September 22, 2014

Charity Patches; Baseball Freshmen; Four-Letter Floor

FIU will join over 100 other FBS schools this Saturday in wearing a Coach to Cure MD patch to promote funding for Duchnne Muscular Dystrophy research.

You donate at the Coach to Cure site. You can even text a $5 donation to 90999.

BASEBALL

Collegiate Baseball says FIU has the nation's No. 29 recruiting class. Among its Conference USA peers, that puts FIU second to Rice (No. 23).

MORE FLOOR

If you click on the truck picture from two posts ago that shows the replacement floor being brought in, you can expand it to where "ANAHEIM" is easily visible along the side of the truck. Apparently, the floor got trucked all the way across the country from the home of the Anaheim Ducks, the Honda Center, or, colloquially, The Pond.

Here it is getting put down Monday afternoon

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Albrecht C-USA Player of the Week; Moving Suites; Moving Lines

Senior forward Quentin Albrecht's second and third goals last week came late in regulation to tie San Diego State and in overtime (via bicycle kick, no less) to give FIU guys' soccer its second win against a ranked opponent this year.

And that's why Albrecht's the Conference USA Men's Soccer Offensive Player of the Week.

SUITE SALES

As a beat reporter covering the athletic department, I often like to hunker down to work in the public buildings where much of the athletic department works. Some people don't like that.

Others see me and remember they want to inform me of things such as: of the 16 FIU Stadium inside suites, nine now have been sold to outside entities and five and a half have been sold to inside FIU entities. My count at the start of the season showed five unsold suites and only six sold to outside entities.

Why does it matter? Because the department can use every dollar and ticket sold it can get.

FOOTBALL

FIU opened an 11.5-point underdog to Alabama-Birmingham this week. Early line hunters saw that and jumped all over UAB like good barbecue. The line's now up to 15 some places, 15.5 others and 16 in one place.

Wakefield gets CFPA hugs; temp floor in the house

Defensive end Michael Wakefield's been tearing it up since late last season. Saturday's two sacks, one other tackle for loss and forced fumble got him another Honorable Mention from the College Football Performance Awards.

REPLACEMENT LIME COURT

It should be down and painted with FIU colors soon. No time for the beach, though. 

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I kind of like the dual imagery of funky, unique (but dented) arena in front of me, pretty campus behind me.

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September 21, 2014

A few thoughts on Louisville 34, FIU 3

Yucky, depressing drizzle. Lousiville quarterback Will Gardner doing what Buffalo's EJ Manuel did with the Dolphins last week: just enough to keep both teams in the game. FIU giving up the early score, yet tenaciously refusing to let Louisville pull away. Time brought closer that moment when 7-0, Louisville, would make the Cardinals jittery enough to make a big boo-boo or two for FIU.

From the game's second drive until the hat trick of Louisville touchdowns began with 5:33 left in the second quarter, Saturday felt like that 2012 night when FIU came a Jake Medlock injury and some questionable fourth down decisions from slaying Louisville again.

Except, this year, FIU's offense ran in place. Sort of like the cars on all arteries around 836 West and Red Road Saturday. Choose your dead car metaphor from there -- FIU ran out of gas, overheated, etc. -- for how FIU's offense left Ron Turner resembling those people I saw standing roadside, peering with worried frustration at their immobile vehicle.

I don't know how many potential customers FIU or Ikea lost to that only-in-Miami piece of contruction planning. I do know FIU's defense and returners make the Panthers an annoyance to good opponents.

In his last six games, going back to the last two games of last year, Michael Wakefield has 5.5 sacks and 8.5 tackles for loss. The defense came up with two more fumble recoveries, including the career first for freshman linebacker Anthony Wint. The secondary came up small Saturday against a quarterback no better than some FIU sees in Conference USA or each day in practice (I'd put Will Gardner behind both Alex McGough and E.J. Hilliard). Redshirt junior cornerback Richard Leonard blamed himself for not preventing James Quick's marvelous catch-Gregory Hines-and-run 74-yard touchdown, but at least Leonard was there to make a play. On Quick's 37-yard touchdown and the third-down 28-yard completion to Gerald Christian that got Louisville off their own 4-yard-line, each had more space than the GC on a Friday.

