TROY, Ala. -- Nothing changes, insist the folks wearing FIU’s colors. No matter that the past four games will be played for pride, one of the few things FIU hasn’t lost during a 1-7 season.
“The philosophy doesn’t change all year,” FIU coach Mario Cristobal said after Saturday’s 38-37 loss at Troy. “We’re still going to play the best guys. I don’t think game day is much of an experiment-type of thing. If guys are ready — and they don’t have to be completely ready — they’re going to play.”
Next week, FIU hosts Western Kentucky, which dealt the Panthers a loss last year with a denouement similar to Saturday’s. Since then, Western Kentucky has lost only to Alabama, LSU and, Saturday, Louisiana-Monroe in overtime.
Last week, Troy coach Larry Blakeney, in his current job for 22 seasons, was asked how to handle a team going through a disappointing season that has more time than attainable goals left.
“I don’t think you change anything as to the way you prepare,” Blakeney said. “How much time you give people who are coming back might change.”
FIU is already giving significant playing time to several freshmen. Defensive lineman Fadol Brown, who picked up a sack Saturday, starts. Wide receiver Nick England had a 56-yard catch Saturday. Cornerback Jeremiah McKinnon plays regular snaps on defense and might be FIU’s best on punt coverage. Davison Colimon and kick returner De’Andre Jasper already contribute heavily on special teams.
The idea that the last four games mean nothing doesn’t carry, however.
“Nobody wants to go out as a loser,” said senior running back Darian Mallary, who leads FIU in touchdowns with nine. “We’ve got four games left. Either we [try to] win them all or… fold. I don’t think we’re going to fold.”
The faces exiting the FIU locker room ranged from stony to shocked. The second consecutive crushing loss, and fifth loss in which the Panthers held a lead seemed to be the culmination of this season’s late-game letdowns.
FIU raced to a 21-7 first quarter lead. They answered a third quarter Troy burst instead of being overwhelmed by the shifting momentum. The Panthers led by 16 in the third quarter. FIU trailed for only 11 seconds all day. But it was the 11 seconds that mattered the most.
“Every week, before the game, we think, we can change it, it’ll be different,” Mallary said. “It seems like every week, at the end of the game, it’s the same thing. And nobody understands why because we worked so hard. We don’t understand. Why is it going like this? What’s going wrong? It’s tiring. It’s really hurting.
“We’ve just got to figure something out just to win a game. Let’s focus on the next opponent and try to win one game.”