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28 posts from October 2012

October 15, 2012

Football game times & Troy starting QB needs to find his head

On The Sun Belt Coaches Teleconference Monday, Troy coach Larry Blakeney said longtime starting quarterback Corey Robinson is day-to-day with a concussion. As Blakeney described it, Robinson's head got shots from behind and the front in bang-bang manner against Western Kentucky last Thursday.

If Robinson's out, Deon Anthony will play against FIU Saturday. Anthony went nine of 16 for 147 yards and a touchdown and ran for 26 yards on six carries.

The Oct. 27 home game against Western Kentucky will be at 6 p.m., no TV broadcast, but streamed at http://www.fiusports.com. UPDATE: Now, this game will be on ESPN3.

The South Alabama road game Nov. 3 will be at 3:30 p.m. (a day game! Yay!).

 

 

October 14, 2012

A few thoughts on Middle Tennessee 34, FIU 30

From my point of view from the press box, which on the east end of FIU Stadium’s south side, between the 5-yard line and the goal line, Willis Wright got into the end zone. Wright didn’t make it as all those Middle Tennessee defenders slammed onto him, but as he writhed in their grasp, I kept watching the ball and thought I saw the ball break the plane.

Also, from my point of view, it shouldn’t have come down to that.

Whether through ineptness or not being inclined to give a break to a departing school, Sun Belt officials shouldn’t be relied upon to give FIU a break. Then again, they did turn a blind eye to what several of us saw as a block in the back on Wright’s 49-yard catch-and-run earlier in the game. And I’m not the only Florida resident in the press box who thought Glenn Coleman came down with one foot out of bounds before getting the other foot down inbounds on the 32-yard sideline catch preceding Wright’s 30-yard touchdown that put FIU up 30-27.

Quick digression: notice how FIU’s big play offense, limited to cameos this season, materialized when Wright and Coleman materialized Saturday? They combined for eight catches, 224 yards and two touchdowns. Coming into the game, Coleman had one catch for 8 yards. Wright had six for 108. Each has shown inconsistency in practice and games. Both committed “arrrgh”-inducing drops again Saturday – Wright had a third down scramble throw from Jake Medlock go through his hands on the drive to his touchdown -- but both made up for the goofs. Especially should senior wideout Jacob Younger be hurt badly enough to be limited next week at Troy, it’ll be interesting to see how much playing time Saturday earned Wright and Coleman. Put either with Wayne Times, who bailed Wright out on the third down drop by getting open on fourth down, and freshman De’Andre Jasper and you’ve got a possession guy (Times) with a speed guy (Jasper) and a big, physical guy who can be either (Wright/Coleman).

Jasper’s 26-yard end around touchdown, by the way, was such an excellent call, half the offense could’ve started playing tunk and Jasper still would’ve scored. Once he got the ball going left, only one Middle defender remained with any kind of angle and that defender faced a snowplow of Panthers. I know I call out the coaches on questionable play calls, but that was a great one, well executed.

Digression over.

FIU lost this game in the same way it’s lost too many games this season, defense and special teams. FIU lost control of this game in the same places – the final minutes of the first half and the early minutes of the second half.

The offense couldn’t have been more dominant in the first half. The difference with Medlock in at quarterback, even though he wasn’t a serious running effect on the option, is the difference between lube and no lube – everything just moved so much more smoothly. It’s no surprise. E.J. Hilliard’s young, Medlock’s been practicing at this level for three years.

Actually, the offense could’ve been more dominant – the opening drive fumble aborted what should’ve been a 3-0 or 7-0 lead. That fell on a bobble by Kedrick Rhodes, something much less likely to happen to him if he’d been a healthy, regular participant this season.

Still, FIU took a 20-3 lead with 1:39 left in the half after butt-kicking 15-play, 72-yard drive to a Darian Mallary touchdown. That missed extra point after the first touchdown? Hey, what did it matter? Middle Tennessee had only 135 yards of offense for the half on 30 plays, 52 yards on 12 plays in the second quarter. FIU even sacked Logan Kilgore twice, two more times than he’d been sacked in Middle’s first five games.

This is when FIU allowed Louisville to walk down the field to a game-tying touchdown. This is when a touchdown bomb-lost fumble-field goal-blocked field goal touchdown turned 20-14, Duke with 3:30 left in the half to 37-14 Duke at halftime. This is when an interception on a why-are-you-throwing-with-the-lead-and-a-freshman-QB-from-deep-in-your-end-with-less-than-90-seconds-to-halftime play turned into an Arkansas State touchdown and 14-10 halftime lead.

And, Saturday, this is when they blew it. A 33-yard pass down the middle to running back Benny Cunningham followed by a 20-yard pass to Anthony Amos for a touchdown on two of their earliest downfield throws of the night. Granted, FIU’s surprising pass rush – somebody put the mad juice in Tourek Williams, who was destroying Middle’s tackles – took the downfield plays away much of the first half. But how do you let the Cunningham play happen in the secondary? And Sam Miller didn’t have bad coverage on Amos. But Miller was, in the words of Lt. Bogomil’s post-climax lie from Beverly Hills Cop, present only as an observer.   

