We've reached the halfway point of the season and yes, the 2009 FIU football season has not gone as many had envisioned back in August.
Your Panthers are 1-5 and have not played like expected thus far. Yours truly had FIU at 3-3 (with losses to Alabama, Rutgers and Troy) at this point in the season when the preseason predictions were published here on the GPP back in August. So it's 2 games behind the pace. Could the deficit be made up in the final 6 games of the season? Sure, but FIU has to improve in some areas.
In our part of the worldwide web let's take a look at the team and hand out Panther Paws on how they have done so far. You can play at home, at work, in the car or wherever you may be logged on.
Despite an inconsistent offensive line and sometimes holding on to the ball too long, Paul McCall (left, thanks Alex J. Hernandez photo) is having a pretty damn good season and is on pace to own every single-season FIU passing record. Also, PMC leads the Sun Belt in TD passes (11) and is 26th in the nation in passing yards per game. As of today, PMC is 128 for 227 for 1,461 yards with 11 TDs and 5 INTs. At that pace, PMC would break FIU single-season records for completions, passing yards, touchdown passes and fewest interceptions thrown.
We've seen the potential against Toledo and Western Kentucky where Darriet Perry, Daunte Owens and Darian Mallary all ran well. However, the running game has been missing in the other four games. How much does it have to do with run blocking and how does it have to do with the actual running game? You'd have to sit down and watch film to actually tell, but from the naked eye it seems to be a little bit of both.
The loss of Junior Mertile has hurt, but T.Y. Hilton, Greg Ellingson and Ty Frierson (right, thanks AJH photo) have been as good as advertised, especially Frierson who has really come on with the extra playing time. As we saw by the moves on his 51-yard kickoff return against Troy, Wayne Times needs to get the ball a whole lot more in the second half of the season. He can be this year's version of T.Y. Some receivers that can contribute in the second half that have shown flashes in the first six games are: Marquis Rolle, Jacob Younger and Ariel Martinez.
Getting Dudley LaPorte for only 1 game and a half certainly puts a big dent in FIU's offensive plans. The one-handed TD catch against ULM is still fresh in my mind. DLP should get a redshirt for his broken foot and be ready to contribute next season. Once Colt Anderson gets more comfortable at his new position, he will be very good. CA is athletic, has good hands and has shown that he is not afraid to go over the middle. CA is averaging 14 yards a catch. Jonathan Faucher and Joey Harris could help with good second halves of the season. If DLP would have been available more, the TEs would get another paw.
With an entire starting line of upperclassmen, more was expected to start the season. Alabama, Rutgers and Troy won the battle of the trenches with the FIU O-line. The O-line did play well against Toledo, ULM and WKU. Still not consistent enough with the run game and again it could be a combination of both the blocking and the RBs production. Maybe mixing and matching the linemen until a cohesive unit develops is the answer. Freshman Dave Istanich has held his own. Need to find out how effective Cedric Mack can be by playing longer stretches -- if his conditioning allows.
Lack of a pass rush and inability to shed blockers have hurt. The D-Line may not be big enough yet to take on some of the O-lines FIU has faced this season. In just about every game this season, opposing QBs have sat in the pocket all day to find receivers. There have been some bright spots. Freshman Tourek Williams is second on the team with 4.5 tackles for loss. Armond Willis is third with 4.0 TOL. Thatcher Starling has also had a few good games. However, FIU needs much more from this unit to have a better second half.
You can't say enough of the jobs Scott Bryant and Toronto Smith (left, thanks AJH photo) have done -- Nos. 1 and 2 in tackles on the team. Little Canada leads the team with 8 TOL. Winston Fraser has been effective with 27 tackles (5th on the team) and 3 TOLs. However, this unit was supposed to be the strength of the D and like the rest of the D has had its share of missed tackles. We might see more of the heralded freshmen such as Pooh Bear Mars, Kenny Dillard and Markeith Russell in the final six games.
After Anthony Gaitor, the jury is still out here. Gaitor has played well again for the third consecutive season with 2 INTs and 4 pass breakups. Losing Ash Parker again for the season is a big blow. Chuck Grace has done a decent job filling in and leads the team with 6 pass breakups. FIU needs to establish another solid starting corner opposite Gaitor. With all the secondary injuries (Dez Johnson out for the season, Kreg Brown - ankle) might be time for Jarrell McGee and the freshmen to step up.
If Carlos Munera (right, thanks Roy Viera photo) is not named All-Sun Belt first team punter then there should be an investigation. Consistently, this season CM has set up the FIU D with the opposing O in not-so-good field position. If CM's keeps up his season, he could get a chance to punt on Sundays. Hell of a special teams weapon here.
Dustin Rivest has gotten better as the season has progressed and has shown a much stronger leg than last season. We have not gotten to the point of -- as sorely missed former FIU Spanish radio broadcaster Jerry of the Castle used to say about former FIU kicker Adam Moss's kicks: "Por el medio de la calle Flagler" -- but DR has been pretty automatic of late and kicking with a lot of confidence.
Kick returners Goodbye, Frierson and Times have had a solid start returning kicks. No. 4 took it to the house on what is now the No. 1 team in the nation. Frierson has been steady and had a good game against Troy. Times showed what he could do against the Trojans.
* Send in your mid-season review of the Panthers and let's see how we compare.
Thursday is your chance to preview the upcoming FIU basketball season with the Alumni Panther Preview with new coach Isiah Thomas at 7:30 p.m. at U.S. Century Bank Arena. You can meet some of the newest Panthers and IT as well. It's a similar event to the football preview back in August with MC. The event is free and open to the public.
UltimateFIUFan: What is the status of Anthony Gaitor & Greg Ellison? Will TY be 100% for ASU?
PP: Will have updated injury report after Tuesday's practice, which is where I'm finishing this blog up from.
mia/ny josh: Pete, since you obviously have the capabilities to show who is and who isnt...please confirm for the masses that I am not Crazy Cane
PP: mia/ny josh and Crazy Cane are two different people. Just a couple of fans of the school from across town that also are fans of FIU.
WIN A GPP BLOG WEEK 6 STANDINGS (FIU/Arkansas State scores due by 6:59 p.m. Eastern GPP Time on Saturday)
FIU0406 (81), FIU PantherFan (102), NYCFIUFan (115), CrazyCane (142), MIA/NY Josh (147)
Puma (87), quijote (88), FIU Fanatic (98),BaltimorePanther (102), TheChampionUnderdog (112), FIUcanesFan (119)
Joel (93), CJ (98), theINTERNATIONAL (113)
LonePanther (79), Clawing Cancer (90), Golden Panther 90 (97), SouthPaw (119)
Tri-Panther (130), Max (132), FIUer (176)
GPP: 5-1, (77)