October 13, 2015

Swimmer Gets CUSA Love; Tuesday Afternoon Football, Not Moody, No Blues


Swimming & Diving -- Friday vs. Rice, 4 p.m.

Swimming & Diving -- Saturday vs. FAU, 10 a.m.

Swimming & Diving -- Saturday vs. University of Miami, 4 p.m.

Men's Soccer -- Saturday vs. Old Dominion, 7 p.m.

Against North Florida last week, senior Jessica Chadwick won the 100 backstroke in 1:05.91, the 200 breaststorke in 2:22.63 and 200 individual medley in 2:07.85. That earned Chadwick her first Conference USA Swimmer of the Week award.


Not much to report other than the medical.

Of the three players who went down in the second half Saturday, freshman defensive end Fermin Silva looks the worst. He was on crutches Tuesday. FIU coach Ron Turner called him "questionable" for this week. Two redshirt freshmen, offensive lineman Chris Miller and defensive lineman Anthony Johnson, were in the Home Depot-colored injury jerseys, but in pads as were sophomore wide receiver Dennis Turner and senior tight end Ya'Keem Griner.

I wouldn't look for junior middle linebacker Treyvon Williams back any time soon. He still had his crutches. Redshirt junior safety Jordan Davis wasn't in pads. 

One of those sporting coincidences that FIU ran an old-fashioned option like you used to see out of an I-formation Saturday afternoon and Florida State did the same several hours later for the first time this season. FIU's wound up a 2-yard gain by quarterback Alex McGough. FSU's wound up a 72-yard touchdown by running back Dalvin Cook when Hurricanes defender Dion Bush blew his assignment to stay with the pitch man.

I thought it was the first time I saw FIU run that kind of option this season. 

"We've been running some of it off other action. We've had it in game plans before. totally their defense dictated that. And we didn't execute it very well -- Alex should've pitched it," Turner laughed. "It looked like we just put it in that week. We didn't."

Seeing those option runs caused a Fireman's Fund Flashback...


More FIU vs. UMass Football; Swim Stuff


Swimming & Diving -- Friday vs. Rice, 4 p.m.

Swimming & Diving -- Saturday vs. FAU, 10 a.m.

Swimming & Diving -- Saturday vs. University of Miami, 4 p.m.

Men's Soccer -- Saturday vs. Old Dominion, 7 p.m.

Buried in this report out of Massachusetts is the report of another UMass-FIU game, in 2016. It'll replace the previously scheduled UMass-UConn game.

In the postgame notebook off FIU's Oct. 3 loss to the Minutemen, the first of a two-game deal that'll see UMass come south in 2018, I wrote that UMass and FIU were signing up for two more games. FIU's got room on their 2017 and 2019 schedules. UMass comes to The Cage in 2018.


I'm never one to kvetch about a trip to Nashville, one of the funnest cities in the nation. But this weekend's trip to Murfreesboro (translation: stay in Nashville, drive the 45 for the game) means missing the unusual series of dual meets between defending Conference USA champion FIU, Conference USA runner-up Rice, FAU and the Hurricanes.

Races won't always conform to NCAA norms as far as length. It's early in the season, too, so projecting February based on results here would be premature speculation. 

Also, FIU's somewhere between "rebuilding" and "reloading." They lost several seniors including Klara Andersson and FIU's greatest swimmer, Johanna Gustafsdottir (although you'll still see Johanna around FIU sports events as a sports marketing intern). Silvia Scalia, Gustafsdottir's heir apparent as FIU's top all-around swimmer, decided not to come back to FIU for reasons unknown. Karin Tomeckova, second to Scalia in the 100 backstroke at the Conference USA meet, is skipping this year at FIU to go for a spot on Slovakia's Olympic team.

That said, the program's in a much stronger position, both in the pool and in recruiting, than it was when last year's seniors were brought into the program. That showed in last year's depth.

FIU's ranked 16th among the mid-majors by CollegeSwimming.com, and the Hurricanes ranked 21st in all of Division I. Rice would like a piece of FIU after getting dusted in last year's Conference USA meet. The other two schools are natural rivals and FIU beat UM by a blink to complete an undefeated dual meet season last year.

Should be fun.

October 11, 2015

A few thoughts on FIU 52, UTEP 12

Told you UTEP would be chicken soup for FIU's soul.

Actually, UTEP was soup, salad, turkey marsala and Peruvian donuts for dessert all preceded by a calming caipirinha or two.

They were the perfect matchup for the Panthers -- a running team with a broken offense and a broken defense that plays a lot of press man-to-man. The Miners based their offense around running back Aaron Jones, which would've played into FIU's strength anyway. But with Jones lost for the season to injury, and UTEP so injured the handicap symbol should be their logo, the Miners just began putting whatever running back was healthy behind redshirt freshman quarterback Ryan Metz. One UTEP observer thought the team packed it in after Jones injury. They beat atrocious New Mexico State in OT and FCS team Incarnate Word with a second half comeback.

