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32 posts from September 2012

September 10, 2012

Vegas says UCF big; Leonard, Spiegel honored; new football opponent; men's soccer gets votes

Vegas' early line on The Big Enrollment Brawl says they think it's going to be a Big Enrollment Beatdown -- and, apparently, early bettors agree (then again, the "smart money" had FIU over Duke, so...)

UCF opened as 13 1/2-point favorites and quickly moved up to 16 1/2 in some sports books and across the board offshore. Obviously, some folks see Team That Beat Akron by 42 and Hung Tough At Ohio State vs. Team That Beat Akron by 3 In Overtime and Got Blown Out In One Half at Duke.

Running back Kedrick Rhodes practiced Monday.

Sophomore Richard Leonard got the College Football Performance Award's Punt Returner of the Week for his 49-yard touchdown return against Akron. Kicker/punter (on Saturday) Jack Griffin was an honorable mention among the specialists.

In answer to who FIU will get to replace Texas A&M after the Aggies bought out the remaining game, the school should be announcing it tomorrow. Let's just say if this was before the ACC, SEC and Southwest Conference desegregated, FIU would be in big trouble.

MEN'S SOCCER

The 5-0 men's soccer team got votes in College Soccer News Top 30 poll, which came out Sunday. The National Soccer Coaches Association of America/Continental Tire polls come out Tuesday.

After the wins against Wisconsin (3-1) and Illinois-Chicago (2-1), freshman goalkeeper Robin Spiegel got Conference USA's nod as Defensive Player of the Week. Spiegel made six saves in the two wins and, like the team, is 5-0 this season.

September 09, 2012

Men's soccer 5-0 for 2nd time in Division I; women win 6-0; what about Kedrick Rhodes

Sophomore forward Colby Burdette scored in the second half and in overtime to lift FIU to a 2-1 overtime win against Illinois-Chicago. After their 2-0 road trip, the FIU men sit at 5-0.

None of the previous players were born the last time FIU won its first quintet of games. Most of the buildings on the Mitch Maidique Campus weren't built. The brand new building on campus was Sunblazer Arena. 

The year: 1987, FIU's first season in Division I.

And this was the most talked about movie scene of the year...

 

 

WOMEN'S SOCCER

The women bombed Idaho Sunday evening 6-0, pushing them to 3-2-1. No, they didn't get two field goals after intercepting tipped Ryan Tannehill passes.

Junior Chelsea Leiva pumped in her first career hat trick and threw in an assist on Johanna Volz's goal. Sophomores Volz, Scarlett Montoya and Nikki Rios scored while freshman Madlen Weinhardt picked up three assists.

Goalkeeper Kaitlyn Savage made six saves for her third shutout of the season.  

FOOTBALL HURTS

Camp Mitch sources say senior linebacker Alex Robinson, a big part of FIU's special teams, could be out for next week's game at Central Florida, but running back Kedrick Rhodes should be OK to run against UCF. 

 

A few thoughts on FIU 41, Akron 38 (OT)

I’ll try to keep this postgame blog more linear than the one-night miniseries of a game it analyzes. That said, most of its being written on short sleep while trying to keep the auditory lid on the back end of a sleepover, so if it gets as all over the place as Richard Leonard was Saturday, so be it.

Leonard, the sophomore cornerback, embodied the game for FIU: moments of excellence, moments of nice-but-want-more, moments of inadequacy. He showed why FIU likes him on punt returns, properly navigating well-blocked seams on a 49-yard punt return touchdown to put FIU up 28-20 in a wild fourth quarter. He showed why he might not be returning punts much longer when he committed his second punt return fumble in two weeks, this one leading to Akron’s field goal and a 28-23 score just when Akron’s offense seemed to be sagging before a revitalized FIU defense. He had two pass break ups, including a near interception in overtime. But he didn’t make that interception, just as senior safety Johnathan Cyprien dropped an interception the play before Akron’s third touchdown. And Leonard got flagged for pass interference on third and 8 from the FIU 36 when he never turned around to clearly play the ball on a sideline throw that wound up hitting him in the helmet. Akron took a 31-28 lead the following play when running back Jawon Chisholm beat linebacker Winston Fraser up the field.

