Panthers defense falls apart in first game of the season

Beacon File Photo

Brandon Wise/ Sports Director

FIU’s night could be summed up in one play.

Beacon File Photo

Redshirt sophomore quarterback Jake Medlock dropped back to pass on fourth and eight late in the third quarter. He looked to find a receiver, but was quickly engulfed by the Duke pass rush. Medlock got up frustrated, seemingly looking for answers, only to find there were none as the Panthers were obliterated 46-26.

Its cliché to say, but anything that could go wrong on the FIU defense went wrong tonight.

The Panthers surrendered 308 yards of offense in just the first half, leading to 30 points.

The game started with a lot of promise, including a 67-yard touchdown pass to Kendrick Rhodes in the third play of the game, but it spiraled downward after that.

On the final play of the first half, Jack Griffin lined up to try and cut the 30-14 Duke lead with a field goal. The snap went high and the kick blocked. Following the block, Ross Crockrell picked it up and ran it 75 yards in the opposite direction for the score.

“There were a lot of big plays tonight that changed the momentum of the game, it was a big factor,” senior Jonathan Cyprien said.

The play was just one of many microcosms that summed up the game for the Panthers. It was constant miscue after miscue for the FIU defense and special teams.

It started with sophomore Richard Leonard returning kickoffs. The cornerback muffed two kicks, one of which was recovered by Duke that led to a touchdown.

Then, the secondary was burned down the sidelines time and time again. Jamison Crowder ran a post route down the middle of the defense and in single coverage was Sam Miller. He never had a chance once Crowder cut in as Sean Renfree lobbed it to where only his man could make a play.

To start the second half, the Blue Devils drove it within field goal range for their kicker, but decided to go for it on fourth and short.

Renfree dropped back, under duress, shoveled the ball to his favorite target, Conner Vernon, where he then took it the next 20 yards into the end zone for a touchdown, taking Panther defenders with him.

It was a wrap from there.

“They ran their routes, there are only so many things you can do. There were some things that should have been covered that we just didn’t execute,” Cyprien said.

One of the oddities of the night is that FIU actually had more rushing yards, passing yards, third-down conversions, and more possession of the ball than Duke. It was just key errors that cost them the game.

“We had them early, we just had a couple mistakes here and there,” Rhodes said. “Throughout the game, our offense was clicking. We just couldn’t finish our drives.”

Rhodes was the lone bright spot for FIU, finishing the game with 25 carries for 130 yards and a touchdown as well as 115 receiving yards and a touchdown. He is the first Panther to ever eclipse the 100-yard mark in both receiving and rushing. Wayne Times, arguably the team’s best receiver, surpassed 100 yards for the first time in his career.

However, it still wasn’t enough. It got to a point where Duke put 10 players in the box because there was no threat of a deep pass from the Panthers.

The team now heads home where they will not leave the state of Florida for three straight weeks, playing Akron and Louisville at home and UCF on the road in Orlando.

“We’ve got to put this behind us, take it as a wake up call,” Cyprien said. “I believe we’re better than this.”

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