Going over 1,000 days with a victory over an FBS opponent clearly indicates a program that is in full rebuild mode. Just how large of a rebuild is at hand for Mike MacIntyre may have been defined in FIU’s loss at Western Kentucky.
The Hilltoppers’ much-ballyhooed offense lived up to its billing, jumping out to a 42-0 first-half lead en route to a 73-0 victory — the worst margin of defeat in Panthers’ program history, as they’re still in search of their first FBS victory since the program’s most significant win over Miami 1,036 days ago.
Postgame, MacIntyre, who has been involved in rebuilds at his two previous stops spoke about the loss and what he felt was the cause.
“You can point the finger a million different ways, but everyone involved in this program needs to point the finger inward,” said MacIntyre. “Today was a tough day, no doubt about it, but we as a program have to get better, coaches, players everyone involved and we’ll come back Monday and find a way to do that.”
Following the bye week, the question on the minds of many was the FIU quarterback situation, which has extended into the early-going of the season. After choosing not to announce a starter publicly, Sophomore Grayson James took the field on the opening drive of the game — but the offense went three-and-out — the first of four of three-play drives in the first half.
“We’re just trying to find somebody to give us a little bit of a spark, we kept rotating them but Western Kentucky pretty much dominated us,” said MacIntyre.
An FIU defense that’s still trying to find its footing in a new scheme was short-handed entering the contest, with starters Davon Strickland and Shaun Peterson Jr. not in uniform. After starting their second drive at their own six-yard-line, Western Kentucky quickly went 94 yards in five plays, with Orange City, Florida native Malachi Corley taking a short gain and outrunning the Panther defense in racing 76 yards to put the home team on the board.
Following an FIU three-and-out that saw the Panthers’ try and establish the run but fall two yards shy of a conversion, the Hilltoppers’ newly-found ground game was on display as former walk-on Kye Robichaux rushed five times for 42 yards on a drive that ended with WKU quarterback Austin Reed finding redshirt junior tight end Joey Beljan in the back of the endzone to extend the lead to two scores.
The next Panther drive was thwarted on the second play when James fumbled the snap, putting FIU in a third-and-long.
As Mike MacIntyre’s rebuild evolves — they’ll hope to one day be as explosive as Tyson Helton’s Western Kentucky club has been over their last two seasons.
Helton’s team scored for the third-consecutive drive as Reed went 3-of-6 for 49 yards, connecting with Corley for his second score of the afternoon. Corley finished the day with three grabs for 125 yards and the two touchdowns. Senior safety Dorian Hall’s 15-yard-unsportsmanlike conduct penalty aided in the march downfield.
With 10:30 left in the second quarter, MacIntyre went to third-year quarterback Haden Carlson. James went 3-of-6 for 17 yards and rushed for 12 yards when he was pulled. He was reinserted in the game midway through the third quarter, finishing the contest 13-of-23 for 85 yards.
“I thought both quarterbacks did some good things, it wasn’t all their fault, you’re just trying to find ways to do different things,” said MacIntyre.
Carlson’s first drive saw him use his legs to find a completion to high school teammate Dean Patterson, but he was picked off by WKU defensive back Kahlef Hailassie near midfield — and the Hilltoppers cashed in three plays later with Reed hooking up with wideout Dalvin Smith for a 12-yard touchdown.
Carlson went 4-of-8 for 24 yards and the one interceptions as the Western defense suppressed every FIU offensive attempt, limiting the Panthers to 87 first-half yards, compared to 399 for the Hilltoppers, which included 187 on the ground.
On the night, the FIU signal-callers combined to go 19-of-36 for 124 yards and one interception.
Helton’s club found the endzone twice more in the half on a Davion Ervin-Poindexter 19-yard rushing TD and a Daewood Davis four-yard touchdown catch from Reed, who finished the game 29-of-35 for 381 yards and five touchdowns, before giving way to backups Darius Ocean and Caden Veltkamp, who added another 97 yards and one touchdown.
FIU attempted to run the football in an effort to keep Western Kentucky off the field and to jumpstart their attack, but behind an offensive line that’s still playing short-handed and with players at different spots, managed just 56 yards on 32 attempts.
“It’s tough to generate consistency on offense when you can’t run it and we tried to just be hard-headed and run it regardless of the look,” said MacIntyre. “Hopefully, we can get Lyndell back and Bock we feel is taking some steps, yes it was ugly and we have a lot of improvement to do, but I think those guys will continue to improve.”
As the FBS winless streak continues, MacIntyre’s message following the game was one of patience in order to see the perseverance from the program.
“We’re all passionate, but the other word is you have to have perseverance,” said MacIntyre. “You can get depressed and be mad — which I’ll be for a minute, but you have to direct that the right way, when we come out of this hole, it’s going to be special.”