Tickets for the"LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh present the South Florida All-Star Classic" at FIU's U.S. Century Bank Arena, 7 p.m., Oct. 8 will go on sale Monday at noon at the University Credit Union Box Office on the first floor of the Fieldhouse at Alonso Field at FIU Stadium. No phone or online orders will be taken. Tickets will cost $50 for upper bowl general admission, $100 for lower bowl reserved. Fans can buy two tickets per person until 3 p.m., four tickets per person after that.
The game, which the Heat's Dwyane Wade billed on Twitter as DWade vs. King James, will include the Heat's Big Three, the Knicks Carmelo Anthony and A'mare Stoudemire, Oklahoma City's Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, New Orleans' Chris Paul, and many others.
Proceeds will go to Mary's Court Foundation, a foundation established by FIU coach Isiah Thomas in honor of his strong-willed mother, the late Mary Thomas
2. Between paying attention that game, Rosh Hasannah -- Christian me read the first night prayers for our house in English and bad Hebrew off my BlackBerry in my right hand while hodling a Heineken in my left and had a great second night dinner at a friend's house -- football, furloughs and such, I've slept on a huge night for volleyball at The Bank Friday.
Yarimir Rosa, FIU's first four-time All-American, will have her number retired after the first big deal home match of the season, 6:30 against Western Kentucky. FIU's desire for an undefeated season at home gets perhaps its stiffest pre-Sun Belt tournament challenge here. Western's 15-1 and got five votes in the last Top 25 poll. Not only did this school spike FIU out of the 2010 Sun Belt tournament, 3-0, but it handed FIU its only home loss of the 2010 season, 3-2.
Western calls its women's teams, "Lady Toppers." I refuse to use a nickname that manages to be both archaically sexist and oxymoronic.
3. The Swimming & Diving team opens its season at 6 p.m. up on the Biscayne Boulevard Campus against Florida Gulf Coast. FIU's 2011 recruiting class ranked 23rd by collegeswimming.com.
4. Women's soccer, which opened Sun Belt conference play with a pair of wins last week and evened their overall record at 5-5, hosts Troy at 7:30. Senior defender Kelly Ann Hutchinson leads the team in scoring with three goals and two assists, but during FIU's current three-game winning streak, freshman Ashleigh Shim has two goals and an assist.
FIU students, South Florida NBA fans, South Florida fans of just being Where It's At (a number exponentially larger than the first two groups put together) have been asking for ticket prices about the virtual NBA All-Star Game (LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, Chris Paul, Amare Stoudemire, Carmelo Anthony) Oct. 8 at FIU.
Early in the day, I was told details are still in the works and an announcment might be coming this evening. Now, I've been told nothing will be released until Thursday morning. If that's the case, the information won't appear on this blog until Friday. Thursday isn't just a day off for me, I'm not allowed to do any Herald work or even be contacted by my editors. I suspect the information will appear over on the Heat blog or elsewhere on The Herald site.
Also, my Twitter account, http://twitter.com/DavidJNeal, is mine and nothing says I can't Tweet what I learn. Maybe you'll want to check there on the morrow.
How do you fill US Century Bank Arena? Looks like you just have an NBA lockout and shove a bunch of big NBA stars into the joint.
Source at the Mitch Madique Campus texted me in the wee hours Tuesday morning that the Oct. 8 charity basketball game, possibly featuring the Miami Heat's Dwyane Wade, LeBron James, Chris Bosh, Chris Paul, Amare Stoudemire, isn't a completely done deal yet to be placed at US Century Bank Arena. When I asked when things would be official that FIU would host, I was told to check back Wednesday.
It was first reported Monday night by the Associated Press' Tim Reynolds that FIU was a probable site for the game.
Wide receiver Glenn Coleman has a sprained shoulder and definitely will be out against Duke.
Apparently the news that quarterback Wesley Carroll is feeling better prompted some Vegas sports books to put FIU-Duke up, installing FIU as a three-point favorite. Leroy's, Stations and The Wynn all kept the game off. Carroll, Jake Medlock split practice snaps evenly, according to Cristobal, with third-string quarterback Lorenzo Hammonds getting a few seven-on-seven reps.
Not sure why the first injury I asked Mario Cristobal about after Monday’s practice was safety Chuck Grace. Maybe because Grace still has a brace eating up his right leg while quarterback Wesley Carroll and wide receiver T.Y. Hilton can be seen around campus walking normally. And Grace’s side of the ball reached a far deeper level of failure Saturday than Carroll and Hilton’s, turning Lou-La quarterback Blaine Gauthier into the Sun Belt Offensive Player of the Week.
As for Carroll and Hilton, Cristobal said, “He’s going to be fine. He practiced today. T.Y. continues to get better.”
Asked straight up if Carroll would start against Duke, Cristobal said, “I expect him to be fine, I do. If he had to go back in this past Saturday and just sit there, he would’ve been OK. It just wasn’t that type of game.”
Grace will be out for another two weeks with a knee injury. Wide receiver Glenn Coleman has a right shoulder injury.
The Zeppo?: A blog reader asked if running back Darian Mallary was injured. Among FIU's returning quartet of backs, none have carried the ball less than Mallary. It would be hard to -- Mallary has one carry for 1 yard.
Mallary hasn't looked hurt to me, but I asked El Jefe de Futbol FIU about it.
"He's OK. He's a good football player. He's helped us win a lot of games. He's going to help us win a lot of games," Cristobal said. "We're a litlte thick at that position right now. Shane Coleman's also a good player we'd love to play this year and not redshirt."
Opening line vs. Duke: Not on the boards yet, according to vegasinsider.com. Quarterback injuries tend to do that. The sports books probably hate FIU after taking a beating on the Louisville game and probably taking a minor smack on Saturday’s loss to Louisiana-Lafayette.
TV thoughts: This game, which got upgraded from ESPN3 to ESPNU, suffered a couple of inches of shrinkage with Saturday’s loss. I was surprised, knowing how he can be, that Cristobal didn’t believe the increased media attention or talk of undefeated seasons caused any focus problems that manifested themselves Saturday. I tended to agree with Kedrick Rhodes, that the team lost something after the opening drive.
"I don't think it did at all. If we came out flat, i would've said so," Cristobal said. "We come out and score in five plays. And we come out and force three-and-outs right away. I don't think we responded well enough when the momentum slowly, slowly started to go back their way."
One of the ESPNU color commentators on the Duke game will be Danny Kannell, who went from Fort Lauderdale Westminister Academy to Florida State to the Giants for several years.
Blood: I did finally get one question answered about cornerback Jose Cheeseborough. As a lifelong track fan, seeing a Cheeseborough from Jacksonville caused me to wonder if he was any relation to Jacksonville native Chandra Cheeseborough, a track sprinter who began racking up medals in international meets when she was 16 and became one of the most decorated sprinters in U.S. history.
“Distant cousin,” Jose said. “I’ve never met her.”
Committment: Nick England, a running back from Suwanee (Ga.) Collins Hill, verbally committed to FIU. England might play wide receiver at FIU. He allegedly runs a 10.5 100 meters.
The football team's three-week streak of having a Sun Belt Player of the Week ended (no, making Blaine Gauthier Offensive Player of the Week doesn't count). But Jovana Bjelica took up the slack, taking her second volleyball POW award in the last three weeks.
As FIU dispatched North Texas and Denver over the weekend, Bjelica rolled up 36 kills in eight sets. She had 12 digs against Denver to go with 19 kills for her sixth double double of the season.
