FIU quarterback Alex McGough tried this week to downplay the pain.
But that hurt — physical and emotional — is there. It’s evident in his words, maybe not initially, but it is revealed the more he speaks.
McGough is expected to make his 26th consecutive start on Saturday when FIU (0-2) visits Massachusetts (0-2). The junior was hurt twice in last week’s 41-14 loss to Maryland.
On the game’s first drive, McGough said he had “the wind knocked out of me” after taking a hit to the ribs by a Maryland defensive lineman.
Later in the first quarter, McGough made a highly athletic escape out of the pocket and dove for the first down. A Maryland defender dove as well, hitting McGough in the back.
“I just got a little bruise in the back, but I will be alright,” McGough said, minimizing the issue.
Then he added: “That [back injury] was pretty serious. It hurt pretty bad. I [sat out the second half because I] didn’t want to hurt it worse and be out for three months.”
McGough remained in the game until he threw a first-quarter interception that was returned for a touchdown, giving Maryland a 10-0 lead. McGough tried to make a tackle on the play, but all he did was make his back injury worse.
“I will always give it my all,” McGough said when asked if he regretted his tackle try. “I don’t care if I break my arm. I will do it if it means stopping a touchdown from happening.”
That sort of team-first attitude — even if it can be unwise in terms of injury — has endeared McGough to his teammates, who support him despite a rough start.
Through two games against Indiana and Maryland, both of the Big Ten Conference, McGough is completing just 50 percent of his passes and has no touchdown throws and four interceptions — three of which have been returned for scores.
“I’m probably my own toughest [critic],” McGough said. “I hold myself to a high standard, and I’m not playing up to my standard. I’ve got to execute better.
“The quarterback gets all the blame, and I understand that, and I take that. I’m trying to move on each week and each play, but it’s been a little disappointing, honestly.”
Given a chance to deflect some of the criticism and share it with receivers who may have run the wrong route or not done enough to break up an interception, McGough declined that opportunity.
“I’ve got to make better throws,” he said. “I have to put it where only my receiver can catch it. I take all the blame for every interception.
“[My receivers] just have to know that I’m coming back the next play, and I’m going to throw it to them again. I’m not going to hold back just because I threw a pick.”
Asked about a Massachusetts team that beat FIU 24-14 last year, McGough initially insisted that he was focused only on his team.
“We’re not thinking about last year,” McGough said.
But then his candor showed through again.
“Had we won that game,” he said, “we would’ve been eligible for a bowl game, and that’s what’s really grinding our gears.”
▪ FIU junior middle linebacker Anthony Wint leads Conference USA with 7.0 tackles per game.
▪ UMass is in its 133rd season of football — 118 years longer than FIU.