And FIU did what it was supposed to do. It clubbed the baby seal. FIU scored so fast, a brotha couldn't make a press box-to-restroom run at the first quarter break without missing a TD. I haven't seen Miners treated like this since Harlan County, USA.

Five touchdowns in five possessions A senior cornerback, Jeremiah McKinnon, did some redshirt freshman hazing on Metz.

"I got the pass read from the offensive tackle," McKinnon said. "That's all I keyed. Then, I looked at the quarterback. He took me where I needed to go."

Perhaps the one play symbolizing the whole game to me was junior tight end Jonnu Smith's touchdown. Smith came free on the left side, gathered in a short pass, nearly ran up the back of teammate Akil Dan-Fodio, then careened through defensive backs like they were toy clown punching bags. The play ended with the 230-pound Smith crossing the goal line while shrugging UTEP's 5-10, 175 pound cornerback Da'Carlos Renfro to the ground. Smith lingered over Renfro and looked down at him as if to confirm the man-boy status described by the play.

Too big, too strong, too crisp on this day.

(One UTEP observer wondered if Smith should've been flagged for taunting. I don't like taunting rules or flags -- don't like the guy taunting you, do your job better than he does his -- but that could've drawn a flag by today's standards. This Conference USA crew, however, seemed to use old school standards on post play flags, especially as far as late hits. Come to think of it, the last three weeks have seen FIU guys take some extra emphasis shots common in the 1970s NFL, but usually flagged for 15 today. The CUSA crews haven't called a single late hit on an FIU opponent. Maybe they should before somebody gets hurt. And the Smith post touchdown moment was the only time I saw FIU close to a behavior flag all day. The last two weeks, I could see some of those flags coming from the press box.)

Alex Gardner had 45 yards rushing on the first touchdown drive. You run that way, it sets up a long shot to Anthony Jones next drive that Jones couldn't hold. So, the next play, Alex McGough tried the other side with Thomas Owens. Owens had Miners cornerback Kalon Beverly beat, established position on Beverly as the ball hung for a bit, made the catch, shed Beverly and stepped into the end zone. 

So logically did the rout unfold that I started looking for a running clock in the second quarter. Once FIU guys started being helped off at the same rate as UTEP guys, I started wondering why FIU still had the first stringers on the field. This was a day for roster management. Get some backups significant playing time as you want, keeping them hungry without unnecessarily burning some redshirts.

Also, it's nice to see backups have a moment like the 79-yard Trey Anderson-to-Shug Oyegunle touchdown pass. Those guys do the practice work, class, community service stuff during the week just like first stringers and first-off-the-bench guys. They deserve at least a soupcon of game glory. 

Special teams might have had the best day of all. That matchup graphed out as going toward UTEP, but the punt return units opened huge gaps for Richard Leonard (37 yards on his one return) and Clinton Taylor (18 on his). Punt return coverage held Jaquan White, averaging 20.0 yards per return, to 10.0. Kickoff return ace Autrey Golden, six career touchdowns, got held to 18.4 yards per return. Austin Taylor got two touchbacks in his seven kickoffs. Punter Stone Wilson moonlighted on kickoffs and got a touchback in his three.

Overall, FIU did what it should've done and what it needed to do. They're feeling good going into Middle Tennessee State next week while Middle's probably feeling a bit shaken after taking a strafing from Western Kentucky.

Soup was good food.


October 10, 2015

Gameday VI: Soup Can Be a Meal


Football -- Saturday vs. UTEP, noon

Women's soccer -- Sunday vs. Louisiana Tech, 1 p.m.

Swimming & Diving -- Friday vs. Rice, 4 p.m.

Swimming & Diving -- Saturday vs. FAU, 10 a.m.

Swimming & Diving -- Saturday vs. University of Miami, 4 p.m.

Before we get started on football, a raised glass to the simultaneous wins at Camp Mitch Friday night. Women's soccer took down Southern Mississippi, 1-0, to move to 7-7, but more importantly, 3-2 in Conference USA. Volleyball swept Charlotte 3-0 and now sit at 11-7, 5-2.

Men's soccer goes to UAB today as it continues the death march through Conference USA (or ACC 2). 


FIU football is sick. Disappointing losses at La Tech and UMass, marked by undue crankiness, left their temperature under .500. Look at the medical report that never seems to get shorter. Look at the standings that say a loss today puts them two games behind Marshall and the Middle Tennessee State-Western Kentucky winner in CUSA East with all three of those teams left on the schedule, two on the road. And it means FIU will have to win one of those three games just to get bowl eligible.

