FIU football

With a light roster, FIU Panthers are in look-ahead mode


With their reduced manpower, the Panthers, who cannot be bowl eligible, are building an offense of underclassmen.

The Panthers head coach Ron Turner calls over quarterback Jake Medlock in the second quarter as Florida International University hosts the University of Alabama Birmingham at Alfonso Field at FIU Stadium on Saturday, October 12, 2013.
The Panthers head coach Ron Turner calls over quarterback Jake Medlock in the second quarter as Florida International University hosts the University of Alabama Birmingham at Alfonso Field at FIU Stadium on Saturday, October 12, 2013.
Al Diaz / Staff photo

FIU traveled light to Murfreesboro, Tenn., a 40-minute drive from Nashville, for Saturday afternoon’s football game against Middle Tennessee State.

Light on players — heck, FIU took only 62 to the hotel for the home game against Louisiana Tech as injury, eligibility and discipline slims the roster. Light on team goals now that bowl eligibility moved from long shot to no shot.

“Same thing I say every time you ask me [about approach] — get better,” FIU coach Ron Turner said. “Our guys continue to play hard. I have no complaints about that.”

FIU has been on future track for a few weeks now, at least on offense. Sophomore Lamarq Caldwell and freshman Silas Spearman lead the team in rushing. Sophomore quarterback E.J. Hilliard will get his second consecutive start Saturday. Freshman tight end Jonnu Smith leads the team in receiving.

Middle Tennessee (5-4, 3-2) won’t take FIU lightly.

“If I tell the players a 1-7 team is really good, and then they turn on the film and it looks like an elementary-school team out there, they’re going to see that,” Middle Tennessee coach Rick Stockstill said. “They watched the film Sunday, and they saw that FIU is a good football team.”

Also, two of the past three FIU games against Middle Tennessee entertained to a multiple “Wow” rating before enveloping FIU in controversial heartbreak.

• In 2010: FIU trailed 28-27 with 2:38 left in the season finale, and receiver T.Y. Hilton lost the ball after a catch at the Middle Tennessee 27. The Blue Raiders recovered. The catch would have put FIU in field-goal range.

Controversy and Conspiracy Theory: Sun Belt officials reviewed the play for several minutes before ruling that Hilton’s knee hit after the fumble. It’s noted by FIU fans that the ruling helped Middle Tennessee become bowl eligible, giving the Sun Belt Conference three bowl-eligible teams — along with Sun Belt co-champions FIU and Troy – instead of just two if FIU had won.

• In 2012: FIU blew out to a 20-3 lead on favored Middle Tennessee but trailed 34-30 with time for one play after exchanging touchdowns with the Blue Raiders in the final 91 seconds. From the 30, Jake Medlock hit Willis Wright near the goal line. Wright and three defenders came together. Officials ruled Wright didn’t get the ball over the goal line before his knee hit the ground.

Controversy and Conspiracy Theory: Some along the goal line not connected with FIU thought Wright got the ball across. Sun Belt officials raced up the northwest tunnel of FIU Stadium without reviewing the play, then gave a perfunctory review after being chased down by FIU personnel. At the time, FIU was the Sun Belt short-timer, leaving for Conference USA in 2013, and Middle Tennessee was the Sun Belt mainstay (the Blue Raiders’ move to Conference USA would be announced the following month).

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