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Gameday VIII: FIU at Troy

Really quickly before we get started: yes, I should be at next Sunday afternoon's hoop hoopla. The swimming and diving team is hosting FSU and FAU this morning. And Friday night on the Birmingham-Irondale border featured Arby's and a Miller. Felt like I should've ripped off my sleeves, found Randy and tried to cross a few things off the list. Now, about this game...

Should these two teams play Saturday? Or, should they say forget that, hit Home Depot for some grills, Troy bring the burgers, FIU bring the beer and orange soda and everybody consume while commiserating over disappointing seasons?

Troy hasn’t won on the field named after its longtime-and-still coach. FIU hasn’t won outside La Cage. Troy’s 3-3, expected to be better after coming off the worst season since 1982, and doesn’t know how long concussed quarterback Corey Robinson, the Sun Belt’s passing yards per game leader even after getting KO’d early by Western Kentucky last week, will be out. FIU’s 1-6, expected to be light years better coming off the best season in its program history, and doesn’t know how long its defense will be out.

I watched Troy’s 31-26 loss to Western Kentucky and thought Troy could’ve won that game going away, even with losing Robinson early. Not a small statement considering Western’s only two losses in the last 12 games were blowout losses to Alabama and LSU. The Trojans were up 10-0 when they blew a great scoring chance, then missed the field goal. You go up 17-0 on Western, that can horse Western into turning quarterback Kawaun Jakes loose. And that’s a case of sit back, do your job and don’t get in each other’s way fighting for the interception.

Obviously, Troy’s offense changes with Anthony instead of Robinson at quarterback (this assumes Anthony plays. The Troy people have been hush, hush, Sid Hudgens, about Robinson’s health this week). With Robinson, Troy had the Sun Belt’s No. 1 pass offense as they let Robinson throw 40 times a game and Anthony fling a couple, too, as the change of pace quarterback out of the Wildcat (or, modified single wing, as us old timers see it). In over a half of starting time against Western last week, Anthony threw 16 passes. Though Anthony’s the Sun Belt’s passing efficiency leader, that’s off the small sample size of 29 passes over six games and coming in as that second guy.

Wide receiver Chip Reeves averages 16.8 yards per catch, but that’s with Robinson throwing to him the vast majority of the time. Maybe Anthony gets hot tonight or FIU’s laissez-faire pass defense gives him temporary Archie Manning powers, but expect Anthony and Troy, behind running back Shawn Southward to do more damage on foot than in the air. But Southward isn’t the John Shaft-baaaad back Middle Tennessee State’s Benny Cunningham was. (Yeah, I was wrong on that one slightly, huh?)

FIU had some notable numbers obscured by last week’s finish. Redshirt sophomore Jake Medlock’s 380 yards passing were the second most in FIU history and the most in an overtime-free contest. Only twice before has FIU had 100-yard receivers in the same game, as they did with junior wide receivers Willis Wright and Glenn Coleman (you’ve been paying attention or looking at the game notes if you recall that the second time was in the season opener against Duke, Kedrick Rhodes and Wayne Times).

Go long on Troy. The Trojans allow a Sun Belt low 51.9 completion percentage, but also 15.3 yards per completion and 8.0 yards per attempt (just to give you a gauge, FIU’s 13.1 and 7.8, respectively). Western got wide receivers open deep up the sideline. Jakes just blew throws that Medlock usually would hit. Jakes later hit wide open receivers up the seam, a circumstance set up by Western’s dominant running game. Those could be open to FIU’s tight ends if FIU’s run game can get going. The impediment there could still be how well Medlock can move on the read option. Last week, he was fine with pocket movement, but after a couple of early keeps that looked like he was showing Middle something just to show it, Medlock wasn’t a factor in the running game. That lets defenses sit on the running backs, thus limiting their effectiveness.

Still, FIU rolled up 30 points, had a self-imposed fumble in the red zone and came less than a yard from the end zone – or got in and weren’t given it – from more points. Again, on the whole, the offense produced. The defense and special teams failed at the pivotal moments.

As I wrote in today’s advance, which appears at http://www.miamiherald.com/sports, all but one FIU game this season featured a significant swing in the last minutes of the first half and first minutes of the second half. Within those swings, lay the key to this game – third down defense. FIU’s given up too many third-and-long conversions. Five of Middle’s six third down conversions last week came on third-and-7 or longer and a third-and-15 failure got them close enough to convert on fourth down.

Troy’s statistically the best third down defense in the Sun Belt. And I can see Anthony running for a first down out of a mess. But I can also see him making some mistakes in the air Robinson wouldn’t or on throws where Corey could, but Deon couldn’t.

Another tough call. I’ll take Troy, 31-27.

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

VOLLEYBALL

A rough season for the 6-16 volleyball team got some sunlight with a 3-0 (25-23, 25-17, 25-20) sweep at North Texas. Junior Brittany Spencer had six blocks. Four others – senior Kimberly Smith, fifth-year senior Renele Forde, freshman Lucia Castro and freshman Gloria Levorin – had five blocks each. Forde also had 33 assists.

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