It was that kind of game. So much to discuss, but it all boils down to this: little about FIU, notable exception for quarterback Jake Medlock, is as good as anticipated after the first two games.

Not the defense. Not the special teams. Not parts of the offense. Not even the crowd, which half-filled the stadium and a student section that went from packed to spotty during that insane fourth quarter. I know last week’s trouncing by Duke (which got the what for from Stanford Saturday night) sledgehammered the big toe on the fan base’s preseason expectations, but sheesh, a Saturday evening home opener against a 23-point underdog with the Hurricanes and Dolphins on the road…as Cartman would say, “Super weak.”

One thing you can say for the offense: they get it done in the two-minute drill. End of the first half against Duke, they got FIU into field goal range in less than a minute. End of the first half Saturday, a touchdown. End of the game, in position for a field goal. Well, after being in position for a touchdown with 28 seconds left and a timeout and only getting off a blown snap that pushed the ball back to the 13. Whether it was an early snap or just a Medlock muff, it was the second such play of the game. Ideally, that should happen maybe twice a season. With a new quarterback-center combination, up it to five times. Twice in a game? Too many.

Give some credit to quarterback Jake Medlock for spotting the height mismatch of 6-5 Jairus Williams on a not-6-5 Akron cornerback then throwing the fade to Williams for the pre-halftime touchdown. That’s something FIU didn’t do often enough last season. Down 20-14 at halftime feels very different than down 20-7.

Medlock said coaches told him, “Jake when its two-minute offense, it’s always the same. Play fast and slow it down in your head.”

As fans have begged for the last two seasons, FIU put Medlock under center in a short-yardage situation. In the Herald’s season preview, I wrote FIU might have a curve ball for these situations when they’d need a bowling ball. They threw that curve Saturday night, putting defensive lineman Greg Hickman at fullback in a package with Darian Mallary at tailback. Mallary carried for nothing on third and 1 from the Akron 5, then for a 5-yard touchdown on fourth down.

Hickman played fullback in high school: “In high school, I played anything. Long snapper, kicker, punt returner, anything I could do ot be on the field.

Mallary played because sophomore running back Kedrick Rhodes suffered an injury in the first half. After Medlock optioned Akron to death early on his way to an FIU record for quarterback rushing yards in a game, FIU couldn’t appear to get much push. The passing game got nothing going as receivers could create no separation and Medlock occasionally held the ball too long. Both Medlock and Rhodes took a pounding.

“I think he got winded like he did on those couple of long runs,” Cristobal said. “After that, we had to haul him back in. he just wan’t himself for a few series. Then, the second half, he started getting on that roll again.”

In the four consecutive three-and-outs of the first half, FIU blew a chance to wear down Akron earlier than it happened. Also, they didn’t work the Zips defense side-to-side like I thought they might. In the end, though, FIU put up 31 offensive points in regulation, helped by the Hickman interception that put the ball on the Akron 14. It’s Akron, not Alabama, but it’s still 31 offensive points and 428 yards of offense in regulation.

Most of the game, special teams continued to be spotty. Sam Miller’s 80-yard punt return touchdown got called back on an illegal block. Punt coverage set out the Welcome Home mat for Belen graduate Imani Davis. Senior kicker Jack Griffin pushed his first field goal attempt wide left. Then again, Griffin was doing double duty. Unhappy with Josh Brisk’s punts last week, FIU benched him for Griffin this week. Neither provided punts the coverage could get under unless your name was Jeremiah McKinnon. The freshman from Southridge made two nice tackles on Davis in punt coverage to immediately snuff returns and took fourth quarter snaps at cornerback.

Oh, Brisk’s benching included holding on field goals. Mitch MacCluggage was back long snapping, but tight end Zach Schaubhut took over holding for Griffin. No snap issues and Griffin nailed the kicks he most needed to hit, as he usually does. So special teams comes out on top after all is said and done.

“Maybe it’ll wake up Josh a little bit, come back strong this week and have a better week,” Cristobal said.

While poor-mouthing his way through his part of last Monday’s Mid-American Conference media conference call, Akron coach Terry Bowden said he hoped the Zips followed the maxim that the greatest improvement in their new offense’s execution would be from Week 1 to Week 2. Maybe it was. The Zips certainly looked like they knew what they were doing while it was FIU’s defense that once again appeared trapped in a Saturday-at-Calcutta-market  chaos. Usually, that chaos followed Akron running motion through the backfield, an action that seemed to mesmerize FIU almost as badly as it did last week against Duke.

