FIU’s anemic offense could have a new look Saturday against Louisville, as coach Ron Turner confirmed that quarterback Jake Medlock sustained a concussion last weekend against Bethune-Cookman. Should Medlock not be able to play, sophomore E.J. Hilliard would start in his place.
Turner said Medlock was day-to-day, and he refused to rule him out for Saturday’s game.
Medlock’s injury actually might have saved Turner the agony of making a difficult decision. A vocal portion of the FIU fanbase has been clamoring for Hilliard to get a chance to start. The Panthers’ offense, second worst in the Football Bowl Subdivision in scoring and yardage, has only strengthened the cries from Hilliard supporters.
The position took another possible hit with freshman Travis Wright, a Louisville native, missing practice Tuesday to deal with an off-field issue. Turner thinks Wright will be available Saturday. In his place, taking reps with the second-team offense Tuesday was Akil Dan-Fodio, who, despite being listed on the roster as a tight end, spent spring practice wearing a red jersey.
If Medlock can’t play Saturday, FIU could be dangerously thin at quarterback, placing the pressure of performance and durability squarely on Hilliard’s shoulders.
The Miami Northwestern product has completed 10 of 13 passes this season in relief duty, totaling 75 yards. Hilliard described his play so far this season as “average” and hopes to continue improving on his freshman season, noting missed assignments and inconsistent technique.
“I think from spring to fall to now I’ve progressed. I’m better acquainted with the offense,” Hilliard said after practice Tuesday. “I’m more comfortable with the offense. I’m more comfortable with the offensive line, the checks, the protections, the hots, the reads.”
Turner echoed the messages of progress and confidence.
“I think he’s done a good job. He’s got a good grasp of what we’re doing. He manages the huddle well,” Turner said. “He hasn’t had a ton of opportunities but when he has, he’s done OK. I’ve got confidence in E.J. if he’s the guy going in there.”
Turner said game-planning for Hilliard to start at quarterback is largely the same as if Medlock could play, but he indicated that certain play calls would vary to utilize Hilliard’s strengths.
“Obviously, it changes a little bit,” Turner said. “What we call and when we call may be a little different, but we’re still going to run our offense. He can do everything that we want to do.”
If Hilliard does start, he will be doing so on the road against FIU’s toughest opponent of the season, No. 7 Louisville, and against a former high school teammate now waging a red-hot Heisman campaign, Teddy Bridgewater.
The two were a year apart at Northwestern and they remain friends, working out in the summer and maintaining contact with each other’s’ families. Naturally, accompanying the warm and fuzzy feelings is a competitive spirit, complete with plenty of trash talk. Last year’s seven-point game at FIU Stadium only added fuel to the fire of their friendly rivalry.
“There was a lot of talking going on in the offseason. It was a close game — they snuck one in on our home field last year,” Hilliard said. “We haven’t trash-talked much about the game. We just talk about each other’s performance. He’ll tell me certain things I need to work on.”
Hilliard made it clear that his priorities were aligned with the team’s goals. But the competition between two friends and former teammates — the game within the game — should add a layer of interest to the game.
“It’s going to be a little fun looking over and seeing him on the other side,” he said.
“It’s going to be real intriguing, personally.”