Senior tight end Ya’Keem Griner’s six-game production — 25 catches, 210 yards, two touchdowns — already established 2015 as a career year for him. The Mackey Award midseason watch list included Griner. He’d achieved security blanket status with sophomore quarterback Alex McGough, just like teammate and fellow Mackey Award watch list member junior Jonnu Smith.
Then, came Saturday. Griner left the loss after only one catch for 4 yards with a foot or ankle injury that had him in a walking boot afterward. His status going forward remains in question.
In Griner’s place, fellow fifth-year senior Akil Dan-Fodio caught six passes for 48 yards. Smith had his best statistical game of the season, five catches for 62 yards and caught a two-point conversion pass. Smith also kept alive his streak of catching a pass in every game, now up to 31.
Middle Tennessee’s two leading receivers, fifth-year senior Ed Batties and redshirt freshman Richie James, worried FIU most out of the Blue Raiders’ 307-yards-per-game passing attack. Each came into the game with 49 catches.
James still racked up six catches for 104 yards, 71 of those on catch-and-runs of 29 and 42 yards that sparked touchdown drives. FIU held Batties to 7 yards on two catches. But the attempt to shut down Middle’s passing game, which still gained 261 yards, might have beckoned the Blue Raiders’ 200-yard rushing day.
“They dropped a bunch of people to take the passing game away from us, so that enabled us to have the numbers to run the ball,” Middle Tennessee coach Rick Stockstill said. “We’re down to our sixth and seventh running back because of our injuries, but our offensive line did extremely well. Kamani Thomas and Desmond Anderson did great. Desmond is very explosive and will only get better with each snap.”
LEONARD IS ALL OVER
Digital Access For Only $0.99
For the most comprehensive local coverage, subscribe today.
Saturday looked like a throwback to 2014 for FIU cornerback Richard Leonard. He jumped all over an interception chance and affected the game on special teams — sometimes without touching the ball.
Leonard returned the opening kickoff 53 yards. On Middle’s first snap, he intercepted a pass and took it 40 yards back to the Middle 1-yard-line.
After the first Blue Raiders’ touchdown, Middle kicker Canon Rooker pooched a kickoff 45 yards to avoid Leonard and senior Clinton Taylor took that back to the FIU 37. When Rooker kicked away on his next kickoff, Leonard’s return lasted 42 yards. Rooker then went for a slow dribbler that Taylor got back to the FIU 34.
Leonard ended the day with 151 all-purpose yards.
NO ONE HOME
Noon Eastern time/11 a.m. Central time starts don’t work in Murfreesboro much better than they do in West Dade. The official attendance at Floyd Stadium Saturday was a season low 13,227.
Senior defensive tackle Darrian Dyson returned to the FIU lineup after two games out for an unspecified team violation. Dyson, a starter before his punishment, backed up Lars Koht and had one assisted tackle.
A TOSS UP
FIU’s game captains were Smith, McGough, Leonard and senior linebacker Jephete Matilus. Middle won the toss and deferred to the second half. FIU lost the last three coin tosses after winning the first four. Excepting UMass, all toss winners deferred to the second half.