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31 posts from November 2011

November 29, 2011

Occupy Beef O'Brady's St. Petersburg Bowl movement rolling at FIU

MLK would be proud. Never have so many in Miami under the age of 70 organized and campaigned so hard to head for St. Petersburg.

Between The Beef O'Brady's Bowl being a 3.5 to four-hour drive from most FIU students, the bowl possibly needing a team and FIU needing a bowl, FIU fans have decided upon an aggressive courtship. Sort of like Charlie Dog...

 

  The blitz of the bowl's Facebook fan site https://www.facebook.com/#!/stpetebowl?sk=info and Twitter feed forced acknowledgement from the Beef O' Brady's Bowl folks on both social media spots. On Facebook, the bowl said:

"We love all the support FIU fans, BUT, you've got three hurdles to overcome. USF Football, the Pittsburgh Panthers and UConn Huskies would have to lose this week. While possible, and we are watching closely, the BIG EAST Conference has the spot, UNLESS they don't have a bowl eligible team left for the Beef O'Brady's St. Petersburg Bowl. Keep up the enthusiasm as it may come down to Saturday afternoon to see who'll be traveling to St. Petersburg, Florida!"

South Florida (5-6, 1-5), which the game would love to have, hosts No. 23 West Virginia (8-3, 4-2) Thursday night. West Virginia needs the win for the Big East title and is coming off a 21-20 win in its yearly Backyard Brawl with Pitt. Speaking of Dan Marino's alma mater, the Panthers host Syracuse at noon Saturday. Both are 5-6, but one of Syracuse's wins was against 1-AA Rhode Island. UConn's 5-6 and likely to get D-Con-ned by 8-3 Cincinnati, which still has a shot at the Big East title.

And who's clinched a share of the Big East championship? Louisville, which FIU spanked up in bourbon country.

What I found interesting in the message was no mention of the Conference USA side of the game. I've written what follows several times in the last two weeks, so feel free to skip it: by my count, C-USA has six commitments to non-BCS bowls and five bowl eligible teams to fill them. That's down to four teams if Houston smokes Southern Mississippi in the conference championship game and goes to a BCS bowl. Perhaps the bowl's figuring on getting a C-USA team how ever things fall this weekend.

While some bowl projections put FIU in the BBVA Compass Bowl, I'm not sure why, if you follow the money, it makes sense to take FIU over Western Kentucky for that empty slot. Unless, that is, Western Kentucky winds up going somewhere else, in which case the Compass Bowl just might phone Camp Mitch with a late date request.

 

November 28, 2011

Allen's mask, FIU football to get another commit Dec. 9 & other recruiting stuff

A story on FIU's men's basketball team will appear in tomorrow's Herald and is online right now. Guard Jeremy Allen's working the Ron Boone mask after taking a head to the nose. I love that he made sure to note, "But I got the offensive charge to give us the ball." And the Imperial Stormtrooper shirt.

South Westside-20111128-00066

 

RECRUITING

Twitter's abuzz with recruits talking...

Orlando Freedom High defensive end Dieugot Joseph -- allegedly 6-6, 230 with a 4.8 40 -- hasn't accepted his scholarship offer from Camp Mitch, although his Twitter feed's been more enthusiastic about FIU than a third generation Panther raised in Sweetwater.

That didn't change Monday. Joseph wrote that he had an evening in-home visit from FIU; "just cut myself and bled Gold & Blue!"; and he would wait until his Dec. 9 official visit to verbally commit to FIU. "Out with the old and in with FIU" he Tweeted -- twice.

Riviera Beach Suncoast defensive back Davison Colimon, a verbal commit to FIU, says that Western Michigan is on him heavily, but he isn't sure he wants to leave the state of Florida. Then, he writes that playing in the cold will make him a stronger draft prospect and his goal is making it to the NFL.

Orlando Jones High defensive end Devin Washington, a 6-3, 219-pound junior, wrote in call capital letters, "just received my first college scholarship offer from FIU. I thank the Lord every day for the blessing and more to come." Later, he wrote, "That was such a surprise, I'm speechless."

 FIU visited Orlando Jones offensive guard Duaron Williams, 6-4, 298. Williams suffered a torn ACL on his last high school play.

A few (belated) thoughts from FIU 31, Middle Tennessee State 18...and some recruiting

Sorry about the lateness of this. I once again chose sleep over wee hours postgame blog filing. Actually, the bigger mistake was choosing some Mexican place in Murfreesboro for postgame dinner over an IHOP or Waffle House, where I could’ve had room to work while killing some breakfast food.

Then, I got home, got busy with other work, took the kid out and did anybody else think Chef Alex was deep fried when her potatoes went into the water? And she had that bag of burnt stuff on the table just for the aroma?

Anyway, FIU finishes 8-4. It’s the best record ever for FIU and ties Florida State for the best record in Florida. Before anyone starts to high horse about FIU's schedule and the Sun Belt not being the ACC, let’s throw some water on that to melt it just a little. The University of Miami lost a home game to the same Boston College that got punked by FIU victim UCF. FSU lost to Wake Forest, which got stomped by Vanderbilt Saturday in a game that didn’t help FIU’s bowl hopes.

Ah, the bowl situation. UM’s out, so there’s 72 bowl eligible teams for 70 slots as of right now. The SEC, Conference USA, the Pac-12 and the WAC won’t be able to fill all their bowl commitments. Good news for FIU. All that could create at-large needs in the Dec. 20 Beef O’Brady’s Bowl in St. Petersburg; the Dec. 24 Hawaii Bowl; the Dec. 17 Famous Idaho Potato Bowl on the blue in Boise; the Dec. 21 San Diego County Poinsetta Bowl; and the Jan. 7 BBVA Compass Bank Bowl.

The bad news for FIU? The Big Ten, as in the 10 teams from that conference that can go bowling. Unlike the Coral Gables school under NCAA investigation, Ohio State has said if invited somewhere, it’ll go. That doesn’t just keep a school in the mix. It keeps a name school that travels well in the mix. Those Big Ten schools bring beef on the field and bodies to the hotels and restaurants. Midwestern winters and traditional fandom make desired bowl guests. Except for, this year, Penn State. Any bowl would love the money, as Penn State would still bring a good chunk of Pennsylvania, but the stories that would follow in the run-up to the game might be enough to propel bowl reps through the hospitality lounge alcohol supply 72 hours before kickoff.

Still, Penn State insists if called, it’ll come.

The St. Pete game looks like the most logical location that would have a space and some love for FIU. If the Compass Bowl’s going to go Sun Belt, Western Kentucky’s the obvious choice. Nobody says Western packs the house, but neither does FIU and Western’s only 250 miles away from the Compass Bowl. Same reason I think Beef O’Brady’s makes sense for FIU.

As for stuff from Saturday…

For the second consecutive game, Wesley Carroll played about as well as he has all season. Carroll deserves a chunk of the credit for the offense getting the job done in the red zone, four touchdowns in five red zone trips. Hate to harp on a point and I’m no coach, but it doesn’t seem an accident that over the last two weeks, FIU’s had five touchdowns in seven red zone trips and three of those trips featured passes to tight ends, two for touchdowns.

“(Tight ends) Coach (Greg) Laffere told me all week that was going to be there,” senior tight end Jonathan Faucher said after being so wide open catching a 5-yard touchdown pass off a play action fake, he could’ve counted bumps on the ball.

