FIU coach Ron Turner admired the way junior quarterback E.J. Hilliard has handled what Turner admitted is “a tough situation” as far as the starting quarterback role this season.
Then again, Hilliard’s entire FIU career has been about dealing with tough situations.
All Hilliard’s playing time his freshman year — two starts, three times coming in for an injured Jake Medlock — came against bowl-bound teams. After the tumult of a coaching change, he had to learn a completely new offensive system with a wide receiver corps stripped by grades of its two best players.
Meanwhile, Hilliard and Medlock struggled to grasp the job for good throughout a 1-11 season.
This year, he began spring practice, August training camp and the regular season as the starter. But freshman Alex McGough played the last three quarters of the season-opening loss to Bethune-Cookman and started FIU’s 34-3 win against Wagner on Saturday night.
Hilliard came in for the last two drives of the first half, then played the last 17:04.
“If we have to play two quarterbacks to get the ‘W,’ that’s what we have to do,” Hilliard said. “It was a tough situation, going into the season starting then getting demoted. But we worked so hard as a team to get to the point where we’re at to let something like that break the team down. I just wanted to make sure it wasn’t me that brought the morale of the team down.
“They told me I was demoted, I did everything I could to help [McGough]. Because at the end of the day, we want to win. He wants to win, I want to win, the team wants to win.”
Said Turner: “He showed his character and showed he’s a team guy. He was very disappointed early in the week. As the week went on, he prepared like a starter, which is one thing he and I talked about. He did and he actually helped Alex.”
Expect Turner to keep using two quarterbacks for next week’s noon home game against Pittsburgh.
“I don’t see why not,” Turner said. “I thought both of them did some really good things. Both of them have some things to work on. I’ve got a lot of things I could’ve done better, as well. We’ve got a lot of confidence in both guys.”
The fourth-quarter fight between FIU senior cornerback Randy Harvey and Wagner wide receiver Keith Foster upset Turner, who spoke about it afterward without any prompting.
“We will not tolerate guys throwing punches,” Turner said. “That will not be tolerated here. Guys do that, they will not play. I don’t care who he is. It doesn’t matter if he throws the first punch, which he didn’t, or if he retaliates, which he did. It will not be tolerated. I can assure you of that.”