FIU hung around against Marshall on Saturday night.
The Panthers restrained the Thundering Herd, who have scored so proficiently this season you might have wondered before the game if FIU Stadium’s scoreboard had a third digit, from rampaging away for 28 minutes.
Eventually, however, just restraining Marshall left FIU vulnerable to the series of late first-half events that sent the Panthers careening to a 48-10 loss.
FIU held Marshall junior quarterback Rakeem Cato, a Miami Central graduate who verbally committed to FIU before switching to Marshall, to 15-of-31 passing. But those 15 completions went for 241 yards and four touchdowns, three to senior tight end Gator Hoskins and one to fellow Central graduate Tommy Shuler.
What doomed FIU, however, was Marshall’s ability to run the ball. The final count was 270 yards on 31 carries, but it was the carries by Kevin Grooms in the second quarter and the 72-yard touchdown run by Steward Butler that opened up the play action game for Cato.
All of Cato’s touchdown passes to Hoskins came off play action as Hoskins got behind single coverage.
Cato began the game 3 for 9 for 35 yards as FIU took a 3-0 first-quarter lead, only its second lead after 15 minutes this season (the other was the 27-24 loss to Alabama-Birmingham on Oct. 12).
In Marshall’s three previous games, it outscored opponents 70-7 in the first quarter.
FIU sophomore quarterback E.J. Hilliard went the whole way, completing 15 of 29 for 167 yards, a touchdown but also the key interception.
Down 13-3 with 2:17 left, Hilliard hit redshirt sophomore T.J. Lowder over the middle for 19 yards to the Marshall 43. Three plays later, a 5-yard third-and-4 completion to freshman tight end Jonnu Smith put FIU on the Marshall 32.
FIU coach Ron Turner said FIU figured on a safe pass, then perhaps a run to either get the first down or try a makeable field goal.
Instead, Hilliard got picked off by Darryl Roberts at the Marshall 29. Given the ball at the Marshall 34 with 49 seconds left in the half, Cato got the Herd to the FIU 21, helped by a face mask penalty on sophomore linebacker Patrick Jean.
Cato found Shuler over the middle for a 21-yard touchdown with 11 seconds left in the half for a 20-3 Marshall lead.
“Thirteen to 6 is a lot different than 20-3 at halftime,” Turner said.