“They’ve been so instrumental in our running game,” Cristobal said. “People really start packing the box and they really start running by and ignoring them. Great call from the box. They’re in man coverage, their eyes are coming off the tight end, we went to a check to it at the line of scrimmage.”

Faucher also recovered an onside kick and, for the second time in three weeks, got his hands on a punt. The punt wobbled 28 yards, leaving FIU 51 yards away from a 21-6 lead. They took the lead on a lob to T.Y. Hilton that featured enough people in that back corner of the end zone for a robust game of tunk or euchre. Hilton said wide receiver Jacob Younger didn’t receive the right call, but it all worked out.

Back to Faucher and Colt Anderson, the two senior tight ends. Replacing two big (6-3, 233, 6-4, 220) and athletic (Anderson’s the consensus best basketball player on the team, Faucher used to play soccer) won’t be easy. It’s not just their run blocking or that they catch the ball on the rare occasions they’re targeted. Both play on special teams, where each has recovered an onside kick this year. Faucher’s made nine tackles on special teams, four solo.

“(Redshirt junior) Joey Harris will be a senior,” Cristobal said. “(Freshman) Ya’Keem Griner, I think has a chance to be a special talent. Paul Lundgren is a big guy who played defensive line befre. That’s kind of in vogue, taking those big defensive lineman, getting a bigger body out there.”

Speaking of defensive linemen, FIU’s found Middle Tennessee’s quarterbacks like the doorway at the end of the hall in the funhouse that keeps getting farther away the more you run toward it. By the middle of the third quarter, they were getting more consistent pressure, leading to Greg Hickman’s interception and a couple of near misses.

“They do that almost like waterfall protection,” Cristobal said. “Literally on the snap, they start backpedaling right away. The quarterback’s launch point is very deep. It takes a while to adjust to. I think they’re top 10 in the country in least sacks allowed (they had allowed only eight in 10 games). We stayed with it. We started putting some guys in the game that had some fresh legs.”

Shame Kedrick Rhodes sprained an ankle just 12 yards from the single season rushing record. Also a shame safety Justin Halley, who ended the year with a team-high four interceptions, wasn't credited with more than one pass breakup aside from his interception. He had his hands on at least two other passes.

Hilton’s kickoff return epitomized darkest-before-dawn. Nobody bothered to field the pooched kickoff or, at least, field it on the fly. When it bounced, that screamed trouble. Wayne Times jumped to bat it out of trouble, but this was a job for an outside hitter like Jovana Bjelica, not a wide receiver. The ball got swatted back toward the FIU goal line. Around the 15, it began doing that tantalizing “can-you-grab-me?” bouncing footballs do when Hilton happened by. He scooped up the ball, turned the corner on the opposite side of the field and got to the Middle 7. I’ll bet even Middle Tennessee fans groaned when Hilton got brought down. It seemed to much a wild, wonderful play to not end in a score.

Besides, that would’ve guaranteed the play a spot on SportsCenter.

Before the season, I predicted FIU would go 9-3 with losses to UCF, Arkansas State and Louisiana-Monroe. In my weekly pregame blog predictions, I went 7-5. Quarterback injuries got me against the Louisianas – I didn’t expect three quarters of Medlock against Lafayette and I figured Medlock, out of inexperience, for the killing error against Monroe. Instead, Wesley Carroll came in and performed admirably.

I’m out. Hopefully, I’ll be back with a bowl matchup and bettling lines (maybe even some sides!).

RECRUITING

Haines City linebacker Josh Glanton, who verbally committed to FIU earlier this month, had an in-home visit from FIU Sunday according to his Twitter account and will be entertaining Michigan on Wednesday. An in-home from Michigan might test that verbal committment.

Pensacola High defensive back Damarius Travis will be making his official visit to FIU in December. Travis is also visiting Minnesota and Western Michigan. Visits in December for a kid from Pensacola? Advantage: FIU.

Also, reportedly, FIU's offered junior college wideout 6-5, 196-pound Corey Washington from Georgia Military College.

  

November 26, 2011

Football Gameday XII, Men's Hoop Home Opener

Things have been quiet in this corner of The Herald blog world the last few days. I had some Dolphins duty Wednesday and Thursday. Wednesday, though I wasn't assigned to it, I would've gone by FIU's football practice if it didn't occur the same time as Grandparents Day Thanksgivng Assembly at my daughter's school. I don't miss assemblies -- period. And I don't go to Thanksgiving practices unless ordered to do so. My job on Thanksgiving around our house used to be to start and maintain the mimosa flow as the wife cooked turkey, two kinds of stuffing, sweet potatoes, green bean casserole, cranberry sauce and mashed potatoes . Since my daughter's arrival, I occupy her on Thanksgiving when she isn't helping the wife and start the mimosa flow a little later in the day.

And the only "Black Friday" I deal with is on the Steely Dan album Aja. I don't think of the day after Thanksgiving as "Black Friday" unless it's short for lay-my-Black-butt-on-the-couch-and-watch-football-and-eat-leftovers Friday.

So, FIU vs. Middle Tennessee State. You really want in-depth analysis of a season closer against a 2-8 team that's probably pulled the chute like Don Garlits crossing the line? Brotha, please. FIU wins 38-14.

But that's just one black man's opinion. I could be wrong.

What you really want to know about, if you want o know about anything, is the bowl sitation. I'm not going through all the permutations. It's late, I'm tired and it's the kind of thing that makes even my eyes glaze over. Reader's Digest form: FIU needs as few bowl eligible teams as possible elsewhere, particularly in the SEC, Conference USA and the Big East. So, FIU fans if you see a team with five wins playing a team that already has six wins or no shot at six wins, root for Team B.

Also, FIU needs to hope selectors look at the pluses.

Plus: FIU should have a nice 8-4 record. Plus: FIU's a fun team to watch -- touchdowns from way back there, on any kind of play, games with drama. They'll give you the kind of show The Holiday Bowl used to every year (in fact, last year's Pizza Bowl seemed an offspring of the Holiday Bowl during my teens). Minus: FIU will be fourth in the Sun Belt behind another bowl eligible team, Western Kentucky. Big Minus: FIU doesn't travel better than anybody. Nobody with six brain cells really blames FIU for this. The rest of the country gets it when they bother to think about it -- the school draws the vast majority of its students from an area much of the country wishes they could get to, not leave, in December or January.

I'll let you know if there are any bowl scouts gladhanding around the press box Saturday.

Oh, last week, Louisiana-Monroe's Kolton Browning running or throwing on almost every second half play reminded me of two strips from Bull Tales, the college predecessor of long-running comic strip Doonesbury. In trying to get this out as soon as possible with flights, connections and breakfast, I forgot to track them down to include here. Click on the link, http://www.doonesbury.com/strip/archive/yale and go to strips Nos. 4 and 5. The quarterback, B.D., was a takeoff on Yale quarterback Brian Dowling, who had his fellow Yalies so giddy in 1968, one student said, "The thing on most campuses is saying, 'God is dead.' We think he's wearing No. 10." The player with the comeback in No. 4 is a takeoff on running back Calvin Hill, who would go on to produce a fine NFL career and basketball star Grant Hill.

MEN'S BASKETBALL

A "chanticleer" is, basically, a chicken. A tough chicken that's the Alpha Chicken of the yard.

