MIAMI, Fla. – Florida International’s fabric in recent years hasn’t illustrated an awe-inspiring offense, by any means. Since the glory days of wide receiver T.Y Hilton, the Golden Panthers have seemingly trudged through a toy chest of substandard skill players. Last season’s protagonist in tight end Jonnu Smith somewhat soothed the Achilles heel for a unit that fell to No. 122 respectively via total offense.
The schema suggested that Smith’s blossom in FIU’s offense as a sophomore would catapult him as a top hybrid tight end once 2015 rolled around. However, the sophomore scepter has been handed to wide receiver Thomas Owens.
With 531 yards and seven receiving touchdowns heading into Week 8, Owens has thrived in becoming the favorite target for quarterback Alex McGough. Whether Smith has receded to a decoy or the youth is relishing in the passing game, the necessary components have augmented play to harmonize the offense.
Nicknamed “T.O” by wide receivers coach Kort Shankweiler, the path to Florida International is as quirky as his NFL sobriquet.
Owens lined up at both quarterback and safety for his high school football program. A meager 2-star tag out of Atlantic Community and the No. 311 athlete in the 2013 class, the wait to make an impact was delayed by the experience in the receiving corps during his freshman season.
Once the fifth-year seniors and veterans parted from Florida International, the gap dichotomized and welcomed Owens with welcome arms.
“This spring, some guys graduated, he was able to get more reps, get more comfortable and learn the offense,” Shankweiler told The Miami Herald. “He’s done a good job of studying off the field and taking the coaching on the field.”
Although Owens paced the field in seven contests last season he had yet to record a statistic as a wide receiver. He decided the opening week would be a good time to debut his athleticism and role to the offense by catching a team-high 11 passes for 78 yards. He hauled in his first touchdown versus Indiana in Week 2, shining as the lone bright spot despite a 36-22 loss.
Owens racked up 244 yards in the first two weeks; while the production—and targets—have significantly decreased, the sophomore’s making the most of what’s been granted to him.
The stats convey 43 yards or less receiving in weeks three through six, yet Owens hitting paydirt in each of those four contests translates to (perhaps) shattering a Florida International record for touchdown receptions in a season. If so, he’d be able to emphatically nudge Smith, as the junior set the previous record in 2014 with eight.
It’s been a key factor,–the production, per se— in Florida International boasting some decent numbers through the air (255.9 yards). The upcoming stretch of opponents should lend a viable opportunity for Owens and the Golden Panthers to advance on the progress versus Old Dominion, Florida Atlantic and Charlotte before Ron Turner’s club squares up with the upper echelon of the Conference USA in Marshall and Western Kentucky.
You’ll rarely find a single soul that can match pace for what T.Y Hilton provided for FIU in 2011. For the moment, the Golden Panthers have rummaged around and found a spark in sophomore wide receiver Thomas Owens.
Florida International will host the Old Dominion Monarchs on Saturday as Owens could potentially break the school’s touchdown record.