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32 posts from September 2012

September 29, 2012

Gameday V, 2012: FIU vs. Louisiana

Two root canals at halftime in my mouth and one beloved father-in-law very late in the game in Mount Sinai in New York. With those in-progress updates out of the way, the latter of which prevents me from gulping gumbo in Louisiana this weekend’s nights and will keep me from covering this game Saturday, we bring you this week’s pregame blog.

Louisiana-Lafayette wants to be called just “Louisiana.” That is their right. The school also likes their nickname, “Ragin’ Cajuns.” So do I. But “Lou-La” and “the RCs” take up less space, type quicker and I’m all about Shelby speed in getting this thing done tonight.

I’m starting with special teams, which means starting with Louisiana-Lafayette punter/kicker Brett Baer. His performance last year against FIU might’ve been the best game by a punter or kicker I’ve ever seen. FIU felt like it kept taking a right hand from Max Baer – Sr., not Jr., who played Jethro on The Beverly Hillbillies – after each punt. Off Baer’s punts, the Panthers started drives at their own 28, 1, 2, 13, 4, 20, 21 and 5. He set the stage for a safety and nailed a 48-yard field goal on the possession after the safety, five points that swung the momentum toward Lou-La. Got a 39-yard field goal, too. He’s leading the nation in field goals per game.

Baer’s still doing his thing. He’s the main reason Lou-La  leads the Sun Belt in gross punting, net punting and kickoff return defense. Considering FIU’s troubles returning punts, I’d say go after Baer. You’re more likely to make him alter his punt than you are to break the return.

Coming back the other way, the RCs rank second in the Sun Belt on kickoff returns and third on punt returns. FIU’s stuffed kickoff returns in three of four games and were good on punt coverage against Louisville, aside from the “didn’t he signal fair catch?” punt return.

Now, when the offenses get the ball…

FIU’s chased Blaine Gauthier – could there be a better name for an RC quarterback? – for two years. He’s run for 198 yards in two games. Nobody’s been forced to scramble against FIU so far this season. If FIU’s secondary has turned the corner, maybe the Panthers prefer to keep Gauthier in the pocket and make him throw. He’s not the tallest quarterback, so if FIU starts to get the kind of push they did up the middle on Louisville’s Teddy Bridgewater, expect Lou-La to start sliding Gauthier outside with a moving pocket or on bootleg passes.

Behind pretty much the same line matchup, the RCs had some of the few RBs who ran successfully against FIU. Also, Lou-La’s 13 for 13 scoring in the red zone and they’re not doing it cheaply – nine touchdowns, four field goals.

Nobody’s really stopped FIU’s run game yet (except on fourth down). Expect Kedrick Rhodes back. Don’t expect Darian Mallary. Rhodes, Mallary and Jeremiah Harden all have it going. That’s what’ll be necessary to help out E.J. Hilliard.

Yes, Louisiana’s had a week to check tape on Hilliard, while he essayed the rule of  a true X Factor, an unknown quantity, against Louisville. Expect Lafayette to throw more wrinkles at Hilliard. He might start slowly. Expect a strong finish, however, once he gets settled, especially if the game’s still close and FIU’s running well. Perhaps the most impressive part of last week’s game: Hilliard couldn’t resort to the run. By his second drive, FIU was down 28-14 in the third quarter. They needed something and they needed it fast.

I picked FIU before the season on the basis that this would be a shootout game and would come down to which defense finally made a game-changing play. On the quarterback change, I’m going to back off that a little bit.

Lou-La RCs 35, FIU GP’s 31.

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

September 26, 2012

Recruits, new guys & hoop time

Expect to see De'Andre Jasper on offense this week in addition to kickoff returns. Punt returns? True freshmen often make coaches nervous. With the problems FIU's had putting drama into the punt return, don't expect FIU coaches to feel more secure handing the job over to a kid four months out of high school.

Click the link below to check out highlights of Bradenton Manatee defensive back Willie Smith, who verbally committed last week to FIU. ESPN's and Scout.com have him at two stars. He led Manatee in interceptions last season.

http://www.hudl.com/athlete/419417/#highlights/7971384

Louisiana-Lafayette opened a 6-point favorite and is up to 6.5 at most sports books.  

In answer to your questions about DeMarkus Perkins and James Louis: Perkins has played in each game this season on special teams and taken some defensive snaps.

Louis has off-the-field issues, not all of them have to do with Camp Mitch. Remember what I said on another blog about recruits? You never know what might kneecap their careers.

MEN'S BASKETBALL

Expect the FIU-Louisville game on Dec. 19 to be a 7 p.m. game. Television isn't set yet.

September 25, 2012

Savage Sun Belt Defensive POW; FIU vs. BC on ESPN3 (hee-hee!); Diamond Dinner speaker

Senior goalkeeper Kaitlyn Savage won Sun Belt Defensive Player of the Week after getting her fourth shutout of the season at South Alabama, then making three saves in FIU's 2-1 overtime win at Troy.

MEN'S BASKETBALL

FIU men's basketball's Sunday, Nov. 11 season opener at Boston College will be get the ESPN3 treatment, at 2 p.m.

And that's all I'm going to say about that for a while.

DIAMOND DINNER

The big fundraiser for baseball and softball snagged Milwaukee Brewers manager Ron Roenicke to be guest speaker at the Feb. 9 event.

If you want to get a table, get a ticket, get something to do with the Diamond Dinner, call the Panther Club's Antoni Fernandez, 305-348-4697. 

September 24, 2012

Monday Morning Football; sunny Sunday for volleyball, women's soccer

Both E.J. Hilliard and Loranzo Hammonds Jr. took snaps with the first team today. Starting Hilliard sort of opens the door to using Hammonds as a change-of-pace back who happens to line up at quarterback. It's not something they would've done with Jake Medlock, but I wouldn't be surprised if they did it with a quarterback 10 months removed from high school in his first start.

Among the running backs, Kedrick Rhodes did practice and Darian Mallary didn't. Rhodes will be a Wednesday or Thursday decision, according to head coach Mario Cristobal. Also, Cristobal said, Mallary didn't suffer a concussion Saturday, but they'll still wait for midweek results of some testing before letting him practice.

After practice, left tackle Caylin Hauptmann doused Cristobal with a Gatorade birthday bath.