Leonard brought three kickoffs out of the end zone. You can't blame him, even on the one he didn't get back to the 25. The other two were the closest FIU came to finding the Louisville end zone.

It's FIU's offense that doesn't allow the Panthers to rise above being a bother in an era when so many scores resemble Mattel Football I after you figured out the three defenses.

The offense has improved. It could hardly get worse without team moonwalking. Even with statistical Cialis Wagner (loser to Monmouth last week) on the schedule, FIU ranks 103rd in passing, 117th in rushing and 120th overall (out of 125 FBS teams). The Panthers are last in the nation in third down conversion percentage, 122nd in sacks allowed, 117th in tackles for loss allowed and 107th in fumbles lost.

The offensive line's a year older but a year better for them remians well short of good enough. Saturday, both quarterbacks took a beating. Freshman Alex McGough actually took a bouncing, a couple from Louisville linebacker Lorenzo Mauldin. Mauldin did the same to running back Alex Gardner or Anthon Samuel. 

Line play isn't helped by play-calling that's gotten pretty predictable by situation, personnel and formation. A little film study and you can smell what FIU's cooking. Against a riotous Louisville front seven, did FIU try one old fashioned screen or draw? They ran a few counters off fake handoffs to wide receivers in motion. Louisville devoured those. One football person proposed that it looks like FIU's trying to do too much offensively. Run less and get better at it, he said.

(Digression: speaking of football people, a Kansas City Chiefs scout was at the game. He left in the second quarter. From what I heard, he was unwilling to endure the afternoon bluster under the partial protection of an outside tent. Both radio broadcasts, who work outside instead of in some sort of semi-indoor accommodations like every other FBS school I've seen, were affected. When the stands had to be cleared, the radio people couldn't stay in their tent. There was no pregame or even weather delay filler talk on the FIU broadcast. Tune in to 1210AM ESPN Deportes for pregame and you heard Spanish sports talk radio.

As only six of 17 indoor suites are sold to non-FIU entities and five were unsold at my last count, why not use them to prevent embarrassing situations that have many others around the nation excoriating the school far more ruthlessly than is done here?)

Neither McGough nor Hilliard, throws with consistent accuracy. Both hold the ball too long, taking too many Ken O'Brien sacks. Both shortcomings are to be expected more from a freshman than a junior although McGough actually throws the ball away with more prudence.

FIU coach Ron Turner sounded like a man about to return to two-quarterback games when he said McGough could've gone back in after suffering a knee contusion, but Hilliard was doing some things well. My thinking is pick a guy and stay with him for at least a game so he feels comfortable enough to play, knowing he can make the mistakes from which he'll need to learn without getting yanked. Former Dolphins coach Cam Cameron said it badly with "fail forward fast" but his point was the same as the great cartoon director Chuck Jones' first instructor at the Chouinard Art Institute, as quoted in Jones' autobiography Chuck Amuck: "All of you here have 100,000 bad drawings in you. The sooner you get rid of them, the better it will be for everyone."

So do quarterbacks need to get their bad throws out of them. Such as the interception by McGough that Gerod Holliman returned for a touchdown that put Louisville up 14-0. From the snap, that left side pattern was an Overtown bar at 3 a.m. -- nothing good going on and you'll be lucky to get out with only your feelings hurt.

And sometimes, receivers need to make those bad throws into good plays. Aside from sophomore tight end Jonnu Smith, FIU's receivers rarely make more of a play than is there. Saturday, at 7-0, a McGough deep ball up the left sideline hit a leaping T.J. Lowder in the hands. Drop. It wasn't the easiest catch but it's one your quarterback needs when he's struggling. Also, it would've put FIU in field goal range.

FIU's personnel is better than last year in all three phases of the game. The defense has shown demonstrative improvement, especially in making so-called "impact" plays. Leonard makes every punt or kickoff a potential touchdown.

