Although FIU football’s spring practice schedule began on March 18, preparation for the new season really began months earlier.
During a team meeting called by Head Coach Ron Turner just days after the final game of the team’s disappointing 2013 season, he asked the departing seniors to leave the room and addressed those who would be returning.
“I told them, ‘This is it. This is what we’ve got. This is your team,’” Turner recalled. “We had new leadership, new work ethic, new everything. You could feel them coming together and that carried over into the spring.”
Riding high on the momentum of a fresh start, the team concluded its spring practices with the annual spring game on April 12, which pitted the offense against the defense in a four-quarter scrimmage.
The scoreboard indicated a lopsided 44-18 victory for the offense over the defense, but that had more to do with an experimental scoring system tilted in favor of the offense. Both sides had their bright spots in a mostly even-sided game that served as a step forward in the transformation that began in that meeting room months earlier.
“Some days the offense did better and some days the defense did better. That’s pretty much what you want to see and that was the case today,” Turner said after the game. “We talked as a staff about where we were on the first day of spring ball to where we are now and I think we’ve made strides on both sides of the ball.”
The offense engineered three scoring drives throughout the game – two touchdown passes and a 37-yard field goal by kicker Austin Taylor – while the defense made a number of key stops and prevented several potential big plays for the offense.
Freshman quarterback Alex McGough delivered a solid performance under center to close out the spring, completing 10 of his 19 pass attempts for 131 yards and a touchdown. His touchdown came early in the second quarter, capping off an impressive drive with an 18-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver T.J. Lowder.
McGough’s performance sets the stage for a potential battle for starting quarterback with quarterback E.J. Hilliard, who will enter the 2014 season as a junior. Hilliard finished the game with 74 yards and no touchdowns on 9-of-18 passing.
“I thought he’s had a very good spring. He’s very smart and he’s picked up [the offense] extremely quickly,” Turner said of McGough.
On the ground, the bulk of the carries went to running backs Lamarq Caldwell and Shane Coleman but it was wide-receiver-turned-running-back De’Andre Jasper who finished the game with a team-high 42 rushing yards on four carries. Jasper also led the team in receptions with five on the afternoon for 41 yards.
The mistakes made on the field were limited, with only a handful of penalties committed by either side and and just one turnover: a fumble on a handoff exchange between McGough and Caldwell in the second quarter recovered by linebacker Treyvon Williams.
One of the focal points for Turner throughout the offseason included bolstering the offensive and defensive lines. FIU’s quarterbacks received ample protection from the line, which allowed four sacks on the afternoon. Outside of a few mistakes, Turner was pleased with the offensive line’s performance and progress.
“With any good team I’ve been on, it starts on the lines on both sides of the ball,” Turner said.
With spring practices now over, the team will now look towards the fall in preparation for the new season, which begins Aug. 30 against Bethune-Cookman at Alfonso Field at FIU Stadium.