The story of the 2022 FIU Panthers will undoubtedly be two-fold. An encouraging chapter was etched in the team’s four wins entering week 11 — a feat that few saw coming. However, FIU’s (4-7, 2-5) three-game stretch that saw the club outscored 94-21 in the first half, including UTEP’s (5-6, 3-4) 38-0 first-half start, en route to 40-6 win on Saturday.
Miners’ starting quarterback Gavin Hardison was unavailable after being injured in the team’s previous contest against Rice. Redshirt junior Calvin Brownholtz earned the start against the Panthers and led the Miners offense to a 40-poount outburst in the thrashing of FIU.
“We prepped for both quarterbacks and he made some good plays against us, we just needed to do a better job,” said MacIntyre postgame.
Despite entering the contest having thrown for three touchdowns and seven interceptions in his four-year career at UTEP, Brownholtz threw for 165 yards passing on 9-of-13 passing in the first half alone.
On the game’s opening drive, helped by a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct call on FIU defensive end Shaun Peterson Jr. and a pass interference call on cornerback Andrew Volmar, Brownholtz marched the Miners 75 yards on 11 plays with the drive culminating in his touchdown on a QB sneak to open the scoring.
Entering Saturday’s contest, the FIU offense has struggled mightily over the last two weeks — especially to start the games. Unfortunately for MacIntyre, those struggles made their way to El Paso.
The Panthers first drive was a three and out — the 11th first-half drive to end in three plays for the offense over the previous three weeks. After both teams traded punts, Brownholtz connected with UTEP wideout Tyrin Smith for a 17-yard first-down grab to put the Miners near midfield. Following a third-down conversion by fullback James Tupou, all-purpose man Reynaldo Flores capped the drive with a 10-yard touchdown run on a drive that saw the UTEP offense rush seven times for 42 yards.
Following the score, FIU put together their best looking offensive drive of the first half, seeing first downs via an E.J. Wilson 13-yard rush, Rivaldo Fairweather’s 22-yard grab from starting quarterback Grayson James and Jalen Bracey’s 15-yard catch on third-and-13. However, the drive stalled at the UTEP 25 and Chase Gabriel’s 42-yard attempt sailed wide right.
Dana Dimel’s offense would quickly go 75-yards in under three minutes on the Miners next drive, spurred by a 25-yard Brownholtz toss to wideout Kelly Akharaiyi and two plays later Flores raced for a 43-yard touchdown to make the score 21-0.
The running back-turned-receiver entered the contest with only 74 yards on the ground in comparison to his 45 receptions for 490 yards. However, Flores would finish with a career-high 128 yards and two touchdowns on 13 carries.
“We didn’t prep for him coming into the backfield and playing there but we should have handled it better, it doesn’t matter whose back there (at running back),” said MacIntyre. “The one play where he made a guy miss in the hole, we didn’t have a good pursuit angle and we have to coach that better as a staff.”
Any hopes of a sustained offensive drive were blown up on first down when UTEP defensive tackle Kelton Moss sacked James on first down and the Panthers punted two plays later.
UTEP added to their lead when Miners’ running backs Deion Hankins and Ronald Awatt raced the offense inside of FIU territory, followed by Brownholtz hooking up with Smith for a 17-yard score.
Another three-play drive gave UTEP an opportunity to extend the lead and Brownholtz hit Akharaiyi on a 65-yard pass that saw the 6-2, 195-pounder leap over the FIU secondary to haul in the TD reception.
Akkharaiyi finished the contest as the game’s leading receiver with three receptions for 99 yards and the score.
The Miners outgained FIU 356-58, outrushing the Panthers 191-2 and limiting the visitors to five first downs to their 18 in the first half, which ended with a Gavin Baechle 26-yard field goal.
James ended the day going 6-of-16 for 56 yards before Haden Carlson took over in the second half. Carlson and the FIU offense weren’t able to find any real success in the second half, as the Panthers gained just 13 total yards in the game’s final two quarters.
“We weren’t moving the ball very well in the first half and we figured we would give Haden a shot to do it,” said MacIntyre. “We had a couple of chances in both halves but we’re just missing on cylinders right now as an offense.”
FIU’s only score came on an Alex Nobles 84-yard fumble return at the 14:04 mark of the fourth quarter.
On the day, UTEP rushed for 335 yards behind Flores’ game high, Awatt’s 84 and Hankins’ 81 and had 29 first downs to FIU’s five.
As the Panthers head home to Miami, their chances at a bowl end, but MacIntyre still wants to see his young team respond.
“I told them it would be nice to win five games and win three conference games which hasn’t been done around here in awhile,” said MacIntyre. “It’s a shame we don’t have a chance to play for a bowl, but every game needs to be treated like the Super Bowl and we have to keep fighting.”