An opportunistic defense did its part to put FIU in position to win, but three turnovers committed by an offense stuck in reverse were too much to overcome in a 17-14 Conference USA loss to North Texas on Saturday.
Mean Green kicker Trevor Moore’s 36-yard field goal late in the third quarter turned out to be plenty enough to send FIU to a fifth loss in its final six games.
The Panthers, who ended their season 3-5 in the conference and 4-8 overall, failed to score an offensive touchdown while gaining only 147 yards from scrimmage.
FIU quarterback Alex McGough was 11 for 25 for 56 yards and three interceptions, including one midway through the fourth quarter in the Mean Green end zone on the Panthers’ best scoring opportunity.
With 4:23 left in the third quarter, FIU had accrued 87 total yards.
“Our execution was extremely poor, and they took advantage of it,” FIU coach Ron Turner said.
“We just really didn’t play well in any way offensively — just too many mental errors, too many turnovers, too many mistakes.”
Richard Leonard had a 74-yard punt return for a touchdown in the first quarter, and the Panthers drew even at the half after Jeremiah McKinnon intercepted North Texas quarterback Andrew McNulty and returned it 70 yards for a touchdown.
Neither team disappointed in showing off the 11th- and 12th-ranked offenses in the 13-team Conference USA.
After jumping out to a two-touchdown lead, the North Texas offense also stalled on a damp and rainy day at Apogee Stadium.
After yielding 151 yards to North Texas in the first 15 minutes, FIU held the Mean Green to 115 yards the rest of the way.
Running back Reggie Pegram had 114 yards rushing, including a 54-yard touchdown on the second play of the game.
McNulty was just 9 for 20 for 105 yards for the Mean Green (4-7, 2-5), and a second interception — this one collected by FIU’s Jordan Davis — set up the Panthers on the North Texas 43 with 12:51 left.
FIU’s best drive of the day reached the Mean Green 11 before a personal-foul penalty sent the Panthers backwards.
McGough followed with a completed pass to T.J. Lowder that resulted in a loss of 4 yards, before Napoleon Maxwell erased the loss with a 7-yard gain.
But on third-and-7 from the North Texas 23, McGough’s pass was picked off by North Texas’ James Jones.
McGough’s third interception with 2:53 left essentially sealed the game.
“Not one thing caught us off guard,” Turner said. “We just didn’t execute. Didn’t block the right people at the right times, didn’t throw to the right guy.
“You can’t do that against a good team, and they’re a good football team.”
North Texas made its share of mistakes. Among them was punting to Leonard. FIU’s dynamic punt returner collected the ball and broke through the initial Mean Green coverage before darting down the sideline 74 yards for the Panthers’ first touchdown.
“Defensively, after a couple of drives, I thought we settled down and played really well, really hard, good football,” Turner said. “Special teams played well, obviously.
“It takes three phases to win a game.”