Ron Turner called FIU’s 2015 loss to the University of Massachusetts “an embarrassment.”
Fast-forward a year, and the result was the same. But the stakes? Probably higher this time around.
Turner’s latest setback might be career-threatening.
Turner’s Panthers fell to previously winless UMass 21-13 at McGuirk Alumni Stadium on Saturday, spoiling what on paper is FIU’s best chance for a win this year.
Massachusetts, which entered the game ranked by CBSSports.com 123rd out of 128 FBS teams, won for just the fourth time in 17 games stretching back to 2014.
Turner, meanwhile, fell to 10-29 in three-plus seasons at FIU. His most recent loss came just a day after FIU president Mark Rosenberg announced that embattled athletic director Pete Garcia is getting a contract extension through 2018.
“We got our [butt] kicked,” Turner said. “We didn’t show up in the first half. We go outcoached, we got outplayed, we got out-toughed, we got out-disciplined. We got out-everything’ed. The first half was an embarrassment to me and this program.”
FIU hung tough throughout Saturday but came up short at the most critical time. They had a chance to tie the score on their final drive, but quarterback Alex McGough fumbled on the UMass 40 to end the game.
The Minutemen (1-2) and first-time starting quarterback Andrew Ford were simply too much. Ford completed 28 of 42 passes for 278 yards with three touchdowns and an interception.
“He played great,” Turner said. “He played outstanding. .... He’s a very good quarterback.”
The warning signs for FIU (0-3) were there early.
The Panthers gained just 35 yards of offense in the first quarter, including minus-2 on the ground — and still led. That’s because Deonte Wilson intercepted Ford and Austin Taylor powered through a 47-yard field goal to give the Panthers a 3-0 edge.
UMass, meanwhile, moved the ball with ease. The Minutemen just couldn’t score. Until the 9:51 mark of the second quarter, that is. Ford hooked up with a wide-open Jalen Williams for a 26-yard strike, the first touchdown of his career.
A vertical route bit FIU again late in the first half. Andy Isabella got behind FIU’s secondary and pulled in a 31-yard reception from Ford to give the Minutemen a 14-3 halftime lead.
The statistical battle was even more one-sided. UMass outgained FIU 244-148 through two quarters. The Panthers were flagged seven times for 80 yards. And they couldn’t convert any of their six third-down chances.
“There was about 50 plays you could make,” Turner said. “We didn’t do anything right. We were undisciplined. That’s on me.”
But whatever Turner said at the intermission helped.
The Panthers ground out a 16-play, 75-yard touchdown drive to begin the second half, capped by a 2-yard touchdown run by Alex Gardner, who went over 100 yards on the day. Taylor’s 35-yard field goal later in the third cut UMass’ lead to 1.
But UMass answered right back, going 66 yards on 12 plays, capped by a 1-yard touchdown pass from Ford to Adam Breneman. And that was enough to win.
“We won’t let [the season] get away from us,” Gardner said. “I promise you that. We’re going to come back and fight hard.”
Turner told his team afterward to “get this stuff corrected or we’ll continue down this road. I told them it’s an embarrassment to me, to this university, to college football. It’s their option to do something about it.”