That's Coastal Carolina's nickname. Tonight, the Panthers try to keep control of their yard for the first time this season. Coastal's already beaten quality programs Clemson and Maryland on their way to a 5-0 record. FIU (1-3) needs a good result, something positive before young spirits sink despite older folks best efforts. 

November 23, 2011

Baseball's Sweet 16 (maybe), optimistic orals; basketball's Oral surgery

Major League Baseball has "The Hot Stove League." For college baseball, it should be called "The Hot Plate League."

Anyway, FIU announced the signing of 16 high school and junior college players in its 2012 recruiting class. Perfect Game USA ranks the class at No. 19. I wonder where it'll rank should the verbal commitments made below make it to Camp Mitch.

Now, I've made clear my feelings on recruiting and recruiting rankings. I'll write about recruiting because college fans love to obsess over "Who's next?" which I don't get, although I have several friends who obsessed over Who's Next. I'll report the rankings by the folks who make a living off the aforementioned obsessed by ranking players and classes. But it doesn't mean I put much more stock in them than I do my twice-a-week Lotto play.

That said, here's the officially signed part of the class (player details were more extensive before I lost this entire blog post a third of the way through. I figured at that time it was time to change the rhythm of the evening -- a nap, some blackened fish & shrimp fried rice, tea and Coke, back to it.)

LHP Tyler Alexander, 6-1, 175, out of Hillsboro Community College and Tampa Armwood High: No relation to the Tyler Alexander who helped Bruce McLaren develop his invincible Can-Am design, then ran McLaren's Formula 1 and Indy Car operations the founder's 1970 death. In case you were wondering.

INF Josh Anderson, 6-1, 215, R/R out of Yavapai College and Poway (Cal.) High

RHP Mitchell Davis, 6-1, 175, out of Grayson County College Fort Worth Castleberry High

RHP Chris Elander, 5-11, 175, from Oviedo Hagerty. Threw a no-hitter last year and hit a key grand slam as Hagerty came from 5-1 down to beat Oviedo 8-5 in the 6A-District 3 final.

RHP Matt Ferreira, 6-2, 195, Deltona Trinity Christian

RHP Mike Franco, 5-10, 180 from Howard College and Corpus Christi Moody High

C Phildrick Llewellyn, 6-0, 180, a switch-hitter from Lake Worth Trinity Christian. When a freshman, Llewellyn got KO'ed by Miami Brito's Daniel Bolanos in a plate collision that sparked a bench-clearning brawl (of course). Mass suspensions and injunctions ensued. Baseball, brawls, lawyers...high school baseball, South Florida-style.

RHP Dillon Maya, 6-1, 180, from Coral Gables High

LHP Jeff Rehonic, 6-6, 235, American High

OF/3B Edwin Rios, 6-4, 170, left-handed hitter from Kissimmee Osceola High

OF/1B, Alexis Rivera, 6-2, 220, left-handed hitter from Kissimmee Osceola High

OF Antonio Rodriguez, 5-10, 175, left-handed hitter from Coral Gables High. First team All-Dade last year, hitting .545 with two homers and 26 RBI

RHP Reid Scoggins, 6-2, 205, from Howard Collge and Dallas W.T. White High

RHP Alex Seibold, 6-2, 180, from Plantation American Heritage High. Two-time All-Broward second team player.

LHP Tyler Sullivan, 6-0, 185, from Weatherford College and Plant City Durant High

C Chucky Vazquez, 6-2, 190, right-handed hitter from American High.

What follows are the verbal committments that have allegedly been made:

SS Nick Basto, 6-2, 190, from Fort Lauderdale Archbishop McCarthy High

OF/1B/P Alex Dowell, 6-1, 175, from Parkland Douglas High

SS/P Victor Gonzalez from Jupiter High

P David Jervis from Braddock High

SS Rey Ordonez Jr. from Mater Academy. Yep, son of the major leaguer.

INF Jason Morozowski, 6-0, 160, from Fort Lauderdale Archbishop McCarthy High. Brother Ryne's with FIU now.

Andres Sanchez, Pembroke Pines Flanagan, hit .500 with 51 RBI and 17 home runs last season, making everyone's first team All-Broward and garnering a couple of Player of the Year honors. 

 MEN'S BASKETBALL

After opening with an upset of George Mason, FIU's lost to Virginia Tech (unavoidable), Arkansas-Pine Bluff (what?) and now Oral Roberts, 73-65, at Oral Roberts in the final consolation round game of the Dick's Sporting Goods NIT Season Tip-Off.

Phil Taylor scored 22 and was four of eight shooting from three-point range. DeJuan Wright was six of eight from the floor and a perfect three for three from the line in getting his 17 points.

Now 1-3, FIU returns home for the home opener, Saturday, against Coastal Carolina. It's a 7:30 start, meaning you can shovel in two meals worth of leftovers before waddling over to check out the action.

 

 

November 22, 2011

No NBA so ESPN goes for FIU

Acronyms abound!

FIU's Dec. 14 game at Maryland, originally slated for ESPNU, has been moved to ESPN. The Wednesday night NBA game that normally would be in that slot on ESPN Original obviously won't be there.

FOOTBALL

Nothing much to report from practice today. Willis Wright was limited as was Medlock.

Medlock deep bruise; basketball split

Quarterback Jake Medlock suffered a deep bone bruise on his right shoulder, according to head coach Mario Cristobal, and will practice on a limited basis Tuesday. That's better news for him than I expected when I saw him after Saturday's 28-17 win against Louisiana-Monroe. Still, I'd bet on Wesley Carroll starting the season finale against Middle Tennessee State.

MEN'S BASKETBALL

Senior Jeremy Allen scored a game-high 21 points and snagged a career-high six steals against Arkansas-Pine Bluff Monday. Alas, FIU turned the ball over 19 times and lost 58-56, falling to 1-2 in the season opening NIT. In the final game of the Dick's Sporting Goods NIT Season Tip-Off consolation round, FIU will play Oral Roberts Tuesday night.

FIU led by 11 in the first half, but Pine Bluff closed in, then closed the half on an 18-2 run to lead by eight at get-more-beer time. FIU fell behind by as many as 14 before coming back to take the lead with 1:37 left. The Panthers quickly lost that lead, and never led again.

WOMEN'S BASKETBALL

Sophomore guard Jerica Coley threw in 32 points, had a team-high seven assists, eight rebounds, three blocks and three steals in a 79-64 win against Florida A&M at The Bank Monday night.

As FIU jumped back to .500, fifth-year senior Fannia Hutlassa popped in 18 points and eight rebounds. Junior Carmen Miloglav had three steals. FIU led by 21 at halftime, saw its bulge shrink to as low as nine before closing out the game.

 

 

November 21, 2011

Cyprien Sun Belt Defensive Player of the Week; hoop teams today

Junior safety Jonathan Cyprien, whose 9-yard interception return touchdown gave FIU a 28-7 second quarter lead in their 28-17 win at Louisiana-Monroe Saturday, was named Sun Belt Conference Defensive Player of the Week.

Cyprien had five solo tackles, nine tackles overall and the touchdown, which turned out to be an even larger factor than it seemed at the time. After all, nobody thought FIU was finished scoring and Monroe's points had come on Luther Ambrose's kickoff return touchdown (Ambrose got the special teams weekly nod from The Belt). But that score gave FIU a beefier margin for error in the second half, especially after Monroe closed to 28-17. If that's 21-17, the Panthers side easily could start getting uptight and it's less likely they get the close out plays they got from Richard Leonard and the defensive line.

