“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.