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…