Teams fiddled with their defenses to limit FIU junior tight end Jonnu Smith’s damage. So FIU senior Ya’Keem Griner took advantage with a career season and joined Smith on the Mackey Award (Best College Tight End) Watch List.
And when Griner went down with a foot injury, fifth-year senior Akil Dan-Fodio came in and had the best two games of his career. That’s in addition to Smith exploding for 10 catches, 183 yards and two touchdowns in FIU’s 41-12 win Saturday against Old Dominion as he barged to FIU career records for tight end receptions and receiving yards with still a season and four games.
Obviously, the offense FIU head coach Ron Turner brought to West Dade fosters tight end production.
“It’s something I’ve always believed in that we’ve stressed here,” Turner said. “The coaches do a good job of coming up with ideas and putting them into position to make some plays.”
FIU runs its offense out of double tight end sets as much as anybody in college football. When they don’t, you’ll often see a tight end line up in the slot or as an H-back. Turner likes to move Smith, especially, around, although the position remains more of a static hybrid than it is at the NFL level.
NFL tight ends such as Seattle’s Jimmy Graham can argue over whether they should be considered a tight end or a wide receiver. FIU wants to run the ball so Smith and Dan-Fodio are going to have to block a defensive end or outside linebacker.
Smith led the nation’s tight ends in catches, yards and touchdowns in 2014. For his career, he’s caught 136 passes for 1,485 yards and 14 touchdowns, surpassing the 133 catches and 1,383 yards of Samuel Smith (2003-06).
Before going out with a foot injury, Griner had 21 catches for 225 yards and two touchdowns, coming close to matching his previous three years combined. The last two games, Dan-Fodio, previously with 23 catches for 164 yards in 36 games, caught eight for 89 yards.
34 percent of FIU’s receptions are by tight ends
33.1 percent of FIU’s receiving yards are from tight ends
33.3 percent of FIU’s touchdown receptions are from tight ends
Clearly, everybody’s feeling cozy in the third year of this offense, which injects some spread concepts into a West Coast scheme.
“No. 1 having good receiving tight ends,” Turner said when asked why tight ends excel in his offense. “That’s something I’ve always believed in, utilizing tight ends in the passing game. It’s tough. If they want to double guys on the outside, if you’ve got guys who can make plays, they’re one-on-one with safeties, one-on-one with linebackers, or they’ve got to go to holes in the zone. Our tight ends do a really good job of finding those holes.”