This is when some senior citizen female in your family gets in (pick one) her Lincoln Crown Vic/her beige Toyota Camry/the 27 bus to roll up to your house, shuffle quickly in and pour a bucket of chicken soup (or gumbo) down your throat. For ailing FIU, the schedule makers play the role of Big Mama. 

They brought the Panthers UTEP, chicken soup for the FIU football team's soul.

What more could FIU want? FIU's got injuries. The Miners have more -- 10 guys out for the season. A team that wants to be ground bound lost starting tailback Aaron Jones. His backup, Darrin Laufasa, had but a single carry in the 25-6 loss to UTSA. Laufasa might be able to play. Starting linebacker Alvin Jones won't. Nor will his backup, Stephen Forester. Jones' importance is such that the UTEP folks tried to create a hastag for him (#JuggernautJones).  Cornerback Kelvin Fisher's out, too. If I missed your name, I'm sorry. Write-in and I'll include you when I talk about UTEP next year. 

Oh, and trying to run the offense amidst this carnage in his sixth college game and third start is redshirt freshman Ryan Metz. A redshirt freshman in his third start shouldn't look like Jameis Winston (without the crab legs) against FIU's defense.

(Quick digression: FIU announced its game captains this week. For the first time, they didn't include senior defensive end Michael Wakefield: graduate transfer senior linebacker Jephete Matilus, fifth-year senior Richard Leonard, sophomore quarterback Alex McGough, redshirt junior center Michael Montero.) 

FIU's pass coverage often looks discombobulated from the all the injuries and switching that needs to be done. UTEP acts like throwing the football's a sin. FIU stuffs the run. UTEP likes to run inside.

UTEP's 19th nationally in time of possession, yet 119th in team passing efficiency defense and 123rd in pass defense. Translation: the Miners give up the yardage on big plays.

So, FIU, pull those flys, streaks and deep posts out from under last year's tube socks and draws, blow off the dust and see what looks like it'll still play. Wide receivers Shawn Abrams and Juwan Caesar might play. Considering UTEP gives up 5.2 yards per rush, FIU should be able to establish a running game to set up downfield plays off play action, thus preventing the EZ Pass lane access UMass' pass rush got last week.

And FIU's favored by two touchdowns. 

So you see how this sets up, right? 


No, no, there looks like plenty of soup for everyone. Enough for soup to be a meal. The buffet should be open.

I say FIU eats 31-13.

But that's one black man's opinion. I could be wrong.

Saddleback Junior College long-snapper Jared Nash has committed to FIU as a preferred walk-on.

October 08, 2015

Women's Hoop Dissed Even More Than Men by CUSA Coaches

The Conference USA women's basketball coaches preseason poll, released Thursday, made the men's 10th place projection look like sycophant flattery as far as FIU.

Great expectations? Low expectations? Try no expectations -- 13th out of 14, ahead of only North Texas.

That results from being in a total rebuilding situation after the first wholesale coaching staff change in over three decades and the best returning player (forward Kiandre'a Pound) off a 3-26, 0-18 in conference play team won't be returning until she's finished with the reproductive process next year.

Middle Tennessee State, 29-5 in conference play since joining CUSA, is the preseason favorite.

CUSA Top Six + One; Saturday Matinee Attractions


Women's soccer -- Friday vs. Southern Miss, 7 p.m.

Volleyball -- Friday vs. Charlotte, 7 p.m.

Football -- Saturday vs. UTEP, noon

Women's soccer -- Sunday vs. Louisiana Tech, 1 p.m. (Soccer scarves for the first 50 Res Life students).

One big advantage of Conference USA over the Fun Belt -- CUSA's a tremendous bowl slut, hooking up with lower rung bowls, helping create new bowls and generally making sure there's a plethora of bowl beds for its teams to lay their heads come December. I think they're related to every bowl under Rose and above American Standard.

Seven primary bowl tie-ins this year (Heart of Dallaskeep most member team's fans tractable even after a conference title drops from the List of Possibilities. So, I'm expanding the weekly Top Six to the Select Seven.

1. Western Kentucky (4-1, 2-0 in Conference USA) -- Wilt Chamberlain, CUSA team version. Imagine how they'd be scoring if they hadn't lost 1,500-yard rusher Leon Allen. Home this week against Middle Tennessee State. Take the Over.

2. Louisiana Tech (3-2, 1-1) -- Running back Kenneth Dixon got tossed from last week's win against Louisiana-Lafayette, but he'll play at Texas-San Antonio.

3. Marshall (4-1, 1-0) -- Only two receivers over 11 yards per reception. That' means they need to get their chunk yardage from the big chunk of a running back, Devon Johnson. They do.

4. Middle Tennessee State (2-3, 1-0) -- After close losses to Illinois (who looks better than usual this year) and Vanderbilt, seeing visit to Western this weekend reminds me of the old Bernie Mac line "I ain't scared of you!" If Middle loses, next week's home game against FIU becomes an elimination game as far as the conference title.

