MIAMI, FLA. – Autrey Golden became UTEP’s all-time leader for kickoff return yards, but the depleted Miners fell at FIU, 52-12, on Saturday afternoon.
Golden registered five returns for 92 yards, giving him 2,758 in his career to surpass Cedric Johnson (2,757 yards).
Alex McGough completed 13-of-17 passes for 270 yards for the Panthers (3-3, 1-1 C-USA), who improved to 2-0 at home this season. UTEP (2-4, 0-2 C-USA) dropped its C-USA road opener for the seventh consecutive year.
“Beyond tough,” UTEP coach Sean Kugler said. “We lost a few more guys. I can’t say enough. We’re a beat-up team. As the head coach, I’ve got to do a good job of keeping these guys together and trying to field a competitive team and keep them fighting. That’s on me.”
The Panthers scored the game’s first 35 points, as McGough completed 10-of-12 passes for 182 yards. He threw a 43-yard TD pass to Thomas Owens and connected with Jonnu Smith for a 14-yard score. FIU added scoring runs from Alex Gardner (two yards) and Anthon Samuel (18 yards), and a 31-yard interception by Jeremiah McKinnon during the sequence.
The Miners got on the board with 7:53 remaining in the second quarter when Jay Mattox kicked a 20-yard field goal. That completed a nine-play, 73-yard drive that saw UTEP convert its second and third first downs of the game.
The Miners had four first downs and 134 yards at halftime, and an already decimated running backs corps lost LaQuintus Dowell and Treyvon Hughes to injury. UTEP was down 42-3 at the break.
UTEP scored its first touchdown midway through the third quarter behind freshman quarterback Kavika Johnson, who saw his most extensive action of the season. Johnson completed four passes on the drive, the last to Cole Freytag who dashed 23 yards into the end zone. Freytag had a career-high 81 yards on two catches.
Starting quarterback Ryan Metz was ineffective for the second straight game, completing 2-of-4 passes for 10 yards before Johnson got his chance.
“Ryan had a pick-six and the offense stalled at that point,” Kugler said. “We just needed a spark right before halftime. We put in Kavika. He gave us a little spark down the field. He continued to give us a spark in the second half.”
Johnson was 10-of-20 passing for 107 yards.
The Miners registered their second safety of the season in the fourth quarter when the Panthers’ Anthony Jones was tackled in the end zone.
Kugler pledged a re-commitment to the ground game a week after attempting 50 passes versus UTSA, and the Miners enjoyed moderate success running the football. They gained 155 yards on 47 attempts (3.3 avg.) behind former receiver Warren Redix, who picked up 52 yards on 10 carries. Dowell added nine rushes for 43 yards.
The Panthers gained 518 yards on 53 plays, a 9.8-yard average. Gardner rushed for 56 yards and chipped in with 96 receiving, averaging 10.1 yards every time he touched the ball.
UTEP has reached its bye week midway through the season. The Miners will return to action at home versus Florida Atlantic on Saturday, Oct. 24 at 5 p.m.
“We’ll try to get healed up as best as we can and try to compete our tails off the rest of the year,” Kugler said. “We’re playing with a wide receiver at tailback, a safety at tailback, and we’re down to our third or fourth quarterback. We’re bare bones, but it won’t keep us from competing.
“I apologize to all the Miner fans for how our season is going so far this year. Nobody hurts more than me. And nobody is going to work harder to try to get it corrected than me.”
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