One month after FIU coach Ron Turner said he didn’t know if he’d ever been happier for a team, Turner apologized for that same team’s "embarrassing" performance in Saturday’s 24-14 loss to UMass at McGuirk Alumni Stadium.
"That was an embarrassment," Turner said. "I have no idea what team that was. That was an embarrassment to me, to this university to this football program and everybody involved in it. I apologize to FIU nation, to the fans, everybody involved with this university because that was an embarrassment."
And he wasn’t even talking about the football aspects of the loss, such as getting outgained 495-188 and trailing from 4:31 into the game until the final kneeldown by Minuteman quarterback Blake Frohnapfel.
"The undisciplined nature of this team," Turner said. "The personal fouls, the penalties and all the other stuff that went on. It’s what we were about today, but it’s not what this program was built on and it’s not what I’m about."
Turner sounded even angrier than he did when the same aspects of last week’s loss to Louisiana Tech left him "extremely disappointed." It seems longer than a month since Turner gasped his happiness and pride in the team that upset Central Florida in its opener.
Well, UCF’s 0-5 now and FIU (2-3, 0-1 in Conference USA) got flagged for 10 penalties worth 111 yards. Five in the first half were for personal foul or unnecessary roughness calls, four for 60 yards in the second quarter alone.
One of the calls, a late hit on senior middle linebacker Jephete Matilus as Frohnapfel was being tackled along the sideline, was panned universally by ESPN3 commentators and media in the press box. Senior defensive end Michael Wakefield and defensive tackle Lars Koht each got flagged for hands to the face while pass rushing, the Wakefield call wiping out a Richard Leonard interception.
Two plays after that, senior cornerback Jeremiah McKinnon shoved running back Sekai Lindsay out of bounds legally, McKinnon exchanged enough words and gestures with some of the UMass bench to get flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct.
Turner admitted, looking from the sideline, he had a problem with some of the penalties called on FIU but "regardless, there’s still too much b.s. going on out there."
Just as they did last week, FIU couldn’t run the ball consistently. Subtracting sacks, which are part of the running game only statistically, FIU ran for only 91 yards on 26 carries. They came out throwing and sophomore quarterback Alex McGough completed 22 of 34 but for a measly 115 yards and one touchdown.
Meanwhile Frohnapfel completed 32 of 42 passes for 363 yards and three touchdowns. Just less than half of those numbers – 15 catches for 159 yards and one touchdown -- went onto the resume of UMass wide receiver Tajae Sharpe. Sharpe’s receptions set a UMass record as well as a record for an FIU opponent, beating the 13 by Louisiana-Monroe’s Brent Leonard in 2012 and his yards tied future NFLer Torrey Smith’s total for Maryland in 2010 for third.
Frohnapfel’s other two touchdowns as well as 113 yards worth of receptions went to Marken Michel. FIU fell behind 4:31 into the game on a 57-yard Frohnapfel-to-Michel touchdown bomb. Michel beat solo coverage from redshirt freshman Mark Bruno, usually playing corner in the slot or backing up Leonard and McKinnon. With FIU down five safeties, McKinnon started there instead.
FIU stayed in the game by twice stopping UMass on downs in scoring range, and getting a field goal block by Vontarius West after the Minutemen had first and goal on the FIU 3.
A 14-0 FIU deficit got chopped in half after defensive tackle Imarjaye Albury recovered a fumble at the Minutemen’s 37. McGough threw a 1-yard fade pattern touchdown to leaping sophomore Thomas Owens.
Down 17-7 at the half and 334-66 in yards, the third quarter trends held to favor FIU – UMass hadn’t scored a third quarter point all season and the Panthers defense hadn’t allowed a touchdown. Meanwhile, FIU’s best drive of the day, 13 plays and 62 yards, ended with sophomore running back Alex Gardner’s 1-yard run to close the gap to 17-14.
But the Panthers got nothing else going for the rest of the game and Frohnapfel ended the scoring by hitting Michel on a similar throw to the McGough-to-Owens touchdown.