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Golden Panthers will work freshman quarterback E.J. Hilliard into same game plan

With redshirt sophomore Jake Medlock at quarterback, the 2012 FIU offense featured read-option runs by the running back or Medlock with play-action short and midrange passing operating off the run threat. The pace of the offense varied from punk rock to waltz.

With freshman E.J. Hilliard at quarterback now that Medlock has a fractured left foot, expect more of the same. And maybe a dash of Loranzo Hammonds Jr.

“He’s been pretty good with the playbook,” coach Mario Cristobal said of Hilliard. “Some of the things were scrambling around and making a play happen while being creative, but his eyes were in the right place for the most part. He’s a good athlete. He knows football well. Loranzo also. Both those guys will take reps with the ones. We’ll see who we’re comfortable with from a game plan standpoint come Thursday.”

The rest of the offense adjusted quickly to Hilliard. Coincidentally, according to senior left tackle Caylin Hauptmann, at a meeting earlier last week, the seniors stressed to the younger players “just do your job.”

“As long as everyone does their job, we’ll be fine,” Hauptmann said. “When he went in, I personally went up to him, [senior right tackle] Rupert [Bryan] went up to him, our entire offensive line, really, we make sure our quarterback is comfortable behind us.

“We went to him and told him we’ve really got his back, no matter what. When you have a quarterback who believes that and trusts that in his offensive unit, he’ll be fine 100 percent of the time.”

Logic says FIU would be more comfortable with Hilliard, the better passer, against Louisiana-Lafayette. The Ragin’ Cajuns came into the season concerned about defense, and the numbers say they should still be concerned about their pass defense. Louisiana gives up 3.5 yards per carry, the least among Sun Belt teams so far this season, but allows a 66.7 completion percentage and 365.3 passing yards per game, the worst in the Sun Belt.

Then again, FIU is neither an FCS team (Lamar, 40-0 losers to Louisiana) nor all-air-all-the-time Oklahoma State (65-24 destroyers of Louisiana), although the Panthers feel more comfortable with their receiver depth than earlier in the season.

Senior wide receiver Jacob Younger averaged 75 to 80 plays per game after the first three games, prompting FIU coaches to make a concerted effort at using more wide receivers Saturday against Louisville. Freshman Raymond Jackson got in at wide receiver and freshman wide receiver De’Andre Jasper made his debut as a kick returner. Before sustaining a broken wrist during training camp, Jasper had worked up to taking practice snaps with the second-team offense.

But FIU’s offense starts with the run, at 169.2 yards per game. That is unlikely to change with a junior (Kedrick Rhodes) and two seniors (Darian Mallary, Jeremiah Harden) running behind an experienced offensive line.

“There’s no going around our running game,” Hauptmann said. “That’s what we want to do. Four seniors, one junior on the offensive line. We just feel like that should be our identity, running the ball.”

After missing Saturday’s game, Rhodes practiced Monday. He will be a late week decision, as will Mallary. Although Mallary was deemed to have not sustained a concussion Saturday, he won’t be allowed to practice until doctors review more test results.

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