FIU football

Healthier FIU Panthers flourish


The performances Saturday of injury-plagued Kedrick Rhodes and Jake Medlock might make one wonder “what if?”

Saturday’s win against South Alabama sent FIU into its bye week feeling good with FAU and the last Shula Bowl (for now) coming up.

But it also, in some ways, taunted FIU with what might have been this season with the running ability of a healthy Kedrick Rhodes and Jake Medlock.

South Alabama came into Saturday allowing 3.9 yards per carry in Sun Belt games, 4.3 yards per carry if sacks get taken out of the equation. Those are respectable numbers in the Sun Belt, where offenses run wild. Rhodes gashed the Jaguars for 109 yards on 12 carries.

In the first quarter.

Working off Rhodes’ success, Medlock completed 7 of 9 passes for 140 yards and two touchdowns in the first half. He also scrambled for a 19-yard touchdown, his longest run since sustaining a broken foot against Louisville, and ran for a first down on FIU’s first possession.

Before the injury, just the threat of Medlock running occupied defenders, thus opening up lanes for the running backs.

Rhodes, who began the year on the Doak Walker Award watch list, finished with 149 rushing yards and 164 total yards after sitting out much of the second half. His returns to action this season since the injures began in the second game usually feature bursts of production followed by long stretches on the bench.

“It’s been a really frustrating season for me,” Rhodes said. “I’ve been battling two ankle sprains. I do what I can. You can’t do too much with both ankles sprained.”

He characterized himself as being at “80 percent — on a good day.” On Saturday, he sat for much of the second half before coming in for some late carries.

“He’s not ready for a whole game,” FIU coach Mario Cristobal said. “We haven’t had him really since Game 1.

“You see what he can be when he’s 80 percent. We’re a different offense.”

Of course, offensive scoring usually hasn’t been the problem for FIU this season, save for last week’s 14-6 loss to Western Kentucky. Offensive turnovers have become a recent problem — Medlock was interception-free for the season before throwing two the past two weeks; Rhodes and Darian Mallary had key fumbles in the same games — but FIU had zero Saturday.

But the Panthers can only sigh over the possibility that, with their first-string quarterback and running back not limited to half-stepping their carries most of this season, they might have been able to outscore their defensive and special teams troubles.

Now, FIU is in the midst of 13 days off before its last scheduled meeting with FAU. FIU is leaving the Sun Belt for Conference USA next season, and FAU is staying in the Sun Belt. FAU won the first eight Shula Bowls before FIU routed the Owls 41-7 last year in Medlock’s first start.

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