Florida International U

FIU football team has tough road for bowl eligibility

Making strides: FIU running back Napoleon Maxwell evades Rice’s Jaylon Finner for a touchdown Saturday. He had 88 yards on 16 carries.
Making strides: FIU running back Napoleon Maxwell evades Rice’s Jaylon Finner for a touchdown Saturday. He had 88 yards on 16 carries. Miami Herald Staff

Saturday’s 31-17 loss to Rice left FIU football with two different views of the future.

In the short term, FIU’s goals of bowl eligibility now require winning the last three games, road games against Old Dominion and North Texas and a home game against Middle Tennessee State.

At least FIU (3-6) knows its offense could get a confidence boost next week at defensively porous Old Dominion, which has allowed more than 40 points in each of its last six games.

The Panthers’ running game moved well most of the game against Rice behind freshman Napoleon Maxwell’s 88 yards on 16 carries in his first extended action. There is the long-term upside: the potential shown by current youth.

A rotation of Maxwell and now-injured leading rusher Alex Gardner gives FIU two backs with speed and agility for possibly another three years. For next year, junior Anthon Samuel remains in the mix, probably even better with more time removed from his most recent concussion.

A redshirt freshman, linebacker Jordan Guest, made FIU’s best individual play of the day, a fourth-and-1 stop-and-slam. Sophomore Wilkenson Myrtil started at one cornerback spot and freshman cornerback Shemarke Spence saw significant playing time on defense for the first time since garbage time against FCS opponent Wagner.

“He runs hard, he’s got good speed,” FIU coach Ron Turner said of Maxwell. “We had some guys, some individuals do some really good things [Saturday]. Some individuals. Make sure you note that — some individuals do some really good things … We didn’t do anything well as a team. And, in this game, you win as a team. [Rice was] a team, we were not.”

That brings us back to now and the near future. Saturday’s game left Turner more visibly upset than any previous game point this season.

“I’m disappointed in the football team for not playing anywhere close to the way we’re capable of playing,” he said. “I know exactly why. I’m not going to share it with anybody. I’ll share it with the team. … I know exactly why we didn’t play very well today. We’ll get it straightened out one way or another. We wouldn’t have beaten a high school team [Saturday].”

Asked whether he was referring to poor attitude, Turner repeated, “I know exactly why and I’ll share it with the team. We didn’t play well. I’ve got a folder full of mistakes we made throughout the game. It started off the bat — missed assignments, false starts, offsides. Stupid stuff. But I know why. I won’t go back and say it’s necessarily an attitude thing.”

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