Sorry this postgame blog didn’t get up last night. It was post-midnight by the time I left Camp Mitch, I still had to drive back to South Beach, the kid’s first day of this school year is today and I’m the Morning Mussolini in getting her ready. For Saturday night games and road games, I expect to have this up late night.
So this is coming to you live from Cushman School Primary School Parent Orientation on three hours sleep.
The game story is at http://www.miamiherald.com/sports.
After Thursday’s 41-16 win, FIU players recalled the similarity to the season’s first official practice. That afternoon, the weather horn ran the team off the field and under the bleachers, then summoned them back. Several times. Back then, I talked to players who said this would help keep whatever minor problems that cropped up during the season from derailing what they wanted to do.
Well, the horn took charge late Thursday afternoon again. Requests to clear the stands and the field came soon after. And FIU players who had been through all of this several times over the last month changed gears, reset their emotional peaks and just dealt with it. OK, there was some head-banging in the locker room according to T.Y. Hilton.
Meanwhile, North Texas couldn’t have been happy. New coaching staff, inexperienced quarterback, young team playing a talented, more established team on the road…give that team boring routine. They’ve got enough gears to shift. The dampening of the crowd, literally and in size, counted as the only bright spot for North Texas in the pregame stop-start.
Pete Garcia looked at the wet and what could've been a nice crowd with the same look I had two days after we put our Hemingway, Caruso, asleep (his ashes sit on my side of the desk). The FIU athletic director grew up here. He knows what rain does to the best of sporting events down here, exponentially so for a weeknight sporting event at the on-campus facility of a commuter school in a circle of suburbia traffic hell. Garcia also knows what rain does to South Florida traffic. I heard some horrifying drive times from colleagues. I wonder how many people got part of the way there in the crawling traffic and said, “Forget this.”
The student sections got packed, but the rest of the crowd could’ve carpooled in a West Kendall mom van.
As for the game…
FIU’s quickness inside on defense just destroyed North Texas’ line. That gave running back Lance Dunbar no chance. Dunbar bounced outside for a couple of gains, but spent most of the night carrying some member of the front seven, usually linebacker Winston Fraser. North Texas quarterback Derek Thompson isn’t ready to be the I-beam upside the head of a team like FIU, especially down 28-0 early. At least four times, he floated throws a breath late that nearly became pick sixes.
Brelan Chancellor averaged 28.0 per kickoff return last year for North Texas. That said, the kickoff coverage needed to be more consistent. When kicker Jack Griffin makes two tackles or was the most dependable special teams tackler, as was the case last night, few gold stars get handed out for coverage.
Not much more can be said about T.Y. Hilton. He's an opposing coaches' nightmare because of what he can do but also because of what's around him -- a grinding running game, other receivers who can make tough catches or turn a little into a lot. On his 60-yard touchdown catch, the safety meandered toward Wayne Times, taking away the corner's help on Hilton. Later.
FIU head coach Mario Cristobal listed Darriet Perry as the starter at running back. I suspected that was out of respect for Perry as a leader and a senior. If you listened closely to Cristobal, you could hear his love for Rhodes’ runner’s instincts and vision. Sure enough, Rhodes got the bulk of the work early before they used Perry to batter a North Texas defense that got used to Rhodes’ shiftiness.
The best runs aren’t always the longest. NFL Hall of Famer Tony Dorsett broke the only 99-yard run in NFL history, but he’s often said if there was one play that would be next to his Hall bust, it was a 4-yard touchdown run against the then-St. Louis Cardinals (at 30 seconds in the video). Barring injury, Rhodes will make many runs this season longer than his 19-yard touchdown run Thursday. I doubt he’ll make any that demonstrate more running talent.
Cristobal hoped to sucker punch North Texas with freshman cornerback/kick returner Richard Leonard. Leonard had a solid game both on defense and special teams. He had the first of the near interceptions that would’ve been returned for scores, in the second quarter of his college career. He broke well on the ball, got to it the same time as the receiver and just couldn’t hold on while outfighting the receiver. The same play a few games from now, he’ll be there a quarter step quicker and he’ll be heading the other way with the ball.
Louisville got up on Murray State early Thursday then came home with the win, although not as eased up as FIU. I didn't DVR it. Hopefully, I'll snag a replay of it so I can do a full tracking of the game and give a decent scouting report.