Jonnu Smith knew it was coming. He was sure he would be on the receiving end of FIU history.
With 55 seconds left before halftime last Saturday night against visiting Louisiana Tech, Smith caught a 17-yard pass over the middle from Alex McGough.
It was the 43rd touchdown pass in McGough’s college career, setting an FIU record. Granted, the program has only been around for 15 years. But it still puts McGough on top of the heap, and Smith was right there to share in the milestone.
“I knew by the leverage the safety was playing that we were going to score,” said Smith, FIU’s standout tight end. “It was a red zone play. We practice it every week. [I felt like] I caught a touchdown before the play even started.”
McGough went on to throw two more touchdown passes in that game, a 44-24 loss to Louisiana Tech, and now has 45 career TD throws.
Since he is just a junior, McGough has plenty of time to separate himself further from the rest of the quarterbacks on the FIU list, including Josh Padrick (42 TDs from 2003-06), Paul McCall (34, 2007-09), Wes Carroll (30, 2010-11) and Jake Medlock (18, 2011-13).
“It felt normal,” McGough said when asked for his reaction to the record TD throw. “I just found out I was [near the record] right before the game.
“But I don’t really look at individual stats. I look at wins and losses.”
That view is not as nice as McGough or anyone at FIU would like. The Panthers are 3-5 overall with four games left in the regular season.
They need to win all four to post a winning record and three of four to break even and be bowl eligible.
The Panthers are 3-1 in league play though, one of four Conference USA East Division schools with just one loss in the title race, joining Middle Tennessee, Western Kentucky and Old Dominion.
But all three of those schools have winning overall records, and all three are on FIU’s remaining schedule, starting with the visiting Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders (5-2) on Saturday.
The Blue Raiders are coming off an impressive road victory over a Southeastern Conference school, knocking off Missouri 51-45.
Middle Tennessee racked up 584 total yards to improve its all-time record vs. SEC schools to 4-22.
Blue Raiders running back I’Tavius Mathers earned Conference USA Offensive Player of the Week honors after rushing for 215 yards on 28 carries. It was his fifth consecutive game with at least 100 yards.
With other standouts such as quarterback Brent Stockstill and wide receiver Richie James, the Blue Raiders are tough to stop on offense, averaging 40.3 points, which trails only Louisiana Tech in Conference USA.
In contrast, FIU’s offense averages just 21.6 points, which ranks next to last in the 13-team league.
McGough, who has 10 TD passes and a league-high 10 interceptions, will have to be at his best to keep pace with Stockstill, who has 22 TD passes and just five picks.
“They’re coming in [to play] all out,” FIU interim coach Ron Cooper said of Middle Tennessee. “To win on the road at Missouri speaks volumes. [For FIU to beat the Blue Raiders] it’s going to have to be a field-position game. We have to control the ball and not give up the big play.”