I’ve said for 25 years, “My problem with college football isn’t Saturday afternoon. It’s Sunday through Friday.” Walking through the parking lots, past the tailgates while listening to Fleetwood Mac’s “Tusk,” Phil Collins’ “In the Air Tonight,” or James Brown’s “Night Train” on my iPod, I felt buoyant – and it wasn’t just the half a colada I had just downed. Youthful, positive energy rules. It’s why I like to work around campus. Paint splashed onto my pant legs, I felt ready to cover some fun.
And games don’t get much more fun than Saturday night in an FIU Stadium fuller than either of the last two weeks (although that official attandance of 22,682...come on, man). FIU lost 31-27 for reasons foreseen, lost after having a 27-17 lead in the fourth, lost their second consecutive home game and a chance to dump the last decent non-conference team on their schedule. But they lost in a game with 954 yards of offense and potential crackling in every play.
Exactly what FIU feared came to pass. Duke quarterback Sean Renfree, wearing No. 19 in Duke’s Colts-lookalike uniforms, had all the time he needed when he needed it most to imitate Johnny Unitas to Conner Vernon or Donovan Varner. Renfree didn’t get rushed in the literal sense until the second quarter and never got sacked. He did get banged around somewhat in the third quarter. Not enough to unsettle him for good, however.
FIU did a much better job extricating themselves from the blocks on the hitches and screens, then actually making the tackle. But on plays downfield, they remained at sea when they had to rely on the secondary.
Mario Cristobal said, “We showed them zone, we showed them man, we brought pressure, we dropped eight sometimes…”
You shouldn’t see Duke safety Mike Daniels or FIU cornerback Sam Miller at breakfast this morning. They’re still chewing on those gluttonous chomps of play action fake they took on T.Y Hilton’s 63-yard touchdown pass (Daniels) or Vernon’s 26-yard touchdown pass (Miller). FIU sat on Duke for the second and third quarters, but when Duke needed a score down 27-17 in the fourth, the Blue Devils went 63 yards in just three plays.
“We just changed up our coverages and we adjusted to the types of routes they were trying to do,” Fraser said.
Duke taketh and Duke giveth. Even more than usual, FIU’s offensive game sat in Wesley Carroll’s hands. And Duke eventually knocked the game out of Carroll’s hands with the late turnover.
“Penetration and I’ve got to get the ball out sooner,” Carroll said.
Hard to complain when a quarterback completes 25 of 39 for 348 yards and three touchdowns and directs a spread offense to 568 yards. Well, it’s hard to complain unless there’s only 27 points on the board and you lose. That’s pretty much what both Carroll and Cristobal said afterwards. Carroll pointed to FIU failing to punch the ball in on three red zone trips, something they’ve been almost automatic on earlier this season.
Hilton dropped two other bombs. FIU scored anyway after he dropped a perfect throw in the first quarter. In the fourth, after Duke made it 27-24, he juggled to the ground what would’ve been about a 50-yarder if he falls after catching it, a 95-yard touchdown if he stays upright. Hilton said the flailing defensive back did get a piece of it, but his mistake actually was in the way he ran the route.
Carroll visibly lamented the third and 1 pass he bounced to Wayne Times later that possession. Cristobal used it as an example of the offensive night – just too imprecise. I found it a curious call, seeing as how Darriet Perry, FIU's power back, was having his best rushing game of the season. Late in the game on a steamy night, if you've got that kind of back going, isn't that when you want to batter the opposition with him?
“We thought we had a good matchup outside,” Cristobal said. “Even in the third and short in our territory in the fourth quarter. We have a chance to convert that, maybe for a big, big play. We were hairs away in certain parts of execution that I know we’re better than.”
And on the final play of the first half, from the Duke 45, with three seconds left and Duke bringing only a three-man rush, Carroll took off and ran out of bounds. Considering the height and athletic advantage of the FIU receivers streaking downfield for a Hail Mary, that seemed a curious trashing of a play.
On that drive and later, Carroll wasn’t helped by being timeout poor. FIU tossed away timeouts like Tic Tacs Saturday, especially in a game that they knew would come down to late possessions. I agree with the John Madden philosophy – don’t burn a timeout to prevent a delay of game or, on defense, anything short of total calamity. They’re just too valuable late in each half.
