When officials ruled FIU wide receiver Willis Wright didn’t break the goal-line plane on the last play of Saturday night’s 34-30 loss to Middle Tennessee State, FIU’s team goals for the season continued their slow shattering.
Even an outside shot at leaving the Sun Belt as champions? Gone with an 0-3 conference start. A third consecutive winning regular season? At 1-6, only .500 remains possible. A bowl bid? Nope.
There’s no spectacular individual season raising the program profile. Junior running back Kedrick Rhodes, arguably the best chance for that this season, has only 287 yards rushing in five games after 47 in his return to the lineup Saturday. Rhodes missed two of the last four games and played part-time in the other two since suffering an ankle injury.
The senior season for kicker Jack Griffin, one of the nation’s best last season, got encapsulated Saturday: a made 45-yard field goal, a blocked 52-yard attempt and a first quarter extra point miss that affected strategies for the remaining 47:28 of the game. Instead of dependable, Griffin is 5 of 9 on field goals.
Surprisingly, the best individual season probably belongs to redshirt sophomore quarterback Jake Medlock. Despite having his running ability hampered by his still-healing broken foot, Medlock was sacked only once. Saturday’s numbers — 24 of 38 for 380 yards and two touchdowns — bring him to 93 of 157 for 1,207 yards, six touchdowns and no interceptions for the season.
Flu put fatigue in the voice of FIU coach Mario Cristobal. It had help.
“Angry,” Cristobal said. “You battle, you work hard. The investment is huge.
“We’ve got to keep battling, keep working. Find a way to get back on a winning track, which we’re not on right now, obviously,” he continued. “Not going to beat a dead horse. It’s not what we want, not what we envisioned, not what we’re happy with. Bottom line is either you’ve got to push on or you’re a quitter. So, press on.”
If FIU is looking for sunny spots in the sunset of their season, it can look at the revival of the big play. Each of Wright’s three catches went for 30 or more yards. Junior wide receiver Glenn Coleman caught a 25-yard touchdown pass and a 32-yarder that set up Wright’s 30-yard touchdown. Freshman wide receiver De’Andre Jasper took an end-around 26 yards for a touchdown.
All three might see more playing time next week against Troy, both because of their production Saturday and the fourth-quarter injury to senior wide receiver Jacob Younger. Younger went into Saturday as FIU’s second leading receiver with 16 catches for 220 yards and two touchdowns.
“When they started stacking the box like they did, the guys outside have to make plays,” Cristobal said. “I thought [quarterback] Jake [Medlock] threw some very catchable balls, especially with the strong wind. I thought he kept plays alive, didn’t make silly mistakes or create issues for the pocket or the offensive line up front.”