This is the second defensive player of the week award won by FIU this season, and the sixth player of the week award overall -- two offensive and one special teams by wide receiver T.Y. Hilton, a special teams by kicker Jack Griffin and a defensive by defensive tackle Isame Faciane.

MEN'S BASKETBALL

The consolation bracket of the Dick's Sporting Goods NIT Season Tip-Off sends FIU to Oral Roberts Monday to play Arkansas-Pine Bluff Monday at 6 p.m. and Oral Roberts Tuesday. For those who like to watch, try  http://www.orugoldeneagles.com for live video streaming.

One plus already two games into this season -- FIU's hitting 82.9 percent of their free throws as opposed to 68.9 percent last season. Un-SportsCenter as free throws are, they're important for winning close games, games of the type FIU lost last year.

WOMEN'S BASKETBALL

Meanwhile, FIU's women's team tries to even its 1-2 record at U.S. Century Bank Arena aganst Florida A&M. FAMU defeated Jacksonville in its opener, as did FIU, then lost to Central Florida. FIU is coming off a 61-54 Friday loss at Texas-San Antonio.

  

November 20, 2011

A few thoughts from FIU 28, Louisiana-Monroe 17; hoop teams looking for consolation

 

Back to the Not Future for FIU Saturday to win a game that had to leave FIU asking “What if?” even as they celebrated the program’s first seven-win regular season.

What if the defense consistently brought home fourth quarter leads once handed the baton, as they did Saturday, though surely exhausted by time on the field and sheer number of plays? The 58 plays Louisiana-Monroe ran in the second half amounted to only seven points. What if they came up with plays such as Richard Leonard’s diving fourth quarter, end zone interception with greater regularity?

Let it be noted that FIU’s led in every game this season and held fourth quarter leads in three of its four losses.

What if Wesley Carroll, who FIU had to turn to like a wayward husband returns to a recently separated wife, had got the ball from the red zone into the end zone (by using the tight end, please note), thrown the ball away when in trouble (no sacks taken) while still igniting just enough explosive plays to get the job done?

Give it up for Carroll, losing his starting job with only three regular season games left in his senior year, not just auto-piloting through practice and staying ready. He recalled his college career, at Mississippi State, began similarly.

“Auburn, my freshman year,” he said. “Our quarterback hurt his hand on our first drive. That’s when I took over. He got hurt the first drive and I started every game since. My first really big action was at Jordan Hare Stadium at Auburn. A little different circumstance.”

Caroll came out hitting running back Kedrick Rhodes in the right flat, a pattern ULM had trouble stopping in the first half and FIU had problems defending in the third quarter when ULM ran it. Carroll’s first touchdown pass went to tight end Colt Anderson on a short pass to the right sideline that let Anderson use his athleticism to muscle inside the pylon.

Later in the game, Carroll missed Rhodes up the right sideline on what looked like a wheel route and overthrew Ariel Martinez, who was shockingly a stride and a half clear of double coverage deep. They had a hint they’d be able to hit some big stuff on Monroe, as they were able to do last season. They had to be satisfied with the catch-and-run touchdowns by T.Y. Hilton and Glenn Coleman, both gorgeous athletic plays,

“We had shots, we took shots,” Cristobal said. “I’d say it was executed OK, not as good as we wanted.”

By the way, Carroll and Monroe’s Kolton Browning showed the admirable quality of knowing when to say, “Chuck it” and give up on a play instead of taking a damaging sack. I’ve never seen more passes thrown to the training tables and cheerleaders. Browning’s 59 passes ended one short of the record by an FIU opponent, set by Florida A&M.

I wrote after last week’s quarterback change I believed it was Carroll’s tendency to hold onto the ball manifesting itself on the 13-yard sack against Western Kentucky that finally cost him the starting job. No belief this week – we know it was Medlock’s fatal tendency to take on tacklers that got him injured on the second play. Much as a physical runner tromping a defender gets everyone excited on the sideline and in the stands, especially when the runner’s a quarterback, it is a dangerous way to live.

T.Y. Hilton said he told Medlock he’s got to learn to slide and pointed to other Sun Belt quarterbacks. Browning slid like Jackie Robinson coming home sometimes, like a kid playing on a Slip ‘N’ Slide other times. But he lasted the game. That’s no small feat considering some of the shots he took otherwise, usually just after throwing the ball. Or, way after throwing the ball (holding and late hits seemed to be the only penalty not called by this officiating crew).The play before Leonard’s interception, Browning must have thought he got blasted by both generations of Sam Miller. Surely, all that affected his accuracy, especially as only a few second half plays weren’t passes or Browning runs.

“He got loose on us in the second half,” FIU coach Mario Cristobal admitted. “There’s a feast or famine approach to taking on a quarterback like that when you bring pressure. Sometimes, we were bringing four, trying to play man and keep two safeties high. He got away sometimes. We had our moments when we got him on the ground, but he’s a really good football player.”

In the first half, though, FIU bullied ULM badly – only 10:16 time of possessions, six first downs and 32 yards rushing allowed.

“The first thing we did was we stopped the run,” Cristobal said. “When we were albe to stop the run, we were able to put some more nickel guys in there, put more speed on the field and defend their quick guys. Their “10 personnel” looks, their four-wide looks and had some success with that.”

The only thing FIU allowed in the first half was the first kickoff return touchdown ever by an FIU opponent. When Cristobal mentioned Ambrose this week, I mentioned the streak of 125 games and he gave a little grin-grimace as if leery of mentioning it and making fun of himself for being so superstitious.

 “We got pinned,” he said. “We set up towards the left. Our No. 5, 6, 7, they got pinned inside while they were trying to cross and Ambrose came out the other way. Our safety got blocked and our kicker also who lost force. He got caught up in all that wash. Not a really good job by us, and a really good job by Ambrose. If he finds a seam, he’s going to hit you.”

Between that and suffering some injuries to kickoff coverage guys – redshirt freshman Brandon Bennett was on crutches with a walking boot on his right foot after the game – FIU joined ULM in the pooch kick party. ULM, with the worst kickoff return coverage in the Sun Belt, wasn’t about to try Hilton. They popped up pooches to Leonard’s side.

MEN'S BASKETBALL

The consolation bracket of the Dick's Sporting Goods NIT Season Tip-Off sends FIU to Oral Roberts Monday to play Arkansas-Pine Bluff Monday at 6 p.m. and Oral Roberts Tuesday. For those who like to watch, try  http://www.orugoldeneagles.com for live video streaming.

One plus already this season -- FIU's hitting 82.9 percent of their free throws as opposed to 68.9 percent last season.

WOMEN'S BASKETBALL

Meanwhile, FIU's women's team tries to even its record at U.S. Century Bank Arena aganst Florida A&M. FAMU defeated Jacksonville in its opener, as did FIU, then lost to Central Florida. FIU is coming off a 61-54 Friday loss at Texas-San Antonio.

 

November 19, 2011

Medlock hurt on 2nd play of the game; and other sports stuff.

FIU redshirt freshman quarterback Jake Medlock hurt his right shoulder when tackled on the second play of the game Saturday against Louisiana-Monroe and left the game.

Medlock, making his second consecutive start, kept on an option run around left side, put his shoulder down to crash through several defenders. This time, it was Medlock who remained down. He went to the locker room and returned by first quarter's end -- out of uniform.