“They ran some shifts and motions that caused confusion in our secondary and found away to get some mismatches for them,” FIU coach Mario Cristobal said. “The quarterback did have some nicely placed balls, but a couple of them were wide open shots. We need to do a better job on that. When you go tempo like that, you’ve got to be able to adjust on the run.”

Again, that’s what you’d expect an experienced unit to be able to do. You don’t expect that kind of flummoxing in the first place.

On Akron’s first touchdown, I counted three FIU defenders frozen in electric football player poses. On Jawon Chisholm’s first touchdown catch, he went in motion to the left, circled out of the backfield, up the sideline and ran past linebacker Jordan Hunt, who originally looked well-positioned to make a play. The play before, a third and 5 from the FIU 24, showed exactly the kind of immaturity you don’t expect from an experienced defense. Defensive end Tourek Williams appeared to jump offside, but the real problem was instead of following through with the play, almost the entire FIU defense downshifted to neutral as if the play would be stopped. Most of the Zips offense did the same, but that group doesn’t have as many snaps in their memory bank. Akron’s Dalton Williams and Keith Sconiers kept playing and hooked up on a 13-yard completion for a first down. 

FIU finally got a pass rush going late in the game, a factor of talent and habitat – I lost two pounds just doing my customary tailgate walk before the game. I wondered how long it would take Akron to lose something.

FIU lost two replay challenges and I wasn’t surprised on either one. Both original calls happened at the end near the press box and looked wrong from where I sat. Vantage point isn’t everything. The referee and the head linesman framed Medlock getting blatantly horse-collared by J.D. Griggs late in regulation and made no call. Cristobal detonated on both. Make up calls quickly ensued – Cristobal didn’t get flagged himself for unsportsmanlike conduct and, two plays later, they gave FIU a pass interference gift on a pass whose catchable quality was dubious.

Now FIU goes to Central Florida, which lost to a slightly better team from Ohio Saturday and walloped Akron last week. You can’t use comparative scoring exclusively because games and seasons are about matchups. So it means little that comparative scoring says Central Florida should be a 39-point favorite over FIU, take it down to 35 for Akron having a game under its belt when entering La Cage Saturday night.

But, on the matchups, UCF’s across a chasm that FIU needs to bridge this week to keep from being embarrassed next week in Orlando.

 

September 07, 2012

Gameday II, 2012: FIU vs. Akron; Men's soccer: On FIU! Women's soccer: FIU beats LSU 0-0!

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.

 MEN'S SOCCER

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.

WOMEN'S SOCCER

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.

 

Men's soccer goes for the cheese; women go for gumbo

Coming to you from the same balcony where I snapped this a few days ago...

Sept2012 004

FIU men's soccer team hasn't started 3-0 in one generation and two coaches. A hat trick of 0-3's since that start in 2000, but no other 3-0's such as the record FIU takes into tonight's game at Wisconsin, ranked No. 10 in the Great Lakes region (FIU received votes in the National Soccer Coaches Association of America/Continental Tire South Region rankings).

"It's a different mindset (from previous years)," said forward Quentin Albrecht, scorer of four goals already this season after leading FIU with five in 2011. "We really believe in each other."

Kenny Arena's encouraging, of-course-you're-good-enough approach goes over well with the team, especially when they possess talent and can see results. Arena said, "Iv'e been pleasantly surprised by a few of our freshmen" citing Lyle Lindquist "playing out of position at left back" and freshman midfielder Patrick Ramdial, who has FIU's only non-Albrecht goal this season. And, of course, he complimented FIU's senior back line of Joe Dawkins and Anthony Hobbs.

As for Wisconsin, Arena said, "Very competitive. They've got that Midwestern culture, blue collar ethic and they're talented. I know their coach (John Trask) very well. They're organized and will be ready to play."

The Badgers are 1-2-2, defeating only Memphis 4-3. But they've been on the road for all five games. That means too jacked up about finally playing in front of their fans on one of the nation's great college party campuses or relieved to not be in places like Fort Wayne, Indiana (1-0 loss to Louisville) or Angola, Indiana (1-1 tie with Evansville).

