Florida International U

This FIU running back is finally healthy — catching up to vast potential in senior season

Senior Anthony Jones leads FIU in rushing yards (410), running touchdowns (six), total touchdowns (eight) and points (48).

But Jones takes special pride in his receiving skills. He has seven catches for 53 yards and two scores this season.

“I like to show the guys at the next level [pro scouts] that I can catch,” Jones said. “I actually came in as a receiver as a freshman. I like to show my hands off a little bit, let guys know I can be in on third down and work in the slot.”

Jones will put his skills on display again this Saturday as his FIU Panthers (3-3, 1-2 Conference USA) play host to the Texas-El Paso Miners (1-4, 0-2).

After a slow start this season, the Panthers are on a two-game win streak and are favored by 25 points against a Miners team that is, quite frankly, awful. The Miners are 2-27 in their past 29 games.

In other words, this could be another big week for Jones, who during the past two games has rushed for 232 yards, four touchdowns and a 6.4 average.

But it hasn’t been just Jones. FIU rushed for 278 yards and a 5.1 average two weeks ago in a 44-0 win over Massachusetts and then a season-high 350 yards and a 6.6 average this past Saturday in a 48-23 defeat of Charlotte.

Improved blocking and a deep group of running backs led by Jones, fellow senior Napoleon Maxwell and junior D’Vonte Price have led the charge.

“It’s good to see both groups take their games to the next level at the same time,” FIU running backs coach Tim Harris Jr. said of his unit and the offensive line.

“[Jones’ pass-catching skills] have always been a strength of his game. But, the past couple of years, we’ve haven’t been able to get to that as much due to his injuries.

“This year, with him being healthy, he’s been able to show that a lot more. And him doing well has made our other running backs want to improve their pass-catching ability as well.”

Meanwhile, Jones, who played high school ball at Miami Central, is surely pleased that someone from his alma mater — true freshman Lexington “Flex” Joseph — is getting some playing time as a fourth-string FIU running back.

In three games this season, Joseph has a modest 42 yards and a 5.3 average, showing some of the burst that made him FIU’s top recruit in the Class of 2019, as per 247 Sports.

“He studies really well,” Harris said of Joseph, who ran for 270 yards and two scores last year in a 30-21 playoff win over Carol City. “He’s locked in every day.

“Freshmen can tend to zone out and get in redshirt mode, but Flex hasn’t done that. Whenever he gets an opportunity, it’s as if he had been part of the game plan the whole time.”

THIS AND THAT

Harris, a former track star at the University of Miami, said he believes cornerback Ike Brown is the fastest player on FIU’s team, with Maxwell “a close second”.

FIU defensive line coach Kenard Lang said a pair of transfers from the Southeastern Conference — Chris Whittaker (Kentucky) and Alexy Jean-Baptiste (Arkansas) — have strengthened the Panthers’ pass rush. Granted, the Panthers have just six sacks this year, one more than the Miners, who are last in the league with five.

Since becoming eligible as per NCAA transfer rules, the 6-3, 225-pound sophomore Whittaker has one sack in four games. Jean-Baptiste, a 6-3, 245-pound junior, has one sack in two games.

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