After FIU’s 15-14 upset of Central Florida on Thursday night, sophomore quarterback Alex McGough voiced the different mindset of FIU football, 2015 version.
The score reminded McGough of the 2014 season opener, which FIU lost to Bethune-Cookman 15-14. The late boo-boo, in that case a bobbled field-goal snap on the last play, sealed the loss. But those initial negative thoughts got parked as UCF moved into field-goal range during the final minutes.
“I had a feeling we were going to come out on top, just right at the end,” McGough said.
So McGough saw senior Darrian Dyson’s block of Matthew Wright’s 47-yard game-winning field goal attempt as just affirming what he knew would happen.
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“Confidence,” McGough gave as what FIU’s first season opening win since 2011 meant.
Added FIU coach Ron Turner: “These guys already believe, but this is confirmation why they believe.”
FIU shut out UCF in the second half and held the Knights to 295 yards total offense (60 yards rushing) despite losing starting cornerback Jeremiah McKinnon to a hamstring injury and starting outside linebacker Davison Colimon in the fourth quarter to a shoulder injury.
Before you leave the past, you must learn from it or be doomed to relive it. Football coaches tend to obsess. Losing four 2014 games by three or fewer points moved Late Game Preparation up Turner’s to-do list.
“The staff did a great job putting these guys in situations all offseason and into the summer to finish things,” Turner said. “We did the same thing in training camp. We put them in many more situational things. We’d say, fourth-and-1 or third-and-goal on the 3. Every time, I said, ‘The game is on the line. Defense, you stop them and you win, offense, you score and you win.’ ”
And Thursday night, FIU’s defense and special teams got the job done in those game-turning situations. The Panthers killed three UCF drives with short-yardage stops on third or fourth down. Two stand out for keeping FIU within striking distance:
The first, a third-and-2 stoning by junior linebacker Treyvon Williams (11 tackles), came in the second quarter. FIU needed a stop like a hog needs slop. UCF led 14-3 and had scored on consecutive drives. In the third quarter, UCF decided to go for a fourth-and-1 from the FIU 20 instead of go for a 37-yard field goal attempt while up 14-9. Justin Holman’s quarterback sneak failed when he dropped the snap, but that only spared him the indignity of not making it. FIU got all the push.
“We tried to do what we do. That’s have really good eye discipline, really good gap control,” Turner said. “Try to use our quickness to our advantage. Up front, we’ve got a lot of defensive linemen who can play, so we can rotate guys in there. The linebackers stepped up and played tremendously, getting into gaps and making plays.”
Wright’s original game-winning attempt was from 42 yards, but just before the snap, FIU’s line shifted slightly. That drew the predictable response from a UCF line that was fidgety before a game-deciding snap: false start. On the sideline, McGough and tight end Jonnu Smith rejoiced at the move working just as well in the game as they saw it work in practice.
Adding an extra 5 yards to a medium-long miss-it-and-lose kick often pushes the kicker’s focus more toward distance than height. The chances of that exponentially increase if the kicker’s a redshirt freshman, as Wright is. And that can mean a block if the field-goal block team can get a middle push with a massive 6-4 defensive tackle such as Dyson.