In the immediate aftermath of FIU’s thrilling one-point victory over FCS Bryant in the team’s season opener, Mike MacIntyre was asked what needed to be corrected from his club’s performance.
MacIntyre chuckled and said that there was a lot to work on.
Many of the same issues that caused the Bryant game to be as competitive as it was showed themselves on Saturday against an FBS opponent, who were more than prepared to make the Panthers pay — sending FIU to a 41-12 loss — the program’s 19th straight loss against an FBS opponent.
“We’re a young team and we’re fighting hard, I’m really proud of how hard they’re fighting and it’s a process,” said MacIntyre. “The bye week for us actually is coming at a really good time because we’ll get to assess the team after two games and also get some guys healthy.”
Sophomore quarterback Grayson James made his first career start in place of Duke transfer Gunnar Holmberg, who didn’t travel with the team due to the concussion suffered in last week’s win. The Texas native got the opportunity to play roughly three hours away from his hometown of Duncanville, but the homecoming was a tough one from the start.
“The speed of the game wasn’t too fast, early on I was pretty comfortable but as an offense as a whole, we didn’t get off to the start that we would have liked,” said James.
After the FIU defense forced Texas State to punt twice in the span of six plays, James’ first two drives netted negative six yards.
Texas State quarterback Layne Hatcher wasted no time making the most of the additional opportunities. After having to settle for a Seth Keller 31-yard field goal on their second drive, Hatcher connected with Bobcat wideout Charles Brown for a streaking 67-yard touchdown pass down the Texas State sideline to put them ahead 10-0.
On the Panthers’ first scoring drive of the game, James went 4-of-6 passing for 26 yards but on third-and-three from the Texas State 24-yard-line, his pass to Jalen Bracey was stuffed for a loss of three, bringing on Chase Gabriel for a 38-yard field goal.
Following a Texas State punt, the FIU offense again couldn’t find its footing, with Flex Joseph stopped for no yards on first down, followed by an incompletion and a negative yard completion to Tyrese Chambers. On the evening, the rushing game netted just 52 yards on 20 carries at the 14-minute mark of the fourth quarter and finished the evening with 62 yards.
“Sometimes, we just didn’t block well, but we’ll have to look at the film and see what the runners did,” said MacIntyre. “It looked like to me like they were running hard but things just didn’t open up and it depends on what they show us, if they show us a shell to run it a lot, we’re gonna keep running it, if they don’t than we’re gonna pass.”
On the ensuing drive, Hatcher found Javen Banks streaking open for another quick-strike Bobcats score — this time from 52 yards out to put Texas State ahead 17-3.
The teams would trade a pair of field goals to close the first-half scoring, with Texas State ahead 20-6.
The third quarter provided the most pivotal moment in the game for the Panthers.
After going three-and-out on their first drive of the second half, FIU decided to go straight to their hurry-up offense and the first four plays netted positive yardage — but the game was brought to a halt when Bobcats DB Chris Mills laid motionless on the field for several minutes and had to be carted off on a stretcher.
Following the delay, FIU was forced to punt — but Daton Montiel’s punt was muffed by Texas State return-man Rontavius Groves and recovered by true freshman Hezekiah Masses — giving FIU the ball inside the Texas State 15 and an opportunity to cut the lead to one score.
Instead, the Panthers would turn the ball over on downs after four tries in the red zone. As a whole, FIU 5-of-18 on third down and 1-of-3 of fourth downs.
“That one was rough, we just didn’t execute like we would have liked and it was a tough sequence for us,” said MacIntyre.
The drive ended when Tyrese Chambers caught a pass well short of the endzone.
FIU’s star wideout was double-covered throughout the evening, with Texas State providing safety help on almost every play.
“When you got a guy like Tyrese, you know the defense is gonna focus on him, we would have liked to get the ball to Reese and a lot of the guys more but especially with Tyrese they were focused on him,” said James.
Chambers finished the night with 10 receptions for 72 yards, while James 30-of-47 for 196 yards and two interceptions — being under duress the entire night — in part to an offensive line that was banged up entering the game.
“We had to slide John Bock over to center because Julius Pierce was battling an ankle injury and then we slide Julius in at the end, plus Lyndell has been battling a back injury, so it was tough for us and we’ll look to get those guys healthy,” said MacIntyre.
The final significant FIU drive saw the offense go eight plays, but didn’t make it past midfield, being forced to punt at their own 49-yard-line. Jake Spavital’s club would put the game out of reach on the ensuing drive, going on a 10-play, 104-yard drive in just over three minutes of game play, culminating with an Ashtyn Hawkins seven-yard TD reception from Hatcher.
The Arkansas State transfer finished the night 15-of-30 for 226 yards and threw three touchdowns passes, while running back Calvin Hill had a career day, rushing for 210 yards on 28 carries — gashing the FIU defense seemingly at will.
FIU would put their only touchdown on the board via an E.J. Wilson score that had no impact on the final outcome.
For MacIntyre’s young club, they’ll look to recover during the bye week before heading to Western Kentucky.
“It’s a process and this is a young team, I’m proud because they compete all the way through and it’s our job to keep coaching them and get better,” said MacIntyre.