The past three weeks have seen the return of FIU’s return game after a dormant first five games.
Fifth-year senior Richard Leonard took Saturday’s opening kickoff back 54 yards, giving him a 49.6 average on his past three kickoff returns and FIU a 40.2 kickoff return average over the past three games. The holes there were replicated on Old Dominion’s first punt, which Leonard brought back 44 yards, giving him a 24.3 yards average on punt returns the past three games.
This all led to Old Dominion trying an onside kick after its first touchdown, a maneuver that might’ve worked had one of the Monarchs not overzealously touched the ball before it crossed 10 yards.
Not wanting a repeat of that or another halfway-to-Naples Leonard runback, the Monarchs squibbed their next kickoff and almost got it back when FIU fumbled it. Jonathan Pavlov reflexively fell on it at the Panthers’ 40.
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Appropriate that sophomore quarterback Alex McGough’s best throw of the night, a laser that caught fifth-year senior wide receiver Clinton Taylor in stride for a 38-yard touchdown, also knocked down several school and personal marks.
McGough’s 16th touchdown pass of the season tied FIU’s season record held by Wes Carroll in 2010, and tied Carroll’s career total of 30, third in FIU history.
Taylor also matched a personal season-high with the touchdown, albeit a bit more modest: one. His other touchdown catch came in the 2014 season opener against Bethune-Cookman.
McGough broke the single-season record with a 13-yard touchdown to junior tight end Jonnu Smith. Smith extended his streak to 32 games with a catch. His 10 catches for 183 yards after three quarters moved him past Samuel Smith into first place all-time among FIU tight ends in career receptions (136) and yards (1,495). He’s fifth among all players in catches and seventh in receiving yards.
At Saturday’s game: St. Petersburg Bowl executive director Brett Dulaney. FIU’s win put it two wins from being bowl eligible. The St. Petersburg Bowl and the Popeye’s Bahamas Bowl look like the most likely landing spots for the Panthers should they reach six wins.
After taking the rare offensive snaps at fullback before McGough’s 1-yard quarterback sneak touchdown in the second quarter, FIU senior Lamarq Caldwell sustained a knee injury on the ensuing kickoff.
THIS AND THAT
FIU’s game captains were Taylor, Leonard, sophomore linebacker Anthony Wint and sophomore quarterback McGough. Old Dominion won the toss and deferred until the second half. Jeb Bush Jr. was an honorary captain for FIU.