SATURDAY MORNING UPDATE: Freshman defensive tackle Darrian Dyson, who would've been in the defensive tackle rotation and is anywhere from Nos. 1-5 (depending on which recruiting ranker you believe) in the 2012 recruiting class, won't play tonight. The NCAA hasn't cleared Dyson as being academically eligible. He missed this week's practices while the Four-Letter Organization went over everything. The NCAA usually likes to fine tooth comb (or, fine tooth pick for you Spaceballs fans) online courses, but I'm hearing all of Dyson's work was done the old fashioned way. Back to the wee hours pregame analysis...
A busload of donors on the trip...a line that puts FIU as an underdog but keeps moving toward "pick 'em" as the bettors jump on FIU...an early road trip against a beatable opponent...
Sounds similar to last year's Louisville game. Important as that win was for FIU, this one could eventually be seen as more important. It could launch the kind of and-1 or and-0 season that makes FIU a household name among serious college-affiliated fans and a few think-they're-serious college-affiliated football fans.
Sun Belt officials will work this game. Even though this year is like the year of legal separation you used to have to go through in New York to get a divorce, that's still good for future Conference USA school FIU. At the very least, these officials have a familiarity with FIU as opposed to Duke. That never hurts when a zebra goes to his judgement on a bang-bang play. It's not intentional. It's just like any choice -- close call, make a decision now, guy and/or company you sort of know vs. guy and/or company you don't...who do you think usually gets the call? For those wanting to play Conspiracy Brother, the Sun Belt wants a Boise State in the next few years. This year, the consensus says FIU's got the best shot at being that.
Duke returns four of five offensive line starters and a healthy group of running backs, including redshirt sophomore Josh Snead, who ran for 4.9 yards per carry as a freshman in 2010. Still, no dummies, the Dukies know what they're facing. They might be a better running team than in past years when they ran the ball like they were pushing a Fridgidaire, but only quarterbacks truly made a living running on FIU last year. That doesn't figure to change this year. They'll be a-throwin'.
But they'll be a-throwin' more to the running backs than they did last year. Oh, don't think FIU will completely unplug Sean Renfree-to-Conner Vernon. Too much of a mind meld there for them to be rendered totally acoustic. That's not going to be enough for them Saturday. Should FIU's secondary start squeezing the other two wideouts or the pass rush start getting to Renfree, look for Duke to work in short passes to the running backs and tight ends, most likely covered by the linebackers. It gets the ball out of Renfree's hands, a priority for Duke should FIU pierce the Blue Devils usually stout protection, particularly through the Takoby Cofield checkpoint. Cofield, the left tackle, is the least experienced Duke starter on the line. Passes to the backs also keep linebackers Winston Fraser and Jordan Hunt occupied. On the chessboard of the Panthers' defense, they're the knights you have to figure out how to deal with. I don't think teams will do that very effectively this season.
FIU knows its defense and too many of them have seen enough of Duke's offense. Remember, last year, Duke got 17 points in the first quarter. FIU allowed one real drive after that. The Blue Devils marched all of 9 yards to the game-winning touchdown. Without the element of unfamiliarity with Duke's concepts and how well the Blue Devils express those concepts and with FIU's additional experience, I see FIU's defense generally winning this battle. I don't think it'll be a destructive wilding by FIU. Look for a few more coverage sacks, maybe a sack after three guys get knocked off their patterns. Duke protects well, allowing only 19 sacks in 12 games last year and 11 of those came against Stanford and Florida State.
When FIU has the ball, unless Jake Medlock gets his confidence rolling early with some big plays downfield, look for FIU to work mostly up the middle on the ground. They've got a line that knows each other and works well together. FIU saw Duke's best defensive player, defensive end Kenny Anunike, only on film last year as he suffered a season-ending knee injury against Tulane the week before Duke came to Near Sweewater. This year, FIU gets the full Anunike. Might want to throw a couple of screens and traps his way early to get him thinking. Meanwhile, expect FIU to punch the middle of Duke's defense to see how flabby it is.
Medlock's running ability opens the field. By the end of last season, defenses stuffed the box, targeted Rhodes or Darriet Perry and almost dared FIU to throw deep. With Carroll in there, defenses could do that and figured, if Carroll ran, they could collect him on the way. Not much of a big play run threat, though he knew when to keep and how to get what he needed when he did keep it. Now, defenses have to account for Medlock and his arm.
As for what FIU can get downfield, the first place they should look is the office of Brandon Braxton, who might still be looking at his name on the door. Braxton was a wide receiver until the spring. Now, he's a starting safety. Starting victim? Could be, unless he's a natural. Watch the pass interference calls on him if FIU can get him isolated on a Wayne Times, Jacob Younger, Glenn Coleman or Willis Wright.
FIU nearly ran Duke's defense into the ground in South Florida. No air in the U.S. possesses the chewy quality of South Florida, but it shouldn't be a breezy night. If FIU runs their attack efficiently, they might force Duke to reach for defensive depth. That's a reach that'll hit a hard bottom quickly. Look for FIU then to step up the body punching to pound their way home.
FIU's got a clear special teams advantage with kicker Jack Griffin, who's been nailing 50-yarders in practice with greater regularlity, and punter Josh Brisk. You can look at Duke kicker Ross Martin as either a freshman or a freshman who was a high school All-American and ranked as one of the nation's three or four best kickers by all. You can look at Duke punter Will Monday as a redshirt freshman about to play his first game. Expect Monday to give it up at some point. In a position that dictates field position so much, you can't have freshman mistakes giving Richard Leonard or Wayne Times a running start or gaps of space on punt returns.
I see FIU doing the basics -- running the ball, playing solid defense, owning the field position. That goes a long way to making life easier for Medlock and I don't think he'll mess that up. I expect to see two or three combined turnovers from the teams, however. If those are split 2-1, 1-1, look for the score below. A two-turnover margin either way changes everything.
FIU 24, Duke 14.
That's just one black man's opinion. I could be wrong.
Noticed Hud Mellencamp, son of John Mellancamp, is listed as a freshman defensive back on Duke's roster. I couldn't resist...
Two more goals for Quentin Albrecht, one more win for the men's team, this time 2-1 over North Florida Friday. Nicolas Rodriguez, who assisted on Albrecht's first goal last week against Bryant, got helpers on both goals this week. FIU held North Florida to just one shot on goal. The 2-0 men face Jacksonville Sunday. Another Albrecht goal and he'll match last year's team-leading total of five.
A goal by Shannen Wacker 63:13 into the match gave Florida Gulf Coast a 1-0 win over FIU's women. On the stat sheet, it wasn't that close -- 11-0 in corner kicks for Gulf Coast, 22-10 in shots taken, 13-3 in shots actually on goal.