FIU hosts Maryland and Cal State-Bakersfield in its Thanksgiving Classic, Nov. 25 and 27, and Auburn, Charlotte and Albany in its Fun & Sun Classic, Dec. 29 and 30, on the schedule announced Monday.
The other highlights of the schedule for head coach Cindy Russo's 33rd season at FIU: Season opener and home opener, Nov. 11 vs. Jacksonville; first Sun Belt conference game, at Western Kentucky, Dec. 11; first home Sun Belt game, Jan. 7 vs. Louisiana-Monroe; regular season closer, Feb. 25 vs. South Alabama; Sun Belt tournament, Mar. 3-6, in lovely Hot Springs, Arkansas.
As in, "why did the football team suddenly show up with a laissez-faire Sun Belt defense and look stunned that Blaine Gauthier, the Sun Belt Offensive Player of the Week, can pass something other than gas?" Or, for men's soccer, which lost in double overtime Friday, "why can't we even finish our Sunday game?" Up 2-1 at home on Howard on goals by Quentin Albrecht and Lucas Di Croce, FIU saw hard rain and lightning bring a halt to the game.
Meanwhile, the teams with two X chromosomes, the volleyball and women's soccer teams, each went 2-0 on the weekend as they opened conference play. The volleyball team dumped North Texas Friday and Denver Sunday. Jovana Bjelica had a team-high 19 kills Sunday. Renele Forde piled up 53 assists. The women's soccer team went to Arkansas-Litle Rock and Arkansas State and, on Pork Out Sunday at the Neal household, finished a weekend sweep with a 2-1 overtime win. Senior April Perry scored in overtime off a feed from Ashleigh Shim. Nicole Di Perna opened the scoring.
Although at the end of the day, the women's soccer team might've been asking "Why?" -- they didn't make their connection in Atlanta and spent Sunday night there.
“Offensively, we’re trying to b a little more consistent. We’re still trying to find who our quarterback is, so that affects consistency.”
“Thing with Blaine, he can really throw the football. We probably haven’t given him enough of a chance to throw the football.” – Louisiana-Lafayette coach Mark Hudspeth on Monday’s Sun Belt Teleconference Call.
Losing doesn’t expose weaknesses any more than winning obscures them. It’s just a matter of lighting.
As long as the pass rush made quarterbacks multi-task with their feet and throwing arm, the problem of open receivers running free downfield remained in shadow. North Texas suffered the dropsies, Louisville and Central Florida’s quarterbacks just wanted to get the heck out of the pocket like Countrywalk residents running from a room crashing down during Andrew.
But Louisiana-Lafayette Blaine Gauthier hung in there, sometimes making good throws while being hit. As I thought they might, the Ragin’ Cajuns worked Gauthier’s arm. He’d thrown the ball 32 times in three games coming into Saturday. He threw 14 times (completing seven) in the first half. His closing numbers, 14 of 26 for 221 yards, for the game almost match his season numbers before Saturday, 18 of 32 for 212 yards.
I loved not just the call on Lou-La's 44-yard touchdown to Ladarius Green, but the execution. Most teams, going play action deep out of an I-formation, double-tight end set on third or fourth and 1near midfield would go to the wide receiver if the safeties bite up and leave one-on-one coverage. Or, they do the old Lombardi Packers play -- fake to the back, hit him running up the seam. Instead, they snuck the right tight end deep. Well, they did't exactly sneak Green, seeing as how he's the size of Secretariat, and neither of two defensive backs saw a problem with a big No. 89 moseying past them into the secondary. Or, the space behind the secondary.
Junior Mertile got worked several plays, two big ones on the first drive of the second half, and Jose Cheeseborough got it, too. The secondary was without Chuck Grace, who has a right leg injury. FIU hoped for a rerun of the Central Florida game when the score in the first half’s final minute sent the Panthers into the second half with a Red Bull rambunctiousness. Instead, Darryl Surgent’s 22-yard touchdown catch put Lou-La back up 22-14 on the first second half drive.
Also, there’s no reason for FIU’s kickoff coverage to be so permissive, although Jack Griffin’s kickoffs don’t help matters much. Off kickoffs, Lou-La started on its own 38; 49; 32; 40; and 31. A first down or two and they’re in position for Brett Baer to either attempt a field goal or pin FIU deep with punts that should have their own video being sold on a 3 a.m. infomercial, they were so perfect. FIU started drives at the 1 (gave up a safety, then a field goal), the 2 (three-and-out, gained 2 yards, led to Lou-La's second field goal and 8-7 lead), the 4 (drove 93 yards...and didn't get into the end zone) and the 5 (95 yards from the touchdown needed, 1:44 left).
Some thoughts on Carroll’s injury:
FIU came into the game having allowed four sacks this season. At least the first three should’ve been throwaways. Saturday, on third and 15 during FIU’s second possession, Carroll made a play you’d expect to see out of redshirt freshman Jake Medlock. He escaped Lou-La defensive lineman Tyrell Gaddies and, with Gaddies on the ground and no other Lou-La lineman close enough to play charades, threw a panicky high pass to the nearest sideline over Willis Wright’s head instead of setting himself and looking downfield.
Then, on the injury play, first play of a drive starting from the 50, Carroll managed to let Bernard Smith snag him 17 yards behind the line, held the ball, tried to pull his foot away, held the ball, tugged some more, held the ball some more, then finally went down. Inexcusable to let himself get caught like that, especially with Smith working alone, unlike, say, Bob Lilly getting some support from Larry Cole on his 29-yard Super Bowl VI sack of Bob Griese. Also inexcusable to not throw the ball away and save the field position, a rare gift for FIU this night. The later consequences of that play count as adding injury to insult.
You can’t fault Jake Medlock. He finished 17 of 27 for 216 yards with an interception on his last desperation pass. In his first college game, running an offense without its most dynamic player (Lou-La wasn't buying T.Y. Hilton as decoy), he quarterbacked FIU to 24 points in three quarters of play. That's enough if defense and special teams also come to the party.
Medlock made some rookie mistakes and doesn't see the field as well as Carroll, a fifth-year senior, does. On one play, rolling right, he somehow didn't see Greg Coleman, a tall black man in a navy uniform standing in front of the white-jerseyed Lou-La bench, standing alone and waving his arms for several seconds on the sideline toward which Medlock was rolling. Medlock admitted he should’ve tucked it under and run for the first down on the fourth and 3 late in the game instead of thrown to Wayne Times (by the time he finished with his follow through, he actually was past the first down marker). He ran for 39 yards and his willingness to take on defenders roused the crowd and his teammates. When he bounced off LeMarcus Gibson and left Gibson needing special attention from the trainers, it reminded me of Minnesota quarterback Joe Kapp running over Cleveland’s Jim Houston in the 1969 NFL title game (at 2:10 below). Minnesota romped after that play and I thought FIU got a lift from Medlock’s physical style.
They needed it. Kedrick Rhodes said after the game he felt the intensity leave the team for a while after the opening drive. That sounds like a team that got bored, overconfident. After all, FIU came out ready to run on Lou-La and run they did – with ease. Perhaps too much ease. FIU ran only one or two plays that got Rhodes in space. Early on, they didn't really do anything off play action, just to keep the defensive backs loose.