That would be a repeated theme for Miller and Richard Leonard Saturday. So many times, FIU defensive backs were in position to swipe at the ball, grab an arm, yank a foot, poke an eye, yell “Drop It!” do something to prevent a catch and huge gain, yet didn’t. Also, once again, you see why FIU’s recruiting defensive backs over 6-feet. Yeah, Jeremiah McKinnon did the same in a couple of spots, especially that 28-yarder to Christian Collis before Middle’s last touchdown, and he’s a big, long cornerback. He’s also a true freshman, in his fourth or fifth game getting regular defensive snaps.

Anyway, a 20-10 halftime score feels much different than 20-3, no matter what any of the Panthers say. Look what’s happened after the aforementioned late first half scores against FIU. Duke took the second half kickoff and, essentially, ended the game at 44-14. Just like Louisville took Miller’s fumbled punt after FIU got a three-and-out to start the half and took a 21-14 lead. Just like Arkansas State took a punt and drove to a touchdown and 21-10 third quarter lead.

Saturday, Middle took the second half kickoff and drove to a touchdown: 20-17.

After Wright’s touchdown, put FIU ahead 30-27, the Panthers got tagged with an excessive celebration penalty that followed the letter of the law. I’ve found that penalty to be ridiculous at any level of football, especially levels below the NFL. You want to tell young people, emotional by nature, to be cool after a huge play in any game in which they’ve invested so much time, pain and feeling? Silly. This is supposed to be what separates high school and college football from the NFL. Also, have a sense of the game. A wild contest like that with a touchdown like that, to me, officials should have a little discretion. You can keep them from dogpiling in the end zone without acting like Daddy No Fun and Mommy Serious.

That said, FIU committed the penalty and had to serve it on the kickoff. The kickoff would be from the 20 into the wind. No chance for a touchback, FIU’s best defense After the game, I asked Mario Cristobal if he considered squibbing the kickoff. Personally, I’m not a big fan of the squib unless a) you’re a bad kickoff coverage team or b) they’re a very good kickoff return team. Middle’s the latter, one of the nation’s best. My figuring during the game was they hadn’t had a big one yet, you know it’s probably going to happen, why tempt fate? Their best shot at getting into field goal range would be a big return.

Cristobal had a good answer.

“They moved their guys up so much,” Cristobal said. “We looked at it from the side to see if we could (squib) to see if we could pooch it. Either one of those gives them position at the 50, just about. We just figured we’d put our best guys in there, starters at respective positions and do our best to put them on their side of the field. Make them at least drive 30 yards before they had a shot at a field goal. They had the wind at their backs so I’m sure anything under 50 would’ve been something they attempted. Missing an extra point hurts you because at the end of the game, they’re playing for a tie instead of having to score a touchdown to win the game.”

Also note this game that FIU didn’t fritter away timeouts in either half. Had they done what they usually do, the last play to Wright wouldn’t have even been possible because they would’ve gotten to the last drive with no timeouts.

FIU coaches must be popping Maalox like Tic Tacs over punt returns. They put Wayne Times, their most sure-handed punt returner back there, and he fumbled Saturday. FIU recovered, but still, it kind of says how this season’s going for the Panthers.

 

October 13, 2012

Gameday VII, 2012: Middle Tennessee State vs. FIU; soccer successes

“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.

SOCCERS WIN

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. 

 

 

 

October 11, 2012

College Friday...

That's the way we used to think of Thursday, especially the semesters I managed to have no Friday classes.

I'm writing on special teams for tomorrow's paper. As far as the usual health update, Jake Medlock looked even better Thursday as did Kedrick Rhodes. If he plays, FIU doesn't plan to eliminate anything from the playbook. It'll be interesting to see not just if Medlock can run as well on the very taped up foot, but how well he can throw it and if his throws get better or worse as the game goes along.

More books put this one up on the boards as the week's gone along and Medlock's status gets clarified with most books favoring Middle by 3. FIU's 2-4 against the spread this season.

 

October 10, 2012

Hump Day at La Cage; time change in the pool

Both quarterback Jake Medlock and running back Kedrick Rhodes had far more hop than hobble Wednesday as compared to Tuesday. Mario Cristobal said "they've got a chance to be ready for Saturday," a better chance than they had Tuesday.

If I had to wager the next paycheck, I'd say both play. Then again, I thought Rhodes would be in better shape for Louisiana than he was, so...

Between injuries such as Mike Jean-Louis' hamstring and more minor ouches hampering guys who are playing (plus most of those guys just aren't getting it done), expect to see more freshmen among the wideouts this week. That includes De'Andre Jasper and Raymond Jackson, but also Krop graduate Johnnie Durante and maybe even Adrian Jenkins.

