The non-conference schedule revealed an FIU defense that is adept at collecting sacks and turnovers and a kick return game that can unnerve opposing coaches.
It also exposed FIU’s offense as remaining the main drag on the Panthers’ progress under former NFL offensive coordinator Ron Turner. And that is problem in modern college football, even in Conference USA.
Even with a blowout victory over FCS doormat Wagner (34-3), FIU ranks 120th of 125 FBS schools in offense and 125th in third down conversion rate.
In FIU’s losses to Bethune-Cookman, Pittsburgh and Louisville — or the three games aside from Wagner — the Panthers have come up with only four touchdowns and 40 points.
Never miss a local story.
Last year, against Bethune, Louisville and another Atlantic Coast Conference opponent (Maryland instead of Pitt), FIU managed four touchdowns and 23 points. That kind of ineptness wore down the defense over the course of the season. The defense allowed 41, 33 and 48 points late in the season to Middle Tennessee State, hapless UTEP and Marshall, respectively.
Saturday against Louisville, the 18-ranked defense didn’t get worn down so much as betrayed. A 7-0 deficit went to 28-0 in 4:22 propelled by an interception return for a touchdown, another interception, a three-and-out and a short punt.
FIU actually allowed only 12 yards rushing on 35 attempts.
“Last year, it would’ve been a different story,” Turner said after the 34-3 loss. “They would’ve gotten down on the offense and they fought right to the very end. It’s not good enough because that’s not what we’re out there to do.
“But because of that we’re going to give ourselves a chance. We’ve got to get some things corrected on offense that we need to correct. It’s about us and not about anybody else.”
This season, the problem might not be a defense worn down late in the season, but unable to keep teams from simply outscoring FIU.
Next week, FIU faces Alabama-Birmingham, which put up 34 points on Mississippi State and 48 on Troy.
Old Dominion and Rice, two future FIU opponents, played a 45-42 game against each other that Old Dominion won.
Other upcoming conference opponents also can score. Marshall averages 45.2 points per game and UTEP averages 33.0. Middle Tennessee put up 34 points on Western Kentucky in regulation of an overtime loss.