Glass-half-full types might call this progress: FIU put off the predictable beating until the second quarter this time. And the Panthers made UCF work for it harder than Maryland did last Saturday.
Still, the numbers after FIU’s 38-0 loss to UCF at FIU Stadium on Friday night speak of the distance the Panthers are from being just competitive with teams that have bowl hopes, such as UCF.
FIU has now been outscored by a combined 81-10 in its first two games. Total first-quarter first downs: 0. The Panthers have been outgained 966-354 in yards and have punted 19 times to their opponent’s seven times. The combined length of the two scoring drives this season is 25 yards.
For the second consecutive week, starting quarterback Jake Medlock got replaced by sophomore E.J. Hilliard, this time in the fourth quarter. Medlock went 16 of 25 for 128 yards, and Hilliard completed 3 of 3 for 14 yards.
“I feel we improved 100 percent,” Medlock said. “Even though we’re a young team, we’re very athletic, very talented. Look at all the positive things we did [Friday night]. We moved the ball. We did a great job with the two-minute drill [at the end of the first half]. I missed the post [an overthrow to T.J. Lowder].”
After that, the half closed with Sergio Sroka missing a field goal wide right.
Instead of giving up yardage in super chunks as they did against Maryland, the Panthers gave them up in smaller but more painful pieces.
“They wore us down a little bit,” FIU coach Ron Turner said. “They’re a big, physical football team, which we knew.”
UCF’s Storm Johnson ran for 89 yards and three touchdowns on 18 carries. Quarterback Blake Bortles completed 12 of 19 passes for 214 yards and a touchdown. Carol City graduate Rannell Hall caught four passes for 127 yards and had the two passes that broke open the game.
“We still made too many mistakes,” Turner said. “We made mistakes we can’t have. We played a very good football team; let’s give them credit. We had opportunities to make plays in the first quarter on offense, defense and special teams.”
A Bortles quarterback sneak gave UCF a 7-0 first-quarter lead. But on UCF’s first third down of the game, FIU redshirt junior safety Justin Halley dropped an interception with nothing but air between him and the end zone. FIU hurt itself on its early possessions with penalties that turned third-and-short into third-and-long and pass completions 1 yard short of the first down. And on the touchdown drive, Bortles scrambled for a first down on third-and-15.
The deluge started when Bortles hit Hall for 34 yards up the left sideline to the FIU 8. On the first play of the second quarter, Johnson plunged in from 2 yards out for a 14-0 lead.
A field goal extended the lead to 17-0. FIU declined to go for a first down on fourth-and-2 from the UCF 40-yard line with four minutes left in the first half.
“The percentages say punt there,” Turner said. “Given the choice, I’d do it again.”
On the first play after a touchback, Bortles found Hall up the right sideline behind Randy Harvey for 59 yards to the FIU 21. Three plays later, Johnson ran in from 15 yards for a 24-0 halftime lead.
“He’s one of the best backs we’ll play,” FIU senior defensive tackle Greg Hickman said. “I think we did pretty well for the most part.”