While Akron product LeBron James dunked at FIU, FIU turned a dunk into a 15-foot jumper in Akron.
At halftime of "LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh present The South Florida All-Star Classic at FIU," Isiah Thomas presented a $50,000 check from the Mary's Court Foundation, the beneficiary of the game's proceeds, to the First Generation Scholarship Fund.
Saturday in Akron's old school, new design stadium was drier in every way than at FIU's U.S. Century Bank Arena.
Nobody bounced or skipped out of the FIU locker room late Saturday afternoon. For the most part, the addidas clad players and coaches emerged with faces set from grim to resigned. You can see the same looks on 6 p.m. weekday shuttle flights between LaGuardia and National worn by business folk returning from getting the job done without distinction.
Even the ever enthusiastic Mario Cristobal couldn’t put much rah-rah into FIU’s fourth win of the season. Oh, he pointed out 4-2 was FIU’s best record ever at this point in the season and they finished their non-conference schedule at 3-1, the best FIU ever has. Cristobal did so not exuding the testosterone and adrenaline of great victory nor while controlling his plastique temper, as he seemed to be at times after the loss to Duke. Instead, with a result that inspired neither of those energizing emotions, he seemed drained by the game.
Akron hadn’t held a lead on a Division I (FBS) opponent this season. The Zips are a running team with a depleted offensive line. They have a bend-but-don’t-break-too-easily defense. FIU ran for over 200 yards, passed for over 300 yards, yet still won only 27-17.
Defensively, they did the job. FIU stuffed Akron’s base running game – 55 yards on 19 rushes for running backs Jawon Chisholm, Karl Bostick – and often met Chishold or Bostick shortly after the handoff, like a bunch of angry closetalkers. The defense came up with its first turnover and first sacks in three games.
Individually, defensive end Tourek Williams abused his blockers, whether on the run or the pass, and at least three times blasted quarterback Clayton Moore as he threw. Williams and Jordan Hunt were ubiquitous early and throughout, although the official statistics might not show it for Hunt, who made a few tackles for which he didn’t get credit.
Wesley Carroll threw the bubble screens and short crosses to his 308 yards. T.Y. Hilton, who was limping on his ankle but figured he’d be fine in 10 days, caught a school-record 12 passes despite playing on a gimpy ankle through the second half. He ran out of the Wildcat set once for 8 yards. Kedrick Rhodes ran for 126 yards on 22 carries. Darriet Perry picked up 85 on 20 carries.
Still, you felt some truth when Rhodes said after the game he thought FIU played down to its opposition too often so far this season.
There were the penalties, 10 for 80 yards, most of them pre-snap penalties on the offensive line…the missed touchdown opportunities inside the Akron 20…the dropped passes and general sloppiness…against most other teams on their schedule, had FIU played this way, they’d have been the recipients of an underwear-nightmare humiliation.
FIU outgained Akron 265 to 101 in the first half, 120 to 18 in the second quarter. The scoreboard read 13-10 as Akron came out for the last seconds of the first half with a kneel down clearly in mind. One Ohio-based reporter quipped, “Going into the ‘Victory Formation.’” Another reporter in the press box quipped, “Yeah -- Moral Victory Formation.”
FIU seemed to be right on pace to duplicate the Duke loss. The red zone problems that dogged them at Duke followed them to Akron, slightly adjusted.
“Similar situation,” quarterback Wesley Carroll said. “We were able to move the ball, but we need more points. It’s evident. Wev’e got to score better in the red zone and we’ve got to make more plays. I’ve got to put the ball on the money. Receivers got to catch it. Line’s got to block.”
Cristobal said, “Against Duke, I though execution (in the red zone) was the problem. Here, it was penalties, although I guess you could say that’s part of execution, too.”
