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A few thoughts from Maryland 43, FIU 10

Sort of like the coagulation of various vegatables and starches your grandmother puts it in front of you with the "Eat it!" insistence, it's hard to know where to start with this pile of malodorous stuff.

The funny thing is, I heard that Maryland coach Randy Edsall thought FIU coach Ron Turner was sandbagging like the sandman about the Panthers (if Edsall read this blog, he could've saved himself some Tums). Now Edsall knows why nobody played "Enter Sandman" for FIU when the Panthers ran onto the field for the game. Looking at how few players came out, I thought and Tweeted "Booker T. took a larger group to Norcross, Ga." for last week's 55-0 high school football stomping.

Some players not present, including starting cornerback Richard Leonard and slot receiver DeAndre Jasper, lost their playing privileges this week over academic issues. There's no excuse for that. Whether it's not getting the necessary classes or failing miserably once you do get those classes, players need to take control of their own situation and personally monitor it. Grow up. Don't be a man in the stadium and a boy everywhere else on campus. Be proactive. Don't rely on academic advisor or somebody in compliance. All that should be handled by the time each semester starts. Act like one of those soon-to-be debt-ridden FIU students whose student fees fund your extracurricular activity.

Turner came close to blowing his stack after the game about the number of academic casualties to this game's roster and I don't blame him. Turner had to be thinking about Leonard when Leonard's cousin, sophomore cornerback Jeremiah McKinnon, gave Maryland star receiver Stefon Diggs a free release and went after the running back swinging out of the backfield, already under the observation of safety Terrance Taylor. That left Diggs appallingly wide open for a 66-yard touchdown. Not something Leonard would've done.

I'm not sure which play was worse, that one; every time I saw a containment edge defender (it often seemed to be defensive end Lars Koht) bite hard on the option fullback give like it's Popeye's chicken and open the big hole for C.J. Brown to run through; or the lousy blitz pickups. Maryland poured through in twos and threes like a badly dressed Earth 2 version of the '85 Bears.

Of course, the receivers couldn't get separation quickly enough for starting quarterback Jake Medlock to feel good about throwing to them nor could Medlock throw his receivers open. So Medlock took shot after shot until he got yanked in the third quarter for E.J. Hilliard.

"I was mad, but I know why (Turner) did it," Medlock said. "He's doing it to get E.J. some reps and let E.J. go. We've just got to make it better. No matter if I'm in the game or not, I'm going to be a leader on and off the field. They know that, offense knows that, the team knows that."

Throwing against a relaxed Maryland defense, Hilliard was five of seven for 54 yards and one interception. I doubt they yank Medlock for this week, but Hilliard did seem to be able to find a rhythm with the receivers that Medlock couldn't. Neither got much help between drops, receivers unable to block for each other or make defenders miss in open field. Fred Porter made a nice leaping grab of a Hilliard alley-oop downfield for a 36-yard gain.

The offensive line got little push until Maryland's backups took over. I know sometimes you need a few shots from the 2-yard line, so it wasn't totally unusual that, after an incompletion, it took three shots for FIU to get into the end zone. It just looked as if this is the way FIU would crawl through the red zone all season. Medlock's third down quarterback sneak lost yardage. 

Coaches can put players on the field. Coaches can put players in position to make game-changing plays. Coaches can't make those plays. Players must do that. FIU's players didn't Saturday. They needed to do so to have even a paper-thin shot to win after all that's happened with this program. By halftime, they needed to do it to keep the score from being embarrassing.

FIU had chances to make plays in the first half. They even made some. Denzell Perine penetrated to crash a running play that safety Demarkus Perkins turned into a 3-yard loss. That helped hold Maryland to a field goal on the game's opening drive. Greg Hickman's fumble-causing blind side sack, which led to FIU's only touchdown is an example of a play made.

But when you're FIU, your margin of error in these games disappears with a sneeze. Diggs 1-handed grab-and-go in the second quarter? Beautiful catch and run, but FIU fifth-year senior linebackers Derrick Jones Jr. and Markeith Russell let Diggs turn what should've been a 2-yard gain into a 10-yard gain on third and 6. A number of third downs got converted or long second downs turned into short third downs after full blown missed tackles.

Sam Miller, a senior, can't fumble the first kickoff he gets. Sophomore linebacker Michael Wakefield can't give up a first down on a foolish unnecessary roughness penalty after pushing Maryland quarterback C.J. Brown out of bounds for no gain on third down. For pick-a-Pete's sake, the Terps were giving FIU the ball back. The receivers stopped trying to get open as soon as Brown left the pocket as if they were tired of scoring. Forced to play some more offense, the Terps soon put another touchdown on the board.

This game exposed FIU's lack of depth all over the roster as academics, injuries and foolishness eroded the foundations of a roster that could've caused Maryland some problems.

FIU's defense started depreciating the moment strong safety Demarkus Perkins went down in the first quarter. Sophomore outside linebacker Colimon's speed might've made the difference on a few plays Brown or a Maryland runner just got around Jones. Colimon couldn't have tackled worse than Jones did. Perine came back after he limped off with a leg or ankle injury. Good thing because with Paul Crawford not on the trip, FIU might've started checking some traveling administrators remaining eligibility. The Leonard loss, well...Deon Long, nine catches, 110 yards, one touchdown. Diggs, five catches, 98 yards, one touchdown. C.J. Brown and Caleb Rowe, a combined 25 of 29 for 325 yards and three touchdowns.

Tackling former running back Kedrick Rhodes could be like hugging water. That would be a valuable asset as this line finds its footing. Neither Caldwell nor redshirt sophomore Shane Coleman, who suffered a knee injury in the second quarter, brings anything close in that realm. Caldwell's a basic workhorse, a Ford Taurus. Coleman outspeeds his instincts.

A big, dependable physical wide receiver would help when you're just trying to complete the basic West Coast slants. FIU doesn't have one without senior Glenn Coleman. Redshirt sophomore Dominique Rhymes isn't yet. Sophmore Raymond Jackson's apparently in academic hot water. With the overload at tight end, the coaches might want to take a look at freshman Jonnu Smith on the outside.

The second half -- with FIU playing with more discipline, Maryland's offensive starters resembling your middle-aged uncle after Thanksgiving dinner and both teams pouring game experience down the depth chart -- ended 3-0, Maryland. Turner said he didn't see any quit. The question isn't quit, but quality. Nobody's saying these young men didn't try their best. Against a program that's in its own reformation, FIU's Saturday performance just calls into question how often the Panthers best is going to be good enough.

Something else senior defensive tackle Greg Hickman said to me this week seemed pretty relevant after Saturday's game.

"Last year, I think our seniors could’ve played more into the season, could’ve said more, did more instead of waiting until it was towards the end. Our senior group this year, we’re jumping on it soon. We had a players’ meeting (Tuesday) morning, telling everybody even though there are eligibility (questions) and stuff going on, we’ve still got to overcome it. It’s like somebody gets hurt first play of the game – next man up, got to step up, ready to play.”

That leadership needs to come into play this week, a short week before UCF comes to town for a Post Rosh Hasannah Classic.

 

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