Florida International U

FIU’s McGough looks to bounce back against Maryland

FIU quarterback Alex McGough three three interceptions, including two returned for scores, last week.
FIU quarterback Alex McGough three three interceptions, including two returned for scores, last week. dsantiago@elnuevoherald.com

FIU quarterback Alex McGough likely isn’t very happy.

With Big Ten Conference opponent Maryland visiting 7:30 Friday night, McGough is probably quite agitated.

McGough, a junior and third-year starter, set school records in 2015 for single-season yards and touchdowns. But last week, in a 34-13 season-opening loss to Indiana, McGough threw three interceptions — two of them returned for scores.

It was the first time in his college career that McGough had thrown two pick-6s in a game. And it was just the second time he had thrown three interceptions in a game; he also threw three as a freshman at North Texas.

But just how angry and/or determined McGough is entering Friday’s game is a mystery, at least to the media and public. McGough did not talk to the media after the Indiana game, and was not made available all this week.

Don’t be concerned about McGough, though, at least not if FIU tight end Jonnu Smith is correct about his teammate.

Florida International University's starting quarterback Alex McGough speaks to the media after practice.

“Alex is a great quarterback — I’m not worried about any of that stuff,” Smith said. “He’s going to ball out. We know what Alex can do. I know he’s going to bounce back and perform at a high level.”

FIU coach Ron Turner — who was critical of McGough’s performance against Indiana and made the decision to keep him from the media this week — surely hopes Smith is correct.

Turner’s Panthers are set to face a Maryland team that wasn’t truly tested in last week’s season-opening 52-13 win against overmatched Howard.

That was Maryland’s first game under coach DJ Durkin, a former defensive coordinator at Florida and Michigan. His Terps are 4-0 all-time against FIU, most recently posting a 43-10 win in 2013.

Friday, however, will be Maryland’s first trip to FIU, and the Panthers may not be that far away from pulling off an upset. They led Indiana 13-12 after three quarters but were doomed when they lost the turnover battle 3-1.

Senior quarterback Perry Hills, with 16 career starts, leads a Maryland team that has 13 Floridians on its roster including three starters — cornerback William Likely, defensive lineman Kingsley Opara and safety Denzel Conyers.

Likely, a 5-7, 175-pound senior from Glades Central, holds seven Maryland records and is also used as a wide receiver, kickoff returner and punt returner. He is a two-time first-team All-Big Ten player and Maryland’s unquestioned star.

FIU will counter with an offense that is not without weapons. Smith is the most prolific tight end in program history, wide receiver Thomas Owens has the best hands on the team, and running back Alex Gardner had 60 receptions last year.

In addition, FIU unveiled two true freshman starting wide receivers last week: Stantley Thomas, who had three catches for 91 yards, and Tony Gaiter IV, who had a 27-yard end around.

Thomas, who averaged 18.7 yards per catch as a senior in high school and has a 30.3 average now, said the interceptions last week are a shared responsibility between receiver and quarterback.

“On some routes, we do have reads,” he said. “If a DB goes this way, we can turn in or turn out. Sometimes there is miscommunication.”

Thomas, though, said he’s confident FIU can be a “great team,” and he’s grateful to McGough for helping him along the way.

“Whenever I have a question or I need a tip, McGough is always there to let me know this is my route,” he said. “After a play, we always talk about whether I got my depth or if I need to push it harder. Over time, [the connection] has been getting better.”

▪ The Panthers will unveil their alternate white helmets against Maryland. In fact, FIU will wear an all-white uniform, and the first 10,000 fans will receive a “FridayNight White Out” t-shirt.

▪ Friday’s forecast calls for a 40 percent chance of rain.

▪ This will mark just the second home Friday night game in FIU history.

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