Here's something else that drives me batty: last week, when Rhodes broke off four runs of 10 yards or more on a drive to the UCF 14, they suddenly shifted to Darriet Perry to finish off the drive. I didn't like getting away from the hot back when you really weren't in a short yardage situation yet. But Saturday, once they got to the Lou-La 5 at the end of a long drive, when it was time to go with power, they didn't deploy Perry. Two Rhodes runs and a tipped third down pass led to a field goal. Big points lost there.
Rhodes also said he didn’t feel the crowd was with them. Well, at kickoff, a good chunk of the crowd seemed to be arriving on Miami time, parking or pounding their last pregame alcohol. By the time they got into the stadium, FIU was up 7-0 and the offense defined “meh.” The defense, too. Not much to get the crowd going. As Mario Cristobal noted after the game, in run defense, they didn't get much penetration and they couldn't shed blocks, as they did so well the first three games.
If this were hockey and I had to hand out the three stars of the game – originally, that was a promotion for an oil company with three stars in its logo or name – Lou-La punter/kicker Brett Baer would get one. Average start position for FIU in the game: their own 26. For Lou-La? Their own 39. Baer’s second punt, which was downed at the FIU 1, led to the safety, which led to a field goal.
Five points. There’s your margin of defeat. Pretty good punter.
Bad enough for FIU that Sun Belt teams don’t win out of conference. Friday night, Central Florida failed against BYU. That little bit of BCS-ing out of the way, let’s get to FIU vs. Louisiana-Lafayette.
All week, this game reminded me of the gag at 3:06 in Stop, Look and Hasten (1954), the best of the early Roadrunner cartoons. (Gee Whiz-z-z (1956) is the best of them all, although Chuck Jones himself showed a special affinity for Zoom and Bored (1957).)
FIU’s shown excellent resiliency at key points each of the last two weeks. This game will test their focus.
After getting the kid to bed each night this week, I’d settle into a long-ago present from the wife, a sleek German-designed recliner, and watch Louisiana-Lafayette Square against Oklahoma State in the season opener.
That was Lou-La’s first game under head coach Mark Hudspeth and against a program now ranked in the top 10. Actually, what impressed me factored in all that.
Even as T. Boone Pickens State took the switch to Lou-La, 61-34, you could see the talent on the losing side, such as wide receiver/kick returner Darryl Surgent easing up field on a 31-yard punt return. On a per capita basis, Louisiana’s about as good as it gets for producing football talent. There’s more NFL players from Florida, California and Texas, but also a whole lot more electoral votes.
Louisiana-Lafayette’s offensive line gets bigger as you go left to right: 296, 300, 305, 324, 330. That’s a 311 average Both Louisville and Central Florida, got some push early before those big bodies wore down as the games wore on in the late summer swelter. September heat and humidity, particularly the South Florida brand, turned those offensive lines into a Deuce-and-a-Quarter getting started on a 15-degree morning by late in the second quarter. Will Louisiana-Lafayette Jeff, from a pretty dehydrating part of the U.S. itself, wilt the same way?
Despite size and talent, Lou-La can’t get it together on offense. In their other game against a Division I opponent thus far, Kent State, they managed only 159 total yards. That’s an acceptable showing only if the Kent defense lined up 11 Jack Lamberts coordinated by Nick Saban. Against Division I-AA Nicholls State, they moved only 280 yards.
Hudspeth blamed some of their offensive problems on an inability to settle on a starting quarterback between Blaine Gauthier and Chris Masson. He also said he’d like to let Blaine Gauthier throw the ball a little more. That would seem logical, especially on first or second down. FIU’s been beating up quarterbacks on third and long after beating up running backs on first and second down.
I see no reason for FIU to play T.Y. Hilton and his strained right hamstring more than 15 snaps. If Hilton does play – and he’s expected to -- I’m not sure FIU will use him often in much more than a decoy capacity. Besides, Wesley Carroll’s been erratic the last two weeks and Louisiana-Lafayette Road Drive-In sustains itself on interceptions and pick sixes. Lionel Stokes should’ve had two more interceptions early against Oklahoma State.
From what I saw, the kind of runner who succeeds against this defense possesses vision and quickness, more a Kedrick Rhodes-type runner. Lou-La’s cornerbacks come down very low to help in run support. Expect FIU to try to back off the cornerbacks early with some stuff downfield, then move the ball with an implacable running game.
I don’t see many points for Louisiana-Lafayette unless FIU scores at such warp speed, Lou-La gets as many possessions as it could ever want. I’m not sure about FIU. Overall, that is. Here, I’m sure they’re better than Louisiana-Lafayette and they’ll slowly pull away as the game huffs and puff toward its finish.
FIU 27, Louisiana-Lafayette 10.
Then again, that’s just one black man’s opinion. I could be very much in the wrong.
This is a reversal for the start of the conference season -- FIU got outshot by Arkansas-Little Rock 15-9, yet won 2-1 on goals by freshman Ashleigh Shim and Crystal McNamara.
It's the second consecutive game with a goal for Shim, who was set up by sophomore Nicole DiPerna. It's also the second consecutive win for FIU (4-5, 1-0).
A male freshman, Arnthor Kristinsson, also has a two-game goal scoring streak working for FIU. Unfortunately, the team has a two-match losing streak after falling 2-1 in double overtime to Marshall at FIU Soccer Stadium. Marshall's Anthony Vigara struck both in regulation and in the 102nd minute. The men are now 3-4 and 0-1 in Conference USA.
In Denton, Texas, FIU took four sets to defeat North Texas 3-1 (25-15, 21-25, 25-18, 25-19). Renele Forde piled up 36 assists and 19 digs, both team highs. Jovana Bjelica had 17 kills and Marija Prsa had 12. FIU (9-3, 1-0) now heads for the University of Denver for a match Sunday.
The Heisman Trophy goes to the best player in college football. Or, the best player with some preseason hype who makes highlight film plays while putting up numbers you can’t ignore while playing a skill position on a nationally prominent team.
That couldn’t have been made clearer when T.Y. Hilton moved up six spots, from 24th to 18th, on StiffArmTrophy.com’s list this week. Hilton picked up only 36 all-purpose yards -- his total after the opening kickoff against Louisville – against Central Florida. He played, essentially, one half. But FIU beat UCF 17-10 to move to 3-0. So up the list went Hilton. The poll contacts 49 Heisman voters in 29 states.
It’s a shame if this strained hamstring hampers Hilton beyond this week, if it does this week. I say that not because I’m rooting for FIU. I cover FIU but I’ve been in this business too long to confuse the fortunes of the team or school I cover with how well I do my own job. I say that as someone who hates to see injuries cut away the limited time for college athletes. That always makes me think of Kelvin Bryant. The North Carolina running back racked up 15 touchdowns in the first three games of his senior season, then suffered a knee injury. Bryant came back that season, but not with the same form. A season that could’ve rivaled Marcus Allen breaking the 2,000-yard rushing barrier for the Heisman Trophy and could’ve given North Carolina an outside shot at the national title got kneecapped.
Besides, Hilton at speed reminds me of a well-made Long Island iced tea – smooth and cool while it’s knocking you out.
TIME TO BELT THE BELT
Thursday afternoon, the women’s soccer team had landed in Memphis and was bouncing toward its weekend in Arkansas, against Arkansas-Little Rock Friday and their first Sun Belt match, Arkansas State, Sunday. They’re coming off a 2-1 win against Oregon in last week’s Nike Invitational.