Having U.S. National team coach Jurgen Klinsmann speak to FIU after the national team used FIU Soccer Field to practice for tonight's World Cup qualifier with Jamaica surely spurred juices, though most of the players were zygotes, toddlers or elementary schoolers during Klinsmann's peak.

"We try to find as many ways as we can to help our players grow," Arena said. "Sometimes, the greatest example is the player they aspire to be. Jurgen Klinsmann's not only a great coach, but he's probably the best forward in the history of Germany. We happen to have a good German forward (Albrecht). Moments like that could touch a player in a special way."

WOMEN'S SOCCER

The women's soccer team is on a there-and-back road trip to LSU for a game tonight, then returns home to face Idaho on Sunday. LSU's ranked No. 6 in the South Region. FIU, 2-2, lost to Florida Gulf Coast and national No. 24 Florida last weekend.

 

 

September 05, 2012

Humpin' to please on Hump Day; Reyes to the Caribbean

Coming to you live and yawning (see previous blog post) from the GC, where the band's blasting through a Pep rally and non-football schedules are being passed out...

Football practices are closed to the public -- sort of. In a college version of classes in the trailers that make South Florida public schools look like Arkansas tornado targets, a shortage of classrom space has classes meeting in some FIU Stadium suites. During practice. I'm surprised students don't have to sign non-disclosure agreements preventing them from telling or Tweeting what they see.

After Darrian Dyson's first practice in a week and a half, FIU coach Mario Cristobal said about his usage Saturday, "You can get out of tooball shape in a hurry. While waiting for a final ruling, he was really relegated to being just a student. He was not allowed to be around the building or training with us. There's some catching up to do. Certainly, he's a talented young man we have great expectations for. He's going to have a role pretty quickly. How much he has on Saturday will be determined between today's film study and tomorrow's practice."

Linebacker Winston Fraser admitted FIU needed to make sure not to take Akron lightly. Last year, Fraser said he felt they came out flat against Akron last year and, even after the 27-17 win, felt flat because they thought they should've won by more. I recall during the second quarter, one Ohio-area reporter said to another semi-loudly in the press box that the only reason the game was close was because FIU hadn't decided to make it a blowout.

Such was the talent gap last year. It isn't as great this year. Hey, Youngstown State spanked Pitt at Pitt, so Saturday's no lock for FIU.

There will be a fireworks presentation after Saturday's game.

MEN'S SOCCER

US National Team coach and former German soccer great Jurgen Klinsmann spoke to the 3-0 men's soccer team Tuesday. Klinsmann's crew used FIU Soccer Field for practice Tuesday and Wednesday.

Good thing freshman Robin Spiegel's been handling the goal so well for FIU. Junior goalkeeper Eric Reyes will miss this weekend's games against Wisconsin and Illinois-Chicago while playing for Puerto Rico at Caribbean Cup in Haiti. Puerto Rico plays Bermuda Friday, St. Martin on Sunday and Haiti on Tuesday. Reyes was part of Puerto Rico's team in a World Cup qualifier against Canada last year.

Herald News Overnight: Dyson back, Rhymes out. And so it goes...

The NCAA finally has cleared freshman defensive tackle Darrian Dyson academically. He can rejoin the team after having to sit out practice all of last week and this week. Though he's been out of practice for that time, expect him to see some backup action this week against Akron.

"He'll have a role pretty quickly, but how much he has on Saturday will be determined this week," FIU coach Mario Cristobal said Wednesday afternoon.

Meanwhile, this has not been The Summer of Rhymes. First, sophomore wide receiver Dominique Rhymes suffered a bruised sternum that kept him out of practice for a while. He got back in time for Saturday's opener -- yes, he changed his number to 22 from 82 -- only has now suffered a season-ending wrist dislocation. Rhymes will be able to redshirt.

This post's title is a nod to NBC News Overnight, which debuted 30 years ago this summer. For two teenage summers, that was my late night viewing -- The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson, Late Night with David Letterman (yes, his NBC 12:30 a.m. show was wackier and funnier than his CBS 11:30 p.m. one) followed by NBC News Overnight. Bed at 2:30. 

