The pressure is mounting on coach Ron Turner and his FIU football team.
FIU is 0-3 in Turner’s fourth season on the job, having just lost a winnable game at Massachusetts for the second year in a row. The Panthers haven’t had a winning season since 2011 and will need to take seven of their final nine games to have a winning record.
Next up is Saturday’s home game against 1-2 UCF, a team FIU beat 15-14 last year in Orlando.
However, a lot has changed since last season, when the Knights went 0-12. Coach George O’Leary resigned after a dozen years on the job. New coach Scott Frost, who was the offensive coordinator at Oregon the past three years, was hired to clean up the mess.
Frost has brought that Ducks up-tempo offense, and UCF is averaging about 20 plays more per game compared to last year, which should be a challenge for FIU.
“It’s faster,” Panthers defensive coordinator Ron Cooper said when asked to compare UCF’s tempo to that of the Panthers’ previous 2016 opponents, including Indiana and Maryland. “It will be the fastest we’ve seen so far.
“I don’t even remember anybody [last year] as fast as these guys. These guys are on the ball and they’re running the next play. And they don’t just do it from one formation. They have multiple formations.”
Cooper, a veteran coach who is in his first year as FIU’s defensive coordinator, said UCF is a challenge.
“It’s hard to [tempo offense] versus your scout team,” said Cooper, who calls defensive signals from the press box. “It may take us a series to get used to it in the game.”
If one looks only at common opponents, UCF has an edge over FIU. Maryland had to go to double overtime to beat UCF, 30-24, on Saturday in Orlando. But one week earlier, the Terrapins beat FIU rather easily, 41-14, in Miami.
Turner is hoping FIU turns the page on what he said was a poor performance in last Saturday’s 21-13 loss at UMass.
“The first half we were just horrendous,” Turner said. “I don’t know if I have ever been as mad at halftime as I was in that game. Dumb penalties — not that they are dumb guys — we have smart players …
“I told our players, ‘We can’t beat ourselves and UMass.’ If we had played the way I know we can, we could’ve beaten UMass.”
Turner said he isn’t sure why his team has played as poorly as it has the past two years at UMass, which visits FIU the next two years.
But with that opportunity for an FIU victory gone, the Panthers have turned their attention to UCF, which starts four sophomores and three freshmen on offense.
Among the freshmen starters for UCF are running back Jawon Hamilton, a 5-9, 190-pounder from South Dade High, and quarterback McKenzie Milton, a 5-11, 170-pounder from Hawaii. Milton, a dual threat, will attempt to speed things up.
And even though FIU is in a hurry to get its first win, the Panthers will need to slow Milton down first.
“It’s always a challenge when you face a tempo team,” FIU linebacker Treyvon Williams said. “We have to get up, line back up, get the call and execute the defense every play.”