Meanwhile, the 8-3 volleyball team gets its first piece of Sun Belt action from 9-6 North Texas Friday and 3-9 Denver Sunday. FIU goes into the weekend with four-match winning streaks against each.
That leaves the men’s soccer team to be the Friday night home appetizer on the home athletic weekend, facing Marshall at 7 p.m. The Sunday brunch I like to fix – eggs, pound or more of bacon, several sausages, biscuits – will be destroyed by the time men’s soccer puts the Sunday brunch finisher on the weekend when they host Howard at 1 p.m.
An ESPN GameDay crew was at this morning's football FIU's practice to shoot a feature that'll air during Saturday's show. Coach Mario Cristobal wore a mike early in practice.
"It was very brief," Cristobal said. "Obviously, it wouldn't compromise anything for our game plan and our chances for victory. It's a tremendous honor."
Cristobal said Hilton was "getting better and better," and remained "optimistic" Hilton and Hilton's right hamstring would be ready for Saturday. Yet Cristobal also put Hilton's practice participation at "about 40 percent."
AD Pete Garcia says he's expecting a full house Saturday, especially if the student section continues to increase. He estimates 6,000 students came Saturday and 4,000 came for the season opener. In addition to the atmosphere and dolllars, Garcia had a football reason to plead for another large crowd. He credited crowd noise for UCF's five false starts and one delay of game. I don't know if I agree entirely, although that is a high total for a well-coached team not named "New England Patriots" (you'd be surprised at how often they jump -- one game of theirs I tracked, the tight end jumped so often, I finally asked someone "Are they telling him the snap count?"). And, as I point out in tomorrow's story on the pass rush, FIU's been doing such taxidermy on the run that even five-yard penalties put teams in passing situations against the Gilded Cats.
Last Saturday, though the Central Florida folks filled out their side, there were open spots in the West stands and apparently on the press box side. That's why I called that official attendance of 20,205 "announced" in my game story. Unlike last Saturday, individual game tickets will be sold at the stadium, along with season tickets.
Garcia doesn't anticipate another radio conflict issue with 1080 WHIM carrying another game at the same time, either this week or with the Duke game that's been moved back an hour to 7 p.m. That was nearly an embarrassment for the program that thankfully got solved.
Personally, I kind of wondered why FIU wasn't on 640 AM or 940 AM, two pure sports stations trying to establish themselves as a player in this market alongside WQAM and 790 The Ticket. Get shows for the football and men's basketball coaches, at least. Get a weekly bloc of time where a host talks FIU sports with callers. And, when I'm driving to a game, either as a fan or a reporter, I like to hear pregame shows. The only good part about the 45-minute-to-one-hour creep during rush hour along Highway 417 from downtown Ottawa to now-Scotiabank Place for Panthers-Senators games -- more agonizing than I-95 or the Dolphin at rush hour -- was hearing part of the two-hour pregame show. Kind of blah hearing a lawyer program two hours before kickoff as I've heard on WHIM.
UM coach Al Golden threw roses toward Southwest 8th Street Monday, talking up Mario Cristobal and FIU. He likened the situation he turned around at Temple to what Cristobal has dealt with at FIU. Golden said he and Cristobal "talk and text often" and that Cristobal has been nothing but helpful to him. I asked how often they had the opportunity to converse or texted during the season.
"During the season, you hardly get to talk to your own wife," Cristobal joked. "but we do have a tremendous amount of respect for him and the job they did at Temple, certainly the job they've undertaken at Miami."
Cristobal brought up defensive coordinator Mark D'Onofrio, whom he knows from Rutgers, and said he wished them all well. To the next obvious question -- do you want to see UM and FIU start playing each other again? -- he replied:
"I've been asked that question a lot the last couple of days. It seems every time we take a step forward, people try to distract from what the whole purpose of this season is. It would be great. It's certainily not a major part of the equation. I think any time crosstown universities or in-state universities can play -- with a great example being this weekend with UCF -- you have a chance to really pack of the stadium and fill up the stands with alumni and family. It makes for a great event. Especially with two programs going in directions they weren't going in before.
"I think it would be a great thing."
MOVIN' ON UP, NOT TO THE BIG EAST SIDE...
The football stadium holds 20,000 and, with the north stands, looks like a Division II stadium or an upscale Texas high school stadium. Last week, I saw members of the track team working on the shot put on a grassy area between the soccer field and the arena: sandlot track? I've always liked the arena's look, inside and out. But the capacity is more suited to a fertile family's quinces celebrations than big-time college basketball and FIU draws crowds that fill only a slice of the arena.
Think about the above when somebody starts talking Big East or ACC as FIU's new home once conference realignment settles. There's still too much to be done for FIU to be seriously considered for those groups in the near future.
Someone Tweeted there are 15 football players in her History of the Beatles class. So, for them, I include the song used one afternoon when my daughter asked me to sing her into her nap. Nite-nite...
Operating on 10 hours sleep over the last three days (lots of writing, late blogging, kid with cough). Please forgive any latke flat writing. I'll try to limit the errors...
Mario Cristobal said after Monday's practice he was "very optimistic" T.Y. Hilton's right hamstring would allow Hilton to play Saturday against Louisiana-Lafayette. He said Hilton suffered a "mild strain" and would be re-evaluated midweek.
"The stuff he did yesterday, today and tomorrow is going to be game plan-oriented, just about full speed," Cristobal said. "Very optimistic. He came back and played the latter part of the game."
Well, Hilton played a few plays, was thrown to once and didn't exactly dig out his patterns on the other plays. It still wouldn't surprise me if Hilton saw limited snaps Saturday just to make sure a mild strain doesn't become a full blown hammy.
In TV news, FIU's Oct. 1 game with Duke is now a 7 p.m. game on ESPNU. It had been an ESPN3 game at 6 p.m.
The line on this game opened with FIU as 19-point favorites. It's already down to 17 with an over/under of 51.5.
OK, it's not 56 consecutive games of hitting or 47 straight games with a touchdown pass, but...
For the third consecutive week, an FIU player gets one of the Sun Belt Player of the Week awards.
Sophomore defensive tackle Isame Faciane's 51-yard fumble return touchdown, the biggest play in FIU's upset of Central Florida, got him this week's Defensive Player of the Week nod. Faciane had only one tackle otherwise, but the play of he and the other defensive tackles occupied enough blockers inside for linebackers Winston Fraser and Jordan Hunt to combine for 21 tackles as FIU sat on UCF's running game.
Faciane said the team wouldn't have any trouble focusing on Sun Belt foe Louisiana-Lafayette after the last two weeks: "Louisville and UCF were games to get us more out there. The only thing that really matters is the conference."
Fraser won last week's Defensive Player of the Week and Hilton won the first two Offensive Player of the Week awards.
FIU ranks No. 2 in the nation in sacks at 5.00 per game. Not saying FIU blitzes a little bit, but their sacks leader is cornerback Sam Miller with three. Fraser, Tourek Williams and Greg Hickman have two each. Williams and Hickman each have a team-high 4.5 tackles for loss. Fraser leads in solo tackles with 18 and total tackles with 29 and has the only interception.
They're doing a good job of getting their hands on players like UCF quarterback Jeff Godfrey and other slippery people...
Back when I was of college age and before, the autumn definition of shooting blind were the college football polls of the Associated Press (writers) and United Press International (coaches) wire services.
