For 20 minutes of play, FIU (1-2, 0-0) looked every bit of a team that would be able to go blow-for-blow with a Big 12 opponent on the road. In the ensuing 10 minutes, Texas Tech (3-0, 0-0) made the Panthers pay dearly for what has unfortunately become a theme for FIU football — miscues and penalties. In front of a crowd of over 54,000 fans, the Red Raiders were able to shake off a slow start and put away their thirtieth straight FCS or Group of Five home opponent, by a score of 54-21.
“When you play a team like this, the only chance you have to win a game is you can’t beat yourself,” said Butch Davis. “Penalties that get big plays called back or giving up explosive plays, you have to make a team like that go the long haul, because they’re a good football team and we would like to think that we can play them closer than that.”
Now, Davis’ ballclub is facing the prospect of an unenviable 1-3 start before beginning conference play at Florida Atlantic — a team they haven’t defeated since 2016.
After both teams traded punts, FIU looked strong in embarking on a nine-play, 88-yard drive that ended with running back D’Vonte Price finding the endzone from three yards out. The Texas Tech run defense which has historically struggled were able to keep Price in check throughout the evening. Price had 15 carries for 51 yards and the one score.
“That was the big thing, we knew he was a playmaker coming into the game, we know he’s a great player so our mentality was to run at him hard,” said Waters postgame.
On the following Panther drive, the first major error took place. After Texas Tech’s Adrian Fyre’s muffed punt, receiver Caleb Lynum recovered the ball Red Raiders territory.
“He thought it hit one of our guys, that’s why he went so aggressively at it,” said Texas Tech head coach Matt Wells. “I haven’t seen the replay yet, but I know he’s smarter than that to just rush after a ball like that.”
On the next play, quarterback Max Bortenschlager’s pass intended for Rivaldo Fairweather, instead found the waiting hands of Tech safety Marquis Waters, who returned the pass 72 yards for a pick-six.
“My performance wasn’t very good tonight, to be honest,” said Bortenschlager. “I thought Rivaldo had a step on the guy and obviously he didn’t, the DB undercut it and I need to put it a little more up and out in front of him.”
The offense would respond after a Lexington Joseph kick return gave the Panthers excellent field position, however, they wouldn’t be able to put any points on the board. A nine-play, 46-yard drive stalled at the Tech 14-yard line. Chase Gabriel’s 33-yard field goal attempt would sail wide left, and Matt Wells’ team wasted no time taking advantage of the missed kick. The Red Raiders went 75 yards in three plays with sophomore tight end Travis Koontz hauling in a four-yard TD reception. Freshman running back Eric Wilson Jr. would give the Panthers a response, taking a short swing pass 69 yards up the right sideline to tie the game at 14.
“We were able to take advantage of that because I was hot (responsible for free blitzer) so I just had to get depth and it was a nice and easy throw, E.J. was the guy we were looking for on that play,” said Bortenschlager.
Overall, the Maryland transfer finished 12-of-27 for 190 yards with two touchdowns and one interception. When talking about his quarterback’s play postgame, Davis felt that the offense as a whole failed to execute.
“He was okay at times, he was able to extend some plays but we didn’t get open as often as we should have and we didn’t do a good enough job blocking on the perimeter in the run game, which put him in a lot of third and long situations,” said Davis.
The next 10 minutes saw Texas Tech take a 35-14 halftime lead on three consecutive touchdown drives, helped in part by an FIU drive that resulted in a 2nd-and-30 due to an errant snap and a false start and an untimely illegal substitution call that gave the Red Raiders a first down, instead of forcing a fourth-down field goal attempt. Oregon transfer Tyler Shough had an excellent day against a solid FIU secondary, finishing the evening 26-of-35 passing for 399 yards with four touchdowns and no interceptions. As a whole, Tech finished with almost 600 yards of total offense.
“Score changes the perception from a coaching standpoint, if we’re able to capitalize early and go up 14-7, that changes some of the things that they’re able to do, but we didn’t take advantage and that plays right into their hands,” said Davis.
Receiver Nate Jefferson scored on a two-yard pass from Bortenschlager in the third quarter to make the contest 38-21, but Shough red-hot evening continued as he connected with Mason Tharp for his final TD pass of the evening. Moving forward, Davis spoke about the mood in the locker room and where his team goes from here.
“If you win or lose, we have to address our issues and if they’re happening multiple games in a row, then we as a coaching staff have to work to fix it or we have to find people that we can fix it with,” said Davis. “The veteran guys are disappointed and they don’t like the way we started, but here’s the deal, we have nine games left — we can either win 10 — or we can lose them all, the team takes ownership of their attitude going forward.”