But without offensive improvement beyond incremental, even in Conference USA, 2014 won't add up to much more than 2013. Time for the players to step up and the coaches of the aforementioned units to coach up. Alabama-Birmingham's next week. UAB put up 34 points on the road at Mississippi State and 48 points against Troy.

FIU put up 28 points combined against it's two FBS opponents.

 

 

September 20, 2014

Gameday IV: Matchup.com; Futbol Sweep

So often, life’s about matchups and timing.

Mrs. Miniver gets Best Picture over The Magnificent Ambersons during World War II. Only early 1990s political correctness can explain Dances With Wolves getting that award instead of GoodFellas.

Muhammad Ali nemesis Ken Norton beats The Greatest once and loses two other questionable decisions. But a fading Ali barely survives Earnie Shavers in a 15-round decision win almost 18 months before Shavers blasts out Norton in 118 seconds.

 

Metallo nearly kills Superman. He wouldn’t last a page against Flash. A panel against Green Lantern.

Richard Nixon narrowly lost the first television age election to JFK. Could Jimmy Carter have won any Presidential election besides 1976?

I got on this riff thinking about Louisville and FIU.

This is the fourth game of Bobby Petrino’s second turn as Louisville coach. For whatever else can be said about Petrino, he’s a tremendous college-affiliated football coach. What he isn’t is the coach who constructed most of this roster, former coach Charlie Strong, now at Texas. Charlie Strong knew Florida and Florida players. Assistant coaches might still be translating Petrino for the many holdovers from Strong.  

Also, the book on Louisville says the Cardinals come at you with speed, Florida speed. They hit the flanks and fly. What does FIU have? Speed, Florida speed.

Louisville probably brings better athletes to those get-togethers on the corners. Still, that seems to play into what the FIU defense does well – get lateral, chase down plays going away from them. Expect the Panthers young linebackers to look fantastic one play, then fall for an okie doke on a reverse or a counter the next play. Where they’ll be tested most will be in pass coverage with the tight end off play action.

Pitt hit FIU between the tackles with the occasional quarterback keeper around the edge. There’s talk Louisville coach Bobby Petrino might want to use this week to work on Louisville’s inside running game. Remember Michael Dyer, freshman running back on Auburn’s 2010 national championship team? He’s trying to come off injury as a fifth-year senior at Louisville. He might be back Saturday.

At least FIU won’t have to worry about a mobile quarterback. Louisville’s Will Gardner, like predecessor Teddy Bridgewater, runs with great reluctance. Louisville’s offensive line is still trying to get its act together, so expect FIU’s pass rush to bring heat and humidity on passing downs.

“He’s not a run first guy,” Petrino said in his Thursday media session. He’s really more of a passer. Thinks of himself more as a passer. He needs to stand taller, stand his back leg under his hip so he is 6-4.”

Petrino said in practice this week, Gardner, “set his weight, snapped his wrist, worked on the timing, throwing the ball hard. You could certainly see he’s making a conscious effort to do the things we’re coaching him to do.”

FIU batted down some passes against Wagner’s 6-4 Brian Gehring and might play swat pong with a couple here. Expect Gardner’s mechanics to be off on a few throws, giving the Panthers some interceptions chances.

Gardner likely will go the whole way or until the clock strikes blowout. He usually swaps with freshman Reggie Bonnafon. Bonnafon will miss the game while attending his father’s funeral.

Also, FIU must make the Cardinals work for their scores, which means good punting and solid punt returns. Punter Chris Ayers needs a good game to hold onto his position.

Pitt’s touchdown drives were shorter than a dinner rush line at a Pollo Tropical drive-thru. The long drives tended to end in James Conner fumbles. It’s hot for the offense, too. People get tired. Mistakes get made.

With the ball, expect Louisville to send numbers at freshman quarterback Alex McGough out of its 3-4 defense. Until FIU starts running the ball consistently, what’s to stop teams from creating stampedes to the quarterback with the thought of just collecting the run along the way?