Unless they caught ESPN's SportsCenter or George Michael's Sports Machine, voters saw little beyond the game they were covering or coaching. It didn't matter if you had one of those newfangled VCRs and knew how to program it, even to pick up your cable channels. There just weren't that many games on TV. CBS began covering college football during the regular season in 1982. NBC did nothing in the regular season. Cable got into the action somewhat in the mid-1980s. Before the aforementioned shows, college football highlights were limited to ABC's College Football (year here), a Sunday show with the highlights of three or four games. Basically, voters went on habit, scores and the occasional phone call if they saw a score or series of scores that indicated there was a new team that might be worth notice.
I don't know how many of the four AP voters or the 11 USA Today Coaches poll voters who gave FIU Top 25 votes have seen an FIU game. I'm sure they've seen highlights. Maybe they're going off the theory that, early in the season, you're better off assuming quality of a 3-0 team from a talent-thick place like Florida than most other places. I find it interesting that FIU got more votes in the coaches poll and coaches see more games/teams than anyone these days. By Monday morning, FIU's coaches already will have seen more Louisiana-Layfayette football than some of L-L's boosters and vice versa.
The text message reaction from Mario Cristobal was predictable: "All focus on most important game -- Saturday vs. UL."
The happiest text message I got Sunday came from women's soccer head coach Thomas Chestnutt: "Won 2-1 against Oregon."
That might not look like text message Mardi Gras parade, but consider the context. I had talked to Chestnutt around 1 a.m. Saturday, about an hour after FIU suffered a 7-0 humiliation at the feet and heads of Oregon State at the Nike Invitational. FIU's no North Carolina, but it's a proud program that gets decent talent, certainly not used to playing the victim in such obliterations. Coming after several heartbreaking losses, that game could be the floor on which FIU crashed or bounced.
The captains called a players only meeting Saturday to discuss the Friday disaster before a light workout. Sunday, against Oregon, freshman Ashleigh Shim ran onto a ball from Chelsea Leiva about 25 yards out and gave FIU a 1-0 lead. Another Leiva feed into the area got handled by an Oregon player, resulting in a penalty kick. Chestnutt went with freshman Johanna Volz, an Oregon native -- "I think she's a kid who likes to step up when challenged in front of her friends and family" -- and Volz buried the PK for a 2-0 lead. FIU, which has blown two-goal leads this season, hung on for the win.
"We talked about wanting to gain some momentum going into conference play," Chestnutt said. "Today puts us off on the right foot going into next week."
The quotes might sound mundane. That's because I can't translate the relief I heard, as much relief as I've heard in years from a coach in any sport.
The men's soccer team had an early Sunday afternoon game against Georgia State in Atlanta. That meant having to leave before Saturday night's football game, a circumstance even coach Munga Eketebi didn't like. To add insult, FIU lost 3-2 Sunday.
Goals by freshman Arnthor Kristinsson and Quentin Albrecht (his team-leading fourth of the season) cut into 2-0 and 3-1 second half Georgia State leads, but FIU ran out of time. The men are 3-3-2 going into Friday's 7 p.m. home game against Marshall, the first Conference USA game.
FIU received votes in the AP and the USA Today Coaches polls for the first time in program history Sunday. The Golden Panthers picked up four votes in the AP poll and 11 votes in the coaches poll.
Last week, as I sat on the cement steps outside the visitors' locker room in Louisville, frantically writing an already late game story, a gleeful Mario Cristobal appeared over my shoulder. He said a few things then as he bounced away, I said something like this creates the possibility for something huge in the bigger picture. He threw a smile and "now, now" gesture, thinking I was talking about his future coaching picture. "No," I said shaking my head. "13."
As in 13-0. I thought it was possible then. Now, the only thing that keeps at least 12-0 from being probable is most college teams lose a game or two each season that they shouldn't. We're talking about great athletes, but great young athletes. They have a bad day or the other guys have a great day or the ball just doesn't bounce their way. That's the only reason I picked FIU to lose three games this season. When I went through the season game by game for our special section, this was the only game where I felt sure FIU wasn't the better team. And I didn't pick them there or here in my pregame blog.
Central Florida's a good team, still the best team on FIU's schedule. And FIU beat them, not just with a monster defensive play and a short drive after a flat out dumb attempt at fielding a bouncing punt by UCF's Josh Robinson. The Golden Panthers outdefensed a team that shaped its identity around its defense. That's strong.
What happens if FIU goes undefeated? It depends on the way they do it and what happens elsewhere. The Sun Belt does have an automatic bid to a BCS bowl. It just doesn't kick in until a Sun Belt team gets ranked 12th or higher in the final BCS standings or if that team is ranked 16th or higher and is above the conference champion of one of the six automatic qualifier conferences.
Yeah, it's a longshot. At least that's the way it seems now. Something to think about as this season continues...
As I talked to FIU athletic director Pete Garcia about FIU's Cheshire Radio situation from Friday and Saturday, he looked out across a packed southeast parking lot with pride. I had just snapped a picture of that and put it on Twitter when another longtime South Florida media member came up to me and said pretty much the reason I took the picture: look at that lot and you see what FIU dreamed about when they decided to get into the college-affiliated football business. Never mind that it took a strong Central Florida travel crowd to almost fill up FIU Stadium. This energy center draws students. Look, I still believe your best schools remain your best schools for reasons independent of the athletic program, i.e, The University of Chicago, which had the first Heisman Trophy winner, dropped football soon after and has been an elite university for longer than anyone can remember. But I also belive in Bear Bryant's line, "It's kind of hard to rally around a math class."
The game that followed is the kind that coaches and players envision when they think, "football."
One big play for a score, Faciane's fumble return. Two long drives, Central Florida's to the game's first touchdown, FIU's to their field goal. Mostly, it was about speed and hitting and who could keep their heads while it was being knocked off.
Speaking of injuries, FIU's being -- surprise! -- a little coy about Hilton's injury. It's obviously a hamstring problem. The question is, how bad? When he came back into the game for a couple of plays, you could tell he was trying to give something that wasn't close to being there. More cereal for the Irony Bowl -- the play on which Hilton went down might've been Carroll's best pass of an erratic night and should've been a gorgeous 35-yard touchdown.
Still, without their dynamite, FIU moved the ball against a defense nobody's moved much against since November. Nobody else on FIU's offense requires you play consistently good team defense the way Hilton does. Subtract Hilton and what remains are enough players you have to respect that when FIU really spread things out with formations, then went between the tackles, they got room to run against UCF.
"I thought the rest of the recievers (aside from Wayne Times), even though they didn't catch that many balls, they blocked well, which was just as important the way they play their outside linebackers," Cristobal said. "If it is a run, they're involved in the box and our receivers did a good job of digging some of those guys out."
UCF's touchdown drive shows how psychologically tough FIU is. That's the kind of drive that crushes wills -- over 10 minutes, 94 yards, 18 plays, extended by a 23-yard scramble by quarterback Jeff Godfrey on third-and-11 and a qeustionable pass interference call on Richard Leonard that wiped out a third-and-goal stop (I like offense, especially pass offense, but let men play a man's game.). Just as with the Louisville score right before the half last week, the next series FIU unplugged the momentum machine with a three-and-out.
Godfrey's slippery, skittering, but FIU adjusted to him, started obeying pass rush lanes and at least getting him off balance on first contact. Like everyone else, FIU was impressed with the way UCF punked Boston College with their downhill running game, but they came out with a good scheme and "expressed it well," as former Colorado and Indiana coach Bill Mallory used to say.