In response to Ted Turner launching this new Cable News Network with 24 hours of news and similar networks such as Satellite News Channel, the Big Three over-the-air nets (Fox didn't exist yet) decided to fight back by extending their programming. CBS' threw down Nightwatch, anchored by Charlie Rose, which featured one-on-one interviews and extended news features that were rerun all night. ABC decided to tack a morning news program on before Good Morning, America. But NBC came first and best with Overnight. Hosted first by Lloyd Dobbins and Linda Ellerbee, it was an hour of news, features and sports scores done in a manner far more intellligently, thoughtfully and at times irreverently for standard network news shows.

Though only on a short time, it's style and features made it iconic for a small, devoted group of followers. Ellerbee became the sex symbol for news junkies who fashioned themselves smart. For her mid-1980s memoir title, she used the pedestrian phrase with which her usually concealed smirk delivery ended each Overnight: "And so it goes..."

 

 

September 04, 2012

FIU by how much? and other Tuesday stuff

The opening line for Saturday's game put FIU as a 25-point favorite. They're down to 23.5 to 24. What really looks interesting is the over/under opened at 51 points and is up to 54.5. The teams combined for 44 points in last year's 27-17 FIU win, in which the Panthers were favored by 17.

Not much to tell from practice Tuesday morning.

Freshman wide receiver DeAndre Jasper sees doctors Wednesday to get medical clearance to return to full practice. He was doing time with the second team in camp before getting injured. It'll take him a few weeks to get into full football shape and integrate with the offense. Before that, he and his 4.3 speed could be used on returns.

Nobody's said anything officially, but I think E.J. Hilliard has the backup quarterback job. Lorenzo Hammonds, Jr. is a nice athlete, but Hilliard's a good athlete with an arm.

CONFERENCE USA EXPANSION -- SORT OF

C-USA is adding affiliate members in various sports for the next two seasons. The only one who will remain an affiliate member and is in a sport FIU also participates is New Mexico men's soccer. The Lobos will be in 2013-14 what FIU is now in C-USA. They're ranked No. 3 nationally, meaning C-USA will be added three schools currently ranked in the Top 20 (New Mexico, UNC-Charlotte, Old Dominion) to a lineup that already includes ranked Alabama-Birmingham. Tough crowd.

 RULES AND STUFF...

For those of you who are new this academic year or have forgotten: throw down in the comments all you want. Rip me, rip FIU. But comments either too gross or racist will be deleted. If I have to delete too many of your comments, I'll pull a de facto banning from the comments by deleting each of your future comments.

September 03, 2012

Monday, Monday

Stuff from the Monday before FIU hosts Akron at La Cage Aux Panteres:

Don't be surprised if Mitch MacCluggage is the long snapper on at least field goals and extra points this week. Mario Cristobal called the position a weekly "open competition." Two bad snaps in a game, even if they didn't cost anything, tend to get coaches popping Tums like Chiclets. The two Saturday were terribly costly.

Richard Leonard will keep the punt return job, at least for this week. Cristobal really likes Leonard, but, again, give coaches the choice between a guy who could break it or drop it and a guy who'll catch the ball but maybe only give you five to 10 yards per return, they'll take the latter.

Freshman wide receiver DeAndre Jasper, whose speed got him rated at three stars by some recruiting analysts, should have his cast off this week and return to practice after sitting out since the start of training camp with a broken left hand.

Akron coach Terry Bowden's in the situation Cristobal was back in 2007 -- a program in the dumps, but in an area so talent rich, there's plenty left over even after the biggest schools eat. Akron's got a gorgeous new stadium, beautiful facilities and consecutive 1-11 records. Bowden said behind recruiting Ohio and Western Pennsylvania, he try to make inroads for Akron in South Florida and Florida's Gulf Coast.

"Heck, they don't know where Akron is," Bowden laughed on the MAC coaches conference call. "They don't know Akron from Toledo or Bowling Green."

GETTING BELTED

There's a Bill Cosby routine in which his Dad threatens to get The Belt: "We had never seen The Belt. But we had heard about it. The Belt was 9 feet long...8 feet wide...and had hooks on it. And it would rip the meat off your body if it ever hit you."

The Sun Belt got The Belt this weekend.

