On Saturday night, FIU found the wide receiver combustibility lacking from the offense since 2012. So much so, it almost let the Panthers get away with giving up 439 yards of offense to Indiana, including 159 yards of rushing to Jordan Howard.
What went boom! in the Panthers face were three turnovers worth 20 Indiana points in a 36-22 loss at Memorial Stadium that left FIU 1-1 this season.
When FIU takes Ocean Bank Field at FIU Stadium next week, the quarterback might be fifth-year senior Trey Anderson. Sophomore quarterback Alex McGough left the game with a possible concussion late in the fourth quarter.
“He’s still being evaluated so we’ll just wait and see,” FIU coach Ron Turner said.
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Sophomore wide receiver Thomas Owens caught eight passes for 153 yards, the fifth-most receiving yards in a game by an FIU receiver, and his first two career touchdowns. Sophomore wide receiver Dennis Turner zoomed up the right sideline under his first career touchdown, a 28-yarder that gave FIU a 22-19 fourth-quarter lead.
Alas, though McGough threw for 249 yards and three touchdowns, he couldn’t repeat last week’s turnover free performance against Central Florida. His two fumbles and an interception that turned into 20 Indiana points.
“They played a solid game, they didn’t make mistakes,” Turner said. “We made way too many of them — turnovers, penalties, missed assignments.”
Indiana defensive end Nick Mangieri recovered McGough’s third-quarter fumble after pulling the ball away from running back Alex Gardner on an option. That preceded a 20-yard drive to Indiana quarterback Nick Sudfeld’s 1-yard touchdown on an option keeper that put Indiana up 19-14.
The FIU possession after Indiana tied the score at 22-22 with a 40-yard field goal ended abruptly when Mangieri’s blind-side sack caused another McGough fumble. Indiana’s Marcus Oliver recovered on the 16 and the Hoosiers scored on a poorly tackled bubble screen to Mitchell Paige one play later.
That left FIU behind 29-22, a deficit the Panthers got within two yards of erasing. A pass interference penalty, a hands to the face penalty and a third down completion to Gardner were the prime movers in FIU’s drive to first-and-goal at the Indiana 6.
On second down from the 5, McGough had tight end Jonnu Smith open in the back of the end zone, but linebacker Dawson Fletcher’s Plastic Man act tipped the ball just enough to cause a Smith drop. McGough’s third-down scramble left fourth and goal from the 2.
McGough appeared to audible to a rollout to the left. Under pressure, he got off a desperate throw seconds before his head got bounced off the ground. Indiana cornerback Jameel Cook grabbed an easy interception and returned it 96 yards for the game-clinching touchdown.
Anderson replaced McGough during FIU’s last two possessions.
Much as he did last week, when Central Florida’s soft coverage invited 10 first-half completions to Owens, McGough nibbled away at the Indiana defense early in the game. He moved the Panthers to the Indiana 21 on 7-of-8 passing for 40 yards.
Owens got the final 21 yards when he gathered in McGough’s eighth completion at the left sideline, spun off a tackle attempt like The Top and raced up the sideline for a touchdown.
Indiana answered with two drives to field goals, Griffin Oakes kicks from 35 and 27 yards. FIU countered those jabs with a bomb on its next offensive snap.
McGough lofted a deep ball up the right sideline where Owens, the former basketball forward, got position on Andre Brown, caught the ball, then stiff-armed safety Tony Fields on the way to a 75-yard touchdown.
The quick strike gave the Panthers a 14-6 lead, but didn’t give FIU’s defense any rest. Indiana started pounding Jordan Howard inside and Howard rumbled for 23 yards as the Hoosiers got to the Panthers’ 5. On third and goal from the 5, Sudfeld got pressured but stepped to his right outside containment and dived into the end zone. The half ended with FIU up 14-13.
“Their running game was really simple,” sophomore linebacker Anthony Wint said. “They were more physical than us at the point [of attack] and we just needed to tackle better.”