The last FIU game before Saturday without a reception by junior tight end Jonnu Smith was the 2012 season finale, the last FIU game without Jonnu Smith.
The All-Conference USA tight end and his sprained knee led the list of Panthers regulars who never saw the field on Saturday. Freshman running back/wide receiver Anthony Jones, redshirt junior defensive tackle Imarjaye Albury and fifth-year senior running back Anthon Samuel also missed Saturday’s 31-17 loss to Florida Atlantic.
During his 10-reception, 183-yard performance against Old Dominion last Saturday, Smith sprained his left knee. He practiced sparingly through the week. FIU coach Ron Turner said the staff hoped Smith would be able to go Saturday and said he’s “day-to-day or week-to-week.”
Albury felt ill with a fever. He seemed fine for Saturday, Turner said, until he started vomiting hours before the game. Jones had a hamstring injury. Samuel sprained his left ankle last week and was on crutches earlier in the week.
Without Mackey Award Midseason Watch List members Smith and senior Ya’Keem Griner, out the past two games with a foot injury, Akil Dan-Fodio’s four catches for 71 yards comprised the Panthers’ tight end production.
Samuel and Jones’ absence meant sophomore Alex Gardner played nearly every snap. Gardner and sophomore quarterback Alex McGough handled every FIU running play between them.
You knew FAU felt good coming out of halftime up 17-7 when the Owls didn’t hesitate to kick to FIU ace returner Richard Leonard. The past three FIU Shula Bowl wins included massive, FIU-record-setting returns — T.Y. Hilton’s 97-yard punt return in 2011, Leonard’s 100-yard kickoff return in 2012 and his 100-yard fumble return last year.
In the first half, Owls kicker Greg Joseph squibbed his first kickoff 42 yards to Clinton Taylor. Joseph cranked the next kickoff to the Panthers’ 4, but to Taylor’s side. Kickoff No. 3 settled in Leonard’s arms but halfway into the end zone. Leonard took the touchback.
Leonard took the second-half kickoff at the 1 and motored through a crease in the left side for 61 yards to the FAU 38. But a block-in-the-back penalty on Xavier Hines brought the ball all the way back to the FIU 5.
HONORING A FRIEND
FAU quarterback Jaquez Johnson wore No. 12 until this season. Johnson has donned No. 32, a number not worn by college quarterbacks since the one-platoon days ended in 1963, to honor longtime friend and former Starkville (Mississippi) High teammate Devin Mitchell.
Mitchell wore No. 32 as a linebacker and running back for Starkville. He was murdered on New Year’s Day 2012 at the age of 16.