No line on this game is up yet from the sports books I've seen. Books don't like the first game following a quarterback injury.

VOLLEYBALL

Upset at The Branch Sunday afternoon in a match that surely exceeded that excruciating display up at Sun Life Stadium for entertainment value.

FIU, 4-10, dumped 10-7 Arkansas State 3-0 (26-24, 25-23, 25-19). Junior Kimberly Smith -- Zionsville in the house! -- had 10 kills. Freshman Ashlee Hodgskin threw in 17 assists and two service aces. Defensively, junior Brittany Spencer had six blocks, and sophomore Carolyn Fouts had 14 digs.

WOMEN'S SOCCER

For the second consecutive day, an FIU soccer team won on a golden goal.

The men got by Stetson Saturday night. The women beat Troy 2-1 Sunday afternoon on the third game-winning goal of the season by Chelsea Leiva (of course). Despite a 26-7 shot advantage and 12-1 advantage in corner kicks, FIU found itself in overtime. That's because Troy struck on that one corner in the 70th minute to match sophomore Scarlett Montoya's 48th minute goal.

FIU's 5-4-1 overall, 2-0 in the Sun Belt Conference.

 

 

  

September 23, 2012

Medlock 4 weeks, Mallary OK, TY TD

Quickie updates from Sun Life Stadium, where the crowd's only slightly bigger and the quarterbacking much less enjoyable than Saturday night at La Cage.

*Quarterback Jake Medlock will be out four weeks with a broken foot.

*Running back Darian Mallary should be OK for next week.

*T.Y. Hilton scored his first NFL touchdown, a 40-yard pass from Andrew Luck.

A few thoughts on Louisville 28, FIU 21; guys' soccer wins in OT

I’m writing this about six hours after I got home from FIU Stadium, three hours after I pushed myself off the couch and into bed. Though cleanliness of copy might be next to Godliness, I usually fall short of that under the best of circumstances. Now, I aim not for artistry, but coherence.

As of right now, Jake Medlock hasn’t been declared done for the season to my knowledge. With what I know of Medlock, his injury and foot injuries in general –- from 2008-10, I was surrounded by them between the Dolphins and my wife, the latter under the deft care of Dr. Michael Wittels, father of Garret – I would be surprised if we see Medlock before November.

That means freshman E.J. Hilliard at quarterback. FIU doesn’t have a choice. They could get away with Lorenzo Hammonds Jr. for a half or a few quarters if they were doing some serious land-locked road grading on the opponent. But for an entire half against a Louisville and for entire games against the rest of the schedule, FIU needs a quarterback with an accurate arm. Medlock had it going Saturday, 10 of 16 for 116 yards, and the line plowed the row fine. Take out sacks, scrambles and the kneel down and the real rushing numbers were 31 carries for 134 yards. Not bad for a team that was down to two healthy running backs by the end of the first quarter.

(Poor Darian Mallary. He almost bounced in place Wednesday, such excitement exploded inside him for the game against his younger brother, Louisville cornerback Andrew Johnson. When he was flat on the ground for several minutes with coaches and medical staff surrounding him, I thought of his brother, stepping away from the Louisville huddle to peer in concern; and their mother. That he got up and off the field drew sighs of relief all around the stadium. But he could be out with a concussion.)

You can’t fault Hilliard for Saturday’s loss. In his first three college three drives, he went nine of 10 for 82 yards and a touchdown, a lovely fade that Jacob Younger brought down with great extension. He showed accuracy, awareness and mobility. His only incompletion came after a botched fourth-and-2 snap, when he had the presence of mind to scoop it up, look downfield and make a throw that just missed Jairus Williams.

Unclean snaps. Unclean punt returns. It’s too late in the season for that.

You could see Hilliard trying to accelerate his thinking to college-game speed. I asked Cristobal this week if Hilliard possessed similarities to his pal, Teddy Bridgewater. Cristobal said the difference was Bridgewater’s experience at the position, not just in college, but high school and beyond.

Speaking of Bridgewater, I’m not sure where the luck fell Saturday. Did FIU get lucky that Bridgewater and his receivers seemed just a tad off? They had at least four drops. Or did Louisville get lucky because, as well as FIU played the Louisville passing game much of the night, even producing Bridgewater’s first two interceptions of the year, the Panthers still left plays on the field.

With FIU up 14-7, linebacker Winston Fraser slapped away a first and goal pass over the middle it looked like he could’ve picked off. Johnathan Cyprien couldn’t have been in better in position on the 1-yard touchdown pass that tied the game 14-14, but he never got his head around to see the ball.

Bridgewater’s third down pass before the roughing the kicker penalty that extended Louisville’s last drive tipped from his receiver into a pride of Panthers. That easily could’ve been an interception at least, game-tying Pick Six very possibly.

Give the defense a B- for the night. What could’ve been two key stops by the defense got undone by special teams. Again. Sam Miller returned punts Saturday in place of Richard Leonard. Miller’s lost muff after a three-and-out to open the second half sank the spirits. Instead of Hilliard coming onto the field for his first drive at the FIU 44 in a 14-14 game, he came on at the FIU 28 down 21-14.

Then, when Louisville inexplicably – considering Chuck Grace’s interception that helped get FIU back in the game – threw on first and third down while up 28-21, FIU got ready to get the ball back with two timeouts, a confident offense and time to work. The Panthers just missed getting Ryan Johnson’s punt, as they just missed all night. But, this time, T.J. Lowder ran into Johnson. Flag, drive extended.

De’Andre Jasper got into action on kickoff returns and, yes, looks quite fast. Like most guys who just flew around people at the previous level, he’s going to have to learn life’s not always better when you dip outside to space. That said, Jasper’s going to be dangerous whenever he gets the ball in his hands.

Jeremiah Harden ran like a man unleashed. He thought he got a bad spot on the fourth down run. I would’ve gone for the field goal. It’s not playing the result, but playing psychology and the play. Take the second part first: FIU had moved the ball on Louisville on that drive and in the first half. With so much time left in the game, there was no reason to think this was a rare shot at a touchdown. Get points.

