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.
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.
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.