FIU’s chances of season-opening victory at Louisiana Tech go up in Smoke

Where there’s Smoke, there’s usually fire — and the FIU Panthers got burned.

Louisiana Tech Bulldogs wide receiver/kick returner Smoke Harris, probably the most dangerous player in Conference USA because of his speed and elusiveness, was at the top of FIU’s scouting report entering Saturday night’s game in Ruston, Louisiana.

The Panthers kept Harris in check early, smacking him around. In fact, FIU defensive back Larry Preston was ejected in the first quarter after his hit on Harris in punt coverage was deemed a “targeting” blow.

However, after 26-plus minutes of holding him down, Harris scored on a 64-yard pass play, changing the game’s momentum.

FIU, which led by two touchdowns in the second quarter, ultimately lost to Louisiana Tech 22-17.

The Panthers took a 7-0 lead just 54 seconds into the game and had an advantage for 58 consecutive minutes. FIU finally gave up the lead with just 61 seconds left in the game as Bulldogs running back Jacob Fields scored on a 30-yard run to make it 22-17.

Fields, a true freshman from Texas, started fall camp fifth on the depth chart but moved up a bit due to injuries. Still, he got just two touches the whole game, both on that final drive: a 20-yard reception and the winning 30-yard score in which he went untouched.

Saturday marked the season opener for both teams, and it was an especially painful loss for the Panthers since it was a conference game.

“I’m pleased with how hard we played,” FIU coach Mike MacIntyre said. “We should have [won]. We just didn’t get it done.”

Here are four takeaways for FIU football:

1: PASSING PROBLEM: Grayson James, in his second season as FIU’s starter, completed just 5 of 14 passes for 4 yards, no touchdowns and one interception. He was sacked twice.

The 4 passing yards is a new FIU low, according to CBS Sports.

Including last year, James has 11 touchdowns and just one interception in FIU’s four wins. But in FIU’s nine losses in that span, James has zero TD passes and 11 interceptions.

It will be interesting to see if FIU coach Mike MacIntyre gives more work at practice to backup quarterbacks Keyone Jenkins and Haden Carlson.

There could also be a change in FIU’s starting quarterback if the passing issues continue. Jenkins, a true freshman with the reputation as a winner and a leader, is listed ahead of Carlson on the depth chart.

2: DAZZLING DEBUT: FIU running back Shomari “Showtime” Lawrence, a transfer from the University of South Dakota who played high school ball at Pompano Beach Ely, ran 15 times for 139 yards, a 9.3 average and one touchdown.

He gave FIU a 7-0 lead in the game’s opening minute when he ran 67 yards up the middle for his first touchdown with FIU.

3: HANDLING HARRIS: Smoke Harris, named in July as C-USA’s Preseason Special Teams Player of the Year, was held to 0 yards in kickoff and punt return yards on Saturday.

However, Harris — despite missing more than one quarter Saturday with what was believed to be cramping due to the 95-degree heat, caught a career-high 11 passes for 155 yards. He finisheda one yard short of tying his career high in reception yards.

On the touchdown, he took a short slant and ran about 55 yards after the catch. FIU was leading 17-3 when Harris made that play, speeding past safety Ladarian Paulk, who was guarding the deep middle of the field.

Up to that point, FIU’s defense had dominated Louisiana Tech. But — on that dynamic one-play, 64-yard, nine-second “drive” — everything changed.

4: HANDLING HANK: Quarterback Hank Bachmeier, who made his Bulldogs debut after starting going 20-9 as a Boise State starter, started slowly Saturday, completing 2-of-6 passes for 11 yards with one interception and no touchdowns.

However, for the rest of the first half, he completed 13-of-14 passes for 188 yards, no interceptions and one touchdown.

Bachmeier finished the game with strong numbers: 34-of-44 for 333 yards, one TD and one pick. He was sacked twice.