For four years at FIU, Clinton Taylor was just another element in FIU’s wide receiver stew, blending in a mundane mixture that left nobody particularly satiated.
Yet, now, as injuries strain out the Panthers overall receiver options, it’s fifth-year senior Taylor who remains as the main ingredient.
After a career-high nine receptions for 126 yards and two touchdowns Saturday against Charlotte, Taylor has caught 21 passes for 247 yards and three touchdowns just over the last three games.
He came into this season with 28 catches for 324 yards and one touchdown in his entire FIU career.
Usually, the tight ends in FIU coach Ron Turner’s offense get fed the most. But the season-ending foot injury to senior Ya’Keem Griner in the seventh game, and junior Jonnu Smith out since sustaining a sprained knee the following week, left FIU with one experienced tight end (Akil Dan-Fodio) healthy.
It also left a production hole for slot receiver Taylor to fill. Taylor started getting more of not only the standard FIU bubble screens, but even some downfield routes, such as the 24-yard leaping touchdown against Charlotte or the 36-yard over-the-shoulder catch up the right sideline.
That looked like a reenactment of his 38-yard touchdown catch against Old Dominion.
“With Griner out and Jonnu out, we’ve gone to him more,” Turner said. “He’s responded. Nine opportunities, nine catches [against Charlotte], that’s not bad.”
Sophomore quarterback Alex McGough said, “He runs probably the best routes I’ve ever seen. And he does it in practice every day. That builds timing. When you complete a ball to him almost every play almost, that builds a trust where I know where he’s going to be and he knows where I’m going to put it, which is probably more important.”
Four other red-shirted wide receivers headed into their fifth season at FIU got jettisoned last offseason. FIU welcomed back Taylor, however. The Miami Northwestern graduate didn’t want to go anywhere.
“I always believed in the program and stuck with it,” Taylor said.
Turner said after a year as FIU coach he liked Taylor’s quickness, toughness and football instincts. He just needed to see more Tuesday through Friday before Taylor got more of a shot on Saturdays.
“He’s not a young guy, but that’s usually typical of young guys. That’s what we’ve been on T.O. [sophomore wide receiver Thomas Owens] about,” Turner said. “Most weeks, he’s been really good, some weeks, he hasn’t. I think he understand, the weeks he has, he has his best production. It takes young guys a while to figure that out sometimes.”
“Focus on the small details and focus harder when you’re tired,” Taylor said Turner told him.
Turner said, “We talked about it — he’s not playing because he’s not practicing well enough. You want to play more, practice better. He’s really turned it on and practiced extremely well. He’s playing with a lot of confidence right now.”
Taylor agreed, describing his weekly state of mind as, “Play like you’re the best out there with a lot of confidence. I’ve got a lot of confidence in myself.”
ACADEMIC MARK ADJUSTED
When the Academic Progress Rates for the 2010-11 academic year were released by the NCAA, FIU’s single season APR was 897, which is under the NCAA floor of 900. But a search of NCAA head coaches’ APR records shows a more acceptable (for the standards of the day) 919 APR for 2011 under current Alabama offensive line coach Mario Cristobal, then head coach at FIU.
The 919 is correct, according to an NCAA spokesman. That 919, which was adjusted, would be the lowest in Cristobal’s six full academic years at FIU. Cristobal is among the candidates for head coach at his alma mater, the University of Miami.
▪ Turner admitted if junior tight end Jonnu Smith were an NFL player, he’d be “probably doubtful” for FIU’s last two regular-season games. Smith sustained a sprained knee against Old Dominion and has been working out separately from the team.
FIU was the only school to have two tight ends on the Mackey Award midseason watch list. Senior Ya’Keem Griner (foot) is done for the season. Apparently, Smith might be done for the regular season, at least.