Perhaps instead of hip-hop or an incongruous Bob Dylan interlude, FIU football could’ve played Pick Up the Pieces for this week’s practices stretching portion. They’re trying to put their season back together while trying to piece together an increasingly banged-up lineup.
They said the right keep-a-goin’ words Wednesday. FIU coach Ron Turner said Tuesday’s practice was so good, he had to scold players to gear down the physicality. But no scabs had grown over the scrapes left by Saturday’s 31-17 loss to Florida Atlantic.
“We talked about it. We didn’t play as well,” senior defensive end Michael Wakefield said. “No excuses. We’re going to, from now on, pick it up and not let it happen again.”
“We’ve still got our goals set high. We’re going to take it one game at a time and make it to this bowl game.”
Sophomore quarterback Alex McGough picked it as his worst game of the season, “If I could have that game back, I’d change a lot of things. Controlling what I could control, trying to lead the guys, push them harder, stuff like that.”
McGough didn’t mention the continual offensive line shuffling prompted by injuries, the latest to redshirt freshman Kai Absheer. Conference USA’s best pass rush stampeded FIU on Saturday for seven sacks. Nor did McGough mention the absence of FIU’s most dependable receiver over the last three seasons, junior tight end Jonnu Smith.
No football team hits the home stretch with bodies feeling September good. Then there’s having both your Mackey Award Watch List security blanket tight ends out, perhaps for the season. Senior tight end Ya’Keem Griner and his injured foot were last seen in the dreaded walking boot. On Wednesday, Smith wore no pads but a left knee brace after missing Saturday’s game. Turner said he did some work and is “day-to-day.”
“The football smarts they both have we really miss out there,” McGough said. “It’s tough. They make a lot of great plays, plays you don’t see they make. It’s tough to fill that void. Akil (Dan-Fodio) is stepping in. He’s doing nicely. And [freshman] Mac [Carey]. You hate to see two of your best players go down, but you keep fighting.”
The absence of freshman Anthony Jones (hamstring) and fifth-year senior Anthon Samuel (ankle) meant other the sophomore Alex, running back Gardner, played every play Saturday.
Turner said he definitely couldn’t do that again. He gave practice work to sophomore Alfonso Randolph and senior Lamarq Caldwell, though he expected Jones at least to be back this week against Charlotte.”
”I don’t know if I’ve ever been in a situation where I had this many guys out,” FIU coach Ron Turner said. “The number is going to be well over 100 games missed by starters or guys who play a significant amount of time. That’s tough to overcome.”
“We’re not using it as an excuse,” Turner said. “We say we’ve got to play better. But it’s definitely taken its toll. I admire these guys, the perseverance they’ve had to still be in this position.”
This position is 4-5, needing to win two of three games for bowl eligibility. After FBS rookie Charlotte this Saturday at FIU Stadium comes Marshall and Western Kentucky, the consensus two best teams in Conference USA.
“We’re focused on Charlotte 100 percent. We haven’t even talked about Marshall or Western Kentucky,” McGough said. “I know that’s who we play [the final two games]. I’m not looking forward to them. I’m focused on Charlotte. Because if we don’t win this one … We’ve got to have this one, let’s say that.”
STOPPING THE RUN
Wakefield gave his explanation for FIU’s run defense troubles the past three games.
“The last three games, we’ve been having bad fits over the whole defense. We have to execute those better,” Wakefield said. “The D-line, we might end up coming out of our gap or the linebackers might end up filling the wrong gap or the safeties come up late, something like that.”
▪ FIU’s an 18.5-point favorite over Charlotte, the third consecutive game, fourth of the past five and fifth game this season in which FIU will be favored. FIU went more than two seasons without being favored against an FBS team.