Strong safety Johnathan Cyprien is one of the leaders of the FIU defense.
That’s why he takes what has happened this season personally.
The Panthers have had trouble stopping nearly every team they have played. That, said Cyprien, has to change. And change fast.
“We do look at ourselves and we are disappointed,” he said. “At the moment, we’re not playing up to our potential. We have the ability to play better. I do put that on my shoulders.”
Cyprien, a senior, quickly points out there is no lack of effort.
“We practice very hard,” he said. “I try my best as a leader on the team to get our intensity going for the week and on game day. We go out there and try our best, but right now things aren’t falling our way.”
The statistics back him up.
In five games, four of them losses, FIU has given up more than 500 yards once, more than 400 yards three times and more than 300 yards once.
Teams have averaged 417 yards against the Panthers — and that does not win games.
Unacceptable, said Cyprien.
“I really take it to heart when the defense is looked down upon,” he said.
However, Cyprien — who leads the team with 49 tackles — is trying to look forward, not backward.
Of FIU’s 1-4 overall record and 0-1 Sun Belt Conference mark, he said, “We know that everything isn’t final right now. We still have a great chance of playing in this conference and still be successful. It’s early in the conference, and we’re going to try our best to put ourselves in the best possible position.”
A possible first step toward a turnaround could come Thursday night when the Panthers take on Arkansas State (2-3, 0-1 Sun Belt) in a 7:30 p.m. nationally televised game (ESPNU) at FIU Stadium. The loser of that contest will exit at 0-2 in the conference, and that adds urgency to both teams.
Cyprien accepts the pressure and is looking forward to Thursday’s contest. “It’s exciting, it’s on national TV, it’s against a conference opponent. It’s going to be a great atmosphere.”
“We’re going to come in ready to play,” Cyprien promised. “I believe every person on our team can improve.”
And Cyprien doesn’t exclude himself in that assessment.
“I believe I can play at a better level,” he said. “I’m challenging myself to be a better player and better leader every week. I’m expecting that out of the other seniors on the team and also every player on the team. Nobody has played up to their full capability. We can all play better.
“We have to strive for every improvement we can make,” added Cyprien, who stands a solid 6-1 and 210 pounds. “We feel we can pick it up throughout the rest of the season. We are aware we have talented people. ... We need to start playing the defense that we know we can play. We haven’t put a complete game together as a defense. We will.”
Then he added, with a smile, “I’m looking forward to that.”