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Gameday X: FIU at South Alabama

It’ll be interesting to see if FIU takes as long to get off the ground Saturday as their plane did Friday. A two-hour delay got them into Mobile a few hours later than planned. The same thing happened on the way to Louisiana-Lafayette. Some at FIU don’t want to tip Allegiant Air, but rather run the tip of something sharp through Allegiant Air.

Though South Alabama’s only in its fourth season of football, it’s in a talent thick area with in-state competition for local talent from Alabama, Auburn, Troy and Alabama-Birmingham. So, they’re going to get some OK players. The only Sun Belt team to truly give South Alabama the what for is Troy, 31-10, in USA’s Sun Belt debut. Since then, the Jaguars lost by seven to Arkansas State, beaten FAU in double overtime and lost by 14 to Louisiana-Monroe.

Though coach Joey Jones said Monday, in essence, the offense is catching up to the defense, the numbers in USA’s four conference games, say the phrase “catching up” is being used looser than the belts on some ghetto kids’ jeans. USA has the worst scoring defense in conference games; and is last in total offense and pass offense. USA’s giving up a respectable 3.9 yards per carry, almost a full yard better than the 4.7 allowed by the blue and gold team giving up the most yards per carry in the Sun Belt. They’ve allowed a Sun Belt-worst 68.0 percent completion percentage and 8.3 yards per attempt. The only other Sun Belt team allowing that in conference games? Middle Tennessee. Look how FIU lit them up downfield.

Add it up and FIU should take it to USA early and often through the air off play action, after a few reminder runs. Quarterback Jake Medlock’s foot seems to be healing enough that he’s back to being a running threat. Sure, Medlock running makes all wearing FIU colors gulp air (and perhaps a shot), but Medlock’s gotten his worst hurts this year in the pocket.

Defensively, FIU looked terrific last week – one real scoring drive allowed, two fourth down stops -- against a Western offense that’s been putting up points despite their limited quarterback. South Alabama’s Ross Metheny has thrown six touchdowns and only two interceptions the last three games, but he’s only rushed for 70 yards in four conference games this season. FIU’s been hounding the quarterback lately with 10 sacks in three games after only three sacks in the first six. Put that together and I’d bet more on the Jaguars working Demetre Baker, who had his first 100-yard rushing game of the season, 115 on 14 carries, against ULM. Western held FIU to six points, but the South Alabama coaches surely realize that’s so far from the norm as to be an almost irrelevant statistical anomaly for FIU this season, especially with Medlock at quarterback. The Jaguars won’t want to get into a track meet with the Panthers. They’ll want to limit possessions with long drives, as Western did, because they know keeping FIU off the scoreboard as Western did is a longshot.

Don’t be surprised if Shae Smith’s doing the longsnapping today after two weeks of Mitch McCluggage grounders leading to two game-changing touchdowns. If you’re a long snapper and you can’t sell don’t-think-about-it dependability, you don’t have a job.

Huh: there hasn’t been a punt return or kickoff return touchdown in a Sun Belt conference game this season. I’m not saying either will happen today, as South Alabama doesn’t do either particularly well and FIU’s put the dramatic peril of a Bond movie action sequence into the punt return. Just kind of something I found interesting.

I’ll stay with my preseason pick of FIU. Call it 27-13.

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



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