Back to practice Tuesday for your Panthers as they prepare for Western Kentucky on Saturday, but FIU will have to go on this season without a key cog to the offense as starting tight end Dudley LaPorte broke his foot against ULM and is out for the season.
DLP broke the foot when he landed awkwardly on the 14-yd TD pass from Paul McCall.
DLP is eligible to take a redshirt this season, since he played in less than 30 percent of his team's games which would leave him with 2 years of eligibility.
Tight end Eric Kirchenberg had surgery for an abdominal injury and is now expected to miss the season. That leaves Jonathan Faucher as the starter, Colt Anderson, John Ellis and Joey Harris as the backups. Harris, a tight end in high school, moves back to his old position after working on the defensive line this summer.
Good news on the injury front, receiver Junior Mertile (right, thanks Alex J. Hernandez photo), thought to be out for the season after a knee tear at Rutgers, had surgery last week and the tear wasn't as bad as initially thought. With a strong rehab, JM could be back in 3 to 4 weeks which could have him back for either Middle Tennessee (Nov. 7) or North Texas (Nov. 14).
There is no doubt season-ending injuries to key starters have hit the Panthers hard (safety Ash Parker), but FIU has bigger issues to solve to get going this season -- mainly the running game on both sides of the ball.
Once again, the Panthers run D was pushed around for the second consecutive game: 304 rush yards by the Warhawks the week after Toledo ran for 223 yards. And this was after FIU looked like it was in for a game of stout run D judging by its performance in the first quarter against ULM.
Asked MC about the run D vs. ULM after Tuesday's practice and this is what the FIU coach had to say after reviewing the game film:
"It needs work. Is our talent level where we need it to be? No. Do we play with great effort? Yes, but sometimes that is not enough. Those guys have to continue to get better, have to continue to get better push upfront and then when you are in a position to make a play, you have to make a play. Especially, playing so many spread offenses the ball is well-hidden. So if a guy misses a tackle, typically for a guy for each gap, if you don’t make that tackle someone else may not be there to save your butt unless they make a great play getting off the block. It all starts upfront. I know they are putting a ton of time into it, but we’re not where we need to be at all. We only know one way and that’s to get to work. You get your butt up at 5 in the morning and work until late at night and get it fixed and get better."
More than their own running game (which we'll get to in a second), the Panthers have to find a solution to the run D quickly or tougher upcoming opponents such as Troy, Arkansas State, Louisiana, Middle Tennessee and of course Florida will have a field day on offense. And not to discount Western Kentucky, because in the last two games FIU has not proven it can stop the run.
With the exception of Toledo, FIU has not been able to run the ball this season. The Panthers had 148 yards on the ground against the Rockets and Darriet Perry averaged nearly 4 yards per carry in that game so the ability to run the ball effectively is there.
Although it was limited duty, Daunte Owens (left, thanks Roy Viera photo) showed he could contribute with 7 and 12-yard runs. Thought it was a good idea to mix it up with the backs and bring in the bigger Owens to spell DP and then bring in Darian Mallary. Still, the run game and the run blocking have to be more consistent if FIU is to have sustained success on O.
Yet, with a struggling running game the Panthers still put up 35 points and when they did run the ball 2 weeks ago, FIU scored 31 points. Scoring 35 and 31 points should be enough to win ball games.
For a team that is still trying to find itself this season, FIU cannot rack up 11 penalties for 106 yards. For a team whose margin for error is minimal right now, those yellow hankies are back breakers or as MC called them "drive killers".
Four of the 11 penalties on Saturday were pre-snap penalties, which is a lack of focus. That has to be cleaned up.
It's year three under MC and FIU is 0-4. Nobody said building a program that was at the ground floor after 2006's winless season was going to be easy. This isn't fantasy football where Mario's Maulers can just swing a 3 for 1 trade with Touchdown Truckers or search the waiver wire for help.
For those that have already started the "fire MC" chants with torches and pitchforks in hand, please put down the torches and the pitchforks and get yourself your favorite adult beverage and make it a double if need be.
MC inherited: a team with no depth, not having a full allotment of scholarships for the first three years of recruiting (FIU gets its 25 scholies back in February 2010), a program on academic probation and questionable talent. After two years and four games, FIU has had its largest win improvement in program history from one season to the next from 2007 to 2008. At the beginning of last season, FIU was getting blown out of games and now although the Panthers have not won -- they have been in every game this season where the offense struggled for the first 2 games and the defense struggled in the last two games. With a better D and a better run game, FIU is 3-1 or 2-2 right now.
But the Panthers do not have those records and that has to be fixed.
You are witnessing this season some of the growing pains of building a program. That's not to say the Panthers get a hall pass for their performances the past couple of weeks, because they don't especially after showing flashes of the team it can be this season.
FIU has played well in spurts this season such as the first 3 quarters against Alabama, FIU D's performance against Rutgers and the 1st qtr vs. ULM. The Panthers have just not been able to put 4 quarters of football together this season.
If it can fix its run D, start running the ball and curb the penalties, FIU can still be a good team this season -- Sun Belt champ-good, not likely -- but play close to .500 ball and keep building.
Two weeks back from injury and two consecutive Sun Belt Player of the Week awards for FIU's 3-time All-American Yarimar Rosa as the Panthers volleyball team is off to its best start in program history at 15-2.
Will have a LIVE FIU/WKU GAME BLOG from Bowling Green, Kentucky on Saturday at 6:45 p.m. Miami time. Unfortunately, the game is not on TV and there is no live video feed from WKU's website. So your options are following the game on here or listening to 1080 AM.
WIN A GPP BLOG WEEK 4 STANDINGS (FIU/WKU scores due by 6:59 p.m. Eastern GPP Time on Saturday)
FIUrulez (54), Fomenter (74), Crazy Cane (101), MIA/NY Josh (103)
FIU0406 (54), FIU Fanatic (71), NYCFIUFan (73), FIUPantherFan (74), esteban688 (96)
Puma (50), BaltimorePanther (57), quijote (65), Gooch7 (74), SunblazerPanther (75), Joel (78), TheChampionUnderdog (79), Gold (91), FIU Love (92), FIUcanesFan (99)
LonePanther (63), Golden Panther 90 (70)
CJ (71), Clawing Cancer (71)
CarolinaGoldenPanther (76), SouthPaw (83), theINTERNATIONAL (89), OC FIU Panther (91)
Max (94), Tri-Panther (98), FIUer (123)
GPP: 3-1, (59)