LAFAYETTE, La. -- FIU went into the 2012 season with a reputation for solid defense, and it was that reputation that made the Panthers a solid first-place choice by the Sun Belt Conference coaches in the preseason poll.
That reputation took a hit Saturday night during the Panthers’ 48-20 loss to Louisiana-Lafayette in FIU’s Sun Belt opener.
The Ragin’ Cajuns, a nine-win team in 2011 when they played in the R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl, put up 501 offensive yards on the way to their highest point output since the 2008 season. ULL’s previous high mark this season was 389 yards in its Sun Belt-opening 37-24 win at Troy.
FIU held 18th-ranked Louisville to 323 offensive yards last week in its tight 28-21 loss in Miami last week, and the Panthers had an advantage in total offense over Louisville and over three of its first four opponents this year. But the Cajuns scored on four consecutive possessions in the first half and then on three of their first four possessions in the second half.
Senior Panther receiver Wayne Times extended a streak on FIU’s second offensive possession.
The Miami product caught a 5-yard pass from freshman quarterback E.J. Hilliard, giving him at least one reception in 22 games in a row dating to the 2010 season. Times finished the night as the Panthers’ leading receiver, catching six passes for 48 yards. No other FIU receiver had more than two catches.
Hilliard made his first start for FIU at quarterback, replacing sophomore Jake Medlock, who sustained a fractured foot in the first half against Louisville. Hilliard and fellow freshman Loranzo Hammonds both played in the second half last week, with Hilliard completing 9-of-10 passes for 82 yards.
Hilliard was on the field for all but six plays on Saturday, with Hammonds coming in for the final two plays of the first quarter and picking up 3 yards on one carry and taking four snaps in the second half.
Hilliard finished with 16-of-26 completions for 204 yards, 58 of them coming on a bubble screen to Willis Wright five minutes into the second quarter that set up FIU’s first score.
The Cajuns’ big offensive night against the Panthers may have come at a price.
Starting quarterback Blaine Gautier, the Most Valuable Player in last year’s New Orleans Bowl, left the game with one minute remaining in the first quarter with an injured left wrist. A diagnosis was not immediately available.
Backup Terrance Broadway played the rest of the game, except for ULL’s final drive when two other backups took the final snaps. It was the second time this year that Broadway was forced into action because of an injury to Gautier, who sustained bruised ribs early in the win over Troy.
Broadway hit on 15 of 19 passes for 228 yards and a 78-yard touchdown to Harry Peoples on the second play of the second half.
ULL had six players on the roster from Florida, with five from the Miami metro area. Five defenders — safety Rodney Gillis (Fort Lauderdale); linebacker Christian Hill (Homestead); linebacker Delvin Jones (Miami); defensive tackle Brandon McCray (Merritt Island); and linebacker Rodney Smith (Hallandale) — saw action along with offensive lineman Jaron Odom (Carver Ranches).