To the psychological argument: FIU just needed something positive on the scoreboard at that point. Miller’s muffed punt clearly deflated the defense and roused Louisville, considering the ease of that three-play 46-yard drive that put the Cardinals up 21-14. A true freshman in his first college action moved his team into scoring range against the defense of a ranked team. Nonchalantly taking the field goal in this circumstance tells both teams, “No big deal. We know there’s more where that came from and this quarterback can get it for us. Be back later.”

I don’t think it’s an accident that Louisville drove 90 yards after that, keeping the ball for 14 plays and 8:09, converting three third downs.

As to the spot, well…FIU got few breaks from the Big East crew. I never believe imbalance in penalties, such as Saturday’s 11 to 5, is empirical evidence of bias. Some teams commit more penalties than others. Hey, the zebras didn’t have 13 guys on the field for FIU in a goal line defense situation, then take off only one so that FIU got flagged for too-many-men again. Who was running the personnel deployment for FIU, Don Cherry?

 

Still, the timing of some FIU penalties seemed awfully convenient as did the timing of some no-calls on Louisville. The holding flag on Hilliard’s scramble to the Louisville 1 fell after Hilliard’s kind of rapid lope running style had taken him well downfield. The Harden fourth-down stop occurred later. His later 23-yard scramble also drew well-timed flags. Yet some questionable Louisville blocks on third downs got the official go-ahead.

The 15-yard helmet-to-helmet call on Johnathan Cyprien really goosed the end-of-first-half drive. Instead of third and 5 from the Cardinals’ 28, Louisville had first and 10 at the 43. Good call? I couldn’t tell from my vantage point. Cristobal, who said he wouldn’t change a thing Cyprien did on that play, looked ready to put out a contract on the zebras by halftime.

Don’t expect much better in the coming weeks. All logic said coming into the season FIU wouldn’t get much help from the Sun Belt officials. I thought they might if they got off to a good start. The Duke game dispelled that notion. Now, at 1-3 going into Sun Belt play, they’re like Battling Siki fighting Mike McTeague for the title in Ireland on St. Patrick’s Day (Siki lost the decision and the title he won below).

 

Cristobal said they were playing Jacob Younger too many snaps each game, 75 to 80. That’s why this game saw more Mike Jean-Louis (two catches, 13 yards), freshman Nick England and freshman Raymond Jackson.

Things that make me feel old: seeing James Burgess, out of Homestead High, on Louisville’s roster. I covered James Burgess when he played at Homestead High. James Burgess, Sr., that is.

MEN'S SOCCER

Sophomore Colby Burdette's overtime goal in the 99th minute gave FIU a 2-1 win against Stetson and a 6-1-1 record this season. Burdette also assisted on junior Gonzalo Frechilla's 60th minute marker that tied the game 1-1.

 

September 22, 2012

Medlock foot, Mallary head, postgame blog coming later

After the 28-21 loss to Louisville, FIU coach Mario Cristobal said starting quarterback Jake Medlock has "a foot issue" and the staff would know more later tonight or tomorrow. Medlock was on crutches at the end of the game.

I've lived with a spouse who had a broken foot, covered many athletes with foot injuries, talked to them about said injuries and I can tell you this -- foot injuries can turn you into the most evil human-like being on the face of the earth and they don't heal quickly or easily. FIU will be lucky if Medlock's not out for the season.

Cristobal said Mallary might've suffered a concusssion in the first quarter. Senior Jeremiah Harden and redshirt freshman Shane Coleman ably handled the running back duties for the rest of the game.

Gameday IV, 2012: FIU vs. Louisville; sand spike; soccers & indoor spikes

Remember Playmakers, the show the NFL didn’t like so ESPN cancelled it after one season instead of telling the league, “Most of the stuff you’re upset about is a cleaned up version of stuff that’s already happened in the NFL, so just take our rights fee billions and shut up before we go North Dallas Forty on you in the second season?”

One episode began with the Cougars head coach learning he’s got prostate cancer days before the team faces a Michael Vick-style quarterback named Hawkins. The coaches decide to use Olczyk, the linebacker clearly based on Zach Thomas, as a spy on Hawkins. Practices, game film and an improbable impromptu parking lot game with Hawkins convince Olcyzk that he’ll be humiliated on Sunday. After the coach tells the team he’ll keep working through cancer treatments in his pregame speech, Olzyck asks the coach, how do you keep working in the face of a more powerful opponent? The coach answers, “You just keep showing up. Guys like you and me, that’s all we can do.” Olczyk fails miserably throughout the game. But near the end of a shootout, he causes Hawkins to fumble. The Cougars recover, and get the winning touchdown. After the game, the coach hands Olczyk a game ball with, sotto voce, “You just keep showing up.”

That’s what it feels like it’s going to take for FIU to win this game. They’ll just have to keep showing up, keep staying around until a Louisville oopsy opens the door a sliver.

Otherwise, FIU faithful should pray for more of the kind of rain that’s been coming down all day. It’ll kill attendance, but also likely hurt the team that throws the ball better while bringing chaos. Chaos from the elements fuels many a big upset.

SATURDAY AFTERNOON LINE ALERT: And that might be why the line on this game has done a precipitous drop for one day -- from Louisville by 13 or 13.5 all week down to anywhere from 10.5 to 12. Bettors are watching this game after they took the books' lunch last year on this matchup by getting down heavily all week on FIU. END OF ALERT

Also, Louisville wants a piece of FIU. The score last year, 24-17, and the three big scoring plays masked how much FIU outmuscled Louisville on Louisville’s turf for long stretches. They got punked in their Papa John's house on national television and they remember.

FIU’s trailed by double-digits in each first half this season. Lousiville’s outscored opponents 76-21 in three first halves (that’s 25.3-7, even in the new math).

FIU’s been allowing 291.67 yards per game passing, 107th in the nation, and are 99th in pass efficiency defense. They’ve been having trouble with cohesion in the secondary. Louisville quarterback Teddy Bridgewater’s throwing for 285.0 yards per game, and completing 81.8 percent of his passes. Louisville’s got it together – 10 different players caught passes last week against North Carolina.

Louisville’s averaging 4.23 per rush and that number gets dragged down by the 3.5 per rush the Cardinals put up against FCS punching bag Missouri State.

Looks as if this post should come with Lalo Schifrin them music.

