Senior kicker Jack Griffin went the first seven quarters of the 2012 season without connecting on a field goal.
The preseason Lou Groza candidate, an award given to the nation’s top kicker, had gone 0for 3, yet he still felt confident in two key pressure situations.
His 30-yard field goal as time expired sent the game into overtime and his 29-yarder won it Saturday night in FIU’s 41-38 overtime victory over Akron at Alfonso Field at FIU Stadium.
“I was thinking about that and it was time for that streak to be over,” said Griffin, who is second all-time in program history for field-goal attempts. “I had to end it. I’ve been doing this for a long time and I’ve been pretty good at it, so I knew I was going to make it.”
Through three quarters, the Panthers struggled on special teams, handing out good field position, committing costly penalties and twice calling second-half timeouts before Akron punts.
Three consecutive first-half Zips drives began in FIU territory thanks to big returns from freshman Imani Davis on Griffin’s punts. He averaged 24 yards on five in the first half alone. Last week in a 56-14 loss to Central Florida, the Zips returned two punts for minus-7 yards.
Davis (Miami Belen Jesuit) finished with 107 return yards, but just 3 in the second half. His third return — for 52 yards — led to senior quarterback Dalton Williams’ 11-yard touchdown pass to sophomore running back Jawon Chisholm. It gave Akron a 13-7 lead with 5:45 left in the second quarter.
“We didn’t cover punts as well as we can,” FIU coach Mario Cristobal said. “I’d like to think of their guy as more of a wrecking crew against us. He really had some nice returns. Imani Davis — a local guy — good football player, great young man.”
Griffin’s 30-yard punt off the end of his foot put Akron at its own 40-yard line and paved the way for an eight-play, 60-yard drive that ended in Williams’ second touchdown pass, this time to sophomore wide receiver L.T. Smith for 5 yards.
In the first two quarters, Griffin had already punted five times — with a long of 52 — for a 45-yard average. It was the first time since Nov. 26, 2011 that an FIU punter recorded a 50-plus-yard punt (Josh Brisk, 58).
He fell one punt shy of tying an FIU record of 11 a game. It came the same week in which he replaced Brisk — a redshirt senior — who punted four times for a 38.2 average last week against Duke.
“I felt we needed a change,” Cristobal said. “We had a net of 33 last week and so I felt it was time for a move. Jack did a great job in practice. He’s a talented guy. No hesitation. Just made a move to free up the competition. Got to wake up Josh a little bit.”
Ahead by one with just under a minute gone in the fourth, sophomore Richard Leonard returned redshirt freshman Zach Paul’s punt 49 yards for a touchdown to extend the lead to 28-20.
But Leonard fumbled the ball on his next return, providing Akron with prime field position at the FIU 22. FIU’s defense held its ground, permitting just a 41-yard field goal by redshirt freshman Robert Stein.
Missed opportunities cost the Panthers early on.
Griffin couldn’t make a 34-yard field-goal attempt that would have made it 10-0 early in the first quarter. On the ensuing drive, an illegal-block penalty negated junior Sam Miller’s 80-yard punt return for a touchdown. Miller muffed a punt but recovered at his own 7-yard line.
This marks Jeff Popovich’s first season as special-teams coordinator.