There are less than four months remaining before FIU opens its 2018 football season with a Sept. 1 home game against the Indiana Hoosiers, and that’s time enough to ponder the Panthers’ passing game.
In coach Butch Davis’ perfect world, FIU doesn’t have one dominant wide receiver that catches at least 50 passes but several.
Last year, FIU’s passing game was directed toward senior Thomas Owens, who played just nine games before getting injured but still led the team in receptions (59), yards (887) and touchdowns (six).
With Owens and Julian Williams (22 catches, 307 yards) graduated, passes could be more evenly distributed this fall.
But can the Panthers find three receivers who will each catch at least 50 passes this year as Davis prefers?
During FIU’s spring game on April 6, Austin Maloney, a junior from Miami Columbus, was the Panthers’ receiving standout with four catches for 74 yards.
Maloney caught 20 passes for 185 yards and a 9.3 average as a freshman. As a sophomore, he proved he was more than just a possession receiver, improving his yards per reception to 14.5 on 21 grabs.
Davis said sophomore Bryce Singleton and Florida Gators transfer CJ Worton are battling for one starting spot.
“Singleton is getting pushed an awful lot by Worton,” Davis said. “Those guys are having daily battles.”
Davis also said sophomore Shemar Thornton “is in a real competitive situation” with juniors Tony Gaiter and Darius Scott for another starting spot.
Jordan Underwood, an early-entry freshman from Orlando, “is showing huge growth and development”, feeling more confident as he learns the offense, Davis said.
FIU uses three wide receivers about 40 percent of the time, which is where Maloney might come into play.
“We won’t know who our starters will be until mid-August,” Davis said.
Worton, who played his high school ball at South Dade, could be an important addition for the Panthers. Davis said Worton and Thornton are the fastest FIU receivers, timed in the low 4.5s.
“He has speed,” David said of Worton. “He’s catching the ball over the middle.
“The only issue he had at Florida — and he had a little bit of it this spring — is consistency of health. Sometimes he’ll tweak a hamstring. He’s going to fly 40, 50 yards down the field 40 times a game. He has to work to get himself into great shape.”
THIS AND THAT
▪ The sixth-seeded FIU baseball team (26-26, 15-13) will face third-seeded Florida Atlantic (36-15-1, 19-8-1) on Wednesday at 10 a.m. as the Conference USA double-tournament begins in Biloxi, Mississippi.
In all likelihood, FIU needs to win the tournament to make the NCAA field.
Meanwhile, FIU catcher Jose Garcia hit his 13th homer this past weekend, breaking the school record for home runs by a freshman. Jabari Henry had the previous FIU record when he hit 12 homers in 2010, winning honors as the Sun Belt Conference Freshman of the Year.
▪ The standout FIU beach volleyball duo of Federica Frasca and Margherita Bianchin added another honor to their already impressive list, as the tandem was named beach volleyball All-Americans by the America Volleyball Coaches Association. The Italian pair is just the second and third players in the programs short six-year history to earn the honor, joining Kate Stepanova who was named AVCA All-American at the conclusion of the inaugural 2013 campaign.