The pain for FIU from Saturday’s 27-17 loss to Louisiana Tech comes not from finding out the Panthers are not good enough to compete with Conference USA’s West Division favorite.
It will come from seeing, as they run and rerun through game film, that they weren’t good enough just on this day.
Their surest tacklers slid off ball carriers, particularly Louisiana Tech running back Kenneth Dixon as he ran for 169 yards and two touchdowns on 25 carries. Missed blocks were plentiful. None of FIU’s seven penalties occurred in the process of making or preventing a play — the Panthers had five presnap penalties and two unsportsmanlike conduct penalties.
“It’s extremely disappointing. No doubt out it,” FIU coach Ron Turner said. “I like this football team. We have a chance to be a good football team. I don’t like what I saw [Saturday]. I don’t like what this team did [Saturday]. We did some things that this team hadn’t done previously.
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“The biggest thing was we weren’t focusing on the right things. We were focusing on some b.s. — after the play, getting personal fouls instead of focusing on doing their job. If we continue to go down that road, we’ll have a lot more games like this.
“If we do what we’re supposed to do, and the guys focus on the right things, we’ll have a hell of a football team.”
FIU fell to 2-2, 0-1 in Conference USA play. Louisiana Tech also sits at 2-2, but 1-1 in conference.
FIU gave up 472 yards of offense to Louisiana Tech, 246 of those on the ground. Dixon ran on the FIU defense as if it was a street with speed bumps to dodge. His two touchdown runs and 23-yard touchdown catch tied the NCAA record held by Wisconsin’s Montee Ball with his 11th three-touchdown game
“He’s a hell of a back,” FIU defensive tackle Imarjaye Albury said. “You watch him, he runs hard. He runs with great pad level, great skill, he’s got great vision.
“With a back like that, you’ve got to play disciplined defense.”
Dixon blazed through a hole on the left side for a 63-yard touchdown on the game’s first possession. Dixon’s second touchdown, which put FIU down 14-3, came out of an old fashioned T-formation on third-and-1 from the FIU 23.
Former Florida quarterback Jeff Driskel (18-of-32 passing for 226 yards) faked the handoff, and Dixon ran a wheel route up the left sideline. Senior cornerback Jeremiah McKinnon let Dixon pass while appearing to look in the backfield, giving Dixon the freedom to make a twisting grab of Driskel’s throw.
Dixon’s third touchdown put FIU down 24-10 with 12:52 left, enough time to come back, just not the way the Panthers had been playing all day. From the FIU 14-yard line, Dixon raced through a right side hole into the clutches of junior linebacker Treyvon Williams and McKinnon.
The group stalemated at about the 5. Then, once joined by a Tech offensive lineman plowing into Williams, Dixon’s still pumping legs pushed him into the end zone. FIU players gave a single frustrated clap or punched the air angrily as they had been doing on both sides of the ball all day.
Williams, in many ways the heart of the FIU defense, limped off the field late in the game. He’s one of several Panthers whose future status remains to be determined after a bruising game.
Not among that number is junior tight end Jonnu Smith, who returned to the game in the third quarter after a first-quarter thigh contusion on a 25-yard catch.
Despite being without Smith, their best offensive player, FIU didn’t turn the ball over. The Panthers just didn’t move it well: 308 total yards, 74 of that coming during a garbage time drive that ended with an Alex McGough-to-Thomas Owens touchdown that ended the scoring.
Down 17-3 at halftime, FIU took the second-half kickoff and marched smartly 75 yards to get back in the game at 17-10. The touchdown came on a picturesque parabola launched to the left corner of the end zone by McGough and run under by senior tight end Ya’Keem Griner.