Florida International U

FIU football team off to strong start in Conference USA

AP

FIU committed 10 penalties Saturday, including drive-damaging false starts each of their three trips into the red zone.

In college football’s most offensive era, the Panthers live on defense and special teams.

The upside to that is it might show FIU is, well, upside.

“The good news is we got a win,” FIU coach Ron Turner said after Saturday’s 34-20 win at Alabama-Birmingham. “The better news is we can become so much better because we hurt ourselves a lot. We’ve got to become more disciplined.”

Turner continued: “we can and need to get better in a hurry” because it’s a short week before Thursday’s Shula Bowl, against FAU. The Owls pulled off their own upset Saturday, coming from 10 points down in the fourth quarter to take out Larry Coker’s Texas-San Antonio 41-37.

Most of the players in the visiting locker room at Legion Field didn’t know Saturday was FIU’s first win against an opponent with a winning record since the Panthers beat 2-0 Central Florida in 2011. Their happiness had a more recent spark.

“Just to get that first conference win, especially on the road,” freshman quarterback Alex McGough said. “Everybody was going crazy. Just a good bonding time for the whole team.”

McGough earned postgame compliments from Turner and teammate Jonnu Smith for not crashing mentally during a first quarter stretch when he missed six of seven passes.

After two first downs on the first possession, FIU (2-3, 1-0 Conference USA) didn’t get another one until the second quarter.

Then again, McGough is a freshman, a class designation known for inconsistency.

“I was trying to throw the ball too hard. That’s a big problem I have,” he said. “They were playing pretty good defense throughout the game.

“I was trying to force it in the beginning. Coach Turner pulled me aside and told me to calm down, throw the ball nice and softly, a catchable pass.”

Turner said, “What I did like is that he did miss some throws early, but he hung in there, hung in there and just kept playing and believed in himself.”

Which is what FIU did as a team Saturday to set the stage for a strong start to the conference schedule.

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