Fifth-year senior Wesley Carroll came into the game and guided FIU to a 7-0 lead after the first quarter, 28-10 at halftime. Carroll threw for 196 yards and 3 touchdowns in the first half helped by two spectacular catch-and-runs by Glenn Coleman and T.Y. Hilton.

 

No live blogging here for FIU vs. Louisiana-Monroe. Follow me on Twitter at http://twitter.com/DavidJNeal

VOLLEYBALL

After Western Kentucky pulled another natural hat trick (3-0) on FIU to end the Panthers season Friday night in the Sun Belt Conference Tournament, senior hitter Andrea Lakovic was named to the All-Tournament team. In FIU's two tournament matches, Lakovic pounded 24 kills, six blocks and two service aces. Lakovic ends her career as the rally-scoring era leader in hitting percentage (.302), block assists (351) and total blocks (388) and second in solo blocks (37). Her 1,005 kills rank fifth in the rally-scoring era.

SWIMMING & DIVING

For the first time in the program's history, FIU's ranked in the Top 25 of CollegeSwimming.com's Mid-Major rankings. FIU is No. 24 in the season's first poll.

Football Gameday XI with beef and Duck

Miami Book Fair. NPC Nationals bodybuilding in South Beach. NASCAR winding up its season with a duel in Homestead between the track’s ace (Carl Edwards) and one of the most aggressive, yet smartest and most talented drivers of this generation (Tony Stewart).

And I’m in Monroe, Louisiana, where the airport’s transitioning from 1964 to 2011 and, in the process, the baggage claim is outside. No belt, just a bunch of guys putting your stuff on a sidewalk. Long Beach or Maui, this ain’t.

The FIU football folks have beef with me. In the story that appeared in Friday’s Herald, I wrote that Winston Fraser and Jordan Hunt were singled out by Cristobal for Arkansas State quarterback Ryan Aplin running for 164 yards in that Panthers loss. After the game, when we asked Cristobal how that happened, he said, “There were several occasions where we do have him bottled up and he kind of gets out of there in pressure situations or assignment situations. He got loose, sometimes, he read it well and sometimes we busted at the linebacker position.”

Fraser and Hunt play the vast majority of snaps at linebacker for FIU. Kenneth Dillard and Chris Edwards were the backups that night. By the official play-by-play and my game notes, Fraser and Hunt were on the field for Aplin’s biggest, most significant runs as he ran for 131 yards in the first three quarters. Hunt disappears from the play-by-play in the fourth quarter, when Edwards picked up his two solo tackles and four of his five assisted tackles.

FIU says Hunt and Fraser weren’t being singled out because Cristobal didn’t say them by name. I said you point to a position where you have two guys who play an overabundance of snaps, those two guys are singled out by logical inference. What say you folks about this?

Anyway, on to Louisiana-Monroe. The line on this game opened with FIU favored by one and has moved to Monroe favored by 1 to 1.5 most places and 2 at one offshore book. The over/under is 49.5-50. Looks like what money’s come in on this game has been on Monroe.

Statistically, we could be looking at another field position-kicking game battle: the Sun Belt’s Nos. 2 and 3 in yards allowed, Nos. 1 and 3 in rush defense with Monroe holding the higher ranking in both cases. FIU’s No. 1 in scoring defense, No. 2 in pass efficiency defense, and No. 3 in pass defense.

Strategically, Cristobal worries about Monroe’s defensive ability to make run reads and pass coverages difficult, a good talent to have when facing a spread option, especially one run by a redshirt freshman quarterback. This game might force us to see more of Medlock’s arm than FIU would like, although, what’s to lose? FIU’s already bowl eligible, can’t win the Sun Belt and won’t get one of the Sun Belt’s two bowl tie-in spots. They’re in the position Tony Stewart’s been telling everybody he’s in this week – can’t lose a spot in the standings, so no pressure. Hopefully, this means players playing loosely and coaches coaching loosely.

(But not too loosely – FIU has a tendency to let their Duck Dodgers-Dr. Doofenshmirtz come out when their base stuff is working just fine.)

  

In the kicking game, FIU’s got the paper advantage. FIU kicker Jack Griffin could probably kick with his left foot wearing Ferragamos and make five of 12, which is what Monroe’s field goal kicking has been this season. In kick and punt returns, FIU’s second and first in the Sun Belt, respectively, while Monroe’s third in kickoff returns, but next to last in kickoff coverage and last in punting (gross and net). Expect to see some avoidance of T.Y. Hilton and Luther Ambrose today, especially if it starts to look like one or two big plays could decide the game. That could lead to some shanked punts and field position swings over a few possessions.

“The two most dangerous returners (in the Sun Belt) will be on the field Saturday,” Cristobal said.

I like FIU’s defense lately and in this matchup. Overall, this season, running backs haven’t damaged them badly – Louisiana-Lafayette’s guys ran on them and Western Kentucky’s Bobby Rainey got his yards, but yards to nowhere – and sophomore Kolton Browning’s not the kind of running quarterback that FIU’s had problems containing. Then again, Browning hasn’t faced FIU, which gave up 31.0 percent of Aplin’s rushing yards this season and 19.4 percent of Lou-La’s Blaine Gauthier’s rushing yards for the season. One thing Browning hasn’t done is throw interceptions and FIU’s been gobbling those up the last few games.

Tough call. FIU’s more likely to get a special teams score and to get points out of good field position. But Jake Medlock’s more likely to make le grand boo-boo. And, it’s a road game…

I picked Monroe to upset FIU in the preseason and I’ll stay with that here, although without conviction. La-Mon 19, FIU 16.

That’s just one black man’s opinion. I could be wrong.

Now, off to kill some breakfast…

 

November 18, 2011

FIU vs. Western Kentucky (one more time); bowl business; Carroll in Battle of Florida

Here we go again. November's become FIU vs. Western Kentucky Month in the Sun Belt Conference.

First, the two schools faced each other in the Sun Belt Tournament women's soccer final, which FIU won on penalty kicks. Later that day, Western hung around until FIU screwed up just enough to lose a key football game at Western. Now, they'll meet in the Sun Belt Volleyball Tournament, Friday at 7:30 after FIU got rid of Denver, 3-1 (25-21, 23-25, 25-21, 25-18) Thursday and Western Kentucky dismissed Troy.

FIU, as host of the tournament, will enjoy a home court advantage. And they don't have an antiquated nickname like "Lady Toppers" (is that a brand of wigs?). Other than that, the preponderance of the evidence suggests another Western win. Only Middle Tennessee State, among Sun Belt schools, emerged victorious from a meeting with Western Kentucky. It'll be FIU"s third match against WKU and FIU's still waiting for their first set win. WKU zapped FIU twice this season, both 3-0 sweeps.

Listening to FIU coach Danijela Tomic's analysis of Western sounded like both the women's soccer and football breakdown: great defense, simple offense. 

Thursday, junior hitter Jovana Bejelica rolled up 18 kills and 15 digs. Marija Prsa banged down 15 kills and 11 digs. Andrea Lakovic had a season-high 16 kills. Jessica Egan rolled up 51 assists and 12 digs.

No. 2 seed Middle Tennessee faces No. 6 North Texas in the first game of the night, a 5 p.m. contest.