SWIMMING & DIVING

FIU's first home meet of the season, Friday against Houston, has been moved up an hour to 5 p.m. at the Biscayne Bay campus.

October 09, 2012

Medlock practices; another Sun Belt POW for Savage

Quarterback Jake Medlock practiced Tuesday. Not much and, watching him come off the field as we waited to talk to Mario Cristobal, you could tell his mobility registered somewhere midway between Normal Medlock and Normal Fred Sanford.

Cristobal dismissed the idea of giving underclassmen more playing time, even if the goals of a Sun Belt title or bowl bid disappear, although he did say at this point in the season, you usually see some of the freshman raise their game to earn more playing time.

The Vegas books that have this game on the boards like Middle Tennessee by 3. I'm sure a number are holding it off the boards until Medlock's situation gets settled one way or the other.

WOMEN'S SOCCER

Senior goalkeeper Kaitlyn Savage earned her second Sun Belt Defensive Player of the Week award for her 16-save performance in a 1-1 tie with North Texas.

October 04, 2012

Gameday VI FIU vs. Arkansas State and other stuff; Team MacLaren

Seymour Lieberman died Monday morning, having hung onto this plane of existence one more NFL Sunday and almost to the finish of the Major League Baseball regular season. Despite the Giants losing to Philly and the Jets getting skunked at home, I absolve them of all blame for Sy's Monday metamorphosis. I never saw him get upset when one of his New York teams or his school, Michigan, wasn't up to snuff. He loved the games, no matter the sport, for themselves. He was a pioneer in market research who, during my time covering the Panthers/NHL, loved to needle me that I covered the one major sports league that had never been his client and the one that was also the least successful. 

In ways you don't know, he's affected what you see in sports, news media and advertising and how you see it. He's into the ground now having lived a very good life in most senses of that phrase. Salut, Sy.

Now to tonight's FIU-Arkansas State game, to be covered by Andre Fernandez.

ASU got plowed by Western Kentucky last week. That's what Western does. That's what FIU did reasonably well until last week, when Lou-La squashed FIU's run game and exposed the freshman parts of E.J. Hilliard's current game. Hilliard stared down receivers occasionally and took just a hair past deadline to make some decisions. He looked a little like Jake Medlock playing the RC's last year, which is to be expected. Well, he looked like Medlock against the RC's if Medlock worked without much help from receivers, offensive line, running game...

Ryan Aplin's name always reminds me of "apple pie." Because I love apple pie. And maybe also because Aplin treated FIU's defense last year the way I treat Epicure's apple pie the days after Thanksgiving. I don't see him scrambling the way he did last year. FIU's pass rush hasn't been strong enough to make anyone leave the pocket. But he could throw for 300 yards, the way FIU's been leaving receivers more uncovered than Rollergirl. Receivers have found the soft parts of FIU's zone this year as easily as I find McDonald's locations.

This game could show FIU's team maturity around Hilliard and mental toughness. They're 1-4, but still only 0-1 in the Sun Belt. Surprise wins have sprouted from plenty of teams not called "FIU." Still, this isn't the SEC.

I'm still not sure that'll be enough tonight. Arkansas State 38, FIU 24.

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

COACHING STUFF

Those on the "Fire Cristobal" wagon need to stop whining like a bunch of Jag-driving, helicopter-parent-coddled wussies told they have to fly commercial instead of private.

This is a disappointing season for FIU, highlighted by the repeated failure of what everyone -- from inside and outside -- expected to be the team's bedrock. No question that questionable coaching, bad coaching and mistakes made by experienced players from whom you'd expect better mark this season thus far. Now, they're sallying forth with a true freshman (and don't bring up Teddy Bridgewater's freshman year by comparison. Same high school, good friends, not the same player as they started college. Period).

And this makes FIU school No. 103 in the history of Division I-FBS football to see an unexpected kink in an upward achievement curve. It's happened in every program with almost every coach who's enjoyed more than a shot glass of success, especially those trying to build or rebuild programs. If this sinks into a trend, that's when you start looking at the euphemistic "going in a different direction."

This is one season after two bowl seasons for an 11th season program. Get over it.

WOMEN'S GOLF

After winning medalist honors at the Wolverine Invitational and taking third at the Johnie Imes Invitational, FIU freshman Meghan MacLaren received the Sun Belt's Womens' Golfer of the Month award. The next tournament for MacLaren and the Panthers is the FIU-hosted 35th annual Pat Bradley Tournament. 

 

October 02, 2012

Confirming a commit

This blog will be updated erratically the next few days -- as it has been the last few days -- because of family business. The normal pregame blog, if there is one, for FIU-Arkansas State will be as abbreviated as last week's.

Some Camp Mitch sources confirm the verbal committment of Daquein McNeil, a 6-3 guard out of Baltimore and Vermont Academy. Rivals ranks McNeil at three stars. According to ESPN, FIU beat out Louisville and Oklahoma, among others, for McNeil.

 


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