Mike MacIntyre is all about positive at FIU.
That stretch of 18 losses in 19 games before he arrived on the scene? The tragic August death of linebacker Luke Knox? Injuries to key members of the club? And that ugly 73-0 loss to WKU early in the season?
Keep your head up and fight through them, says the FIU Panthers' head coach. Stay positive.
"You have to be positive," MacIntyre told reporters. "Now there will be times that you're not. … But I'm going to stay positive, and (naysayers) will be on the wagon with us when we get this thing turned around fully. I promise you that."
This "thing" has already begun to turn around for MacIntrye and FIU — the coach seems positive of that — since the butt-whooping at the hands of the Hilltoppers.
In the aftermath, the Panthers are 2-2 — and a let's-keep-it-positive 3-4 overall — heading into Friday night's conference clash with the Louisiana Tech Bulldogs at Riccardo Silva Stadium in Miami.
At Tech, they're trying to stay positive, too. But it's been a slow start under new head coach Sonny Cumbie.
The Bulldogs are 2-5 and have lost the last two games, including a 42-41 overtime heartbreaker at home to Rice last Saturday.
The only wins have come against FCS Stephen F. Austin and UTEP Miners, and both of those came at home. That means Louisiana Tech is winless on the road with an 0-3 record and looking to turn that around Friday.
"We came up short, did not make enough plays at the end," Cumbie told reporters after a two-point conversion attempt to top Rice failed on an overthrown pass. "The first half, we did not do enough on the offensive side of the ball to take advantage of short field position.
"There is a lot of growing and learning we still have to do as a team."
Louisiana Tech at FIU
When Louisiana Tech Has the Ball
Tech will have to do its growing and learning without one of its leaders. On Tuesday, the team announced the loss of redshirt junior quarterback Matthew Downing to a season-ending knee injury, which came late in the loss to Rice.
To make matters more questionable is the status of senior quarterback Parker McNeil, who left last week's game late in the first quarter.
So freshman Landry Lyddy took over in overtime and found star receiver Tre Harris for an 18-yard touchdown hook-up, but the two-pointer for the win failed when Lyddy's pass sailed over his intended target.
Lyddy had come on with Downing's late injury to engineer the game-tying drive — culminated by a 19-yard TD pass to Cyrus Allen and a two-point conversion to Harris. So the young QB handled the pressure well, despite the tough-to-take loss.
"I'm excited about the challenge with whoever walks out there," said Cumbie of his QB conundrum. "I'm excited whether it's (sophomore Jack Turner), whether it's Lyddy or whether (McNeil) is able to do it."
Stay tuned for a starter in that regard.
But whoever steps under center has the luxury of dynamic receiver Harris at his disposal. The sophomore Harris had three catches for scores for Tech, snagging eight passes for 92 yards against Ross. On the year, he's got 39 catches for 597 yards and seven TDs.
Then there's another pass catcher named Harris, who has posted 420 yards and four scores on 36 receptions. And nobody is more dangerous than the appropriately named Smoke on both kickoff (30.8 ypr) and punt returns (12.7), as he leads Conference USA in both categories.
"Coach Cumbie is a high-powered offensive guy who's had good offenses everywhere he's been," MacIntyre told reporters. "I know when you watch Louisiana Tech on film, you'd better know where Harris is — Trey Harris and Smoke Harris. Excellent playmakers for them. They do a lot of really good things for them."
Trouble is playmakers were out there defensively for FIU last week in a 34-15 cutdown of the host Charlotte 49ers. The Panthers forced five turnovers, with sophomore cornerback Andrew Volmar leading the way. He had a pick, as did Dorian Hall and Demetrius Hill, with the defense taking plenty of positives while holding Charlotte to 337 yards.
When FIU Has the Ball
The offense enjoyed plenty of success last week in the win over Charlotte. That to the ultra-positive tune of 453 yards.
Quarterback Grayson James was an uber-effective 25-of-33 passing for 302 yards and one touchdown, and he scored twice more with his legs. And star receiver and Biletnikoff Award watchlist guy Tyrese Chambers had a career-best 10 catches for 143 yards in the triumph.
While the game helped cost head coach Will Healy his job in Charlotte, FIU can take plenty of positives from its effort, with the return of Chambers from an ankle injury right at the top of that list.
"Having Tyrese back as you saw provides a huge boost of energy for us," James told reporters. "Not even just during the game but even in warm-ups, he's a guy who gets everyone going, and we're obviously better with him."
The quarterback himself was certainly energized by last year's 1,000-yard receiver, who's at it again with 405 pass-catching yards on 37 receptions despite an injury-interrupted campaign. But James was also helped along by an offensive line that's protecting better in the last month.
"Grayson is making really good reads," MacIntyre said. "He's making good checks. He's throwing the ball really well and accurately."
Season-long, James is clicking along at 62.1 percent accuracy for 1,406 yards and eight touchdowns against six interceptions.
Then there's junior running back Lexington Joseph, with his best season in four — 363 rushing yards on 66 carries and three TDs and 105 more yards and two more scores on 14 catches.
So there's reason to be positive if you're MacIntyre and Co. Especially if you consider the Bulldogs' defense has been decimated by injury — plenty of starters were out last week — which helped lead to a surrender of 487 yards, including 279 along the ground, to Rice.
"Rice had some big runs and found their groove," Louisiana Tech junior linebacker Hugh Davis told reporters. "We have to find a way to put together a full game. I am still encouraged by things we did defensively. We will just keep working. We were able to take the ball away, something that is part of our identity. I have complete faith in our personnel and our coaching staff."
A return of key players from the injured ranks would boost that belief even more.
"For seven football games, our guys have fought and played hard," added Cumbie. "They play with a toughness. We just have to be smart and execute better."
This game is pivotal in that the loser will fall out of the race for the C-USA championship this year.
Both sides are 1-2 in conference play, meaning that even the winner will still have a ton of work to do to achieve even a shot at the conference crown.
But let's not look at the low side of things. Right, coach MacIntyre?
"The kids and the coaches, they're all believing," FIU's head man said. "They're all stepping in the right direction. They're trusting in each other. And if you can't trust each other in all aspects in any type of relationship … it's not going to be successful. And they're all starting to trust each other. And they're starting to compete. And they're starting to fight through the emotions of everything — the highs and lows of the game — and keep playing. Looking forward to see how we do Friday."
With key injuries behind them, that's easy for the Panthers to say. The Bulldogs, however, are in that fight right now, with hopes they get some of those hurt guys back for Friday.
If not, well…
"We all understand it is going to be a next-guy up," added Cumbie. "We had a lot of injuries this week, so we had to have a lot of guys step up. Everybody had to try to step it up a notch. It all comes down to execution. It came down to little things. We had some drops, penalties — just little things that we need to do better with. It cost us at the end of the day."
It might well cost them again in Miami.
Prediction: FIU 32, Louisiana Tech 27
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