The final FIU scrimmage for the first spring under new coach Ron Turner hammered home the expected points: the defense has lapped the offense and both quarterbacks need to be ready behind a porous offensive line.
It took just over an hour of the two-deep offenses going at the two-deep defenses to produce the scrimmage’s only touchdown as redshirt junior Jake Medlock hit senior wide receiver Willis Wright on a post pattern for 29 yards. It took only two plays to produce the first turnover as sophomore fullback Lemarq Caldwell fumbled and sophomore defensive tackle Fadol Brown recovered.
Brown also had four sacks and several other tackles as the defense allowed only one run longer than 10 yards all day. Defensive end Giovanni Francois also picked up two sacks.
In contrast, the offensive line needed reinforcements that will come in the spring with junior college transfers and possibly a precocious freshman or two.
Asked if it’s the physical maturity of age the group lacks now, Turner said, “It’s physical maturity, mental maturity, emotional maturity. It’s understanding what we’re doing, eliminating confusion so they can just come off the ball and play fast.”
Both sides of the ball spent the spring grasping very different systems than FIU ran under previous head coach Mario Cristobal. Turner brought in a pro-style offense that occasionally sprinkles in some spread option elements. The defense is more of a straight NFL-style 4-3.
“Defense is a lot easier than offense,” senior defensive tackle Greg Hickman said. “All you’ve got to do is learn your gap and tackle.”
Nobody watching any more than a few team drills this spring could dispute that junior cornerback Richard Leonard stood as the class of the secondary. Redshirt junior Sam Gervais came up with the scrimmage’s only interception, grabbing a Medlock pass tipped by sophomore linebacker Michael Wakefield.
Meanwhile, the offensive adjustments start with the most basic of things: the snap. After exclusively lining up 5 to 7 yards behind the line in the spread, FIU quarterbacks now take most of their snaps under center.
“My senior year of high school with my father (Jacksonville Fletcher offensive coordinator Ricky Medlock), he was a pro-style guy,” Medlock said. “It’s been challenging at first because I’ve been in shotgun every play for three years.”
Medlock said center Donald Senat hadn’t done under-center snaps since high school either before this spring. Medlock and Hilliard each had a dropped snap Saturday, which is an improvement on some of this spring’s practices.
Friday, Turner said Hilliard had made coaches notice him this spring. Still, several times Saturday, defenders took advantage of both quarterbacks being too deliberate with their throws and jumped routes.
“We installed a totally different system with everything we do,” Turner said. “There’s very little carryover. So, they’re thinking way too much. They’ll have a summer to digest it. A summer to work on it all their own … then when we come back in August, we reinstall it. When you install something for the second time around, it clicks a lot faster. Then the consistency will be there.”
Medlock’s also in a battle for position with redshirt freshman punter Chris Ayers. Ayers averaged 39.3 yards on his three punts Saturday while Medlock averaged 38 yards on his two. Redshirt freshman kicker Serge Sroka hit five of six field goals, missing a 32-yarder and hitting a long of 47 yards.
“First day of spring ball, the first thing we talked about is that we’ve got to get better every day and be better at the end than we are at the beginning,” Turner said. “There were a couple of days where we didn’t make the strides I wanted, but for the most part, we did get better every day. We’ve got a long ways to go, but we took some steps.”