Perhaps some tomfoolery in disguising coverages can throw Bridgewater off long enough for FIU’s pass rush to re-emerge from its year of slumber. But FIU doesn’t like to get too funky or too far from its scheme for fear of slowing down its athletes with too much thinking.

One of my least favorite things to hear is “run the ball well and keep the ball away from them.” That shrinks the number of possessions your defense must turn the trick of shutting down a high-powered offense. Maybe if you get some help from a bloated halftime, the juggernaut offense falls out of rhythm for a bit. Really, though, at some point, you still have to stop the other guys when they have the ball.

You hold it six minutes and get a field goal. They hold it two minutes and get a touchdown. Keep up that kind of trading and you’ll keep their offense off the field…for the fourth quarter, when it’s being rested with a garbage time lead.

On FIU’s first possession, if the defense wasn’t out for too long, FIU should give her the gun with the no-huddle. Louisville had some problems when North Carolina went scramble in the second half last week out of necessity (the Tar Heels trailed 36-7). If the defense got stuck out for several minutes, get a first down or two before going to it. Louisville’s 15th in rushing defense and allowing only 3.57 yards per rush, but look behind the numbers – against its two FBS opponents, they weren’t exactly The Great Wall. Kentucky ran for 93 yards on only 19 carries. Take out a 28 yards in Team Losses (two bad shotgun snaps) and the Heels got 75 yards on 15 carries, an even 5.0 per pop.

Everything for FIU works off the run. They learned – or had reaffirmed -- last week against UCF their chances of success without getting that going shrink to miniscule. What they can’t do is get so far behind they’re forced to become one-dimensional.

As I’ve written often, if you expected more from the offense overall so far, hey, we all have our fantasies. Jake Medlock, an inexperienced quarterback, has played one awful half out of six this year. It was in the game that set up as a problem, versus a good defense in its home opener, with a poor conceptual approach.

What’s gotten FIU in the hole each week are defense and special teams. Coaches not named Frank Beamer can live with special teams that don’t help you. People get fired over special teams that hurt you. Check out FIU’s track record so far on special teams.

Two of three games, they’ve given up points on special teams. Two of three games, a special teams turnover has led to an opposing touchdown. Two of three games, they’ve missed makeable field goals. And they’re 112th in net punting.

Not…getting…it...done.

That can’t be the case tonight if FIU’s to have a chance.

I don’t know how much Louisville’s going to score. Not sure the Cardinals will score as often as they want. It feels like they’ll score as often as they need.

Call it 38-24, Louisville.

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

SAND VOLLEYBALL

During The Andy Slater Show portion of 640AM's FIU marathon Friday, sand volleyball coach Rita Buck-Crockett announced that FIU would be hosting a tournament in late March bringing in Georgia Tech and volleyball powerhouse Pepperdine. Pepperdine won the sand volleyball national championship last spring, sanctioned by the American Volleyball Coaches Association while the sport grows into a fully-sanctioned NCAA beast.

Buck-Crockett said the courts being constructed on campus would host dual meets, yet FIU's tournaments would be held on South Beach.

MEN'S SOCCER

It's a date at 1-3 Stetson tonight for 5-1-1 FIU, which has a 20-3 lifetime record against Stetson. I like their chances of improving that.

WOMEN'S SOCCER

Get it whatever way you can.

A South Alabama own goal off a failed clear of a Chelsea Leiva shot gave FIU a 1-0 win in its first Sun Belt match of the season and got the Panthers back to .500 (4-4-1) after a tough early season schedule.

Senior keeper Kaitlyn Savage got four saves in her fourth shutout of the season.

VOLLEYBALL

A tough season continued with a five-set loss (25-17, 24-26, 26-24, 20-25, 15-7) to Arkansas-Little Rock in FIU's home opener. For the 3-10 Panthers, senior Marija Prsa had 25 kills, tying a career high. Freshman Ashlee Hodgskin had 50 assists and 16 digs. Junior Brittany Spencer's five blocks were a team high.

The other Sun Belt Arkansas team, Arkansas State, comes in Sunday at 1 p.m.

 

September 20, 2012

Offensive thoughts; women's hoop schedule highlights

A day off from Camp Mitch. I'll be back out there tomorrow, scheduled to be guest on The Andy Slater Show, 640AM's noon to 3 p.m. programming. The station will be live from FIU throughout Friday.

A quick thought before I get to the women's basketball schedule that somehow wound up in my spam filter yesterday (as did the men's, for some reason): overall, if you're kvetching about the offense, go sit on the bench with the kid crying over his iPod because he doesn't have the latest Temple Run.

First game against Duke, 14 points (with two blown field goals) and almost 300 yards of offense before the special teams and defense helped goose Duke to a 30-point lead one drive into the second half. Game over.

What, you're not happy they ran off a bunch of three-and-outs on Akron after the first two drives? They still wound up with 14 points by halftime, 31 for the game. Most teams get stopped once in a while or have stretches they look like Boss Hogg and Roscoe P. Coltrane chasing them Dukes, them Dukes. I've seen FIU's offensive two-deep. Nowhere did I see Mike Rozier, Irving Fryer, Turner Gill and Dean Steinkuhler.

The offense demonstrated what happens when you get bad execution of a poor game plan in the first half against UCF. When they got back to themselves in the second half, they rolled to three touchdowns. Here's the offense In FIU's six halves of football this season: one bad half, one half you can't grade because the rest of the team let the game get out of hand and four halves of production most college coaches working east of the Rockies would happily accept.

FIU's passing game doesn't have room for improvement, it's got a concert hall. They aren't as explosive as the last two years. Then again, they came into the season with a quarterback who had played in three college games and without T.Y. Hilton. Is either development a surprise?

The offense is what was expected. It's the defense and the special teams, those George Allen standbys, that have dropped the biggest CLUNK during the first three games and need to get it together before Louisville drops some embarrassment on FIU.

WOMEN'S BASKETBALL

Highlights of the women's basketball schedule:

At The Branch: North Florida, Nov. 11 (season opener); Thanksgiving Classic vs Iowa, with LSU and West Virginia in the other game, Nov. 23-25 (they were all good last year); Sun & Fun Classic with Georgia Tech, Quinnipac and Northeastern (Tech made the NCAA Sweet Sixteen last year); FAU, Feb. 6.