FOOTBALL

Quaterback Wesley Carroll might've lost his starting quarterback job to Jake Medlock, but he didn't lose his spot in The Battle of Florida, to take place Jan. 21 in Boca Raton. The game involves NFL draft eligible players who played high school or college in Florida or were born in Florida. Outgoing FAU coach Howard Schnellenberger will coach one team and FSU's former longtime coach Bobby Bowden will be on the opposite sideline.

BOWLING FOR DOLLARS

As expected, sources tell The Herald, if Arkansas State wins Saturday, the Sun Belt tie-in bowls will be Louisiana-Lafayette to the New Orleans Bowl and Arkansas State into the GoDaddy.com Bowl. Everybody else will have to get what they can get.

November 17, 2011

Men's hoop faces Arkansas-Pine Bluff, Oral Roberts in NIT Consolation

Beats the heck out of a case of Turtle Wax. Or, if you've got a cool car, maybe it doesn't.

But as a lovely parting consolation gift, the Dick's Sporting Goods NIT Season Tip-Off folks have placed the four-team consolation round at Oral Roberts and sent FIU there, along with SMU and Arkansas-Pine Bluff.

FIU gets the Bluffsters Monday at 6 p.m., then host Oral Roberts at 8:30 Tuesday. Yes, they're getting the host school on the rear of a back-to-back, as they did Virginia Tech Tuesday, but at least there's more than 24 hours difference in the start times in this case.

 

Bjelica All-Sun Belt 1st Team, Sun Belt tourney starts Thurs. at The Bank

OK, just found out I didn't win the lottery. So, might as well file this blog...

FIU junior outside hitter Jovana Bjelica was named All-Sun Belt first team at the Sun Belt Volleyball Awards banquet held at FIU Stadium's Stadium Club.

Bjelica led the Sun Belt in kills per set, 4.60, and was 13th nationally. She was Sun Belt Player of the Week four times, including back-to-back late in the season.

Western Kentucky's Jordyn Skinner was named Sun Belt Player of the Year. The Lady Toppers -- a nickname dumb, dated or nasty to anyone with more than 42 working brain cells -- put three players on the all-conference team, including Ashley Potts, Defensive Player of the Year.

No. 4 seed FIU opens against No. 5 seed Denver. Should FIU beat Denver, which they spanked 3-1 (25-20, 23-25, 25-20, 25-19) at Denver, they'll likely face No. 1 seed Western Kentucky ("likely" translated as "will happen unless the entire Western team gets lost after being sent to look for downtown Sweetwater"). The expected tournament final is Western Kentucky and Middle Tennessee State, both of which skunked FIU 3-0 twice.

So I asked FIU coach Danijela Tomic what made Western and Middle the two preeminent teams in the conference. 

"Very, very different teams. Western is very efficient. It's a simple offensive system they play, but they're very efficient in what they do," Tomic said. "Their hitters don't make too many errors. They play an unbelievable defense. They're just very solid. Solid in every position.

"Middle Tennessee, they're just so athletic. Their game is really, really quick. Their middles, their outsides, right sides, they all probably reach over 10 feet. they're just very physical. The speed of the game against those two teams is very different. Western Kentucky sets a little bit higher, one and a half as we call it in volleyball. Middle Tennessee goes really quickly. Two different teams. It's hard when you play them in two days. You have to adjust one style of play to another." 

FOOTBALL

Time set for the FIU-Middle Tennessee State regular season closer: 3:30 Eastern time. No TV, radio only, maybe online streaming. I recommend beaching yourself on the couch, fat and happy with Thanksgiving leftovers, tuning in on the radio and following me on Twitter (http://twitter.com/DavidJNeal).

November 15, 2011

FIU men out of NIT winner's bracket, 78-63 loss to Virginia Tech

You knew this would be a tough one for FIU: playing the 9:30 p.m. game Monday, going overtime and past midnight to upset George Mason, then coming back at 6 p.m. to face a better-rested Virginia Tech on the Hokies' home court.

So it proved to be. FIU fell behind 14-2, came back with an 11-0 run to close the margin to two, trained 33-26 at halftime, then fell back at the end for a 78-63 loss. 

SWIMMING & DIVING

Sabrina Beaupre won her third Sun Belt Conference Diver of the Week award of the season. Beaupre won the 1-meter and 3-meter dives in Saturday's meet against Indian River and Nova Southeastern.

 

FIU men upset George Mason, 79-76 (OT)

FIU coach Isiah Thomas had said he hoped the way the Panthers lost close games last season taught them how to win them this season. It took time, but they showed they did Monday night against George Mason in the Dick's Sporting Goods NIT Tip Off.

After DeJuan Wright missed three free throws down the stretch in regulation, FIU bounced back to dominate overtime and upset GM, 79-76. FIU led almost the entire last 12 minutes of regulation behind Wright and fellow senior Jeremy Allen, but were down 66-64 on their last regulation possession. Allen made a nice penetration, then sneaky pass inside to Wright, who got the short shot and the foul. Wright missed the free throw and George Mason missed a jumper at the other end.

Can't say I wasn't warned.

As I sat at the makeshift desk I like to use near the U.S. Century Bank racquetball courts Monday afternoon, a passing FIU athletic department staffer asked me if I thought FIU would win. I shook my head as if he asked, "Do you want Brussels sprouts?" He said he thought FIU would pull it off and wasn't just talking stuff. He listed logical reasons -- Mason is in their second game under a new coach, the point guard is suspended for 10 games, they played lousy defense and shot horribly from 3-point range in beating Rhode Island in overtime Friday.

November 14, 2011

Men's ball opens vs. George Mason tonight at 9:30; T.Y. Hilton Special Teams POW; Medlock starting (we think)

 

FIU men’s basketball needs an ignition victory like the gatekeeper needs the keymaster. Chance No. 1 for that comes Monday night against George Mason at Virginia Tech, the start of the Dick’s Sporting Goods NIT Tip-Off (9:30 p.m., ESPN3).

George Mason opened a 15-poit favorite, now down to 14 or 13.5 most places. Their point guard, Andre Cornelius, has been suspended for the first 10 games of the season after pleading guilty to misdemeanor credit card fraud. The Patriots finished 27-7, 16-2 in Colonial Athletic Association last season  George Mason threw up some major league masonry, two of 14 from three-point range, while beating Rhode Island 92-90 Friday night in overtime. That’s one more game in which to start working out the kinks and getting to know themselves under new coach Paul Hewitt, who spent 11 years at Georgia Tech.

“A big opportunity for us,” senior Jeremy Allen said. “Not many people get the chance to play on that big stage. It comes with a lot of responsibility. We need to be mature about it.”

Fellow senior DeJuan Wright said of his younger bretheren, “They’re mature young guys, so they should be able to handle it.”

The young player from which the most will be expected is 6-7 sophomore Dominique Ferguson, who joined FIU midseason. Ferguson said he felt apart from everything all season because he wasn’t allowed to join the team, even in conditioning workouts, until December. Still, he blocked 30 shots in 20 games.

 “That’s just instinct,” he said. “I’ve always blocked shots.”

Nobody’s worried about FIU’s offense…

“We move the ball around,” Ferguson said. “We don’t have any selfish people. We don’t have anybody that’s going for their own thing. If anything, we’ve got people who are passing up shots. That’s the only negative.”

…it’s the defense that’ll make the difference between set the pace and create an identity, if this team is to find one. And they’ll start finding out who they are and where they are tonight in Blacksburg, Virginia.

