Florida International U

FIU can’t dig out of first-half hole in opening loss at Maryland

FIU’s season started badly, got worse quickly and turned into a Saturday afternoon 30-minute horror show — or sitcom, depending on your sensibilities — that threatens to become a new fall series.

FIU allowed a 40-yard kickoff return to Maryland on the game’s first play, then fumbled away its first kickoff return. When Maryland finished scoring on its first four possessions, FIU hadn’t achieved a first down.

Upon getting that first down early in the second quarter on the way to a touchdown, the Panthers then allowed a two-play TD drive by the Terrapins.

Perhaps the best that can be said for the Panthers 43-10 loss to Maryland is they held the Terps under 50 and got out with two healthy quarterbacks.

Nobody would have guessed that when FIU staggered into halftime down 40-10, with two defensive starters injured, having been outgained 399-59 and allowed several open shots on oft-injured quarterback Jake Medlock.

“I thought we’d come out and play better early,” FIU coach Ron Turner said. “I don’t know what we did. I didn’t recognize the offense and I didn’t’ recognize the defense early. We didn’t do it in any phase. We busted coverages; we busted responsibilities; we just didn’t execute.”

That allowed Maryland quarterback C.J. Brown — in his first game after losing the entire 2012 season to injury — to do to FIU what James Brown did to The TAMI Show stage. The 49.7 percent passer in 2011 went 20 of 23 for 281 yards and three touchdowns. Brown ran for 105 yards and two touchdowns on 11 carries as FIU chomped on Brown’s inside fakes before his option runs around the ends.

Maryland wide receiver Deon Long caught nine passes for 110 yards and a touchdown while Stefon Diggs caught five passes for 98 yards and a touchdown.

On two Brown touchdown passes, a 17-yarder to Kenneth Goins Jr. and a 66-yarder to Diggs, the receivers were so wide open, Brown looked like he was throwing pregame warmup drills. Diggs was so alone after coming off the line uncovered that the 36,321 fans in attendance actually began screaming for the throw as Brown set up, then watched a floating rainbow throw, Diggs stumble and put his arm down to stay up, stumble again, recover again and still get into the end zone 10 yards clear of an FIU defender.

And that’s the one guy FIU knew they absolutely needed to cover.

“It looked like people were too anxious, too excited and focusing on other things,” FIU senior defensive tackle Isame Faciane said.

Turner said he told the team at halftime, “They’ve got to come out and do their job. What we did there was totally unacceptable. We made the calls and the guys weren’t running the defense that was called or busting the assignments offensive that we’ve done over and over. I told them, ‘Give ourselves a chance.’ We didn’t give ourselves a chance in the first half.”

After Medlock got potato-sack whipped to the ground on a third-quarter sack, he got pulled for sophomore E.J. Hilliard. Also, Medlock had gone 5 of 15 for 26 yards. Hilliard threw an interception on his first snap, then went five for his next six for 54 yards. Turner acknowledged Medlock was taking some heavy shots — FIU couldn’t deal with the blitz — but said he wanted to give Hilliard a look.

He also got longer looks than he wanted at backups at strong safety and outside linebacker after starters Demarkus Perkins and Davison Colimon sustained knee and ankle injuries, respectively in the first half. Both were on crutches after the game, as was running back Shane Coleman, who sustained a knee injury while converting a third-and-1 before FIU’s touchdown.

“We’re mad, we know we can do better,” Medlock said. “When things get worse, we fall back on each other. We can’t point fingers. We have to get ready for [Central Florida] because it’s a rivalry game.”

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