Away from The Branch: Florida Gulf Coast, Nov. 14 (relatively close); Western Kentucky, Nov. 19 (first conference game); FAU, Mar. 2 (season closer and it's FAU).

 

September 19, 2012

Wednesday at La Cage

Junior running back Kedrick Rhodes didn't practice again. Darian Mallary will be excited to start, if he does -- his brother is Louisville sophomore cornerback Andrew Johnson. Saturday will be the first time their mother can see them both play in the same game.

Mallary said his brother has observed text messaging silence this week, obviously going into game mode. After the game, however, Mallary said, "We'll hug. I'm so sensitive, I'll probably cry. I hope I won't, but I probably will."

Mario Cristobal said sophomore Richard Leonard (two fumbled punts, two muffed kickoffs) will continue to return punts, but another three or four returners will be worked in with Leonard. Senior Mitch MacCluggage will continue to long snap, Cristobal dismissing Saturday's snap over the head of punter Jack Griffin as a hiccup after several years of flawless snapping.

September 18, 2012

Rhodes a game-day decision; Steve Sabol RIP; Louisville favored (duh); Collins Hill QB commit starts well

Back from a furlough day. Not much gripping out of Camp Mitch today...

Junior running back Kedrick Rhodes sat out practice again Tuesday with his right foot or ankle injury. FIU coach Mario Cristobal said whether or not Rhodes would play would be determined on Saturday.

This is just me, but a back who has failed to finish two consecutive games; has an injury bad enough to hold him out of practice consecutive days; and going into the last non-conference game with eight consecutive conference games to follow -- the first two of which are five days apart -- adds up to us more likely to see Lonesome Rhodes than Kedrick Rhodes on Saturday.

STEVE SABOL PASSES

This is a blog on FIU's sports, but, let's be real -- football is the only sport that consistently moves the needle here. One of the men responsible for football's place in our national fabric, NFL Films' President Steve Sabol, died Tuesday at 69 from brain cancer.

Rare is the sports-loving U.S.-raised kid who didn't dream of making a dramatic game-winning play in his sport to be replayed in slow motion with big, thundering music as a soundtrack. That's because for the last 50 years, NFL Films showed us how you can tell a game's story through a filmic package as dramatically as Hitchcock tell could the story of a man with a broken leg seeing the aftermath of a murder. Football's violence and athleticism gained a balletic beauty filmed by Sabol-directed cameras and backed by Sam Spence's music, then a poetic nobility in John Facenda's or Harry Kalas' narration of Sabol-written scripts. Especially in the days before 27 highlight shows run endlessly into Monday morning, we saw the league through NFL Films half-hour shows like Game of the Week or NFL Action.

I dealt with Sabol only a few times over my 23 years at The Herald, but enjoyed each conversation immensely. I think he did, too, as another football history junkie with a long memory. 

Several months after the last time I talked to him, the Dolphins were late in the 2010 season and the story idea well of me, Jeff Darlington and Armando Salguero was as dry as the team we were covering. I pulled out my iPod and portable speakers for some NFL Films music just because, why not? Suddenly, Jeff had two good ideas. I had one. Armando had a few. Ideas flew like spirals across an NFL Films screen. We laughed at the coincidence.

Coincidence, my 12E. RIP Steve Sabol, master salesman and muse for generations of NFL afficianados.

This classic piece of music and narration originally accompanied images in "The Championship Chase" NFL Films' 1974 season highlight video. 

 

VEGAS SAYS

The line on this game opened with Louisville as 11-point favorites and has quickly moved to 13 or 13 1/2-point favorites depending on the sportsbook. The over/under, however, went from 59 to 57 or 57 1/2.

SHEEHAN KILLING IT

The first two weeks for Suwanee (Ga.) Collins Hill quarterback Brett Sheehan, an FIU commit for 2013: 26 of 40 for 291 yards and two touchdowns plus stood in for the head shot that gave his team 15 yards and set up the game-winning field goal as time expired; 22 of 25 for 275 yards and three touchdowns passing and a 40-yard touchdown run.

So, not bad. 

SOCCER SPIN ON TRACK

Obviously, this won't happen this season and it's long been discussed. But, soon, FIU plans to turn FIU Soccer Field from a north-south to an east-west field and put a track around it, thus giving the track team someplace on campus to at least practice. The project (estimated cost: $3 million) still needs to go up for bid.

September 16, 2012

Williams named National Defensive Lineman of the Week

Though Saturday wasn't the proudest day for FIU's defense, senior defensive end Tourek Williams had a fumble-causing sack, a career-high nine tackles and a career-high-tying four tackles for loss. The latter was the second most in a game by an FIU player, even with Williams against Louisiana-Monroe in 2010; Audric Adger against North Texas in 2007; and Antwan Barnes against Bethune in 2003 and Middle Tennessee State in 2006. (the record: 5.5 by Keyonis Bouie against North Texas in 2006).

That got Williams the National Defensive Lineman of the Week honor from the College Football Performance Awards.

A few thoughts on UCF 33, FIU 20

When asked about quarterback Jake Medlock, who went off with a hand problem for half a fourth quarter touchdown drive, Mario Cristobal said he would be fine. But when asked about Rhodes, who left in the third quarter favoring his right ankle or foot, Cristobal admitted quietly, “He’s a little banged up.” He sounded a little worried. This is the second straight game Rhodes has had to be sidelined. Rhodes left the locker room with a big ice bag on his right foot and ankle.

Now, to the nitty, as Joe Bob Briggs used to say…

Jake Medlock was one for four passing before Kedrick Rhodes had one carry.

Shane Coleman got his first college carry before Kedrick Rhodes had one carry.

The Comcast Spots Southeast play-by-play folks, according to my Twitter timeline, blew three FIU names (“George Cristobal?”) before Kedrick Rhodes had one carry.

Kedrick Rhodes first carry went for 10 yards.

I understand and am a proponent of, calling plays with a slight randomness. Or, flat out taking the unexpected tack when negotiating a defense. But if it’s not working, get back to doing what you do and seeing how well you can work that. FIU didn’t until the second half when down 23-0.