FOOTBALL

T.Y. Hilton's 97-yard punt return Saturday night earned him Sun Belt Special Teams Player of the Week, his third player of the week award for the season and the seventh of his career. The record is nine, held by current Buffalo Bills cornerback and former Troy defensive back Leodis McKelvin.

FIU will look for a medical redshirt for senior safety Chuck Grace. Also out for the rest of the season with a sprained knee is long snapper Mitch McCluggage.

As for who'll start at quarterback between Wesley Carroll and Jake Medlock Saturday at Louisiana-Monroe, Mario Cristobal insisted it was still an open competition. But Medlock goes into this week with the edge.

"To keep it fair, yeah, they'll both get plenty of reps in practice," Cristobal said. "Jake will  go in as the starter."

By the way, I'm not much for playing Bowl Bingo, but we can play that later today if you folks want. The one bowl that was a possibility that's definitely out now is The New Orleans Bowl, which will have Sun Belt champion Arkansas State.

VOLLEYBALL

FIU, host of this week's Sun Belt Conference Volleyball Championship, will start as the No. 4 seed and face No. 5 seed Denver at 7:30 Thursday at U.S. Century Bank Arena.The winner will face Western Kentucky. Technically, the winner will face the winner of No. 1 seed Western Kentucky, 15-1 in the Sun Belt, vs. No. 8 Troy.

 

November 13, 2011

A few thoughts from FIU 41, FAU 7...

Ahhh, something new has been added.

Or, as a later generation might say, And now for something completely different.

 

Watching redshirt freshman quarterback Jake Medlock (I can’t help but think, “A Quinn Martin Production”) in camp scrimmages and earlier in the year against Louisiana-Lafayette, his advantages on fifth-year senior Wesley Carroll couldn’t be more apparent: bigger, stronger, better runner. As a passer, Carroll’s still better but with the gap closing. Carroll carries his real advantage on his shoulders. He’s played more, takes more practice reps, knows the offense better. When running the spread option, which relies so much on rapid quarterback reads, that’s like being a near-equal martial artist to your opponent, but having the Iron Fist.

Cristobal said the decision to go with Medlock got made early in the week. I’m going to bet it got made last Sunday or even late Saturday night as coaches went over film from the Western Kentucky loss.

Early in the week, when I talked to Cristobal about the offense over the last three games, his first answers seemed very confined to the Western Kentucky game. Carroll threw a bad interception in the end zone right after a fumble recovery in Western territory with FIU up 3-0. Cristobal lamented that a touchdown there really changes the game, especially with Western’s one-note, ground-bound offense.

But I’m thinking the 13-yard sack on FIU’s last possession clinched it. You can’t take that sack late in the game, deep in your own territory, up by only two, doubly so against a team with a flabby passing attack that they trust more than their dicey kicker. A senior with Carroll’s experience shouldn’t take that sack. I can see some coach sitting around a table and saying, “Hell, if we’re going to get decisions like that, let’s get them from the more physically talented guy.”

So, enter Jake Medlock...

 

Cristobal admitted they threw some thought into the timing, that they’d be making the change on Senior Night. As to be expected, that didn’t override the consideration that the offense needed something.

Going back to the Lou-La game, when Medlock took over in the second quarter, FIU scored 56 points in the next five quarters. Now, there was a 97-yard T.Y. Hilton punt return and a one-play, 9-yard drive after Jonathan Faucher smothered a punt. Take those out and that’s still 42 points in five quarters or 33.6 per four quarters.

Allegedly, the job remains an open competition. Medlock, coached postgame as well as he was for the game, said all the right things in his postgame press conference about Carroll, who worked with Medlock during the week and during the game. Medlock also made sure to thank the offensive line, which managed to limit its penalties again and cleared the way for a zero-sack, 220-rushing yard night.

“When Jake puts his head down, it’s pretty effective," Cristobal said. "It keeps defenses from stacking the box. I think we’ve experienced the last couple of weeks being outnumbered in the box and being tough to get push and tough to run the football. Today, we broke out with over 200 yards and some of it was him. Some of it was just the threat of him running the football opening it up.”

Medlock did throw two balls that should’ve been picked off, just bad decisions. But that’s to be expected. It’s probably why he got kept in to the end. He needs playing time.

As Hilton settled under the punt, I thought not “What the hell is he doing fielding a punt on the 3?” but rather, “It’s 24-0, why not?”

Hilton blew through a gaping hole, yet stayed just far enough from the sideline to keep it from being used as another defender until he passed almost everyone but punter Mickey Groody. Hilton tried to signal up ahead for Wayne Times to take care of Groody. Instead, Times peeled back on FAU’s Damian Parms and, well…I don’t know what Parms spiritual beliefs were before, but he’s a Christian now because he got BAPTIZED by Times. FIU coaches came off the sideline to check on Parms while Hilton decelerated over the goal line. Parms stayed down for a bit, then made it back across the field.

I thought it was cool that Hilton owned up to crying four times Saturday. Nothing wrong with that. One of the most macho men in sports history, hockey Hall of Famer Mark Messier, surpasses former NFL coach Dick Vermeil as a weeper.

While discussing the emergence of safety Justin Halley (two interceptions), Cristobal reminded everyone that FIU still is working without a full complement of scholarships.

Honoring Kendall Berry during the pregame Senior Night ceremony counts as a class move. That almost caused me to weep.

Two fun lines of the night: fan next to the press box, not 10 feet from where Mike Biamonte sits behind me, saying, “We’ve got the Heat announcer. He’s not working right now.”

Member of the stat crew in the press box during the flag-filled third quarter: “That referee is going to need Tommy John surgery.”

I know this is a blog concerned with FIU, but I’m sorry, the longer that game went on and hearing FAU coach Howard Schnellenberger postgame, the more I felt this had to be said to some FAU players: someday, if you have any more sense than God gave my cats, age will grant you a greater idea of what longevity, stature and history means. And you will feel great sorrow at your performance Saturday.

Not the losing by 34. That happens. As they said in GoodFellas, everybody takes a beating sometime. You’re a young team playing a team with more talent and more mature talent. But to do so with 7 personal fouls or unsportsmanlike conduct penalties and an ejection, to embarrass your coach so badly, he apologized to coaches who molded him both living and dead, is an abomination. It goes to character. It doesn’t matter if some of you think Howard Schnellenberger should’ve retired a year ago, two years ago, whenever. You chose to play at FAU in a program of which he is head coach. And while, to you, “Shula Bowl” might be some appellation meaning no more than “GoDaddy.com Bowl” because “Shula” means steak house chain, expressway or some guy who used to coach the Dolphins when they used to really ball, it still means something to your coach. To him, Don Shula’s a great football coach who influenced his career. And putting Schnellenberger’s career in parenting terms, he took one program in South Florida off the streets, saved it and got it going to success, did the same for another program in Louisville. Later, he birthed and has been raising the program you’re in now. If not for him, the University of Miami program might be in the childhood of its rebirth, assuming there was a rebirth. FAU? FIU? Please. You owe it to him to play hard and come correct. According to Howard, you’d done that before Saturday. Behaving so shamefully in a game and stadium that wouldn’t probably wouldn’t exist but for your coach reflects poorly on you, your parents and your school.

November 12, 2011

Football Gameday X, many XX games

I had a furlough day Friday and I'm still chaperoning a sleepover this morning. So, while they're playing Trouble and before I take them out for a wagon ride:

FAU's young. Unless FIU comes out flatter than the Eggo Minis I just served for breakfast or makes some incredible mental screwups -- like taking a 13-yard sack when you're up by two in the last two minutes -- it should be a happy home senior sayonara for FIU.

