There’s nothing like your first time. FIU certainly hopes not.
The grandest leaps of improvement in anything usually come early. FIU certainly hopes so.
Hope alone won’t get FIU past the 50 in Friday’s home opener against UCF.
The Panthers spent the week doing more than just hoping to avoid repeating last week’s scrambled, game-over-easily first game under coach Ron Turner.
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“We know we have the players who can match up and compete,” redshirt junior safety Justin Halley said. “We just have to stay more focused. That’s what we’re trying to focus on this week. We can’t have the mental busts that occurred last game. You saw the result.”
“Everyone, including the team captains, we tell the freshmen we need them this year because, depth wise, we’re not as solid as we used to be.”
Senior cornerback Sam Miller said the team leaders’ roles are “Just keeping the guys doing their job, focusing on their job and not being heroes as our coaches have phrased it. Doing what we’ve been doing all camp, in practices.”
Practices, though open for most of training camp, didn’t draw 30,000 people. They didn’t have another team. They were practices. Last week, college football’s youngest team made high school mistakes at Maryland.
Asked whether he thought there was “a little deer-in-headlights” problem Saturday, Turner said no.
“There was a lot of deer-in-the-headlights,” Turner corrected with a laugh. “You said ‘a little.’”
And he doesn’t expect all the nerves to be gone by Friday night, with the UCF following likely boosting this to FIU Stadium’s biggest crowd of the season.
“There’s still going to be some,” Turner said. “You don’t get over that in one half or one game. Hopefully, it’ll be better. There’s only one first time for everything, right?
“Your biggest gain usually comes from Week 1 to Week 2,” he continued. “So, hopefully, that’s going to be the case. I know we’re not going to play perfectly. But I do expect us to go out and cut way, way back on the mistakes we made.”
While FIU’s depth chart includes several players last week’s didn’t have because of academic/behavior issues/travel limitations, most of the additions with field experience are on the defensive line. That’s the one area FIU feels secure about anyway.
The offense gets sophomore slot receiver DeAndre Jasper back after he missed the first game because of academic issues. Senior wide receiver Glenn Coleman, who also missed the first game because of academics, will miss the next 11 for the same reason.
“This game’s really important,” Halley said. “We want to show our home crowd what we can do. We want to gain more support and continue to have their support. The series is 1-1. To make it 2-1 would be really big and probably set the tone for the rest of the season.”
Friday’s the third in what will be six games between 2011 and 2016 after a two-year series extension announced Thursday.
FIU won the 2011 defensive turf war 17-10 by getting touchdowns off a fumble return and after recovering a fumbled UCF punt return. Last year, the Knights strafed the Panthers in the air and battered FIU quarterback Jake Medlock when the often-conservative Panthers chose to be Air FIU in the first half. That put UCF up 23-0 on the way to a 33-20 win.
With so many key players returning, UCF appears at least as strong as the 11-win team of 2010.
“They are basically where we’re wanting to go,” Turner said. “They play hard, play fast. They’re very physical and extremely disciplined. You’re going to have to beat them. They don’t give you much. That’s where we’ve got to get. We’ve got to get to the point where people put on our film and say the same thing. We’re not even close to being there yet. But, that’s what we’re striving for. And we will get there. Can’t tell you when, but we’ll get there.”