FIU's loss. Middle Tennessee State lost at home to McNeese State, 27-21. Then, there you had the expected routs: LSU 41-14 over North Texas and Oregon's pinball machine 57-34 over Arkansas State. Only Troy beat an FBS opponent, outlasting Alabama-Birmingham, 39-29.

"Our demeanor, there were a lot of guys in shock, you could tell," Arkansas State coach Gus Malzahn said. "We've go a lot of youth and inexperience. I think there were a lot of big eyes. We didn't respond to the adversity, at all."

"Defensively, we missed too many tackles. We weren't consistent enough tackling. we gave up a lot of yards after contact. Offensively, we were our own worst enemy there. We got inside the 5, had to settle for field goals."

North Texas coach Dan McCarney found a positive in the Mean Green's offensive line: "Zero sacks, zero penalties, zero missed assignments by the starting five. That's about a pretty good way to get started against as good a defense as there is in college football."

 

Feelin' back in the day...

So, at Labor Day, nobody's happy with the economy or the U.S. President, the volleyball team is 2-4, the women's soccer team is .500, the football team has zero wins and the only undefeated team at Camp Mitch is men's soccer (3-0).

What is this, 1992? Feel like I should touch up my flattop, set the VCR to record Married...With Children and ask friends if they have power back after Andrew.

(Yes, I know the football team didn't exist. That's why it had zero wins)

Anyway, Sunday's 1-0 win at Jacksonville pushes men's soccer to 3-0 with two shutouts in the first three games under Kenny Arena. Freshman Patrick Ramdial got the goal off a setup from Daniel Gonzalez and freshman Robin Spiegel picked up his second shutout. While the football team tries to regain its grounding at home against Akron, their soccer brothers will be between games at Wisconsin, ranked No. 4 in the Great Lakes Region, and Illinois-Chicago.

FUTURE FOOTBALL

Louisville quarterback Teddy Bridgewater completed 19 of 21 passes for 232 yards Saturday against Kentucky -- and sat out the fourth quarter. The first three touchdown drives Bridgewater led were 95, 85 and 93 yards.

FIU will see Bridgewater in three weeks when the Miami Northwestern graduate leads the Cardinals into town. If they don't buck up the pass defense by then, Bridgewater's homecoming could make FIU look like Louisville's homecoming opponent.

September 02, 2012

A few thoughts from Duke 46, FIU 26

Didn't see that coming.

That phrase sums up not only the game for all of us failed pregame analysts, but the way FIU's failed defense looked all night. Their unexpected seeming befuddlement in the face of that which they knew might be coming from a quirky, damaged team crumbled our prognastications.

They hoped to mount more of a pass rush with the front four. They didn't and Duke quarterback Sean Renfree eventually decided to start looking downfield for his favorable matchups (after a while, they seemed to be giving Sam Miller the treatment Terrell "Target" Buckley used to get in the NFL). OK, you're not getting there, not even bothering Renfree after a while. They knew this might be a problem. They got zero sacks against Duke last year. What was Plan B? Plan C or D for Changes, Drastic?

And when FIU went into man coverage, were they nearly physical enough with Duke's receivers? Rarely did there seem enough disruption of pattern, patterns similar to what Duke ran last year. Conner Vernon's officially 6-1, 200 -- and don't both FIU and the University of Miami wish they'd have offered him as he came out of Gulliver four years ago? -- but sophomore Jamison Crowder goes 5-9, 175. Hey, you're not getting the quarterback off his spot, help a brotha out.

Speaking of physical, Duke averaged 5.0 yards per carry in the first half. Josh Snead ran for 47 yards on seven carries. Juwan Thompason ran for 22 on five carries. FIU got manhandled by an experieced Duke line not usually expert in run blocking that looked more physically mature than the Panthers' in both the run game and pass protection.

Also, it's not as if FIU didn't know Duke had special short yardage and red zone packages for tight end/situation quarterback Brandon Connette. And, they knew when Connette lines up behind center and Renfree goes in motion, Connette's taking the ball on an option and likely keeping it. Heck, they knew it so well, the knowledge worked against them when they fell for the okeydoke on Connette's play action and left David Reeves alone in the end zone for his first college catch. Yet, still, they rarely stopped Connette when they needed to do so. His first quarter touchdown run featured at least three missed takcles within 2 yards so even when FIU was in position, they didn't do enough to stop the pseudo option.

