In some parts of the world Thursday is usually the throwback day. For the FIU offense Thursday morning was throw deep day. Panthers quarterbacks practiced airing it out this morning and on several occasions they made long distance connections.
Freshman quarterback Alex McGough and receiver T.J. Lowder hooked up for a 24-yard completion that Lowder turned into a 70-yard touchdown after slipping free of two defenders.
McGough then hit receiver Cody Hodgens over the middle of the field for 40 yards. McGough might have had more yardage on another play deep over the middle of the field but tight end Ya'keem Griner couldn't haul it in.
E.J. Hilliard threw a sharp sideline pass to tight end Jonnu Smith for 17 yards. Dominique Rhymes made a diving catch on a 19-yard pass from Hilliard on the next play. Hilliard's best pass of the day and probably the play of the day was a 54-yard completion to De'Andre Jasper, who sped past the secondary and caught a perfectly placed ball by Hilliard.
Freshman quarterback Bud Martin found receiver Juwan Caesar for 22 yards.
Freshman Alex Gardner is a man of many talents (see the end of this blog post) but the talent he has shown thus far in camp has been strictly on the gridiron. Gardner had a 20-yard run today where he juked a would-be tackler out of his shoes. Gardner has displayed some good vision when he runs. He has an uncanny knack of waiting for and finding open spaces.
Defensively, cornerback Xavier Hines (27, photo below) and linebacker Jordan Guest stood out Thursday. Hines got a hand on a couple of passes to prevent the completions.
Guest is a redshirt freshman but he has not played like one in camp. Guest was not fooled on a screen pass. The linebacker patiently waited to make his move to corral Shane Coleman for a loss in the backfield. Later, Guest got his hands on a pass Napoleon Maxwell caught and knocked it out of bounds.
Randy Harvey continued his good work in pass coverage. Freshman cornerback Shermarke Spence (5-8, 160 pounds) may not be the biggest guy on the field, but he is not afraid of contact. Spence played physical Thursday stopping a couple of plays at the line of scrimmage.
SPEAKING SPECIAL TEAMS
FIU special teams coach Shannon Moore joined me on the patio deck for the daily FIU football outdoor studio show and talked special teams. You can see the award-winning show and the interviews by clicking on the links at the top of this page. In all seriousness, kudos to the 2-man FIU athletics video department of Paul Dodson and Greg Kincaid for their daily editing of tons of practice footage that they weave into the video interviews
Moore's eyes lit up when I asked about getting back Richard Leonard and Glenn Coleman to the return game and the addition of Gardner. Moore said there are about six players vying to win the kick and punt return jobs. However, Leonard and Coleman are leading the pack with Gardner also in the mix.
Moore called Leonard and Coleman, "two dynamic guys" and also mentioned that Clinton Taylor has been steady.
Kickers Austin Taylor and Sergio Sroka are the two leading candidates to win the kicking job. Taylor was FIU's primary kicker last year and kicked a program-record tying 52-yard field goal against East Carolina.
Moore said the four punters, Chris Ayers, Karson Dietrich, Jose Laphitzondo and Luke Medlock are pretty even in the battle for that job. Moore said he would like to see more consistency from all four punters.
If freshman Alex Gardner does not play on Sundays after his FIU career is over, then you might see him at the Grammys one day. During the team's Panthers Got Talent competition, Gardner sang to coach Ron Turner's wife, Wendy. The kid has some pipes.
CLICK HERE to see Gardner's first music video. If the link doesn't work then paste this URL in your browser: http://instagram.com/p/rrzTAhrEuU/