Well, what do you know?
That’s what FIU's football team left everybody asking last week. I’m not sure it’ll be any different after this week. After all, we know next to zip about the Zips. So, Akron’s either too unknown or too known as a Homestead-post-Andrew rebuilding job to be a reliable gauge for the Panthers. Unless, that is, FIU loses, in which case we know enough to say, “Soooo…men’s soccer, you say?”
This game should be a confidence builder for FIU so long as they don’t go into it with overconfidence. Use it as a tune up for Central Florida without thinking of it as a tune up. The line’s back up to FIU by 24 after dipping to 23 earlier in the week from opening at 25. Bettors don’t trust either team.
Comparing last year’s Akron lineup that faced FIU with this year’s, only five who started on defense remain on the roster and, of those, only weakside linebacker Troy Gilmer tops the depth chart at the same position. Akron’s best defensive player from 2011, All-MAC linebacker Brian Wagner, graduated Akron with eligibility left and decided to play his final college season at Arizona.
Central Florida ran on the Zips for 4.5 per carry – 4.9 when you take out sacks, which colleges ridiculously count with the rushing numbers -- and FIU should run through Akron like Firestone, too. Akron’s defensive line doesn’t bring the Midwestern beefiness you’d expect from a city in the heart of Carnivore Country. At one defensive end, the Zips start 226-pound freshman Albert Presley. Someone that light on physical maturity and size in Division I might as well be the shotgun shack standing where planners want to build the freeway. FIU should be able to pull some eminent domain there and other places along the line to pave the road for some long drives.
In short yardage, FIU doesn’t have the bulky banger in the backfield. What they do have is a big, strong quarterback they need to start putting under their big, strong center in 1-to-go situations. Maybe after last week’s failures – yes, I know the atrocious spot on Kedrick Rhodes fourth down carry – they’ll test run such an approach against Akron with Jake Medlock. UCF scored seven touchdowns in seven red zone possessions. That speaks of a defense getting outmuscled or worn down.
FIU went to a fast pace on offense with good results last week until the score made the Panthers one-dimensional. Despite 32 new players, 10 of which have Florida connections, Akron’s still not used to dealing with this humidity. As Terry Bowden said one way to deal with the stifling, sapping climate is “you run guys in, use your depth. We don’t have any depth.”
So look for FIU to work Akron with pace and plays making everybody run sideline-to-sideline to wear down the Zips defense while body punching with the run. Throw in a play action pass with the primary receiver going deep, just to let Akron know they’ll do it. Then, later, against a tired, undersized front, really roll like a John Deere with a giant Hemi engine.
The Akron offense also retains five starters on the roster, but only wide receiver Keith Sconiers and tight end Rhyne Ladrach start at the same positions. Akron spent last year with Clayton Moore quarterbacking a pro-style offense. That was akin to asking the more famous Clayton Moore to play Tonto. Now, they’ve got Dalton Williams, a senior transfer from Stephen F. Austin, still learning a spread offense and in his second collegiate start. Williams threw the ball 50 times against UCF after 110 passes in three seasons as a backup at Stone Cold U. He’s no Sean Renfree, but Williams is 6-4, 230. He’ll be able to see over FIU’s line and shouldn’t go down easily. Still, second start, on the road and against a defense that got its feelings hurt last week. I can see him getting hit while throwing, thus leading to an interception or fumble.
Surely Akron saw Duke use motion to create some confusion in FIU’s defense. I found it interesting that FIU linebacker Winston Fraser said they worked on communication this week in preparation not only because it was an area of failure last week, but because they anticipate a noisy stadium this week. The enclosure not only closes off wind, it might enhance noise. Akron could have its own problems making adjustments at the line. Don’t be shocked if FIU gives up a monster play or two – you throw 50 times to decent athletes, it’s like covering the board in roulette – but too many explosive plays and/or no crushing counters from the defense says there’s a bigger, long range problem for FIU
FIU can lose this game only by giving up cheap points set up or scored by special teams – a fumble here, an lengthy return there, a blocked punt or field goal. Those plays are a momentum laxative. After that blocked field goal return touchdown last week, FIU came out for the second half looking like Joe Frazier coming out for Round 2 after George Foreman dribbled him around that Kingston, Jamaica ring in Round 1 (“Down goes Frazier! Down goes Frazier!”).
Expect Mitch MacCluggage back as long snapper. It’s what he does and has done flawlessly in games. Usually, long snapper’s the ultimate “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” position. Coaches usually are happiest when they can answer “What do you think about your long snapper?” with “I don’t.” They view the snap-hold-kick mechanics similar to The Sopranos’ Ralphie discussing what he looks for in a gun: “I want to know the (sucker) is going to work.” Reliability rules. Jack with it at your own peril. So here’s poor Shae Smith, in his first FIU game at standard center, making the line calls for a new offense, now also having to long snap for his first time at FIU? And already having to change one part of the placekicking trio, punter Josh Brisk holding instead of graduated Wesley Carroll? Uh-uh.
I’ll stay with my Herald preseason section call: FIU 35, Akron 10.
But that’s one black man’s opinion. I could be wrong.
FIU men's soccer had dumped Wisconsin 3-1 behind junior midfielder Gonzalo Frechilla, who had a goal and two assists and sophomore forward Quentin Albrecht who had a goal and an assist. Albrecht's five goals already this season matches last year's team-leading total. Freshman midfielder Daniel Gonzalez, out of Killian High, also scored.
The FIU men are 4-0 for the first time since 2000, which was also the last time they were 3-0. They visit Illinois-Chicago Sunday.
FIU (2-2-1) got out of Baton Rouge with a plucky 0-0 tie (3-2-1) Friday night. Both teams had six shots actaully on frame, but LSU held an 23-10 in shots taken and 11-0 advantage in corner kicks. Now, FIU comes home to face Idaho Sunday evening at 6 p.m.
For those of you too young or just not versed in college football history, the blog post title is a reference to the famous Harvard Crimson headline "Harvard Beats Yale, 29-29" after the 1968 game that saw Harvard come back from 29-13 down in the last 42 seconds. That's also the title of Kevin Rafferty's very good, austere 2008 documentary on the game.