FIU 33, FAU 10.

That's just one black man's opinion. I could be wrong.

WOMEN'S SOCCER

A 2-0 loss at Central Florida Friday night ended FIU's NCAA tournament after one game. They finish the season 13-7-3. I might have more later on the game and season wrapup.

WOMEN'S BASKETBALL

Sophomore Jerica Coley put up 22 points and 11 rebounds as FIU routed Jacksonville, 63-37 at The Bank in the season opener for both. Coley, starting at point guard this season instead of two-guard, also had eight assists and seven blocked shots. One freshman, Kamika Isom, chipped in 12 points and , another, Zsofia Labady pulled down 10 rebounds.

Monday, FIU hosts Florida Gulf Coast at 6 p.m.

VOLLEYBALL

FIU hadn't lost to South Alabama in seven years, almost two full classes. The Panthers hadn't dropped a set to South Alabama in three years. The Jaguars were 9-17, 4-10 in the Sun Belt and figured to be a fodder on the front end of a regular season-closing Alabama Weekend for FIU.

And FIU lost 3-1 (25-2, 22-25, 18-25, 20-25).

Jovana Bjelica had 15 kills. Sabrina Gonalez had 11. Marija Prsa had 11 kills and 11 digs. Jessica Egan racked up 47 assists.

November 11, 2011

Women's soccer's turning point toward the NCAA's vs. UCF tonight; Russo on longevity as women's hoop season starts

Tonight, FIU women’s soccer faces Central Florida in FIU’s first NCAA game in 18 years. Back on Sept. 17, the football team beat Central Florida to go to 3-0.

 Unbeknownst to all at the time, that marked the peak of the football team’s season (thus far). That also would be the day the women’s soccer season turned around. In fact, the two teams began going in opposite directions from that weekend.

FIU went out to the Nike Invitational with a 2-4 record. They rolled Stetson most of the season opener, then saw goals in the 64th and 89th minutes, the last on a created-luck bounce, hand them an infuriating 2-1 loss. Rare is the lost two-goal lead. FIU turned two such leads into losses in those first six games.

Then, in the first game of the Nike Invitational, on Sept. 16, Oregon State blasted them 7-0.

7-0? Losing by a touchdown in school soccer? That’s a humiliating score that says, “We’re a team of serious players. You’re a bunch of dilettantes.”

It’s a good bet few, if any, of FIU’s players have been on the business end of that message. This was a team their coach honestly felt before the season possessed the talent for winning the conference, doing some special things. Coming after their early losses, the dismantling could’ve left FIU in pieces for the rest of the season.

Or, it could be a moment similar to what the 1970 Dallas Cowboys faced. The title-turned-nickname carried by the Cowboys wasn't yet “America’s Team” but “Next Year’s Champions.” That's the title of a book on the 1968 Cowboys which became a sneered reference to the Cowboys yearly unfulfilled potential. Once again, in 1970, Dallas appeared to have the most talent. Yet, they fell to 5-4 after getting trampled 38-0 by the Cardinals on that popular new ABC show Monday Night Football.

A tearful apology by head coach Tom Landry preceded a players only meeting. Linebacker Lee Roy Jordan said in Peter Golenbock’s book Landry’s Boys he told his teammates they’d been deserted by everyone, coaches, wives and the media. “I said, ‘Guys, it’s going to happen right here in this room or it’s not going to happen.’ Several of us talked. We said, ‘We are going to do it for us, not for somebody else, not for the coaches or the fans or Tex (Schramm, the general manager) or anyone else.’”

The original Doomsday Defense came together and Dallas won the last five regular season games, both NFC playoff games and got to Super Bowl V.

Sophomore Nicole DiPerna remembers coach Thomas Chestnutt saying, “You guys need to have a talk” and the team heading for one side of the field while the coaches and trainers played two-on-two.

“We were asking, ‘What’s happening to us?’ DiPerna recalled.

Sara Stewart recalls the team deciding to be more positive on the field, not let frustration poison play. Probably came in handy during the Sun Belt tournament when they got down to Denver 1-0 early and when they got overrun in the second half of the championship game by Western Kentucky.

DiPerna said they made a promise to each other they repeat before every game: play for each other and do everything they can to make each other’s life easier.

The next night, they took a 2-0 lead at Oregon and brought home a 2-1 win. The second goal came on a penalty kick taken by freshman Johanna Volz, the Oregon native who buried the final penalty kick in the Sun Belt Conference championship shootout. In the run bookended by those two games, the Panthers went 11-1-3.

“The biggest thing that showed the character and mental strength of the team is turning around off that 7-0 and getting a 2-1 result at Oregon,” Chestnutt said. “That Saturday morning, the captains took the team away and chatted for 40 minutes. It was the pivotal moment in the season.”

A season that's still going.

WOMEN'S BASKETBALL

FIU opens its women’s basketball season Friday night against Jacksonville at The Bank.

Over the 18 seasons between my first stretch on the FIU beat and the current one, I’d occasionally check our FIU stories to see which coaches remained and which moved (or got moved) on in life. Every time I’d see “women’s basketball coach” was still followed by “Cindy Russo,” I thought, “Go on. Hang tough, girl.”

Russo took over the FIU program just after Miami met McDuffie and Mariel. Wayne Gretzky didn’t have an NHL scoring title (he lost on the goals scored tiebreaker to Marcel Dionne his first NHL season). Howard Schnellenberger was still saving the University of Miami football program.  Sophomore Pitt quarterback Dan Marino split time with Rick Trocano. The Lakers had won an NBA title with Paul Westhead assuming the head coaching job after Jack McKinney suffered head injuries in a bike accident. But the best coach on LA’s staff was another assistant, Pat Riley.

And this was the coolest video that had been produced to that time…

 

She might be the coach in this town with her current job title the longest. This is season No. 32 as head coach at FIU, 37th overall in college coaching. Or, her entire adult life.

When I sat down with her last week to talk about this year’s team, I couldn’t help but ask: ever get tired of it?

“Everybody gets tired of their job,” she replied, what remains of her native Virginia accent tugging on the shirttail of a few sentences. “The travel is the hardest thing. We travel a lot with recruiting and meetings. The time you want to be in Miami is in the winter. And we’re gone half the winter!”

She laughed, then said, “If I had to go back and choose a profession, I’d choose the same thing and do it all over again. I think everybody gets burned out in their job. Every year I renew myself and I have a lot of energy this year. The kids are what make it worthwhile. Working with individuals in here as well.” She threw a hand toward other offices in the building. “They’re really really nice people as well.

“It keeps you younger. I’m beginning to realize people my age don’t look like me because you can’t get fat. You can’t have a belly, they’ll let you know. You just don’t want to -- it’s not healthy -- but you don’t just want to not look like you’re an athlete. I got a little chunky these last few years and they didn’t mind telling me.”

She pointed out some of her chronological peers can’t text, but she stays up on techie evolution because you better if you’re in charge of a bunch of 18 to 21-year-olds. Or, if you just want to keep up with what’s happening.

 “Life would be different if I got out of coaching…different. It would be nice and peaceful. And I look forward to that day, but it’s not today.

“There won’t be any people to stay in coaching this long anymore. It’s hard then, now it’s harder.”

Still there, though.

 

 

 

 


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