HATTIESBURG, Miss. -- FIU coach Ron Turner insisted earlier this week that he’s excited about the Panthers’ future. Saturday, three true freshmen showed why.
Running back Silas Spearman ground out 136 yards on 29 carries, with 55 yards on 11 carries coming in the fourth quarter as FIU drove to two field-goal attempts. The successful one, from 27 yards, put the Panthers up 24-23. The unsuccessful one, from 44 yards, came at the end of a 57-yard drive that took the clock from 5:33 to 1:00 and saw Spearman run for 38 yards.
“Today, he stepped up big time,” sophomore quarterback E.J. Hilliard said. “It’s very rare, it’s very hard for a freshman to handle that load. They knew we were running to run the clock out. And he knew he was getting the ball every play.
“For him to go out there, 6 yards, 8 yards, first down, play after play, keep pounding … showed no fear. He didn’t play like a true freshman today.”
Tight end Jonnu Smith caught a team-high four passes for 43 yards despite missing much of the second quarter after hobbling off the field in the first.
On the drive to the eventual game-winning field goal, it was Smith who Hilliard looked for over the middle on fourth and 2 from the Southern Miss 34. Smith broke a tackle and rumbled for 17 yards.
“He’s a very good player,” said Turner, who has been high on Smith since the first week of training camp. “The last couple of weeks, he hasn’t played as well as he did early. And that was on [the coaching staff]. Because he’s such a good player ... you have a tendency to want to keep using him.
“We had him doing way too much. He started slowing down physically because he was thinking too much mentally. We took some things off his plate this week and let him focus on the things he did today.”
Linebacker Treyvon Williams gained notice during training camp for his instincts, especially in the run game. He came into the game after fifth-year senior Markeith Russell left with an injury in the third quarter and, on his first play, cracked running back Kendrick Hardy in the backfield. Giovani Francois cleaned up the play for no gain.
Vann gets a shot
Fifth-year senior wide receiver Rocky Vann got open up the left sideline for a 24-yard catch in the second quarter, fueling FIU’s first scoring drive of the day. It was Vann’s first reception since Nov. 7, 2009, when he made two catches for 16 yards against Middle Tennessee.
Vann missed all of 2010 with an injury, then sustained a season-ending injury in the 2011 season opener. He got into three games last season on special teams. This year, he has come back from a training camp injury.
In his first game back after hurting a knee in the opener at Maryland, safety DeMarkus Perkins led FIU in solo tackles with seven and threw in a pass breakup that was not credited in the official statistics.
Also back for the first game since a knee injury in the opener was sophomore outside linebacker Davison Colimon. Colimon’s one tackle held a bubble screen to 1 yard as part of the three-and-out FIU’s defense came up with after a 49-yard kickoff return let Southern Miss start a fourth-quarter drive on the FIU 43.
FIU wore pink socks during the game in support of breast cancer research.