WEATHER UPDATE: Dry, cool just before kickoff. The Over should be a steal.
Meant to do this last night after I finished covering the broad, physical foolishness the Jets and Dolphins inflicted on America. Unfortunately, my stay in East Rutherford was extended by a flat tire in a remote auxiliary parking lot. By the time I got back to the Manhattan base, I had time for only a wee hours snack and time to pack before heading for the airport. i slept on the planes.
It’s a drizzly, yucky day in Jonesboro, Arkansas, the kind of day best spent with hot tea tinged with rum and a good book. Not a day for golf, even though I don’t think the heavy stuff’s going to come down for a while. But I can’t help but think of today as FIU’s 10th hole, the first hole after the halfway point of the round.
I also think of it that way because the Panthers have started to resemble more than a few golfers I’ve covered. When I cover a golf tournament, I bounce among groupings, trying to be on the spot when someone makes a run for the top of the leaderboard. It’s a physical – I wind up walking or running several miles per round – but also intuitive way of covering an event. You have to quickly tune in to the vibe of a player and his round.
I often use auto racing terms when discussing or writing about non-auto racing stuff. It’s what you get from an Indianapolis-raised guy who honed his math skills rapidly figuring lap speeds and qualifying run averages (even down to my Hot Wheels – on my Thundershift 500 set, the cars ran 68 mph actual speed). Golfers are on rails (playing well), just turning laps (playing average), suffer a wobble (a tough par preceded or followed by a bogey, could be leading into a…), spin out (a few bogeys putting them several strokes off the pace) and crash (bogey run out of contention).
FIU’s at wobble.
The loss to Lousiana-Lafayette counts as a tough par. I’d score it a bogey, but the Ragin’ Cajuns are tearing through the Sun Belt, 4-0 and 6-1 overall. Obviously, they’re better than most of us thought last month. You know all the qualifiers – FIU was really without its best player (and Lou-La knew it), had a redshirt freshman quarterback for three quarters and were flatter than the stars of the IHOP meal in front of me right now. And they still lost by only 5 to what’s looking like a good team.
The loss to Duke was a bogey. A 10-point lead in the fourth quarter on a team you’ve sat on for two quarters and you give up two gumball machine cheap touchdown drives? FIU’s not Alabama, but that just shouldn’t happen. Granted, Duke’s a tough schematic matchup for FIU, but the Panthers have it over Duke Power’s favorite school athletically. Also, the lead should’ve been bigger.
The win over Akron was a bad par in many ways again already detailed here previously.
So, the next two on Tuesday, here against Arkansas State and back at Camp Mitch against Troy, feel like the fork in the round. Two wins with the dogged problems – pass defense, red zone offense – corrected and FIU’s back in business on Blue Star. A win and a loss eliminates the margin of error. Two losses and hello wall, good bye this year.
For the preseason edition, I wrote that tonight’s game would be sort of like what happened after you figured out Mattel Football I or II, back in the day. The game got decided by who got the ball first in each half and who scored last in the first half. I see tonight’s game in a similar light.
The line opened with the Red Wolves 2.5-point favorites, now up to 3 or 3.5. Means the FIU money’s run a little stronger, but nothing big. The over/under’s 53 or 52, which as this dried up before kickoff, is an invitation to steal the house’s money.
Arkansas State’s not stupid. They’ll probably attack FIU the same way Duke did, but without the same sophistication in scheme variance. They’ll be successful, too. I don’t see Arkansas State stopping FIU much, either, and I see it happening the same way for the Panthers as the Red Wolves – big plays down the field, although I also see FIU getting in a few more big runs.
FIU’s improved on special teams coverage the last two games, but Mario Cristobal’s worried about the Red Wolves “big speed” and “long speed” on special teams. Now, college coaches have a way of making every opponent sound like the 2001 University of Miami future Pro Bowl roster. Cristobal’s no different, but that’s the first time he mentioned that with an opponent. That concerns him more than some of ASU’s other assets.
Still, this is an awfully tough set up for FIU. I’ll scale back the score from the preseason edition on the weather, but I still see it 35-31 or so for Arkansas State.
But, that’s just one black man’s opinion. I could be wrong.
Sabrina Beaupre has been named Sun Belt Diver of the Week.
FIU goalie Kaitlyn Savage has been named Sun Belt Player of the Week.