yards and zero points to FAU’s 149 and two more scores, a nine-yard rush by LaJohntay Wester and Tony Johnson’s 17-yard TD reception from Perry.
Perry’s night concluded early in the fourth quarter, going 14-of-22 for 104 yards and two touchdowns.
Florida Atlantic leaves Miami with a sixth-straight Shula Bowl victory and the Panthers won’t have a chance to avenge the loss until 2024 with the Owls leaving for the American conference next season. However, FIU still at 4-6 has a chance at bowl contention — if they can win out, starting with a road trip to UTEP on Saturday.
“Tonight was embarrassing to our program and our team, we’ll get back Monday and get back with them to keep working and fighting and growing because tonight wasn’t good at all,” said MacIntyre.