Stopping FIU QB McGough is key for Temple

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FIU quarterback Alex McGough practices in preparation for Thursday’s bowl game against Temple.

CLEARWATER, Fla. — The tale of Alex McGough is similar to many of the Temple players he will face in Thursday’s Bad Boy Mowers Gasparilla Bowl at Tropicana Field, home of the Tampa Bay Rays.

The Florida International University senior quarterback wasn’t highly recruited. In fact, if it weren’t for FIU, he wouldn’t have been recruited at all by FBS schools. Many of Temple’s players have similarly flown under the proverbial radar.

If Temple (6-6) looks to snap a two-game bowl losing streak the last two seasons, containing the 6-foot-3, 218-pound McGough will be a key.

Four years ago, he didn’t enter the program with much of a profile, until he earned the starting job as a true freshman.

“I think I was a two-star player out of high school and FIU was my only offer, but I ended up starting my freshman year,” McGough said following Monday’s practice at Calvary Christian High in Clearwater. “I just put my head down and worked hard and kept getting better.”

Under first-year coach Butch Davis, this has been a resurgent season for the 8-4 Panthers. FIU was 13-23 the previous three years, including 4-8 last season, but has earned the school’s first bowl berth since 2011.

Davis, former head coach with the University of Miami and North Carolina, along with the Cleveland Browns, had the highest of praise for McGough.

“I had three quarterbacks play for me both at North Carolina and Miami who made the NFL and I think he is better than all of them,” Davis said. “I think he is better than the two I had in the pros [Tim Couch and Kelly Holcomb].”

McGough (pronounced Ma-Goo) doesn’t have eye-popping numbers, but Davis says that doesn’t matter. This season, he has completed 65.25 percent of his passes for 2,791 yards, 17 touchdowns and eight interceptions.

He has rushed for 214 yards (2.8 avg.) and five touchdowns. Yet his efficiency has been off the charts.

FIU leads the nation in red zone offense, having scored 39 of 40 times (97.5 percent) the Panthers were at the opponent’s 20-yard line or closer.

“He really makes good decisions and knows where to go with the ball,” Temple coach Geoff Collins said Monday afternoon while both teams spent time at Tampa’s Busch Gardens.

When asked if McGough has an NFL arm, Collins, added, “I think so. The big judge of that is the field comeback [route], and I have seen him make that throw so many times while studying him on tape.”

Davis, who also enjoyed a successful stint earlier in his career as the Dallas Cowboys defensive coordinator, says that McGough is not only an NFL prospect, but he would be shocked if he isn’t drafted.

“If he is not drafted then the teams have no clue on picking quarterbacks,” Davis said.

For his part, McGough insists that the NFL is something he can worry about after Thursday and not a moment before.

“Right now, my only focus is on Temple on Thursday night,” McGough said.

Davis says that McGough combines all the physical tools, with an excellent grasp of the game.

“He is a terrific learner, very athletic and probably the best thing he does, especially compared to previous years, is his decision-making and the poise and not feeling every throw has to be a perfect home run,” Davis said.

McGough has put it together this year, and it’s safe to say he will be departing college with a much higher profile than when he arrived.