FIU proved on Thursday night that it could play with a Big Ten team. Beating a team from that tradition-rich conference is a different story.
The Indiana Hoosiers, who trailed FIU entering the fourth quarter, rallied to defeat the host Panthers 34-13 in the season opener for both teams.
This was Indiana’s first game in Florida since Oct. 21, 1966, when the Hoosiers lost to Miami 14-7 at the Orange Bowl.
The Panthers, who have never beaten a Big Ten team, will get one more chance this season when they play host to Maryland next Friday.
“We battled and competed and did some good things,” FIU coach Ron Turner said after his team blew a slim 13-12 lead it had entering the fourth quarter. “But I was very disappointed in the outcome, and I was very disappointed in the offensive execution.”
FIU never got its running game going as Alex Gardner was held to 23 yards on 10 carries and backup Anthony Jones got just two carries and three yards.
“You’ve got to get some first downs to get the running game going,” Turner said. “We took the first drive down for a field goal. After that, we had trouble converting on third down.
“We know (the Hoosiers) are a big, physical team. The running game will come as the game goes on, but we never gave it a chance because we didn’t get first downs.”
FIU quarterback Alex McGough was effective at times, but he threw three interceptions, including two that were returned for touchdowns – one in each half.
It was the first time since 1966 that Indiana had two interception returns for touchdowns in the same game.
McGough finished with 263 yards passing, completing 23 of 46 passes.
“We had too many drops,” Turner said, “and too many missed throws.”
Turner said he was overall pleased with his defense. However, Indiana had its running game on overdrive as Devine Redding ran 22 times for 135 yards. As a team, Indiana rushed for 246 yards.
Hoosiers quarterback Richard Lagow, a junior college transfer who was making his Hoosiers debut, completed 18 of 27 passes for 240 yards. He ran for one touchdown and passed for another.
“Our whole team played well,” Lagow said. “Our defense played its tail off.”
FIU opened the scoring on a 24-yard first-quarter field goal by Austin Taylor. That capped a 56-yard drive that included a conversion on a fourth-and-1 running play at the Indiana 14 by Gardner.
That drive would have been stopped at about midfield except for a roughing-the-passer penalty on Indiana. On the other end of the spectrum, FIU nearly had a touchdown on a third-down pass from the Indiana 11 as McGough just missed Jonnu Smith in the end zone.
Indiana turned the momentum in an odd way – with a punt. Indiana’s Joseph Gedeon punted 45 yards, bouncing the ball out of bounds at the FIU one.
Two plays later, Indiana had a safety as FIU right guard Trenton Saunders was caught holding while McGough was trying to pass out of the end zone.
As a result of the safety, FIU had to kick off from its own 20. Indiana took a short field and drove for a 21-yard field goal by Griffin Oakes. That gave Indiana a 5-3 lead.
In the second, Oakes missed a 26-yard field goal. But Oakes was bailed out two plays later when cornerback Rashard Fant intercepted a McGough pass and ran it back 25 yards for a touchdown. That gave Indiana a 12-3 lead.
“There was miscommunication,” Turner said of the pass that was intended for wide receiver Thomas Owens. “It shouldn’t happen.”
FIU answered with its first TD of the season, a one-yard run by Gardner. That capped a 56-yard drive that was highlighted by a 40-yard McGough completion to freshman Stantley Thomas, a backup who got behind the Indiana defense down the right sideline. McGough lobbed the ball perfectly.
Indiana had a chance to add to its lead in the third quarter, lining up for a 42-yard field goal. But Mitchell Paige dropped a good snap, and the Hoosiers failed to get a kick off.
FIU took advantage and drove for a Taylor 29-yard field goal and a 13-12 lead. The drive was set up by another long pass, this time for 45 yards from McGough to Thomas.
Indiana answered with a 74-yard touchdown drive. The drive was capped with a 21-yard pass to tight end Danny Friend, who was alone while running a go route on the left side.
“That was a busted coverage,” Turner said.
The Hoosiers went up 20-13 on a two-point conversion play – a double reverse to Ricky Jones.
Lagow clinched the win with a six-yard touchdown run, putting Indiana up 27-13 with 6:54 left in the game.
McGough’s second pick-six resulted in a 14-yard touchdown run by linebacker Tegray Scales with 3:57 left.
“They’re a good team,” FIU linebacker Treyvon Williams said of Indiana. “They came out and executed pretty well. They ran the ball and passed the ball equally (well).
“We just have to correct some things. We should have stopped the run better, honestly.”