Liberty’s balanced offense was too much to overcome for FIU, Jenkins in a 38-6 loss

D.A. Varela/

The Flame was stronger than the Light.

After winning 29 consecutive games as a starting quarterback, Keyone “Lights Out” Jenkins finally took a loss.

Jenkins, an 18-year-old true freshman was held to 133 passing yards — 156 below his average — as host FIU lost 38-6 to the Liberty Flames on Saturday night.

FIU (3-2, 0-2 Conference USA) had its three-game win streak snapped.

Liberty (4-0, 2-0), new to C-USA this year, might be the best team in the league.

Jenkins was outplayed by a more experienced quarterback, Liberty’s Kaidon Salter, who started his 13th college game — nine more than his FIU counterpart.

Salter scored on a run to his right and a run to his left, and he added two touchdown passes down the middle of FIU’s defense. He finished with 156 passing yards and 77 on the ground.

FIU coach Mike MacIntyre was also impressed by Liberty running backs Quinton Cooley (102 yards, 8.5 average) and Billy Lucas (102 yards, 9.3 average).

“They are two of the best running backs we’ve ever played,” MacIntyre said. “They ran right through us.”

Here are four takeaways from FIU’s loss:

1: JENKINS’ STREAK ENDS: Prior to Saturday, Jenkins’ last loss had come in his first game as a Miami Central High School junior. He then won the next 12 games to lead the Rockets to the 2021 state title. He won 14 more to lead the Rockets to the state title again as a senior, and he won three consecutive contests for FIU.

On Saturday, he completed just 9 of 21 passes, and he was intercepted once. He did score FIU’s only touchdown, getting in on a 3-yard quarterback sneak.

“I can take a loss — I can hold myself accountable,” Jenkins said when asked about his emotions following the game. “One game doesn’t define us.”

Jenkins said Liberty didn’t play as much man defense Saturday as he had seen on film. The Flames also brought more pressure than he expected.

But despite the defeat, no FIU player or coach has expressed any doubt in Jenkins.

Quite the opposite.

“He’s real mature for his age,” FIU wide receiver Jalen Bracey said. “I tell him all the time, ‘Your personality is one of a kind.’ He’s a person everyone wants to be around.”

MacIntyre said Liberty suffocated Jenkins with just a four-man rush, indicating some protection issues.

“I think the world of Keyone,” MacIntyre said. “He’s going to be a heck of a player. He’s already a really good player.”

2: INJURY ISSUES: The Panthers were without starting center John Bock II (thumb surgery) and starting guard Jacob Peace.

Jenkins also got banged up with his right knee and ankle.

“It still hurts,” said Jenkins, who added he will not miss time.

MacIntyre is hopeful his linemen are also back for FIU’s next game.

In the meantime, the Panthers are using Ming Tjon at center, Wyatt Lawson at guard and JaDarious Lee as a utility player all over the line.

3: BRIGHT SPOTS: Panthers wide receiver Kris Mitchell had another big game with four catches for 89 yards. For the season, he leads the team with a career-high-tying 23 catches for a career-best 459 yards.

“It wasn’t a pretty game for us,” MacIntyre said, “but Kris still gets open.”

On defense, safety C.J. Christian had an interception, and FIU got two fumble recoveries – one from cornerback Hezekiah Masses and one that went out of the end zone for a touchback and was credited to the team.

That interception was the first time Salter has been picked off all year. Salter has 11 TD passes.

Those fumbles were forced by middle linebacker Donovan Manuel and by defensive end Jordan Guerad.

Manuel leads FIU this year in total tackles (54), stops per game (10.8) and forced fumbles (four).

“Just chasing the ball, attacking the ball,” Manuel said when asked about his ability to jar the ball loose. “Watching film this week, [Liberty] didn’t have great ball security. We knew they were going to give us something.”

Manuel said that if he is the first defender to the ball, he goes for the sure tackle. But if he is not first, he often looks for the fumble.

“Turnovers win games,” Manuel said. “Football is a game of mistakes. We made more mistakes than (Liberty). We didn’t execute the game plan well. The biggest question is how we respond for the next game.”

4: WELCOME TO WEDNESDAY NIGHT FOOTBALL: For the next four games, FIU will play on Wednesday nights., starting on Oct. 4 at 9 p.m. at New Mexico State.

MacIntyre, who has never played or coached in a Wednesday game, is all for the idea because of the exposure it will bring the Panthers. Three of those four games will be on CBS Sports Network, and one is set for ESPN2.

“The opportunity was too good to pass up,” MacIntyre said. “The cool thing is that we don’t have a short week for any of those Wednesday games.

“We will just treat those Wednesdays like Saturdays. Thursdays will be like Sunday — an off day. I just won’t go to church on Thursday. I’ll go on Sunday.”