Saturday’s 41-12 loss at Texas State came in large part due to an inability on offense to execute and defensive breakdowns that saw Bobcats’ quarterback Layne Hatcher connect on a pair of deep shots for touchdowns along with running back Calvin Hill rushing at will.
As the Panthers enter a bye week that’s “much needed” as stated by head coach Mike MacIntyre, here’s the game notebook from the Texas State contest along with postgame notes from MacIntyre and quarterback Grayson James.
Following the loss, MacIntyre was asked about the run game’s struggles through two contests. In the win against Bryant, FIU rushed for just 67 yards on 26 carries — followed by the Texas State contest where the Panthers had to abandon the run game in the second half, rushing for 62 yards on 22 attempts.
“It depends on what they give us, sometimes we just didn’t block them well,” said MacIntyre. “We’ll have to take a look at the film, I thought the runners were running hard, but if we get a shell to run a lot, we’re going to run it, if they give us a shell to pass, we’re going to pass, but when they give us an opportunity to run we have to make the right blocks and hold our blocks.”
Quarterback Grayson James earned the start with Gunnar Holmberg not making the trip due to his concussion suffered against Bryant. Following the contest, MacIntyre spoke about James’ performance and where the quarterback situation is heading into the bye week and the ensuing Western Kentucky game.
“We’ll see how Gunnar is doing, we’ll see how Grayson and Haden are doing and we’re going to practice, we can’t really afford to just take a week off,” said MacIntyre. “Grayson made some good throws and some ones that he would like to have back, I think when he sees it on film, he’ll be able to learn, he showed its not too big for him. The early bye week I think helps a team like us because we’re so young, we’re going to look at the film and try to assess.”
The offensive line entered the season as a group that would have to learn on the fly, especially given veteran tackle Lyndell Hudson’s back injury which has kept the two-year starter out of the starting lineup this year. On Saturday, FIU played 10 offensive linemen which included three non-scholarship players, a true freshman (John Bock), two first-year starters (Julius Pierce, Shamar Hobdy-Lee) and the aforementioned Hudson. As a result, the Texas State defensive line were the more veteran group and it showed.
“Julius wasn’t able to practice all week so we started John and then Julius came in at the end, we rotated some guards and tackles, but we’re going to keep working on our offensive line and looking for gradual improvement,” said MacIntyre.
Sophomore Grayson James’ spoke following his first career start and noted the offensive struggles and what could have gone better in the loss.
“Offensively, we have to execute better and I have to learn from this,” said James. “When we get moving fast, you can see our offense can make some things happen, but especially when we get opportunities in the redzone we have to get touchdowns in those situations.”
Playing behind an offensive line that was shorthanded and looked overmatched in certain moments against Texas State, James noted that its a joint effort to overcome those factors.
“Yes, it’s tough but I also have to do my job to help them out as a quarterback, it’s not just them, we all can play better,” said James.
- While the 3-4 defense is still very much a work in progress under MacIntyre and defensive coordinator Jovan Dewitt, the Panthers’ two inside linebackers have led the way in tackles during the first two contests.
Donovan Manuel had 14 tackles on Saturday — the most since Panthers’ great Sage Lewis recorded 17 stops against Marshall in November of 2019. Manuel also had 2.5 tackles for loss. Gaethan Bernadel had 12 tackles and 1.5 sacks alongside Manuel — the most sacks by a Panther defender since Alexy-Jean Baptiste had 1.5 against UTEP in 2019.
- The Texas State game was expected to have served as a homecoming for five Panthers who are Texas natives — most notably Pierce Withers, who played for three seasons with the Bobcats before joining FIU. However, per several sources, Withers is dealing with an injury which has caused his absence in the first two games of the year. There has been conflicting information to the exact injury, but it is one that leaves his status for the immediate future in question.
- JUCO transfer C.J. Christian recorded his first career interception in the second quarter, headlining a handful of firsts for several players. Running back Kejon Owens earned his first carry of his career, going for four yards. Quarterback Haden Carlson came on to take the last FIU offensive drive and went 5-of-9 passing for 55 yards. “Haden made a couple nice throws there at the end,” said MacIntyre.
- True freshman John Bock earned the start at center with Julius Pierce battling an ankle injury. In his first two career games, Bock has started at guard last week and now center. “That’s a lot to ask of a true freshman in his first two games, starting at guard and now at center, that’s not easy to do.”
Pierce entered the game in the third quarter and took over at center the rest of the way.
- Despite being a question mark due to featuring several untested players entering the season, the special teams’ unit has been solid through two games.
Punter Daton Montiel averaged 45 yards per punt on eight punts Saturday, landing two inside the 20 and one kick of 50-plus yards. Kicker Chase Gabriel went 2-of-2 on attempts including a 49-yarder.