FIU’s rout of UTEP gave more playing time to backups on the Panthers roster, and a number of career firsts were recorded.
In the fourth quarter, redshirt sophomore wide receiver Shug Oyegunle took a midrange pass from graduate transfer senior quarterback Trey Anderson up the right sideline for a 79-yard touchdown.
The fourth-longest touchdown pass in FIU history was Oyegunle’s first career touchdown catch and Anderson’s first career touchdown pass, at Pitt or FIU.
Sophomore Shawn Abrams sailed to snag a 24-yard pass in the second quarter, his first career catch. Abrams wound up with two catches for 43 yards. Redshirt sophomore safety Xavier Hines and redshirt freshman cornerback Mark Bruno each blitzed his way to his first career quarterback sack.
With the help of senior defensive end Michael Wakefield, freshman defensive end Fermin Silva got his first sack. Silva’s bouncing celebration ended when he landed badly on an ankle or knee. He would eventually walk off after being down several minutes.
“Some guys who were on scout team, doing everything they can to help this team win, to be able to get them on the field, was very rewarding,” FIU coach Ron Turner said. “And we got a lot of them in there fairly early, so they got a lot of snaps.”
FIU’s injury situation gave even more players a chance to see the field. Sophomore wide receiver Dennis Turner remained out with a concussion. Sophomore safety Niko Gonzalez returned from his stinger, but redshirt junior safety Jordan Davis missed his third game with a knee injury.
Redshirt junior guard Trenton Saunders and middle linebacker Treyvon Williams missed their second games in a row with knee injuries.
FIU dominated UTEP even on special teams, which had been solid in the punting, kicking and coverage departments and disappointing on returns.
Before Saturday, Richard Leonard managed only 16 yards on his longest punt return this season. But given a hole to his left in the first quarter, he raced 37 yards to set up FIU’s third touchdown. That return, the longest of a punt or kickoff this season, was matched later by Anthony Jones on a kickoff return.
UTEP kickoff returner Autrey Golden, one of the most dynamic kickoff returners in NCAA history with six career touchdowns, was held to 18.4 yards per return with a long of 26 on his five kick returns.
THIS AND THAT
▪ The announced attendance, hampered by a TV-dictated noon start, was 13,799. The crowd in FIU Stadium and the tailgaters in the parking lot looked remarkably similar to FIU’s first noon kickoff of 2014, against Pittsburgh, when the official attendance was 10,147.
▪ The game captains for FIU were sophomore quarterback Alex McGough, redshirt junior center Mike Montero, graduate senior transfer linebacker Jephete Matilus and fifth-year senior cornerback Richard Leonard.
For the first time in the two seasons that FIU coaches have named game captains, senior defensive end Michael Wakefield wasn’t one.
▪ FIU lost the toss for the second game in a row after winning the first four this season.