Florida International U

Injuries taking a toll on FIU Panthers as UMass game awaits

Redshirt junior safety Jordan Davis is among the FIU players recovering from injuries.
Redshirt junior safety Jordan Davis is among the FIU players recovering from injuries. FIU

Resembling an FIU version of The Spirit of ’76 painting, linebacker and leading tackler Treyvon Williams and offensive guard Trenton Saunders made their way on crutches to the locker room after Tuesday’s practice next to linebacker Davison Colimon and his arm sling.

Nearby, redshirt junior safety Jordan Davis and sophomore safety Niko Gonzalez talked with teammates while wearing the orange jerseys that make FIU’s injured players look sponsored by The Home Depot. FIU could reach the first game of October on Saturday at UMass with a November number of injured starters.

But FIU coach Ron Turner didn’t throw the sheet over FIU’s team health, which deteriorated by the day late last week.

Of Williams and Saunders, both injured in the second half of Saturday’s loss to Louisiana Tech, Turner said, “They’re kind of day-to-day. Obviously, if they’re not ready [Wednesday], it’ll be questionable. But there’s a chance.”

Of Davis, Turner said, “I hope he’s going to go. I think he’s got a good chance.”

“Chance” means orange cards in Monopoly and orange jerseys when it comes to FIU health this year.

Davis’ injury sounds like this month’s rerun of the knee injury suffered by sophomore running back Napoleon Maxwell in late August: non-contact while just going through practice at FIU Stadium; not so initially painful that the young men couldn’t walk off with just a slight limp and an annoyed expression; and causing an abrupt interruption in their seasons.

Davis’ academic ineligibility the first two games and his injury and sophomore Shemarke Spence’s broken arm took out FIU’s most experienced returning safeties before Saturday. Against North Carolina Central, Gonzalez (stinger) and Wilkenson Myrtil (concussion) went down.

Should Williams join Colimon, out for the year with a torn pectoral muscle after the season opener, on the sidelines, FIU will be down two of three starting linebackers. In total, a defense that returned nine starters and two others who started some 2014 games, would be down to seven starters and two or three safeties (freshman Tyree Johnson, redshirt junior Deonte Wilson, redshirt sophomore Xavier Hines) seeing their first significant college action.

Williams’ tangible impact is obvious as the middle linebacker and leading tackler.

On a more-intangible level, senior cornerback Richard Leonard’s the most dynamic player on FIU’s defense. Senior defensive end Michael Wakefield’s the most consistent. If you’re talking the defense’s fuel, the juice, it’s Williams and sophomore outside linebacker Anthony Wint, No. 2 in tackles.

Saturday, Louisiana Tech took a 7-0 lead, then eased down the field on their second possession without even needing a third down conversion. Until, that is, Wint, not tackled, but cracked/blasted/smacked (pick one) running back Kenneth Dixon to the ground for a 3-yard-loss.

“He’s one of the most-explosive players on the team,” Wint said of Williams. “One of the strongest. I’m positive Jephete can come in and do some of the same things he does. He’s probably got the most experience on the team. He can get the job done. We’ve got trust in him.”

“Jephete” is Jephete Matilus, a graduate transfer senior from the University of Minnesota. Minnesota recruited Matilus out of Delray Beach Atlantic as a linebacker in 2011, then switched him to fullback before the 2014 season.

“He’s a really smart kid,” Turner said. “That’s why you have depth. In the game of football, you’re going to need it. Sometimes, more at one position than others.”

And the news isn’t all bad for FIU. After preseason knee surgery caused him to miss four games, 6-5, 219-pound senior wide receiver Juwan Caesar’s been declared healthy enough to play this week. Caesar’s size and speed would give the Panthers more options, both on the quick slants and deep patterns while his physicality should improve FIU’s edge blocking.

ACCEPTING BLAME

“Accountability” is a popular buzz word among coaches. Sophomore linebacker Anthony Wint has taken it to heart. When asked about the defense that allowed Louisiana Tech to run for 246 yards Saturday, Wint pointed a finger at Wint.

“To talk about the La Tech game, I have to start with myself. I played one of the worst games of my career,” he said. “I probably had more than 10, 15 [mental errors] I can pinpoint. Two of the touchdowns were on me. … The first touchdown [a 63-yard run by Kenneth Dixon] was a mental error by me. I left my safety out to dry. From there, they rolled with it. Lack of focus, lack of attention to detail. They executed more than us, more than me.”

▪ Turner told his team he loved how hard they played, but hated the lack of discipline they displayed. FIU gave Tech three first downs by penalty, two off unsportsmanlike conduct penalties.

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

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