Junior quarterback Alex McGough, who has made 25 consecutive starts for FIU, should be able to make No. 26 on Saturday at Massachusetts.
That’s the word from FIU coach Ron Turner, who spoke one day after his Panthers lost 41-14 to Maryland.
McGough hurt his ribs on the game’s first drive and then injured his back later in the first quarter, and the latter issue gave him the most trouble.
“His back was really stiff,” Turner said of McGough, who did not play in the second half. “He had muscle spasms, and it really tightened up at halftime. We’re anticipating he will be fine for UMass.”
FIU (0—2) now hits the road after getting outscored 75—27 by two Big Ten Conference opponents, Indiana and Maryland.
The schedule eases up from here, starting with Saturday’s trip to play the Minutemen, who went 3—9 last year and are coached by former University of Miami offensive coordinator Mark Whipple.
However, UMass beat visiting FIU 24—14 last year in what Turner called “one of our worst games of the year.”
Turner said he expects better focus from his players this time, but the Panthers are unlikely to prosper unless they fix their turnover issues.
FIU has forced just one turnover in two games. McGough, meanwhile, has thrown four interceptions, three of them for pick—6 touchdowns.
“He’s done some good things,” Turner said of McGough, “but he has to protect the ball better.”
Those turnovers — and the injury – have opened the door for redshirt freshman Maurice Alexander to get playing time. The former Booker T. Washington star got his first extensive action against Maryland, and he played well at times.
Alexander completed 9 of 18 passes for 131 yards and one touchdown. He also ran nine times for 30 yards and did not have a turnover.
Turner said he plans to give Alexander a series or two per game going forward.
“He’s a good athlete,” Turner said. “He’s a very accurate passer with good leadership skills. He’s very poised and calm. He just needs reps, but we think he’ll be a very good player.”
Aside from Alexander, other bright spots for FIU against Maryland included running backs Alex Gardner and Anthony Jones and wide receiver Austin Maloney.
Gardner, a junior with 20 career starts, ran 16 times for 109 yards and one touchdown. He had a 55-yard run, which was the second-longest of his career.
Overall, it was Gardner’s fifth career 100-yard game.
“The offensive line, it always starts with them,” Turner said when asked about Gardner’s big day. “Alex did a good job of making the right reads. He has a good feel for zone reads and gap reads.”
Jones, a sophomore from Miami Central who is Gardner’s backup, ran 14 times for 64 yards, including a long of 19. He also returned six kickoffs for 102 yards, averaging 17.0 yards.
Turner said he talked to Jones after he gained just three yards on two carries against Indiana and told him that more would be required this season.
As for Maloney, a redshirt freshman from Miami Columbus, Turner said it was the coaching staff’s fault for not getting him in against Indiana.
That error was not repeated on Friday as Maloney caught six passes for 49 yards. Those were the first catches of his college career, and the same goes for his touchdown, a 15-yarder from Alexander with 9:55 left in the game.
With junior wide receiver Shug Oyegunle out for another couple of weeks while he recovers from an ankle injury, FIU is relying on veteran Thomas Owens and three freshmen at the position – Maloney, Stantley Thomas and Tony Gaiter IV.