Five takeaways from FIU’s win over New Mexico St. which broke 20-game FBS losing streak

Daniel A. Varela/dvarela@miamiherald.com

Call it an 87-point turnaround in just one week.

Quarterback Grayson James tossed three touchdown passes to lead the FIU Panthers to a 21-7 win over the host New Mexico State Aggies on Saturday night in Las Cruces.

Last week, FIU lost 73-0 to Western Kentucky, the worst defeat in program history.

On Saturday, however, FIU (2-2) snapped a 20-game losing streak against FBS competition. FIU hadn’t beaten an FBS team since taking down the Miami Hurricanes on Nov. 23, 2019.

FIU’s last road win against any team from outside South Florida came on Nov. 17, 2018, beating Charlotte.

Here are five takeaways from FIU’s big win on Saturday night:

DEFENSIVE IMPROVEMENT

New Mexico State (1-5) scored on just a three-yard run by Star Thomas with 12:58 left in the second quarter.

After that, the Aggies were held scoreless for nearly the final 43 minutes of the game (42:58 to be exact).

The Aggies came up empty on their final seven drives, punting five times, missing a 53-yard field goal and turning the ball over on downs.

Linebacker Gaethan Bernadel led FIU with 1.5 tackles for losses. He also had five solo tackles, tying safety Demetrius Hill for the team lead.

Defensive end Alex Nobles led FIU in passes defensed, with two.

Here’s the thing, though: FIU got no sacks, fumble recoveries or interceptions.

Instead of huge plays on defense, the Panthers settled for holding the Aggies to 4-for-14 on third downs.

QB OF THE PRESENT/FUTURE?

James, who is just a second-year collegian, has played a big role in FIU’s two wins this year.

On Saturday, James completed 13-of-19 passes for 175 yards, the three TDs and no interceptions.

In FIU’s two wins this season, James has completed 29-of-50 passes (58 percent) for seven TDs and no picks.

However, it’s not as if James threw a bunch downfield darts for score against the Aggies.

He threw two bubble screens for scores and a four-yard flip to Tyrese Chambers.

Not that James was bothered at all with the lack of deep down-the-field tosses.

“It’s been a long time since FIU had a road win or an FBS win, so you know this feels good,” James said. “Last week didn’t go like we wanted. We needed to reset, and that’s what we did.”

YAC-ING IT UP

It’s all about those yards after catches.

FIU never trailed against the Aggies, breaking the game open with James’ 25-yard screen to Jalen Bracey, who raced past five would-be defenders.

On FIU’s next possession, running back Lexington Joseph took a swing pass and went 60 yards for a score, breaking two tackles along the way.

Joseph also got big-time help from second-year-freshman wide receiver Joe Barry Jr., whose downfield block helped make the play a touchdown.

“We work on that play a lot,” Joseph said. “It all starts with trust. I have to trust my wide receivers and tight ends to block. They made a block, and I made (two) people miss.”

BIG SECOND QUARTER

FIU went 3-for-4 on third-conversions in their crucial second quarter, outscoring the Aggies, 14-7.

Indeed, after James’ three TD passes on three straight first-half FIU possessions, the Panthers’ offense kind of took the rest of the night off, going scoreless after the break.

Chambers, though, had a game high in catches (six) and yards (72).

HEROIC PERFORMANCE

Joseph rushed for a game-high 80 yards and a game-high 5.7 average. He also had a game-high 32-yard run, his longest carry of the year.

Counting the bubble screen, Joseph had 140 yards from scrimmage.

“It’s my first road win,” Joseph said. “A hard week (following the loss to Western Kentucky, Coach (Mike MacIntyre) kept us focused.

“We had not one chip … We had two chips on our shoulders.”

Joseph said FIU “can take it up a notch”, and that means the Panthers are already looking toward next week’s game against visiting Connecticut.

“We’re not down yet,” Joseph said when asked what message MacIntyre gave the team. “Don’t get too happy. Celebrate tonight. But tomorrow we are back on the drawing board for U-Conn, homecoming game.”

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