Out of the 20 drives directed by Carroll on which FIU got to the 15 or closer, they have touchdowns on 11, field goals on five and got bupkiss on four. That’s not good enough, especially when you play in the points-by-the-peck Sun Belt. Not picking on Carroll, but if it’s the quarterback’s job to get the team into the end zone and it’s a spread option offense, a chunk of the problem gets put on his desk. Then again, he can’t make everyone’s block or catch his own passes.
Nor, can he put a starting gate on the line of scrimmage to keep linemen from jumping the count. Six illegal procedure penalties by my count Saturday.
It got to the point when I wondered aloud, “Are they telling the line the snap count?”
Cristobal was referring to the pre-snap penalties when he mentioned, “a lot of penalties that are unacceptable some have to deal with focus and concentration.”
No penalties to blame for the first red zone failure. FIU marched smartly to the Akron 8 on its first possession. A pair of Kedrick Rhodes runs moved all of 2 yards. On third down, Carroll didn’t see wide receiver Willie Wright alone over the middle, instead underthew running back Darriet Perry on a checkdown. Jack Griffin hit the right upright on his chip shot field goal.
The next possession, a third and 2 from the 15 became third and 7 from the 17 after an illegal procedure call on FIU. So a layup first down against a terrible run defense became a passing down. Carroll threw incomplete FIU had to call on Griffin again.
Griffin’s next field goal followed Carroll not seeing a very open Jonathan Faucher at the goal line in the middle of the field and threw it away not far from that direction. I find it strange FIU doesn’t look for the tight ends more in the red zone. They did last week and got a touchdown catch from Faucher. When the small spaces around the goal line limit FIU’s speed, it’s time to bring the size and athleticism of your tight ends into play.
One play that won’t show up anywhere, but nearly turned the game – and got referenced in the postgame by Cristobal – was Dominique Rhymes drop on third and 5 from the FIU 23 in the third quarter. FIU began the drive on their 8, up 20-10. A touchdown puts Akron away, a field goal on the ropes, but a three-and-out gives Akron life. A defensive hold drawn by Hilton gave FIU a first down at the 18. Carroll split Rhymes numbers in the tummy, in stride on a post about 15 yards downfield. Drop.
I thought of Pierre Garcon’s second quarter drop in the Colts-Saints Super Bowl that proved a major turning point of that game. Similar pattern, although Garcon’s was deeper and more of a cross. But, the plays were alike in that both had running room and came on third down with their team driving to make a nice lead fat. Sure, enough Akron took the punt and drove 62 yards in four plays to cut the lead to 20-17.
The roughing the passer calls, while goosing two Akron drives, seemed more forgivable if only because they were so questionable.
“Until you see those on tape, it’s hard to tell,” Cristobal said. “They said on one we hit him in the head (Tourek Williams) and the other we hit him late (Andre Pound). On the last one, I thought (Denzell Perine) came in low and it was a shoulder to shoulder type tackle, but it wasn’t.”
The call on Williams nullified an incomplete third down pass caused by Williams two plays after he caused another incompletion by brutalizing Moore in the mid-motion.
“I wasn’t expecting that because when I hit him, I hit him with my hands in the chest,” Williams said. “but the play before when I hit him, I kind of hit him a little high. And they just wanted to come back with something the next play. It is what it is. I let the refs ref and I just play the game.”
This week, while FIU could harrumph about the roughing the passer calls, they also got two big breaks of their own from the zebras. The third-and-6 that immediately preceded Akron’s field goal saw Clayton Moore overthrow Antoine Russell deep behind Sam Miller. Officials fortunately for FIU, didn’t see Miller hold Russell’s near arm for half the time the ball was in the air.
In the third quarter, as Kedrick Rhodes turned a safety valve into a drive-saving 14-yard gain to the Akron 4, officials somehow missed Caylin Hauptmann committing an egregious hold. The entire press box saw it, gave varying exclamations and waited for Rhodes nifty play to come back. But no call came.
No gritting teeth over the officials this week. This week, the team that frustrated FIU was FIU.
Afterwards, the Boy Scouts and Cub Scouts took over the field for a camp out.