There’s going to be chances for the kind of boom plays that helped FIU get up 16-0 on Pitt. A missed tackle on sophomore tight end Jonnu Smith. Glenn Coleman, TJ Lowder or Dennis Turner outrunning man coverage downfield. Alex Gardner on a screen or draw.

(The only downside with starting a freshman running back: predictability. Picking up blitzes in pass protection usually doesn’t come naturally after a high school career in which they have the ball or the pass is designed to go to them. So, the freshman sometimes gets swapped out for a better blocking running back. Meanwhile, the entire opposing coaching staff starts whoopin’ and hollerin’ because they’ve got a solid hint that on an obvious passing down, the offense will pass.)

“Offensively, we had 10 big plays,” FIU coach Ron Turner said of the game against Pitt. “I don’t know that we had 10 big plays in any game last year. We might’ve gone six games without having 10 big plays.”

Probably – they had only 24 plays (21 run, three pass) 20 yards or longer all year.

I don’t think they’ll get 10 against Louisville. If they do, the score will be much closer than my prediction:

Louisville 38, FIU 10.

But that’s the opinion of one man raised by a single African-American lesbian (and I thank God for all of that). I could be wrong.

SOCCERS

Two goals by fifth-year senior Chelsea Leiva and the women's soccer team opened the night with a 2-0 win against Stetson, their third win in a row. They get a shot at a ranked team Sunday when No. 23 Long Beach State comes to the field.

The FIU men now have two wins against ranked opponents after senior Quentin Albrecht's bicycle kick goal gave FIU a 2-1 overtime win against No. 25 San Diego State. They beat then-No. 19 Michigan 1-0 in August.

 

 

September 19, 2014

Tymell Murphy headed for the D-League

Former forward Tymell Murphy, of Brooklyn and FIU, has signed a NBA Developmental League contract. The D-League draft is Nov. 1. If you hear happy hollering with a Brooklyn accent that day, it could mean Murphy wound up with the D-League affiliates of the Heat, the New York Knicks or Brooklyn Nets.

Or, it could just mean Murphy's just happy to have a D-League home and an outside shot at the big show.

 

Women's Hoop Schedule Set (court not yet set)

FIU's women's basketball team will host Tennessee Tech, UCF, Cleveland State, Arizona and Auburn in non-conference games, according to the schedule released by FIU Athletics today.

The Nov. 14 opener against Tennessee Tech apparently will be part of a doubleheader with the men's basketball team's opener against Florida College. Expect they'll be playing on Replacement Lime Court at FIU Arena over the original Lime Court after last weekend's weight-dropping fitness competition left the floor -- and those of us who liked the beach-themed paint scheme -- all broken up.

FIU gets a hat trick of home games to start the Conference USA schedule, Jan. 4 vs. FAU, Jan. 8 vs. Middle Tennessee State and Jan. 10 vs. Alabama-Birmingham. The Boca Raton part of the FAU home-and-home is Jan. 24. 

As far as in-state schools outside Conference USA, FIU goes to Florida Gulf Coast on Nov. 18 and hosts UCF on Dec. 6, then up to Jacksonville Dec. 14. FIU's back in Jacksonville the following weekend, Dec. 20 and 21, for the North Florida Tournament.

FIU faces Arizona Nov. 28 in The Thanksgiving Classic, and either Toledo or Virignia on Nov. 30. FIU's other annual tournament, The Sun & Fun Classic, Dec. 29 and 30, sees FIU vs. Auburn on Dec. 29 and against Bowling Green or Hampton on the 30th.

 

September 17, 2014

Alex Overflow

Some stuff that didn't make it into this story on Alex McGough and Alex Gardner:

From McGough on when he feels he gained the trust and acceptance a quarterback needs to have from his teammates:

“Probably spring, going through spring, doing pretty well. When they would do something good, congratulate them and tell them they did well. When they did something badly, I had enough respect for them to tell them they did it badly. Same thing goes for them. They can tell me, ‘Hey, this ball needs to be here so I can have a better catch.’”

Alex Gardner said his Instagram account has video of McGough singing badly.