"They have big backs, coaches were telling us every day wrap up, swarm," Isame Faciane said. "As long as you swarm, one person might miss, the next person will make the tackle."
"We had to mix it up. They're powerful up front. Either plus one in the box or you bring pressure," Cristobal said. "We had an eighth guy in (the box) versus their two-back stuff. Whenever they did their "22" personnel -- two backs, two tight ends -- we found a ninth guy to put in there as well. Against the one back stuff, "11" personnel, we found a seventh. We were always trying to put one extra. We were trying to bring pressure. We were trying to give Jeff Godfrey some different looks."
Kedrick Rhodes and Darriet Perry each missed practice early in the week going back home to deal with deaths in or close to the family. With Rhodes, it was a relative. For Perry, it was the mother of his son. I can't imagine as a young man dealing with that kind of tragedy for a few days, then going back to school and football.
While Perry banged in his team-record tying 24th career rushing touchdown to give FIU a 14-7 lead, I thought it was a mistake to take Rhodes out of the game once he ran FIU to a first down on the Central Florida 14 on FIU's next possession. Rhodes was hot with four carries for 46 yards on that drive alone. I'm a big believer when a shifty back like Rhodes gets hot, scrap the game plan and run him like water.
Faciane's 51-yard fumble return touchdown is exactly the kind of play I thought FIU needed to have to win this game, exactly the kind of play I had in mind when I wrote the momentum story for Friday's paper and exactly the kind of play FIU got in each of its first two games. That's a huge play any time of the game. But six seconds before halftime to tie the game, while your home crowd's already sighing wistfully about the injured best player they saw helped into the locker room? That's almost action movie script perfect on the timing.
As a football fan, I loved everything about that play. I like it when the big guys score. I like how Faciane ran, with perfect form and amazing speed. That is the fastest you will see a 290-pound man run without a meal at the other end. I cracked up watching UCF tackle Torrian Wilson start to chase, then peel off looking like he suddenly realized that he'd be expending a lot of big man energy for no fruit.
Just as I was filing the pregame blog at 3:15 a.m. Saturday, I saw Faciane tweeting, "So I went to sleep at 8 and now I can't go back to sleep thinking about this game."
Saturday night, he said, "I slept a lot actually. I went to sleep early, woke up, went back to sleep and kept waking up thinking about it."
Funny how things work -- if officials hadn't blown a third-down reception dead while UCF's Adam Wessley was still fighting for yardage, FIU would've had a fumble there and recovered on about their own 30. Nice close to the half, but not the transformative spell that Faciane's fumble return score would be.
FIU kept giving both Louisville and UCF long fields with nice punting by Josh Brisk -- guest appearance for a pooch punt by Carroll Saturday -- and hustling coverage. That's always been important in football, but more so in the current era, statistically the most offensive in college football history, when it's so hard to get three-and-outs in anything close to an evenly matched game. Field position gives defenses a greater margin for error.
While the football team dumped UCF, the volleyball team truly broke UCF volleyball's heart. At the TownPlace Suites/UCF Challenge, FIU came back from two sets down to beat UCF 3-2 Saturday, 23-25, 25-27, 26-24, 25-21, 17-15, and win the tournament. Jovana Bjelica won the tournament MVP award, senior Sabrina Gonzalez and junior Marija Prsa were named to the all tournament team.
FIU trailed 19-17 in the third set, but came back to take a 20-19 lead. Bjelica, challenged by head coach Daniela Tomjic to be the go-to hitter, nailed the close out kill for that set. Prsa had that kill in the second set. Each had a double double, Bjelica with 21 kills and 16 digs and Prsa 14 kills and 18 digs. Gonzalez had 15 kills. Andrea Lakovic had 14. Renele Forde's 40 assists were a team high as were Chanel Araujo's 24 digs.
Wide receiver T.Y. Hilton was helped to the locker room with 5:47 left in the first half of FIU’s game with Central Florida, unable to put weight on his right leg. He returned on FIU's third offensive play of the third quarter.
Hilton had just juggled, bobbled and dropped what would’ve been a 35-yard touchdown pass from Wesley Carroll when he crumpled to the ground and grabbed his right hamstring. He lay on the ground for several minutes before being helped to the locker room.
FIU trailed 7-0 at the time. With their big play man out, the Golden Panthers got a big play from a big man, 290-pound Isame Faciane returning a Tevin Blanchard-caused fumble 51 yards with six seconds left in the half to send the game into halftime tied 7-7.
We'll discuss three teams in this blog post. It’s in Game 3 of this FIU season that we get a Saturday game in a sold out stadium, tailgaters of all ages free of job or class tethers, alumni in school-toned dorkwear, a classic college-affiliated football scene whether at The Big House or a shotgun shack stadium in Iowa.
Unfortunately missing from the overall atmosphere will be FIU's radio broadcast. There's a conflict with 1080 WHIM, which will be broadcasting another game tonight. So, no FIU radio for the biggest home game in the program's 10 seasons.
That's not big time. Very tiny, in fact.
UPDATE: after about an hour of uproar over this from FIU fans, the scheduling overlap is no more and the game will be on 1080 with FIU's radio team.
Chips lay all over the table in this battle of state schools with enrollments that soon will make them the Seoul and Sao Paulo of American universities. There’s neighborhood rivalries, friend rivalries betwen the players. Both teams claim they’re taking it one game at a time, especially FIU under the pre-interview coaching of Mario Cristobal. Yeah, yeah, but the ultimate goal is to take it one game at a time until you win them all, just like FIU left tackle Caylin Hauptmann said at media day. If Central Florida takes out FIU and BYU, they’ve got a shot as well as an outside shot at getting into a major BCS bowl game. If FIU gets past Central Florida, they’ll have beaten what looks like the best, most talented team on their schedule to get to 3-0.
Then, there’s recruiting. Can one game make a huge recruiting difference? Coaches try to get away from that idea publicly because they privately often hope it isn’t true. That’s too much on riding on one game. Ever notice how fast most coaches in the macho-preaching sports, football and hockey, turn tail to skedaddle away from risky situations if they can? Alas, they can’t run from this idea here. If…
UCF goes UWC on FIU: this result says whatever level to which FIU’s risen, it’s still a step or two below football involving those with chest hair. Recruiting advantage: UCF.
UCF wins solidly, but not in a rout: says UCF’s a better team now, and FIU’s still trailing, which is the consensus opinion. No change in current status.
UCF wins close: You can almost hear “How many other (my position) are you recruiting?” Recruiting advantage: whichever school is closer to the prospect
FIU wins, by decision or Liston-over-Patterson first round KO: they’re on UCF’s level, they’re rising faster than UCF and might soon be beyond them. Recruiting advantage: FIU.
Preseason predictions: It’s the third game of the season. We’ve got an actual small sample size. Who gives two clucks to a duck what a bunch of scribes thought in the spring when the preseason publications were actually written?
The game: I didn’t like this matchup for FIU in the preseason. After watching two FIU wins and UCF beating the stew, as my late grandmother used to say, out of Boston College, I still don’t like it.
What you heard all week from FIU about UCF’s defense were variations on “disciplined. They play assignment football.”
Translation: they don’t put themselves out of position, this increasing their vulnerability to the okeydokes – counters, misdirections, end arounds, reverses. You get an athletic, fast defense that doesn’t let its strength become its weakness, that’s when you get a defense that gives up one touchdown in the last 16 quarters.
