Quarterback Jake Medlock, still in uniform, walked across the open locker room door with a coldly incinerating stare. Mario Cristobal came out to meet me and the reporter from the FIU student paper looking drained of energy, words and happiness, like someone who had just gone through 15 rounds of spilling emotions with their spouse.
But it was senior running back Darian Mallary who verbalized the mood after victory teased FIU all game long, then tauntingly jilted the Panthers like so many Poindexters for the men of Troy.
“Every week before the game, we think, we can change it, it’ll be different,” Mallary said. “It seems like every week, at the end of the game, it’s the same thing. And nobody understands why because we worked so hard. We don’t understand. Why is it going like this? What’s going wrong? It’s tiring. It’s really hurting. We’ve just got to figure something out just to win a game. Let’s focus on the next opponent and try to win one game.”
Mallary was one of many FIU parts and players that had But games as in “(he/they) really did this well, but…” Mallary ran for xx yards, picked up his ninth touchdown and showed, right now, he’s a better short yardage back than Kedrick Rhodes. Rhodes injuries have taken a quarter step off his backfield dancing turning it, in dancing terms, from James Brown to White Man’s Overbite.
But it was Mallary who fumbled after a 9-yard fourth quarter carry into Troy territory. FIU’s defense held the Trojans to a three-and-out, but up 37-35, any points there would’ve changed greatly the final minutes. Mallary had ripped off an 11-yarder the previous snap. Another first down, positive yards after that and kicking with the wind, senior kicker Jack Griffin would’ve had a decent shot (hey, not like it’s an extra point, right?)
I asked Mallary the last time he fumbled.
“I know it wasn’t in college. I think the last time I fumbled was semifinal in state, my senior year,” he replied. “Me fumbling, I didn’t see that coming for 1,000 miles. But it happened. I have to get over it. It hurt. This game right here, I put it all on my shoulders. I just don’t understand.”
It’s axiomatic that when teams lose close, everybody thinks of the one or two plays they didn’t make and wonder if that was the difference. Mallary thinks of his fumble. Griffin thinks of his blown extra point. Maybe Medlock was thinking of the interception he threw, a terrible decision and worse throw up the right sideline to Rhodes, who was covered, out of bounds and was decelerating out of the pattern as Medlock cocked. The next play, Troy quarterback Deon Anthony almost as foolishly, made a reckless deep pass into double coverage that’ll surely be on the mind of senior cornerback Jose Cheeseborough. Cheeseborough got two hands on the ball, but couldn’t complete the interception. Troy scored three plays later.
Sometimes, it’s doing that little extra that makes the difference. Troy linebacker Brannon Bryan made the aforementioned Medlock interception. But he also made a little noticed play in the second quarter as Glenn Coleman caught a deep slant route. Just as Coleman shifted up through the gears, Bryan got a piece of Coleman’s jersey. It slowed him just enough for Troy’s Chris Pickett to make the tackle. Without Bryan’s effort, that’s not a 28-yard gain on a drive to a field goal and 24-14 FIU lead, but an 87-yard touchdown and a 28-14 FIU lead.
Maybe Coleman’s thinking of that play. Once again, he and Willis Wright put the boom back in FIU’s offense. Troy’s safeties bit on the run early and often. Wright and Coleman feasted. Medlock didn’t miss the passes that Western Kentucky’s Kawaun Jakes bumbled against Troy.
Then, there’s the undisciplined penalties. Illegal shifts, etc. I didn’t see the Fadol Brown personal foul that nudged Troy from second and 7 on the FIU 20 to first and goal from the 9. The late hit call on Sam Miller on the biggest play of the game-winning drive was a predictable flag even if the hit on Shawn Southward wasn’t any more damaging than a typical knock-‘em-out-of-bounds bop. Here’s what coaches call “hidden yardage:” Southward should’ve been stopped about 10 yards earlier. He broke through a pack of Panthers, went toward the sideline, then Miller came in with the lateness. If the tackle gets made when it should’ve been, Southward’s stopped inbounds after 15 to 20 yards plus there’s no late hit penalty. Instead of a 27-yard gain augmented into 42 yards by the penalty and the clock stopped, it’s less than half that with the clock still moving. Troy was out of timeouts, remember.
The entire defensive front seven has to wonder what if they make a few more tackles on Troy quarterback Deon Anthony? A sack instead of a hurry, a 5-yard gain instead of a 14-yarder. Cristobal credited Troy’s blocking and Anthony’s athleticism, but said at some point, FIU’s got to get off the blocks and make a tackle. Still, hard to fault the defensive line/pass rush when they got four sacks, a number of quarterback hits and a Miller blitz induced Anthony into a dumb, desperate throw that Johnathan Cyprien intercepted.
Still, a little extra, a little more on a play could’ve been the difference.
Anthony’s a better passer than I thought. Some of his throws in the 7-10-yard range couldn’t have been made any better, perfect placement and zip. Actually, perhaps his worst throw was the one far enough behind Chandler Worthy that it was a lateral. So, when Worthy dropped it, it remained a live ball for Justin Halley to scoop and race off to FIU’s first defensive touchdown of the season. That happened in Game 8 this year. They had two after Game 3 last year.
I wasn't unhappy with the decision to run the ball on the third and long after Troy used its last timeout. Medlock had cooled off and some of his decisions were ehhh. Better to keep the ball inbounds, keep the clock rolling, get a few yards and try to pin Troy deep with them going against the wind. Which is exactly what happened
In the end, the offense put up 31 points and 428 yards of offense, but failed by producing zero points over the last 26:39 of the game and turning the ball over twice, once to set up a touchdown. On special teams, Josh Brisk punted well and pushed Troy back when he needed; and the kickoff return set up a touchdown with Richard Leonard’s 68-yard kickoff return. Special teams also set up a Troy touchdown by botching a punt snap. And then there’s that extra point. The defense got an interception, a fumble return touchdown and four sacks, but allowed a 69-yard drive to the game-winning field goal in 57 seconds by a team with no timeouts.
Good performances…just without that winning extra from anyone -- players or coaches.
When Google Maps reminded me the drive to Troy from my hotel was twice as far as I thought, over two hours, there was no way I couldn't think of this...