Even with T.Y. Hilton, FIU’s offense worked off the run. (By the way, Wesley Carroll made the UCF game and dropped by the radio booth after seeing his high school team, St. Thomas Aquinas, fall to Don Bosco from New Jersey Friday night. Carroll’s staying in shape with the UFL restarting and a new version of the USFL starting. )

“The first half, we really weren’t running, we were trying to discover the pass,” running back Darian Mallary said. “We came in, we discussed that we were going to run the ball down their throats. It’s our offense. It’s what we’ve got to do. Whatever works for us, we’re going to keep doing it. If it’s not working, we’ve got to change it up.”

As anticipated, UCF adjusted after last week’s results in Columbus (Ohio State quarterback Braxton Miller tore through UCF) and West Dade (Medlock runs for 141 on Akron). When FIU ran the read option, the Knights were going to take the ball out of Medlock’s hands.

“They were in squeeze technique and the guy had me all the way,” Medlock said. “That’s why I had to keep giving it.”

Here’s Rhodes’ first six carries: 10, 1, 2, 14, 5, minus 5 (on that last one, I think Medlock could’ve kept and dipped outside the right end, but, hey, not the point here). Normally, that would take us to the end of the first quarter. That was Rhodes’ entire first half workload. Mallary had three first half carries, two as FIU ran out the clock to halftime.

In the second half, FIU had 19 runs for 130 yards. One of those was a sack for a 10-yard loss, so really 18 runs for 140 yards while trying to come back from a 23-0 deficit. They had 11 planned runs in the first half while going from 0-0 to 23-0.

When throwing in the first half, Medlock (one of eight, 4 yards) was like a garden hose with the finger over the hole. There were plays to be had, most notably a short pass to tight end Akil Dan-Fodio, rumbling up the middle past linebackers and a secondary frozen by play action. Medlock so overthrew the pass that the 6-4 Dan-Fodio could get only an outstretched hand on it. Hit that and Dan-Fodio could’ve run halfway back home to Stone Mountain, Georgia.

None of this helped the defense, which clearly needs all the help it can get. The communication problems in the secondary continue. The first of several big passes to UCF wide receiver J.J. Worton saw him mosey into the secondary and get dropped like a cell phone into Brighthouse Networks Stadium. Boom, 36-yard gain, to set up the first UCF touchdown on the kind of error senior safety Johnathan Cyprien said this week the secondary’s been working to eliminate. One shudders to think what Louisville’s Teddy Bridgewater (72 of 88 for 855 yards, five touchdowns, zero interceptions in three games) might do next week.

Tourek Williams called getting more pressure on Bortles in the second half “a matter of want-to.” They did get Bortles throwing off his back foot some. But, too often, FIU’s not getting there with a four-man rush and usually not getting there with five. Storm Johnson made some big plays, got stuffed on some runs. He’s that kind of back now. Brynn Harvey ran well on FIU, especially in the first half. The defense, again, got it together after a half, but that’s well below the standard they’ve set for themselves.

UCF won special teams. Rannell Hall averaged 32.0 yards per kickoff return. Worton averaged 12.0 yards per punt return. Especially the latter kept UCF in great field position the entire first half. Then, there's the bad snap by Mitch MacCluggage. FIU goes years without snapping problems and now has them in two of the first three games.

FIU got a little break from the Conference USA refs in the fourth quarter down 30-14. The game’s wildest play saw UCF’s Troy Davis strip Medlock inside the FIU 5, linebacker Terrance Plummer grab the ball and FIU’s Giancarlo Revila, not giving up on the play, grab Plummer and cause him to lose the ball. FIU wide receiver Glenn Coleman recovered. I think that’s the only time he’s touched the ball this year. Anyway, officials ruled Plummer had the ball long enough to qualify for “possession.” Possession? I wasn’t sure he had it long enough to cop a feel. It was ruled two changes of possession, first down FIU. Had it just been ruled a Medlock fumble eventually recovered by Coleman, it would’ve been fourth and 17 from the FIU 4.

FIU proceeded to drive 96 yards, some of it with Lorenzo Hammonds Jr. at quarterback after Medlock got hurt, to a touchdown. One of those life lessons people like to say sports teach: never stop hustling because you never know what can make a difference.

Speaking of which, here’s three plays that could’ve easily gone the other way/not happened and changed the outcome.

The safety: Mitch MacCluggage snapped the ball over Jack Griffin’s head so that Griffin’s only prudent move would be to make sure the ball got out of the end zone for a safety. Two points that kept FIU on the two-score side of the tracks in the second half. In the fourth quarter, when FIU scored its third touchdown, they were down 30-20 and had to go for two to make it a one-score game. Without the safety, kick the extra point and it’s a seven-point, one-score-does-it-all deficit and UCF is sweating.

(An aside: lousy two-point conversion play on concept. FIU lined up with no backs and ran no motion. With UCF having packed the middle of the box, thus cutting off any possible quarterback draw, only the drunkest in the stadium didn’t know FIU would be throwing and likely something quick. Medlock tried to gun it through tight coverage to Wayne Times – no go).

Hall’s layout 47-yard catch: I don’t know if the atmosphere came through on the TV broadcast or if you had to be there. But when FIU walked down to score on the first possession of the second half, then stopped UCF, a palpable mood change swept the stadium. FIU got a first down, then punted, but you could see the Panthers had it together. UCF was starting on its 17, its worst field position of the day. Brynn Harvey got stuffed on first down for no gain by Isame Faciane and Jordan Hunt. On second and 10, UCF reached back for the big Joe Frazier left hook and got it when Rannell Hall did a Superman take off leap to snag a 47-yard bomb to the FIU 21. Richard Leonard couldn’t have had much better coverage. If Bortles had dropped the ball to Hall in stride, Leonard was in position to make a play on Hall or the ball. Hall landed, held the ball, skidded, stopped, then the ball rolled away. The initial ruling of incomplete was reversed, properly, upon review. Instead of third and 10 from their own 17 -- and the Knights were one for four on third down in the second half – they had first and 10 at the FIU 21. Two plays later, they scored to restore the 23-point lead. That catch and ensuing touchdown looked even bigger when FIU answered just 2:57 later with Mallary’s 28-yard run. A 30-14 lead going into the fourth plays very different from 23-14.