UCF got pressure on Boston College’s quarterback rushing only four, blitzing only to break up the boredom. A repeat here means FIU quarterback Wesley Carroll better be Peyton Manning on his reads against a seven-man drop off on obvious passing downs. But a plus for FIU: only two sacks allowed in two games, both of which should’ve been Carroll throwaways. One was that strange play against Louisville when three players moved before the snap, the play continued and everybody hesitated for a beat while Carroll took a sack.
T.Y. Hilton doesn’t think there’s a secondary that can cover FIU’s wide receivers man-to-man. He better be right tonight, for FIU’s sake. If he isn’t, it’s going to be a long night of short possessions for the FIU offense. I don’t see them running on UCF, which is more talented up front than Louisville.
FIU kept trying to work the run last week even as Louisville’s defensive front did to the interior line what Interstate 95 did to Overtown. The called play breakdown, 24 runs and 22 passes, certainly didn’t reflect that the Cardinals’ defensive problems clearly were greater in pass defense against FIU than run defense. FIU likes offensive balance, albeit with more official snaps than 46. I’m more a guy who likes teams that go with what’s working, ditch what’s not.
Darriet Perry spent the early part of the week dealing with a family tragedy back in Valdosta, Ga. Perry’s FIU’s best power runner for yards after contact. There might be a lot of early contact here.
As good as UCF’s defense looked against BC, there were plays to be made against the Knights. They gave up a couple of 8-to-10-yard runs that a Kedrick Rhodes or Jeremiah Harden or Darian Mallary would turn into 15-to-25 yarders. They blew some coverages in the flat, too. BC just didn’t have the skill people to take advantage of it. FIU will if they can create the same chances.
When UCF has the ball, they’re body punchers. A line whose starters average exactly 299 pounds across the front moved Boston College around like patio furniture, especially in the second half. I’ve got a glider that puts up more of a fight when I bring it in off the north balcony for hurricanes than some of those battered, drained BC guys did in the fourth quarter.
Battered, FIU might be, but they won’t be drained. Or, rather, they shouldn’t be. As with Louisville, I can see UCF having ground success early, but as the game goes on, those big men start to flag a bit and FIU’s quickness again comes into play.
Maintaining rush lanes and solid pursuit lines never again will be so important. If they don’t, UCF quarterback Jeffrey Godfrey will squirt through for first down after heartbreaking first down. FIU needs to keep him in the pocket – Godfrey’s accurate on the move. FIU’s secondary didn’t have the massive blown coverages of Week 1 last week against Louisville, but still gave up some plays it seemed they shouldn't.
So how does this all play out?
Nobody’s ever hurt themselves by coming out screaming like James Brown opening “Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag.” And it would do FIU some good.
FIU needs a couple of big plays early – a long run or catch, maybe a huge kickoff return or interception return – to keep the party going in the stands, create an atmosphere that says the fates have decreed an FIU victory. Everyone has nights like that.
What’s more likely to happen? UCF muscles its way to an early 10-point lead. FIU gets used to UCF’s size, just as it did Louisville’s, in the second quarter. From there, the two slug it out with punts and field goals until Wesley Carroll finds someone doing a Russian kick dance through the UCF secondary for a score. Three possessions later, UCF’s Godfrey hits on two third down throws and leads them to the first of two late touchdowns. The second comes on a fumble return by UCF.
UCF 31, FIU 16.
To paraphrase an ex, that’s just one black man’s opinion. I could very well be wrong.
Senior Lucas Di Croce's two first half goals stood up for a 2-1 win against North Florida Friday night at FIU Soccer Stadium, getting the team over .500 at 3-2-2 overall and keeping them unbeaten at home: 3-0-2.
The 7th Annual Alumni Golf Tournament will be held at The Country Club at Coral Springs Sept. 30. Registration's at 7 a.m. and there will be an 8 a.m. shotgun start. In addition to raffle and a live auction of licensed, autographed memorabilia, there will be a closest-to-the-pin contest and hole-in-one contest that could give the winner at 2012 Dodge Ram truck. Registration is $175. For more information, call David Lister (954_594-5763).
The women's soccer season began with Stetson burying a last minute scoring chance (skill) off a deflected pass (luck) for the win after FIU dominated statistically. In some ways, that set the tone for the season. When a team has several games like that, as FIU has, then suffers a 7-0 loss, as FIU (2-5) did to Oregon State in the Nike Invitational Friday night, the concern usually is preventing the psychological collapse.
"I don't think we're in danger of that," head coach Thomas Chestnutt said around 1 a.m. Eastern time Saturday. "Our team has self belief."
Chestnutt believes FIU just ran into a good team on a night when it was terribly hot, realized it and rode that feeling for all it was worth. FIU has a day off before facing Oregon Sunday.
"Since I've been here, I've not seen a team that played with that level of aggression and committment on the field," head coach Thomas Chestnutt said. "Still, it's embarrassing to be beaten 7-0."
This season, senior Kelly Ann Hutchinson has been FIU's only semi-consistent finisher, potting a team high three goals on 11 shots.
"Kelly and Vicky (Miliucci) have played strong game in, game out," Chestnutt said. "They've been the cornerstones of our team. Even tonight, they played well. Sara Stewart as a freshman has done a great job, very consistent. Usually, freshman are up and down."
Next week starts the conference portion of the schedule, with a road trip to Arkansas State for a Sunday afternoon game.
"We're not where we want to be as a team, but we're certainly capable of beating anyone on our schedule for the rest of the season," Chestnutt said.
Busy day here -- day before FIU-UCF, volleyball and the soccers in action and daughter underfoot because it's a half day at Cushman (what? Didn't the school year just start?). I'll be writing a bunch for print and the blog. I plan to update the blog often tonight with results and pregame stuff. Let's see how that goes.
AS OF MIDNIGHT, STILL WRITING THE PREGAME FOOTBALL BLOG. IT'LL INCLUDE RESULTS FROM BOTH SOCCERS, THE MEN WHO BEAT NORTH FLORIDA 2-1 AND THE WOMEN WHO TOOK A DRILLING FROM OREGON STATE.
As I Tweeted (http://twitter.com/DavidJNeal) a few hours ago, the folks at StiffArmTrophy.com now have T.Y. Hilton on their list. Stiff Arm's a site that polls a small, spread out number of Heisman voters each week. This is Hilton's first appearance on the list, sticking his nose in at No. 24.
While the football coaches try to temper and guide their team’s emotions as Central Florida comes to town, the volleyball coaches wanted their team to unleash some emotion as they headed to Orlando for the TownePlace Suites/UCF Challenge, which began Friday afternoon for FIU with a 3-0 win (25-16, 25-21, 25-15) over Jacksonville. Senior Sabrina Gonzalez had nine kills and Andrea Lakovic had eight. Renele Forde had 31 of FIU's 37 assists.
After Thursday’s practice, the team exchanged high fives in the end-of-match manner.
“We are working on bringing more energy to the team,” head coach Danijela Tomic said. “Becoming a more enthusiastic team, celebrating when we do things right, when we get a nice kill, get a nice block, get a dig. We need to be more enthusiastic and bring that energy. I challenged our players to start doing that.”
“It’s something for some of them that doesn’t come natural. They come from a background where they don’t talk a lot on the court and it’s a different style of play.”
Ironic that such a command comes from a European born-and-trained coach.
“There’s a lot of internationals, Europeans, who don’t talk too much because that’s the way we’re taught,” Belgrade-born outside hitter Jovana Bjelica explained.