FIU burned one on Duke’s first drive of the game, on a third and 1 from the FIU 41. Carroll called one to prevent a delay of game on a second and 3 after a quick screen completion to Willis Wright to the FIU 27 with 9:35 left in the second quarter. No excuse for it to be close to a delay of game nor is second and 3 time to waste a timeout. FIU used their last timeout at the start of Duke’s next possession, first and 10 from the Duke 32 with 4:01 left in the half. That’s either disorganization or panicking.
So, when FIU got the ball back at its own 35 with 44 seconds left in the half, no timeouts in the bag.
In the second half, FIU blew a timeout on Duke’s fourth down attempt 1:08 into the half, one feeling even more wasted because Duke snapped the ball just after FIU called timeout and got stopped. Alas, no play, and Duke succeeded on their fourth down do-over.
Cristobal explained the next timeout, as Duke prepared to punt on fourth and 2 on the FIU 43 with FIU leading 27-24 with 8:18 left.
“We had a player who was dinged up pretty good,” he said. “And he wasn’t aware of the situation and he tried to get back in. we actually had to pull him out and have doctors take a look at him. To avoid an issue there with one extra person on the field, we used the time out to avoid a penalty.”
That left one timeout for when Duke took over on downs after Carroll’s fourth down incompletion with 2:29 left. FIU gave up a first down anyway so they couldn’t have kept Duke from running out the clock even with all their timeouts. Still, of the five timeouts used, at least four could’ve been saved.
I’m not into blaming officials and hate the whole “let the players decide the game" silliness. Players do decide the game. No official makes a player commit a penalty. If a player commits a violation and officials don’t call it, that’s more “deciding the game” than enforcing the rules of the game. Imagine you got mugged in front of a cop and he did nothing while saying, "Hey, times are tough, this is the start of the month when the rent's due. I don't want to decide who has money and who doesn't." Even when officials make a mistake, often so many things done by players lead up to that mistake or that mistake having consequence. The fool will use the wrong fork when the wise man’s not even sitting at the table.
That said, this ACC crew made some interesting calls and non-calls. In a game between teams with offenses that match up well against the opposing defenses, it’s strange that Duke wound up with only two penalties for 25 yards while FIU got zapped eight times for 85 yards.
The pass interference call on FIU’s Junior Mertile I thought was good at regular speed and good upon watching on DVR, but for a different reason. When the play occurred coming toward the press box, I originally believed Mertile didn’t get his head around to even look for the ball. Actually, he did – but he did it while pushing Connor Vernon back with his right arm as they both tried to make a play on the ball. That’s pass interference.
The holding call that wiped out Wayne Times’ wonderful touchdown catch was one you’ll see every day of the week and particularly on Sunday. Jordan White, who made a nice block to augment Kedrick Rhodes 52-yard screen pass in the third, grabbed Duke defensive end Jordan DeWalt-Ondijo like a five-year-old not wanting Mommy or Daddy to leave him at kindergarten. Carroll drifted to that side, so the hold clearly prevented the prime sack threat.
A pass interference on Jacob Younger eliminated a successful fourth and 4 conversion to the Duke 14 on FIU’s first second half possession. It ignited Cristobal when it was called and had him on fume after the game.
“I was told it was a pick play,” Cristobal said. “We don’t have a pick play in our offense, so I’m looking forward to watching the film to see exactly what was called.”
Younger comes off the line and goes right into contact with safety Walt Canty about 5 yards downfield and maintains contact for a second or two, effectively sealing off Canty from tight end Colt Anderson, who moseyed over to the left sideline. Did Younger obstruct Canty with contact? Yes. Was that the design of the play? Sure looks like it. Was it a judgment call? Yep. But there’s a way to do what Younger was trying to do with greater subtlety.
Sophmoore diver Sabrina Beaupre qualified for her second NCAA regionals Friday in FIU's season opening meet with Flroida Gulf Coast. Freshman Johanna Gustafsdottir swam the second best 200 IM in FIU history, 2:08.10. Heavy rains and lightning halted the meet after six events with FIU down 68-44.
Completing Homecoming weekend celebrations of the past, the 1996 national runner-up team will be honored at halftime of Sunday's noon match with Kentucky. That's the first game of a doubleheader, the second head of which will have the women's team hosting South Alabama.