There’s an old saying: two donkeys make a great race.
Although FIU’s 24-23 victory last Saturday over winless Southern Mississippi wasn’t exactly a matchup of thoroughbred stallions, FIU edged out a photo-finish win, its first of the season. But the Panthers insist they don’t live in the past.
Coach Ron Turner said his team has moved on, but they did take a short time to relish the victory.
“Maybe a little bit early in the week. Once Sunday’s over, it’s time to move on, win or lose, no matter what happens,” Turner said after practice Thursday. “Obviously, there’s a little more confidence, but it’s got to be the same every week, win or lose.”
That confidence is one of the things FIU is looking to carry over into Saturday’s game against Alabama-Birmingham (1-4, 0-1 Conference USA), and Turner said that last weekend’s win was crucial in showing the young members of the team that the game-by-game process is working.
“I think it was very important. They needed it,” Turner said. “You can only tell them for so long, ‘You’ve got to believe before there’s evidence.’ Eventually they’ve got to have some kind of success; there’s got to be some kind of reward or else doubt can set in.”
The team is well aware that despite seizing its first win of the season, the game easily could have gone the other way. It was hardly a clean game.
The Panthers scored a season-high 24 points, but had two turnovers, committed eight penalties and averaged just 3.2 yards per carry.
Freshman kicker Austin Taylor missed two of his three field goal attempts, making only the go-ahead kick with 6:53 remaining.
The FIU defense, finally healthy, made the decisive contribution.
With linebacker Davison Colimon (ankle) and safety Demarkus Perkins (knee) at full strength, FIU allowed just seven second-half points and at one point forced four consecutive three-and-outs.
Turner credited Perkins with shutting down the Golden Eagles’ short passing game with big hits.
“You do that, and that has an impact on those receivers,” Turner said. “They see that. Whether they got hit or not, they see somebody getting hit.”
UAB and their 29.4 points-per-game average will present a bigger challenge for the Panthers defense Saturday night.
FIU will be looking to create turnovers to slow down UAB’s offense, much like last week when they created four takeaways.
Turner said that his team practices “ball disruption” every day, and Perkins’ wrecking-ball style is consistent with the goals of the defense.
“We preach takeaways,” Turner said. “Most turnovers come from hard hits, if you’re flying around, playing fast and hitting people. … It’s just a matter of playing hard, playing physical.”
This team still has far to go, but the Panthers know they’ll have a chance against UAB, which is coming off a 37-23 home loss to FAU.
FIU is hoping to channel the confidence gained from last weekend’s victory into their conference home opener Saturday night.
“At some point, they’ve got to have a little bit of success,” Turner said. “At some point, you’ve got to be rewarded. It doesn’t guarantee a damn thing for the next week, though. We all know that much.”
Last week’s game might have been an ugly win over an ugly team, and it certainly doesn’t promise continued success, but the victory has sent FIU into its game against UAB with something they haven’t had much cause for this year: hope.