Bjelica definitely heard another challenge from Tomic: be the hitter FIU could count on when they needed a kill to kill an opponent or opponent’s run. She also told Bjelica, a preseason all-conference pick, the unforced errors she was making were beneath her.
“I think that she was right,” Bjelica said of the mistakes. “She felt I was trying to do too much – like when the ball is out of bounds, I was still trying to get the kill. She felt that I need to concentrate on getting the ball into the court to keep the play going.”
Bjelica ranks 29th in the nation with 4.28 kills per set and has eight double-digit kill matches this year, four of which she also turned in double digit digs. Renele Forde has FIU’s other double-double so far this season.
Tomic says with Bjelica, Andrea Lakovic (“She’s gotten very good in doing something with every set she gets. Even when the set isn’t perfect, she betters the ball”) and Sunset High graduate Sabrina Gonzalez (“she’s been playing consistently well for us”) the offense has been fine. To move up to very good, she wants to see more from outside hitters Marija Prsa and Una Trkulja.
As for the team defense, improvement of which was a preseason goal, FIU’s at 2.28 blocks per set, a 36.5 percent improvement on last season. Gonzalez’s 1.19 blocks per set is third in the Sun Belt.
“I thought our defense was really good in California the first weekend,” Tomic said. “We had a relentless pursuit of defense. It was fun watching the team play like that. Even though we lost to California, I thought we competed really well. The last couple of weekends, I thought our defense took a step back. Our blocking has been right there. I think we’ve been outblocking most of the teams we’ve played against, which is new for us.”
“After the first two weekends, I had to talk to the team about having a process-oriented mindset instead of a results-oriented mindset. We went back to focusing on fundamentals on the things we need to do every time in every rally to make us successful.”
Sunday against Florida A&M, freshman Carolyn Fouts made her first start. Tomic said Hialeah native and Miami Christian graduate Nicole Beckelheimer, a 6-0 outside hitter, might be “the hardest working freshman in the nation” but probably would be redshirted this year.
Men's basketball coach Isiah Thomas will hire Scott Adubato to complete his staff of assistant coaches. The paperwork should be completed officially this week. Adubato, whose recruiting ties are strongest in the New York/New Jersey area was most recently an assistant at Manhattan for one season. He's also been an assistant in the NBA with Memphis and spent three seasons as a Seton Hall assistant under Bobby Gonzalez. Look for Adubato, son of former Orlando Magic assistant Richie Adubato, to boost FIU's quality of recruiting.
Yes, A'mare Stoudemire's been working out at FIU in Sunblazer/Golden Panther/Pharmed/US Century Bank Arena. No, Thomas hasn't been there. Not yesterday, not today. Today, while Amare worked out, Thomas listened to me talk to the basketball team about media, social media, the impression you can give through each and how that impression can follow you...forever.
As they used to say way back in the day, T.Y. Hilton's been getting more phone calls this week than a girl with a bad reputation. The FIU media relations staff has fielded not only the normal media requests (me, FIU Student Media), but electronic South Florida media. Sports Illustrated, USA Today and other national media.
One piece of football news: look for Jeremiah Harden to get more carries this week than the four he had against Louisville (for a, sadly, team leading 19 yards) and what he had against North Texas. Kedrick Rhodes and Darriet Perry have been the top two backs so far, in deployment.
Also, showing how out of it I've been this week (not bringing it strong for the big game, am I?) Pembroke Pines WR Jeremy Smith verbally committed to FIU over the weekend.
FIU announced the remainder of the men's basketball schedule Monday.
You already knew about the Dick's Sporting Goods NIT Season Tip Off games against George Mason Nov. 14 and either Monmouth or Virginia Tech Nov. 15. Coastal Carolina's the guest for the home opener, Nov. 26, the Saturday after Thanksgiving. If you're looking for the sexy home game in the non-conference schedule, well, hey, some people out there search for Sasquatch. The home opener's about as sexy as it gets.
FIU plays Maryland at College Park Dec. 14 after two games in the Lumberjack E-tech Classic, Dec. 10 and 11 against Texas Wesleyan and tournament host Stephen F. Austin, respectively. Stephen F. Austin? Sasquatch? For men of a certain age, that can only mean....
FIU starts conference play at Middle Tennessee State Dec. 29 and Western Kentucky, Dec. 31. New Year's Eve in Bowling Green, Kentucky. And you thought being a college athlete meant never touching a circle of Hades.
The home conference schedule opens Jan. 7, against Louisiana-Monroe. The home-and-home with Florida Atlantic is Jan. 21 (down here) and Feb. 4 (up there). The Sun Belt tournament's in Hot Springs, Arkansas Mar. 3-6.
Whatever reason given for FIU and the University of Miami not playing each other isn't good enough. By attendance and television ratings, South Florida is the most apathetic large-sized media market toward college basketball. So do the two Division I teams south of the Broward-Palm Beach line face each other to help the situation, for at least a week or a few days? Stop making sense.
The touchdown makers of FIU's 24-17 win against Louisville, wide receiver T.Y. Hilton and linebacker Winston Fraser, will be named the Sun Belt Offensive and Defensive Players of the Week this morning.
For Hilton, the repeat of an opening week honor came via a school record 201 receiving yards and two touchdowns. A few more times and Hilton will retire the award. Or they'll rename it "The Goodbye."
Fraser had eight tackles, the biggest being a no gain stop on Jeremy Wright on 3rd and 1 from the FIU 7 in the fourth quarter. His most important play, arguably the most important one of the game, was the 71-yard interception return that gave FIU a 7-0 lead after Loiusville's opening drive.
FIU left the Special Teams part of the award for its Sun Belt bretheren.
Both Hilton and Fraser, after the not-unusual pre-interview private chat with head coach Mario Cristobal, humbly complimented their teammates and coaches. Hilton dismissed the idea that the offense relied too much on him, with the understatement
"The plays that I make help us out."
He did say later he didn't think there was a secondary that could cover FIU's receivers one-on-one.
I know football and basketball drive the traffic to this blog, but I hate that I haven't had much on volleyball (two home wins over the weekend) or soccer (tough weekend) in the blog the last few days. We'll try to rectify that soon, even with FIU vs. UCF nigh.
Walter Camp coached at Yale and Stanford as American football took form in the late 1800s. Camp helped give it that form, creating many of the basic rules still used.
Camp would've looked at Friday's FIU win against Louisville and wondered why the young man taking hte snap from center was called the quarterback. And what the heck was the quarterback occasionally doing throwing the ball forward? And who is that No. 4 in white and can we get him to transfer to Yale before Harvard finds out about him?
T.Y. Hilton's school record 201 yards receiving, two touchdown catches and 268 all-purpose yards got him named The Walter Camp Foundation's National Player of the Week Sunday.
Last week, the bettors knew what they were doing. Sportsbooks place the opening line on how they think the game will play out and how they think bettors think the game will play out. They move the line based on how the bettors actually lay money, not on whether or not they change the sportsbook heads change their analysis. So, when Louisville opened as nine-point favorites and steadily dropped to 3.5 by game time, it said serious college football gamblers -- neither school has enough of a national following to draw any other wagerers early in the week -- were loving them some FIU all week. On that game, the books took a hit.
This week, Central Florida opened a five-point favorite, according to Vegasinsider.com. It's already down to 3.5 at the Wynn. The offshore boys, Sportsbook.com, The Greek and BetOnline, have UCF as four-point faves.