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A South Florida quarterback won a game in Tennessee on Saturday.
But it wasn’t FIU’s Keyone Jenkins.
Nicholas Vattiato, a former Davie NSU University School star, fired four touchdown passes to lead the host Middle Tennessee State Blue Raiders to a 40-6 win over FIU in a Conference USA game in Murfreesboro on Saturday afternoon.
FIU (4-6, 1-6) has lost six of its past seven games, including three in a row.
Middle Tennessee (3-7, 2-4) scored in just about every way possible – four offensive touchdowns, one defensive TD, one field goal, one safety and five extra points.
“I love our guys – they’re trying as hard as they can try,” FIU coach Mike MacIntyre said after the game.
“We have to coach them better, and they have to play better, too. I wish I could see what I see in practice on game day more often.”
Here are your four FIU takeaways:
1. NO PROGRESS
It’s looking like FIU will finish 4-8 for the second straight year under MacIntyre. It’s also looking like FIU will post its fifth straight losing season.
To avoid that latter fate, FIU would have to win at Arkansas on Saturday, beat Western Kentucky and then win a bowl game.
Arkansas is just 3-7, but the Razorbacks took the Florida Gators to overtime and lost by only three points to Alabama and by the same margin to LSU. The Razorbacks also lost by four points to Mississippi State and by seven points each to Ole Miss and to BYU.
That’s six one-score losses against a brutal SEC schedule.
Western Kentucky, meanwhile, is just 5-5, but the Hilltoppers have beaten three teams that defeated FIU this season, including Middle Tennessee, 31-10. The other two are UTEP and Louisiana Tech.
And, as a painful reminder for FIU fans, Western Kentucky crushed the Panthers, 73-0, last year in one of the most humiliating losses in program history.
2. TENNESSEE BLUES
The Panthers have lost five straight games against the Blue Raiders.
FIU is also 1-9 at Middle Tennessee. The only time FIU won at Murfreesboro was in 2011.
3. HOMETOWN HERO
Vattiato completed 18-of-25 passes for 275 yards. He also ran six times for 39 yards.
In two career games against FIU, Vattiato is 2-0, completing 38-of-49 passes for 422 yards, six touchdowns and no interceptions. That’s a 78-percent completion percentage, and Middle Tennessee has outscored FIU 90-16 in those two games.
4. FIU STRUGGLES
The Panthers rushed for just 47 yards on 36 attempts, a 1.9 average.
Jenkins, a true freshman who won his final 26 games in a row at Miami Central High, is experiencing repeated defeats for the first time in his career. He has been the QB of record during this entire 1-6 slump.
On Saturday, he completed 22-of-35 passes for 226 yards and no TDs. He was sacked four times, he fumbled twice, and he lost one. The fumble he recovered was in his own end zone for a safety.
FIU wide receiver Kris Mitchell, who entered the game leading the league with 820 reception yards, was held in check. He was targeted six times and came up with just two catches for 25 yards. He now needs 155 yards in two games to become the third player in FIU history to reach 1,000 receiving yards in one season, joining T.Y. Hilton and Tyrese Chambers.
Chase Gabriel booted two field goals, but he also missed a 40-yarder.
Defensively, FIU got no sacks and forced zero turnovers. The Panthers also allowed 288 passing yards and 139 on the ground.
A bright spot for FIU was middle linebacker Donovan Mitchell, who continued his all-conference-type season with a game-high two tackles for losses. Outside linebacker added a career-high 13 stops, although none were for losses.