For FIU, the trip to West Virginia was a little less cold and dreary than the weather.
FIU took advantage of Marshall’s miscues and quarterback Alex McGough was efficient as the Panthers ended the Herd’s five-game winning streak with a 41-30 victory in front of 19,966 rain-soaked fans at Joan C. Edwards Stadium on Saturday afternoon.
“When you go on the road and play like this, you have to really, truly count on your playmakers to step up, show up and make plays,” FIU coach Butch Davis said. “Obviously, today was very good.”
FIU led from the onset and withstood a late rally from Marshall to earn a win that, for the time being, had them firmly entrenched in the thick of Conference USA’s East Division. A loss would’ve likely knocked them from title contention as the stretch run approaches.
FIU led by 21 entering the fourth quarter, but had to survive an onside kick attempt after Marshall rallied within 38-30 following an 8-yard touchdown pass to Tyre Brady — a former University of Miami receiver — and a two-point conversion pass to Willie Johnson.
The Panthers were able to recover the onside kick and get a 38-yard field goal from Jose Borregales to put the game away in the final seconds.
The veteran moxie of McGough and the play of FIU’s offensive line dictated play throughout, moving the ball at will against a Marshall defense that had surrendered just 16 points in conference play entering the game.
“They really get their safeties involved in the run game, and they really rely on those second-level guys to make the tackles,” McGough said. “I thought that our line really did a great job of getting to the second level and just putting hats on them, and our running backs did a great job of reading it and reacting to it.”
McGough finished 14-of-18 for 177 yards and two touchdowns with most damage coming in the first half.
The Panthers rushed for 224 yards, led by Napolean Maxwell’s 93 yards. Alex Gardner added 71 yards rushing. Both had a touchdown on the ground.
Marshall owned an edge in total yards (505-401), but the Panthers had a plus-3 turnover ratio. The Panthers also forced stopped all three attempts by Marshall on fourth down.
FIU (5-2, 3-1 C-USA) wanted to get off to a fast start against the Herd, and the Panthers got exactly what they wished for, taking a lead less than two minutes into the game off a turnover and not looking back en route to a 28-7 halftime advantage.
Momentum swung for good late in the half when McGough hit Thomas Owens for a 19-yard touchdown with 31 seconds before the break after Brady dropped a touchdown in the end zone and the Herd botched the hold on a field goal try. Owens finished with seven catches for 114 yards and two scores.
The touchdown reception was the second of the quarter for Owens, who earlier beat Marshall’s secondary for a 41-yard score to answer the Herd’s lone score of the half and regain momentum for the Panthers.
McGough was efficient with the football in the first half, completing 10 of his 12 attempts for 153 yards and the two scores to Owens.
For McGough, it was about taking what Marshall’s defense was giving him, which was single coverage on the outside against Owens.
McGough said the coverage choice by the Herd surprised him.
“Without a doubt, but here’s the thing,” McGough said. “You can’t double him because we’ve got weapons. We’ve got people all over the field to cover, so it’s hard to double-team someone.”
The Panthers led from the onset, taking advantage of numerous Marshall miscues.
Marshall quarterback Chase Litton fumbled the second snap of the game as the ball slid out of his hands on a pass attempt, which was recovered by FIU’s Bryce Canady at the Marshall 13.
Napoleon Maxwell followed with a 1-yard touchdown run to give the Panthers a lead less than two minutes into the game.
The lead increased to 14-0 before Marshall ever gained a first down as Alex Gardner scored on a 7-yard touchdown run following a defensive stop for the Panthers.
Marshall’s lone first-half score came on a 15-yard touchdown pass from Chase Litton to Willie Johnson that cut the lead to 14-7 with 7:37 left in the second quarter.
Litton finished the game 33-of-52 for 363 yards with three touchdowns and two interceptions — both of which came at the hands of FIU cornerback Brad Muhammad.
Muhammad returned one of those interceptions 12 yards for a score in the third quarter.
Brady finished with nine catches for 101 yards and a score for Marshall (6-2, 3-1 C-USA).
FIU returns home for their next two contests, starting with Saturday’s 7 p.m. affair against UTSA at FIU Stadium.