Through a slow, abysmal evening in Miami, FIU’s offense proved to be less terrible than that of UTSA. Panthers quarterback Alex McGough threw for a pair of touchdowns in the third quarter to put the game out of reach for the Roadrunners, who managed a whopping 255 total yards of offense.
In a first half that was all back-and-forth, each team exchanged four punts and a botched field goal attempt.
FIU punter and holder Stone Wilson had a deep snap go right through his hands on what would have been a 21-yard attempt in the second quarter. On the next drive, UTSA placekicker Jared Sackett had his 46-yard attempt curve left and bounce off the upright.
Both teams managed to cross midfield two times through the opening half, but that was more so because of bad punting than it was sustained decency on offense. The score was all even at 0-0 heading into the locker room. The three-and-outs were riveting.
The first successful offensive drive was finally put together in the third quarter, when FIU was able to string together 15 plays over eight and a half minutes and move the ball 93 yards downfield. McGough hit his first option wide receiver Thomas Owens for a 13-yard touchdown. Owens led all receivers with eight catches for 72 yards.
Roadrunners kick returner Brett Winnegan would actually fumble on the following kickoff, giving FIU possession on the 18 yard line. Running back Shawndarrius Phillips would only need one snap to go the distance and put the score at 14-0 after a pass from McGough.
McGough finished 18 for 25 with 215 yards, two touchdowns and an interception. He had tremendous help from his offensive line against a UTSA defense that is known for causing backfield havoc.
The Panthers did not allow a single sack on McGough. It’s the second straight week UTSA hasn’t been able to log a sack after earning at least one in each of their first six games.
On the other side of the ball, FIU sacked UTSA quarterback Dalton Sturm four times and caused him to be UTSA’s leading rusher with 18 attempts. Tailback Tyrell Clay, who earned his first start over Jalen Rhodes, had just 13 run calls in comparison. FIU’s defense also had seven tackles for loss, with UTSA only earning six.
Sturm and company would answer McGough’s second touchdown with a 75-yard drive of their own, with Sturm hitting wide receiver Brady Jones on a 12-yard touchdown pass to put the score at 14-7 to lead off the fourth quarter.
Unfortunately for UTSA, that was the only drive Sturm was able to get much help from his receivers. A big reason Sturm was under so much pressure, aside from UTSA’s offensive line injuries, was UTSA receivers’ inability to get open. Sturm was still able to make big plays happen through air, but ultimately finished 13 for 21 with just 105 yards. He added 82 more with his feet, leading all rushers on the day.
Not only did Sturm not receive much help from his receivers, but he was once again limited by his coaching staff as well.
Following UTSA’s touchdown, Austin Jupe intercepted McGough on the first snap of FIU’s ensuing drive. Sturm would take UTSA all the way down to the two-yard line, when the most symbolic and telling series of Frank Wilson’s second season occurred.
The Roadrunners called for four straight rushing plays. FIU’s defense stuffed the line of scrimmage and caused the turnover on downs to seal the game. It was no problem for a defense that limited the Roadrunners to just 4 of 12 on third down.
FIU dominated UTSA at the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball. The Roadrunners’ nagging offensive line injuries appear to be causing a lot more issues than fans anticipated, but all credit goes to a well-coached Panthers team that schemed perfectly to all of UTSA’s biggest weaknesses.
FIU head coach Butch Davis has now taken last season’s 4-8 Panthers team to bowl eligibility in just eight games, with three games remaining in his first regular season at FIU.
Bowl Eligible pic.twitter.com/GQ0uQeTckI— FIU Football (@FIUFootball) November 5, 2017
The 6-2 (4-1 C-USA) Panthers reach bowl eligibility for just the third time in school history, and for the first time since 2011. They now trail FAU for the C-USA East lead by just one game, with the Shula Bowl set to be played in two weeks.
UTSA, on the other hand, falls to 5-3 (2-3 C-USA) and still cannot claim a win over a team with a winning record.