“So, JL, here’s the climax – this team we’ve watched come up from the dregs, expected greatness, now crashes through a losing season like Lindsay Lohan driving down a Rome street. Their only possible salvation would be to win almost all their remaining games and get a bowl bid. It’s Homecoming. The quarterback comes back from an injury to his, um, shoulder -- no, foot! His foot! Foot is better! -- two weeks early to lead the team to a last-minute win that turns the season around. And the quarterback’s name: Jake Medlock. Great name, huh, JL?
So, how about it? I know you want to do that Scarlet Pumpernickel thing that the little black duck’s pushing, but what do you think?”
“Works better as the last game of the season. But…I’ll get back to you.”
Boy, this could really use the Steve Sabol-NFL Films treatment. The shot of Medlock’s from the left side, his left foot fat with extra bandages. Pan back for a full body shot of Medlock slow-motion striding for the FIU huddle. John Facenda narration, Sam Spence music as Medlock runs a few plays…
There’s no question this is a different offense with Medlock instead of E.J. Hilliard. Medlock didn’t have an interception in three and a half games. Hilliard had three in 63 passes. Loranzo Hammonds Jr. threw one in just six passes. When your defense can’t seem to get out of its own way – or get in anyone else’s way consistently – that fact alone takes games from “challenging” to “unwinnable.” Look at what the interceptions did to the tenor of the game during last week’s loss to Arkansas State.
Also, Medlock’s injury halted a flowering working relationship with his receivers. Maybe FIU wouldn’t be so bereft of big downfield plays without his injury. That’s neither here nor there now. If running back Kedrick Rhodes also returns at around 90 percent with Darian Mallary and Jeremiah Harden, FIU’s run game gets back to where it was. That opens everything else up.
Middle doesn’t exactly stonewall anybody, giving up 8.2 yards per game more than FIU. Equal opportunity defenders, the Blue Raiders give it up on the ground and in the air, although their rushing numbers (182.0 yards per game) get skewed by facing (and beating) ground-bound Georgia Tech.
Unfortunately for FIU, what ails the defense isn’t so easy to fix as outgutting a fractured foot, as Medlock will be doing Saturday night unless something changes in pregame warmup.
OK, the defense has been on the field for long stretches at times this season when the offense saw possessions disappear faster than the Nationals’ lead did in the ninth inning Friday. But, overall, in the four games Medlock started, this defense couldn’t get off the field on third down, even third and long.
This game could be decided on third down. Middle’s allowing first downs on 48.6 percent of third downs. FIU converts only 31.1, next to last in The Belt, and the Panthers defense gives up the first down on 40.0 of third downs. Team Murfreesboro hits on 49.2 percent of their third downs.
Don’t look for the drive-killing sack in this game. Not just because, for over a year, FIU’s pass rush has gone the way of All My Children’s Bobby Martin or Happy Days’ Chuck Cunningham. On top of FIU being last in the Sun Belt in sacks, Middle’s allowed only one sack in five games. Uno sack. No mas. They’ve run the ball well with Benny Cunningham (no relation to Chuck) and quarterback Logan Kilgore doesn’t tarry in getting the ball out of his hands. There’s two things that’ll calm a pass rush down. I’m not sure Cunningham runs as well on FIU, however.
I wrote on special teams earlier this week for the Friday story and found the matchup packed with potential momentum swings. That favors Middle Tennessee as 1-5 teams tend to get the saggy shoulders when things go against them in the kicking game while 3-2 teams tend to be more likely to brush themselves off and keep a-goin’.
Somebody’s getting a massive, field-swinging return or block. If third downs don’t decide the game, that special teams play might. Or, maybe the hidden yardage in special teams moves a team out of or into game-winning score range.
Overall, this game looks more favorable for FIU than any since Akron. But I have a hard time picking a 1-5 team over a team that’s 3-2 with a good season working. Sometimes, the vicissitudes of the season just keep going against you.
So, Middle Tennessee 30, FIU 24.
But that’s just one black man’s opinion. I could be wrong.
Goals by Colby Burdette, off a Lucas Di Croce corner kick and Nicolas Rodriguez, off a feed from Lyle Lindquist, pushed FIU to a 2-1 win over Howard Friday at FIU.
After a 5-0 start, the men slumped 1-3-2 over their next six games, exceeding one goal only once in those six games. They're 7-3-2 going into Wednesday's home game against SMU.
Meanwhile, the women are 7-5-2 after Crystal McNamara's 85th minute goal gave them a 2-1 win against Louisiana-Lafayette. Scarlett Montoya's sixth goal of the season tied the game in the 67th minute five minutes after Lou-La opened the scoring.
Sunday at noon, FIU hosts Louisiana-Monroe in the second Alumni Weekend game.