I asked McGough if it's a heady thing starting this early, especially against an opponent like Pittsburgh, which has a storied history (probably prehistoric to a kid born late in Dan Marino's NFL career).

“There’s a point where you just have to say, just let me take a breath, step back. Look at it like third person. And just try to understand the whole situation, the concept of the game and say, "I can do this. One step at a time.' Just take it from there. One play, every play.”

His favorite play of the season so far: the 3-yard touchdown run against Pitt. "Great moment, holding the ball in the end zone, the whole crowd going wild. It was good moment for me."

His least favorite play: the fumble against Pitt, his only turnover so far this season. “It was a bad feeling. Just sitting there on the ground, miserably. Can’t get (the ball).”

I've said to a few people Gardner could be FIU football's Jerica Coley: potenially a very good player, already a very good student, a church-going young adult who seems to attend with a purpose.

Hump Day, The Blog

Not much to see at Camp Mitch today.

Junior cornerback Jeremiah McKinnon wore an orange injury jersey and limped off the field after going through a full practice. This might seem like a good time to note that senior backup cornerback Randy Harvey will be back this week after FIU coach Ron Turner put him in timeout for one game following his brief boxfight with a Wagner wide receiver.

No one else on the two-deep wore a Home Depot jersey.

THIS NEXT PARAGRAPH IS ABOUT TICKETS. IF YOU DON'T LIKE TO READ ABOUT TICKETS, YOU CAN SKIP OVER IT. REALLY. THERE WON'T BE A TEST OR A REFERENCE BACK TO IT LATER.

I'm hearing some season ticket holders are receiving generous offers of near free tickets so as to prevent The Cage from being half La Cage Aux Folles from the Louisville support. In addition to the fans who'll travel, there's going to be more than usual local support for a visiting team. The Cardinals roster features 16 players from Miami-Dade County, one from Broward County, two from Palm Beach County and nine other players from the state of Florida. Even if every player brings in 20 friends and family -- a generous number, but using it because it's at the high end -- that's still only 560 extra Louisville fans. 

Lamar Thomas coaches Louisville's wide receivers. I wonder if he'll be in one of the coaching carnival booths or along the sideline. I'm not sure which would be more entertaining.

The line's hanging around 27 with an Over/Under of 48.

VOLLEYBALL

Tonight's match against FAU will be at the Rec Center after weekend kettlebells broke the beach, also known as Lime Court at FIU Arena. Free admission and posters to all. Autographs afterwards.

Still waiting for final official word about what'll be done about a floor. The temporary floor over the dented floor for this season seems to make the most sense with the least displacement.

 

September 16, 2014

Tuesdays with Natalya

Tidbits from today, with my Gatorade carried by my able assistant, Natalya...

Freshman Alex McGough will start again at quarterback against Louisville. Asked if junior EJ Hilliard would make another relief appearance, FIU coach Ron Turner said, “He could. We’ll see how it goes.”

I felt I'd just heard a football coach version of, "I feel full after the risotto."

 

Junior linebacker Davison Colimon will be a captain this week. "He went from really deep in the doghouse to captain. Hopefully, he can sustain it," Turner said. "Zero accountability. Like a lot of guys here last year."

Defensive end Denzell Perine ranks 12th nationally in sacks, 21st in tackles for loss. Richard Leonard's still ninth in both punt return average and combined kick returns. The defense ranks 16th in total defense, seventh in pass defense. That's the product of a good secondary, strong pass rush and opponents who think pass is what you do after the extra greasy burritos.

When you're a punter, are 91st out of the 92 punters ranked by the NCAA statistics, have dropped one game-winning field goal snap and turned a grass-hugging punt snap into a safety, you might need a strog GPA to save your spot. Study, Chris Ayers, study.

BEACH BREAKING

The CrossFit people want you to know that RAID Games VI, while calling its FIU Arena floor-destroying weekend competition a CrossFit competition, had no legal right to call itself a CrossFit competition. CrossFit, like Xerox and Kleenex, is the proper name of a company.