Florida International U

Big plays key to improved FIU offense

FIU Quarterback Alex McGough takes a snap during the first half against the N.C. Central Eagles at Ocean Bank Field at Florida International University, Saturday Sept. 19, 2015.
FIU Quarterback Alex McGough takes a snap during the first half against the N.C. Central Eagles at Ocean Bank Field at Florida International University, Saturday Sept. 19, 2015. Miami Herald

FIU coach Ron Turner, like his brother and NFL assistant coach Norv Turner, has supported a wife and three kids with offensive expertise. His current employer sits in a county, region and state known for players with see-you-later, big-play speed.

That looked like a chaste marriage most of Turner’s first two years at FIU. Consummation finally seems to be happening this year.

FIU (2-1) ranks 34th nationally in total offense after Saturday night’s 39-14 win against North Carolina Central and eighth in third-down percentage.

Yeah, there’s a game against an Football Championship Subdivision school in there, but that doesn’t make FIU a unicorn among its Football Bowl Subdivision peers in the NCAA statistical rankings. And FIU didn’t pile on North Carolina Central, either on the scoreboard or stat sheet the way you see in some 60-point, 600-yard beatings of FCS teams by FBS teams.

The Panthers’ rise out of the 100s in national offense rankings raises eyebrows less than the way the Panthers get those yards.

Sophomore Dennis Turner’s first two college touchdowns were from 28 and 64 yards.

Sophomore Thomas Owens caught a 75-yarder against Indiana among his four catches this season over 20 yards. Senior tight end Ya’Keem Griner’s got two catches over 20 yards. Freshman Anthony Jones has two 26-yard runs …

You get the idea. That’s yardage in family portions, not snack size.

That’s what FIU envisioned when it recruited Dennis Turner last year and Jones this year.

On Saturday, Dennis Turner got open deep twice. The first time, quarterback Alex McGough overthrew him. The second time, touchdown, his second in two weeks.

“His confidence has skyrocketed,” McGough said. “Last year, he was here and there. This year, he’s all forward.

“The first one, I got too excited and threw it about 1,000 yards. The second one, I calmed down and gave him a chance, and he obviously took the rest.”

The first three games, the Panthers have tried numerous ways to get Jones the ball, including several plays at running back Saturday night.

“Coach uses me in a pretty good way,” Jones said. “It’s all about the team. He finds ways to get me the ball when he could.”

Ironically, one player without an explosive play yet this season is junior tight end Jonnu Smith, FIU’s most nationally respected offensive player.

Teams translate that respect by covering Smith like paparazzi on a Kardashian.

“We’re trying not just to get the ball to Anthony, but to Jonnu [Smith],” Turner said. “Everything starts with Jonnu. And Alex [Gardner] and Anthon [Samuel] at the running back position. [Owens] is doing a lot of good things. Dennis Turner’s making plays. Griner … we’ve got a lot of playmakers now. Alex is going a good job of getting them all the ball. We’ve got to continue to do that, move people around, so they can’t isolate where they’re going to be. It’s tough to stop someone if you don’t know where they’re going to be.

“We’ve got a lot of things we haven’t gotten to yet that we’ll continue to do as the season goes on. We’ve got some playmakers.”

MYRTIL INJURED

After Saturday’s game, Turner said head trainer John Steele told him junior safety Wilkenson Myrtil, who left FIU Stadium on a stretcher with his arms strapped down, sustained a concussion.

“He was knocked out,” Turner said. “He was moving everything [later]. His neck wasn’t sore or anything.”

David J. Neal: 305-376-3559, @DavidJNeal

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