Much of the preseason optimism about FIU centered on the plethora of seniors returning as starters. FIU sits at 1-5.
Saturday’s game against Middle Tennessee State will see some members of last year’s recruiting class, rated by scouting services as the best FIU has had, get field experience.
But coach Mario Cristobal bristled at any suggestion that the Panthers would start playing the underclassmen more if the season continued to spiral downward.
“Our process for playing young guys has everything to do with who deserves to play and recognizing talent that, even though it might not be perfectly ready, still needs the experience to get that final push to become a complete football player,” Cristobal said.
“Usually, Game No. 4 to even No. 7 or 8, with the summer, camp and then eight weeks of football, guys start popping,” he said. “They start coming through. I think [freshman defensive lineman Darrian] Dyson was a good example last week. He had about four reps at Louisiana. Last week [against Arkansas State], I think he played some 20-odd reps. By no stretch was he perfect. But did he do some really good things? Yes.”
Elsewhere on the defensive line, Fadol Brown started at tackle against Arkansas State while senior Andre Pound nursed a bad ankle. Behind Brown, freshman Patrick Jean started where senior Jordan Hunt has been the past two seasons. Jean had two tackles, Brown had one.
Cristobal said Davison Colimon, a former Riviera Beach Suncoast defensive back moved up to linebacker, and cornerback Jeremiah McKinnon both should “play a bunch” this week.
On offense, quarterback E.J. Hilliard might head back to the bench this week — redshirt sophomore starter Jake Medlock looked much less hobbled Wednesday.
Two of Hilliard’s fellow Miami-Dade County freshmen could see much more time on offense and special teams: De’Andre Jasper (Jackson High) and Johnnie Durante (Krop High).
Despite the longer arm of Medlock and Hilliard compared to last year’s starter Wesley Carroll, FIU has been missing the plays that get chunks of yards. Some of that can be blamed on the loss of T.Y. Hilton, some can be blamed on just simple offensive failure.
When the ball goes toward Jasper or Durante, FIU is not thinking about just moving the chains 10 yards, but rather making the chain gang hustle farther downfield.
“[Durante is] another receiver with some juice, similar to Jasper,” Cristobal said. “Jasper’s got some good speed to him. We’ve had a couple of guys who are nicked up where they’re not able to go as hard or as fast at the wide receiver position.”
“We always want to get more explosive at wide receiver, especially when you’re a spread offense. You want guys in space who can do something with the ball. And he’s a guy who can do that. He’s earned a chance.”