Two weeks of losses while seeing more yellow flags than a rambunctious Sunday at Talladega Speedway prompted action by Panthers’ team leaders as they started a practice week before Conference USA play resumes.
“I just sat everybody down [Monday] and just talked to them about discipline, about the penalties we had. That we just can’t do that,” fifth-year senior cornerback Richard Leonard said.
“Players have been trying to get under our skin, we’re retaliating back. Play our game, don’t worry about foolishness on the field.”
The 17 penalties for 166 yards during losses to Louisiana Tech and the University of Massachusetts included seven flags for personal fouls or unsportsmanlike conduct. Senior defensive tackle Darrian Dyson and redshirt junior safety Deonte Wilson, who got the unsportsmanlike conduct flags at Louisiana Tech, didn’t make the trip to Amherst, Massachusetts. Wilson has been allowed to return this week. Dyson wasn’t at practice and won’t play this Saturday against UTEP.
All this led to a stern scolding in FIU coach Ron Turner’s postgame comments in Louisiana and Turner’s angry excoriation Saturday in New England.
2 FIU personal-foul or unsportsmanlike-conduct penalties in first 3 games
7 FIU personal-foul or unsportsmanlike-conduct penalties in past 2 games
“He was right about a lot of things he said,” junior tight end Jonnu Smith said. “Lack of discipline, we weren’t mentally tough. We fell off those last couple of weeks. We’ve got to be more disciplined. That’s what we’re working on. We had a great practice today that’s a great start to this week.”
Though Saturday’s game was at UMass, the officiating crew came from Conference USA. FIU surely will see them again this season during their seven remaining games, all in conference. UMass got 10 penalties also, including an unsportsmanlike conduct, a personal foul and a face mask. That’s not counting the offsetting unsportsmanlike conduct penalties called on the second half kickoff
“I thought there was one bad one [among the FIU penalties],” Turner said. “The rest of them were legitimate calls. That’s stuff we’ve got to clean up.”
Turner didn’t want to say much more about what most press box observers considered a bad call, an alleged late hit by middle linebacker Jephete Matilus on UMass quarterback Blake Frohnapfel as senior defensive tackle Lars Koht pulled Frohnapfel down along the sideline.
Instead of fourth-and-5 from the UMass 32, a punting situation, UMass got a first down on the 47. The drive stopped on downs at the FIU 33.
“The reason I was so frustrated [after the game] is our guys play hard,” Turner said. “They play really hard and with passion. They really, really care. They prepare like they really care. They do everything we ask them to do. But we can’t keep making those kinds of mistakes. But we’ll rebound from it.”
It behooves them to do so quickly. This weekend, the Panthers are two touchdown favorites over UTEP. They get offense light Old Dominion and FBS rookie Charlotte at home also. They’ve won three of the last four against FAU. With Conference USA having seven primary bowl tie-ins, a bowl season’s still possible.
The run to a bowl just can’t have too many yellows on the course.
“We’re a family. What happens between the family stays between the family,” Smith said. “We definitely came together and set aside our differences and disagreements we had. We’re past that and we’re just looking for more wins right now.”
DENNIS TURNER RECOVERING
Sophomore wide receiver Dennis Turner didn’t practice Tuesday after sustaining a concussion late in Saturday’s loss to UMass. Coach Ron Turner thinks the receiver should be ready to play Saturday against UTEP, which ranks 119th nationally in team pass efficiency defense.
Also, junior tight end Jonnu Smith said he played Saturday — when he caught a mere two passes for 1 yard — at “70 to 75 percent” after the thigh contusion he sustained the previous game.
▪ Ron Turner complimented the play of Jephete Matilus, the graduate senior linebacker who played middle linebacker in the absence of junior Treyvon Williams. Matilus had a team-high eight solo and 12 total tackles. Turner felt Matilus, who hadn’t played linebacker since at least the 2013 season at Minnesota, got better as the game progressed.
As Williams remained on crutches with his right knee wrapped, expect Matilus to start again Saturday, although he wore an orange injury jersey Tuesday.