 5. Southern Miss (3-2, 1-0) -- A strange team. Got taken to the brink by Texas State, then they took Nebraska to the brink (although this is lesser Nebraska to the point it's almost NCIS: Lincoln.). Friday night at Marshall should test junior quarterback Nate Mullens.

6. Rice (2-3, 1-1) -- Love each conference's smarty pants private school rising up to tweak the schools who never have to worry about players making it into school.

7. FIU (2-3, 0-1) -- After FIU's 7 personal fouls or unsportsmanike conduct penalties over the last two games, UTEP should be practicing "Yo, Mama" snaps for dropping on Panthers at the key moment to draw a retaliation penalty ("Man, yo' mama's so ugly, I told her to wait for your sister outside.").

There's not much that'll help the crowd for a noon game against UTEP after two losses. So, FIU's making a measured raffle-focused effort at the student attendance after getting enough tickets distributed for the home opener.

Students entering the game at Gate 5 or 6 before halftime will get a raffle ticket with the chance of winning $1,000 tuition. The winning numbers will be shown on the video throughout the game and you have to be in the house when your number comes up to win. Also, there's a jersey giveaway at the end of the third quarter on the Panther Beach Party Deck, right up there near the drive-in projection booth that houses each school's radio team.

(Quick aside: Old Dominion put some new suites on the end of a 75-year-old stadium. It works. UMass put a new football facility and press box on a 50-year-old stadium. Nice try.)

Also, you can start buying tickets to win this ball, autographed by the whole team and coaching staff.


The winning number will be announced during the second half of the Homecoming Game, Oct. 24, vs. Old Dominion.

October 07, 2015

CUSA Coaches Pooh Pooh FIU Men's Hoop...Except For Diaz

Conference USA coaches don't see FIU's men's basketball team having an offensive replacement for leading scorer Dennis Mavin or having the defense to translate to offense.

That's the message sent by FIU finishing 10th out of 14 CUSA teams in the league's preseason poll of coaches. Alabama-Birmingham is the preseason favorite.

The coaches put 6-10 center Adrian Diaz on the preseason All-CUSA Team. Though Diaz stood out as FIU's most dependable non-Mavin scorer, he made his conference rep on defense -- a conference-leading 99 blocked shots, sixth in the NCAA. 


October 06, 2015

Swim&Dive No. 6; Men's Futbol Loses Ranking

Now that FIU's swimming & diving team has opened its season swatting aside North Florida and Georgia Southern, CollegeSwimming.com puts FIU's water women No. 6 among the mid-majors.


FIU's 1-0 loss to Charlotte this weekend on the men's soccer pitch ended a seven-game winning streak. It also ended FIU's time in the National Soccer Coaches Association of America Top 25 for now.

No. 14 FIU skidded down to "receiving votes" with 59 points. No. 25 Maryland had 68 points. Between them is North Carolina-Wilmington (61 points).

Tuesday Afternoon Quickie

I've got several things to write in story or column form, so here's a few things from Tuesday's practice:

*Upon further review, FIU football coach Ron Turner had a problem with only one of the penalties called on the Panthers by the Conference USA crew Saturday at UMass. Turner didn't have to say it was the late hit call on middle linebacker Jephete Matilus. 

*Wide receiver Dennis Turner didn't practice with a mild concussion, but is expected to play Saturday against UTEP.

*Jonnu Smith admitted he was "70 to 75 percent" Saturday but was out of the orange jerseys Tuesday. Of the injured safeties, Niko Gonzalez is the closest to coming back. 

October 05, 2015

Ball (Foot & Volley) Rankings


What happens when you put away your bombs just because the defense says it won't let you drop them?

Sophomore quarterback Alex McGough completes 24.4 passes per game, 13th nationally. His completion percentage, 64.6, is 36th. FIU's team yards per completion? A mere 9.3, 127th out of 127. Scoring offense, 21.4 (113th) and total offense, 356.6 yards per game (99th).

Not getting it done.

La Tech's Skip Holtz, like his old man and most other college coaches since Bear Bryant, knows how to either poormouth his own team or make the next opponent sound like 2004 Southern Cal. But in possibly buttering up Texas-San Antonio, he threw some kind words toward FIU's Michael Wakefield and Denzell Perine:

"I think they (UTSA) are the best defensive football team we've played to this point. They definitely have the best front four. I thought Kansas State had the best interior players. I thought FIU had the best defensive ends."


After a weekend sweep of Marshall and UTEP, 10-6 FIU sits at 4-2 in conference play, sixth in the standings. You say "big deal" but after missing the CUSA tournament last year, yeah, it's kind of a big thumbs up so far.

For what it's worth, FIU's RPI ranks 168th in the nation.


Skip Holtz 

(Holtz also 

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