Check that: They did appear to do so four plays before that touchdown, on fourth and 2 from the FIU 25. Nobody at FIU will be taking care of Head Linesman John Hoffman's pets any time soon. The spot on Connette's run was greeted with "boy, generous spot!" by the local reporters around me in the press box. First down by inches. The next possession, the spot on Kedrick Rhodes' fourth-and-1 run from the Duke 4 might as well have been done by my 94-on-Tuesday grandmother in Lexington, Kentucky for all the relationship it had to reality. Officially, it was fourth and 1 from the 4. It was closer to fourth and 1 1/2 from the 5. Rhodes got past the 4 when he met the first tackler, whom he drove backwards a good half yard clear of the first down marker. Two other tacklers stopped his progress right over the extra point snap line, which is at the 3. The ball got marked a good yard behind that. My surrounding peers, again North Carolina-based reporters all, said various versions of "that's a terrible spot!" and were even confident it wouldn't withstand review. I agreed that the spot was atrocious, but didn't think review would overturn it. All spot challenges often do is show the randomness and difficulty in making the right call the first time.

Connette's run could've ended a drive and given FIU the ball -- albeit from the 24 -- with a 7-0 lead. Rhodes' run aborted that drive with FIU inside the Duke 5, perhaps about to retake the lead with a field goal or touchdown.

Bear Bryant used to say there are about six to eight plays that decide a football game, and the secret is to have the right players on the field for those plays. I agree with The Bear. I also think if you can't recover from a couple of first quarter disappointments like that, you're not mentally tough enough to win. So, yes, bad calls. Yes, could've changed the score and feel of the game early. No, not on the list of reasons FIU wound up on the sub side of a cosmetically close 20-point spanking. 

Besides, there's no 4th and 2 for Connette if Richad Leonard doesn't fumble the punt to set Duke up in scoring range. And after the "stop" on Rhodes, Miller picked off Renfree to put FIU at the Duke 31. That wasn't a zebra who, with FIU running the ball well, called the reverse to Glenn Coleman on the first play following the interception. Terrible call, poorly executed. It would've been a huge loss even before Coleman fumbled the ball into a 17-yard loss. Only a turnover could've been worse.

The field goal attempt got partially blocked after a bad snap, the first of two bad snaps from Shae Smith, both of which led to blocked field goals. Senior Mitch McCluggage has been running around with a knee brace, but might have his job back. Those two snaps are why I'm always wondering, with any football team I cover, if the long snapper position has been addressed.

FIU's next drive ended when they, on third and 1 from their own 45, got cute. They ran freshman wide receiver Nick England onto the field late before the snap, then threw him the quick wide hitch they threw to Wayne Times the play before. True freshman, scrambling to get on the field, the first college pass thrown to him, maybe his first college play, on a third down you really want after Duke's taken momentum and the lead...anybody shocked at the drop? Putting England in that position wasn't fair to him.

Which brings us to another point: FIU never went under center in short yardage situations. That's not maximizing use of a big, strong quarterback behind a strong line.

They could've let Medlock loose more in the first half. That said, FIU came out of the first half with 14 points, 289 total yards, 104 rushing yards and 4.5 per carry even with the reverse fiasco. Medlock was 14 of 17 for 185 yards. One incompletion was a drop. He didn't throw an interception and didn't fumble -- heck, he recovered Coleman's fumble on the reverse. They got the field goal shot at the end of the half because Medlock drove them down there frantically on four completions. Tell most college coaches that's what you get out of an offense run by a guy in his third start, they'll take it and Russian kick dance out the door laughing.

Medlock wasn't the problem Saturday night. At all.

The second half, I'm skipping. After Duke went up by 30, the Blue Devils didn't need to play FIU honest. It was garbage time.

What's should be most disconcerting about this total team barf for FIU is the biggest heavers came from the areas that seemed the least of FIU's concerns. A great season is still possible. I just don't remember a college-affiliated team having one after opening the season in such a manner.

Happy Labor Day!

September 01, 2012

GameDay I 2012: FIU vs. Duke; Dyson won't play; soccer split

 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...

 

SOCCERS

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.

 


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