Two junior wide receivers who have spent most of this season as the Godots of FIU’s offense show signs of full arrival the past two weeks. And an FIU offense that produced points without much pop suddenly gained combustibility.
FIU needs that quality to have a shot Saturday at upsetting Western Kentucky, a team with the Sun Belt’s No. 2 run defense, No. 2 pass defense and No. 1 overall defense.
Miami Springs High graduate Willis Wright, the only four-star offensive recruit in FIU’s 11-season history, and Glenn Coleman, a three-star recruit out of Louisiana with similar dimensions (also 6-2, 205) and ability as Wright, have combined for 17 catches for 426 yards and four touchdowns the past two games.
Some big gains
The lengths on the touchdowns: 25, 30, 33 and 49 yards, the four longest touchdown passes for FIU since running back Kedrick Rhodes’ 67-yarder the second play of the season.
Also, Wright and Coleman had non-scoring gains of 28, 32, 49 and 30 yards in losses to Troy and Middle Tennessee State.
“They moved him outside to see if he could make plays. He became productive at that,” Coleman said. “And, for me, I wasn’t playing. I started playing more. They came to me with the ball. I made the plays, they kept coming back to me.”
Certainly, the return of redshirt sophomore quarterback Jake Medlock from his broken foot helped launch them. But Wright said he and Coleman talked about it in practice.
“He and I got together and said we’ve got to be clutch players,” Wright said. “We kind of look up to each other because we came in at the same time.”
Coleman got into more games when they were freshmen (nine to six) and started more games when they were sophomores (eight to one). He also caught more passes (15 to 13) over the two seasons, although Wright’s 145 yards beat Coleman’s 136.
The word on Wright was his practice habits were erratic and he wasn’t learned enough in the offense.
But, this year, Coleman saw his time cut into by senior Jairus Williams and freshman Nick England.
Meanwhile, seniors Wayne Times and Jacob Younger became the go-to receivers for Medlock then freshman E.J. Hilliard when Medlock was out.
Before the Middle Tennessee game, Coleman had a single catch for eight yards. Wright had 6 catches for 108 yards for the season (he had six for 129 and a touchdown Saturday at Troy).
Coleman said he went to wide receivers coach Frank Ponce to ask what he could do better.
“He told me to get into my playbook more, catch a lot more balls [in practice] and everything will work out fine,” Coleman said.
“They’ve made the decision to be committed workers in practice, in the film room,” FIU coach Mario Cristobal said. “It’s shown up in practice a lot more to the point where we’ve got to get the ball to those guys, which really wakes up our offense. It allows us to do more things outside. It helps us open and spread the field more vertically and horizontally.
“It helps you get the safeties out of the box.”
Wright said Cristobal is in his ear each week to “become a monster. Become a monster.”
In the 34-30 loss to Middle Tennessee, which ended with Wright either just short (officially) or just across the Middle goal line, FIU’s offense looked less workmanlike and more spectacular.
That’s what happens when you have two wide receivers each averaging over 20 yards per catch, as FIU has the each of past two games.
Wright said after Saturday’s 38-37 loss at Troy, “Since I had a big game last week, I came to practice telling myself, ‘Don’t just lay down because you had a big game.’ I’ve got to finish strong to become more of a monster.”
Coleman said this week, “We can’t let off right now. Even though we’re 1-7, we have to keep our foot on the pedal. Keep feeding off of each other. When I see him do well, it makes me want to do well. When he sees me do well, he wants to do well.”