Bortles fumble recovery: Or, 30-14 plays differently than 30-21 going into the fourth. On the last play of the third quarter, Tourek Williams got the only sack of the day on Bortles. The ball came out and bounced back up to Bortles, who managed to recover it while being taken down. If that ball bounces away from him at all or Bortles doesn’t cover it cleanly, well, the closest person to the ball was Faciane. Second closest might’ve been me. Isame could’ve written a song about the play on the ball before the nearest Knight reached him. A reprise of last year’s fumble return touchdown would’ve sent the game into the fourth at 30-21 with FIU conducting the Momentum Superchief.

So, FIU’s 1-2 with Louisville coming to town and the Sun Belt season starting in two weeks with a trip to Lafayette. They need to get their minds right on both sides of the ball.

September 15, 2012

UCF 33, FIU 20: Medlock probably OK. Rhodes? Well....

Postgame blog coming later tonight or early tomorrow morning, but a couple of quick things:

Quarterback Jake Medlock had ice on his left hand after injuring it in the fourth quarter, but shrugged off any idea the injury that kept him out for half a drive would hamper him further.

FIU coach Mario Cristobal said junior running back Kedrick Rhodes was "banged up" again. Rhodes limped off in the third quarter slightly favoring the right foot that had a huge ice bag on it after the game.

Halftime: UCF 23, FIU 0

All that's left to say...

 

Gameday III 2012, Take 2: FIU vs. UCF; women's soccer loses in the desert

Hopefully, a better version of the pregame blog. I went to bed not entirely happy with it, so we're up and fixing it from a Denny's booth.

Dennys

As I break down this matchup, I like it better for FIU than I did last year's matchup with UCF. Of course, FIU won last year by eventually taking over both lines of scrimmage, especially imposing its will on UCF's offense. Shows how much I know. With that caveat, let's proceed...

One of you who ran into me at the Raleigh-Durham Airport mentioned FIU's annoying ability to play to the perceived quality of opponent and pointed to the Louisiana-Lafayette and Duke games last year. I still disagree about Lafayette, but when someone closer to the program mentioned they saw this as an FIU tendency -- and they've seen more FIU football than anyone -- I put it back in the "strong maybe" catetory.

It's not that they're loafing. But they're making mistakes, particularly on defense, you expect to see in 2010 or early last year. It reminds me of my daughter's reading comprehension and retention when she reads by herself in her room while rolling on her bed, fussing with Jake (one of our cats), wondering if her American Girl doll also has her schoolwork. There's a difference between that and how she reads after Dad's snapped, "Stop (censored) with Jake! Leave American Girl alone! She'll be fine until you finish." Then, she's fine. That makes me think they're playing without enough mental focus. Most people, high level athletes included, have to make an effort at getting into that proper state of mind. It's not always tunnel-vision, scowling DMV-worker face. Former Atlanta Falcons defensive end Tim Green, throughout his four years at Syracuse and eight-year NFL career, used to read. 

It's mental preparation. When players forget to make sure their focus is there, they're going forth unprepared for success in (quasi)-professional sports. I think FIU plays with that focus against because this game has too many connections for players for them not to come out sharp as a thumb tack. Also, on the defensive side of the ball, they've been embarrassed two weeks in a row. No matter how bad I've seen FIU play, I've never felt the football team played without pride. So -- hey, could be wrong, remember last year -- I think Saturday's FIU team will be closer to the one everyone who knew anything about the team thought they'd see the first two weeks.

That doesn't mean I think the Panthers are going to win, however. 

UCF's got George O'Leary, a coach with a defensive background, running the show there. Now, the first time he has the ball in the home opener, does he ride the emotional wave and take advantage of what's been the hole in FIU's defensive jeans and run some motion preceding 10 to 20-yard patterns? I mean, FIU's responded to passing off motion like Cro-Magnon man did upon seeing fire. Or, does Mr. O'Leary go Mrs. O'Leary (no cow) revert to conservatism and hope to (grunt and eat meat as you say this) establish the run and rely on his defense to smother FIU?

If I'm O'Leary, I tell my offensive coordinator "Let's get some points and make those guys feel like they have to get away from the run before they really do." That means 6-4 quarterback Blake Bortles throwing the ball over an FIU rush that hasn't been getting there into a secondary that, for the most part, hasn't been there period. I wonder if defensive end Tourek Williams has a knee or calf injury. Williams hasn't looked as if he's moving normally. Anyway, he's not the only source of a pass rush. There's no push up the middle, which quarterbacks back away from like it's Alien coming out of a stomach. This is where Isame Faciane, especially, needs to be more evident. The downfield fussing at each other about responsbility and coverage should be long past for FIU. That it isn't -- Johnathan Cyprien says they made better communication an emphasis this week in practice -- says that's where UCF, with a cadre of receivers that actually looks similar to FIU's, should try to strike first.

Alas, coaches, especially in the macho sports of football and hockey, get the squeaky sphincter quickly. Do you want to chance redshirt sophomore Bortles throwing early or rely on Storm Johnson and Brynn Harvey to set a physical tone (Latavius Murray is out with a shoulder injury)? I'd take the former, but I wouldn't be surprised if O'Leary took the latter, worried that an experienced FIU defense might find itself after two weeks in Wackyland and an overexcited Bortles would try to do too much. FIU's run defense has shown cracks. Bet that Johnson makes it through one of those cracks for a big one. But I don't see the Knights paying the rent on the run. Eventually, this game could come down to which redshirt sophomore quarterback gets coaxed into the last, biggest mistake. If O'Leary's thinking the same thing, and coaches rank among the biggest Anxiety Andys, he'll try to keep the game out of his quarterback's hands.

On the other side, FIU will open with the run because a) the Panthers have done it pretty well the first two games and b) UCF didn't just look pushed around by Ohio State's read option attack, it looked confused. UCF's defense moves well and I don't see FIU moving them like the Buckeye Beef Boys. Again, if I were FIU, I'd throw a screen or short cross early to a tight end or a back, something to occupy the linebackers and give them something to think about. That extra time you create in their head translates to time on the field. A half-second, a quarter-second can be 2 to 20 yards of difference. FIU hasn't thrown much off the option yet this year, which has surprised me. It was open during the time of the game FIU ran The Rockettes offense (one, two, three...kick!) and Medlock was a little hyperactive. UCF got gashed by Ohio State on read option plays. They've had a week to buckle up. If they haven't, look for Medlock to have a good day and Kedrick Rhodes to have an above average day. If they have, well, now we get to the element that could win or lose the game for FIU.

While Akron needed to throw just to get some offensive work in after UCF took a 35-0 halftime deficit, Ohio State threw just enough to keep UCF off balance and didn't complete a pass over 15 yards. If FIU establishes the run early, on the second or third drive, the Panthers should launch one deep among the first plays of the drive. Just to remind UCF it's out there.

FIU's receivers need to help a Medlock out more outside of a two-minute situation. On those drives, his decisiveness takes over. Otherwise, he's more hesitant to make throws into tight spaces and he's holding onto the ball too long. I'm not sure he throws the pass to Jacob Younger along the right sideline last week that led to the pre-halftime touchdown if the play happens with, say, six minutes left in the quarter. FIU's most talented receivers, Willis Wright and Glenn Coleman, have a combined one catch this season. That's not going to get it done over the long term. The Panthers definitely could use more from either one tonight. Whether it's grasping the offense (a problem for Wright in the past), blocking ability, getting outworked in practice or what, an FIU offense with either or both working well truly scorches earth.

As it is, I don't have beef with the offense so far. They haven't been perfect, but any coach would take what they produced during the competitive phase against Duke and the whole Akron game. But this game feels like it could have two or three big offensive plays. I see Storm Johnson getting one for UCF. The others most likely will come from receivers. Whichever team gets them, wins.

Or, those massive, nuclear plays could come on special teams. On punt returns, J.J. Worten's averaging 20.0 yards per return for UCF. Wouldn't it be funny if this game had back-to-back touchdown returns? Whenever that happens, everybody loves it, dances like the Carol City band, high fives, low fives, laughs while coaches explode with every orifice flowing with smoke and slime. Special teams' margin for error in this game would fit between my thumbnail and forefinger. More likely to make a big play? FIU. More likely to fumble it away? FIU. That's a problem anytime. It'll be a bigger one this game, where I see the offenses petering out short of the goal line.

FIU's got the better kicker and they might need Jack Griffin to keep it close. If blow early scoring chances as they did against Duke and Akron, this could be over early.

I'll be on Twitter during the game as usual, http://twitter.com/DavidJNeal.

Out in Vegas, the bettors like UCF big. Then again, they liked FIU against Duke and split on Akron and FIU. So, I'm sticking with my preseason section call: UCF 20, FIU 13.

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

A good sign for my day, at least. As I walked into Denny's, this was playing, a song on my Saturday morning playlist because I used to use half my 50-cent allowance to play it and Eddie Kendricks' "Keep On Truckin'" on the bowling alley jukebox.

 

 

WOMEN'S SOCCER

Not a good night for the soccers. The men lost to Furman 2-1 and, out in Tucson, Arizona beat FIU 2-0 Friday night in the (inhale) Loews Ventana Canyon Cats Classic (phew).

The 3-3-1 women play Arizona State Sunday.

September 14, 2012

Furman takes down FIU, 2-1; pregame FIU-UCF blog coming later

OK, so FIU men's soccer won't match the 1972 Dolphins after Friday night's loss at Furman. But they've already got more wins than the 2012 Dolphins, so...

Quentin Albrecht struck again. By the time he did so, in the 67th minute, FIU was down 2-0. The Panthers allowed what's usually a killer goal, with six seconds left in the first half, to go down 1-0. FIU outshot Furman 11-7, but goalie Robin Spiegel couldn't stop either Furman shot actually on goal.

 

September 13, 2012

Men's hoop schedule highlights

Highlights from the men's basketball schedule released this afternoon:

Home games you might find interesting: Stephen F. Austin (first home game), Nov. 17; Arkansas State (first Sun Belt game), Nov. 29; Florida A&M, Jan. 2; Bethune-Cookman, Jan. 7; FAU, Feb. 7

Road games you might find interesting: Boston College (season opener), Nov. 11; Florida Gulf Coast (it's close), Dec. 13; Louisville (The Oedipus Shootout, Pitino vs. Pitino), Dec. 19; FAU, Mar. 2.

So, there you go. Oh, as an observation, one that could be made by anyone seeing Joey De La Rosa around campus, he's slimmed down quite a bit. It'll be interesting to see how much nimbler he is without the bulk.

September 12, 2012

New women's tennis coach: Love for Leiva; UCF by how many?

Katarina Petrovic, a native of Serbia, has been named the new women's tennis head coach.

Petrovic spent the last nine seasons as a member of the staff at South Carolina, where she played from 1999-2002.

WOMEN'S SOCCER

TopDrawerSoccer.com put FIU forward Chelsea Leiva on its National Team of the Week after Leiva's hat trick and an assist against Idaho, the entirety of her scoring last week in a rout of Idaho and a double shutout with LSU (0-0)

WHAT'S MY LINE?

It doesn't take Kitty Carlyle or Dorothy Kilgalllen to answer that. UCF opened a 13-point favorite over FIU and it's gone up to 17 and 17 1/2.

September 11, 2012

Leiva & Volz Sun Belt Players of the Week; Bethune coming to La Cage; men's soccer regionally ranked

Junior forward Chelsea Leiva's hat trick and assist Sunday in a 6-0 rout of Idaho was good enough for the Sun Belt to name her Offensive Player of the Week Tuesday. Meanwhile, sophomore midfielder Johanna Volz got the Defensive Player of the Week honor for her part in FIU's shutouts of Idaho and LSU (0-0).

MEN'S SOCCER

Last week's wins at Wisconsin and Illinois-Chicago moved FIU to 5-0 and moved voters in the National Soccer Coaches Association of America/Continental Tire rankings top FIU eighth in the South Region. FIU didn't receive votes in the national rankings.

FOOTBALL

Told you the replacement for Texas A&M was a school that would've given FIU trouble if this was before desegregation of Division I football in the South. Back when SEC, ACC and Southwest Conference rosters came only in white, schools like Grambling, Southern, Florida A&M, Morgan State and Bethune-Cookman scooped up the buckets of southern black talent that didn't want to head all the way up to the Big Ten or Northeast.

As it is, Bethune-Cookman's biggest advantage on FIU when coming south of Sun Life in 2013 and 2014 comes in the band category. Back when FIU was Division I-AA and in its first two years as a program, Bethune beat the Panthers 31-0 and 24-14.

 


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