After FIU took a hat trick of losses – on the field 34-13, in the halftime band comparison, even in the crowd count – head coach Ron Turner marched into the postgame media session with a casual “What do ya got?” Turner stopped next to the podium, not behind it like an infomercial presenter with a book to sell.
You could tell this was a man waiting to be lobbed any kind of question so he could take the answer toward whatever he really had to say. So, I pulled out an eephus pitch, asking if he was surprised Bethune-Cookman didn’t just run the ball on FIU, but outmuscled the Panthers in the second half.
Turner began, “We knew they were going to come in and try to run the ball. Yeah, I’m a
little surprised they were able to run it as effectively as they did, as consistently as they did. As I said earlier in the week, they’ve got a good football team.”
Then, you could hear Turner shift as deftly as Fangio going from fourth gear to fifth. “We got beat by a better football team tonight. I’ll tell you what I told the team: we got beat by a better football team because more of a team than we are right now. When we become a team, where everyone’s pulling in the same direction – I’m not saying guys are going against one another, but we’re not totally, totally believing in one another and totally a team yet. When we get to that point,
games like this will cease.”
I asked if he was speaking offensively, defensively, both...Turner said, “Just everywhere. We’ve
got guys thinking about other things besides what’s best for the team. More about them and stuff like that. Not a ton of them, but it doesn’t take a ton. Until 100 percent of the guys buy in, we’re not going to be the team we can be. We’ve got a hell of a lot of guys who have bought in. We’ve got a hell of a lot of guys that are trying to do what we ask them to do and are playing like a team. But all it takes is a couple. All it takes are a few to pull it down. We’ve got a couple that need to get with it.”
Of those who played most of Saturday’s game, I don’t know who Turner meant. I know he wasn’t
thrilled with some of the Twitter commentary that advocated putting E.J. Hilliard in the game earlier (if not starting him), whether those tweets were players expressing their own feelings or retweeting those of friends/fans. Yet Hilliard didn’t get into Saturday’s game until Jake Medlock lost a helmet during a fourth quarter play down 34-7, thus bringing in Hilliard to handle the fourth down and the touchdown.
Jake Medlock played offense and, after a first punt by Chris Ayers, punted until that helmet-losing play. Desiring a rugby-style punt and also probably to put the fear of a fake in Bethune’s head, FIU used Medlock. He averaged 35.4 yards per punt with a long of 58. The run near the goal line and another scramble earlier looked like 2011 Medlock, where he figured why elude a tackler when you can have a close, violent relationship with him.
Apparently, freshman Austin Taylor outkicked redshirt freshman Sergio Sroka in practice this week. Taylor hit an extra point and had his second one blocked.
Someone else asked Turner what the staff could do to get the players more focused blah, blah, blah. “Keep working hard, doing what we believe in," he replied. "If someone’s not with us, get him out. Get him out. Now, there’s only a handful. There were more. Some of them aren’t here. Obviously, we’ve still got a couple. So get the guys in this room that believe in what we’re doing, are going to do it our way. We’re not going to change what we do because what we do works. We’ve got a hell of a
staff. Our systems work. We’ve got a good plan, and we’re going to stick with it. It will work. It will work. When, I don’t know. The three things we talked about: accountability, toughness, discipline. We haven’t been accountable to one another, 100 percent. We haven’t demonstrated the kind of toughness, physical or mental, that you have to have to win at this level. And our discipline on the field and off the field. It’s never going to be good on the field until it’s good off the field. We’ve still got some issues there. We’re going to get it right, but it’s not there yet.”
Seemed like a good time to ask about senior defensive tackle Isame Faciane, who finished with two tackles, both for losses, and a blocked extra point in three quarters of work. Faciane spent the first quarter benched while fellow New Orleans-area behemoth Darrian Dyson started in his place, not as effectively.
“That’s what I’m talking about, discipline,” Turner said. “One of our seniors, a captain our first game. For discipline reasons, didn’t play in the first quarter. As soon as that happened, I said, “We’re going to be in trouble.” Accountability, to a man. We don’t have that yet. We have a hell of a lot of them. But not to a man.”
That’s a lot of certainty about the approach after losing three games by a combined 115-23 and getting rolled at home by an FCS team. That's probably necessary to sell this to a group of young men you didn't recruit.
(Oh, this week, one of FIU's past arrested players asked me to remove the blog post describing his arrest because "it's been up long enough." As if this were somebody's personal blog, an adjunct to their Facebook page. This is still a part of the Miami Herald, the media outlet of record in this town. Blog posts come down if there's an error, not because they don't reflect well on someone.)
What FIU learned about itself and the option from the Maryland scorching seemed to have limited effect. They still bit too hard and chipped their teeth when what they bit into wasn't there. Bethune did their scouting, too. They saw redshirt sophomore defensive end Lars Koht jumpy and befuddled against Maryland’s option and ran some at him once he came into the game. On the drive to a 21-7 lead, they got 10 on a third down option run at Koht on the FIU right side. On the next third down, a third and 3, before the Wildcats came at Koht with an option to FIU’s left , he jumped offside to give Bethune a first down.
Mostly, though, FIU got pushed around up front. By the third and fourth touchdown drives, Bethune just kept running option plunges and quarterback keepers.
First play of the game, FIU calls a play with a bomb pattern and Medlock found T.J. Lowder for 42 yards. Second play, Lamarq Caldwell for a loss of 1. Third play, Caldwell for 1. Fourth play, Medlock leave the pocket with 250-pound defensive tackle Rony Barrow breaking through protection like the zombies in Thriller coming through the front door, then throwing the ball away under pressure from linebacker Nesley Marcellon.
One series summed up some of FIU’s offensive problems. FIU doesn’t have the offensive line teamwork to run the ball, even against light fronts such as Bethune’s, yet there’s an insistence on trying to run it. I admit, I thought they’d be able to do it on Bethune. But, they couldn’t and FIU always found itself in third and longer-than-you-want.
A few longtime reporters profess to be experts on offensive guard play. A few actually are. Some of them even happen to be in the first group who think they are. Most of us know our depth of knowledge puts us just a few steps beyond the kiddie pool end. I’m in that group. But I’m wondering where junior college guard Bryan Pinkston ranks in development after seeing redshirt freshman guard Trenton Saunders spend most of Saturday night a half-step behind Bethune junior Rony Barrow and often holding onto Barrow for Medlock’s life.
That kept Medlock from doing what he does well and did on the touchdown to Lowder: stepping up
into the pocket, giving everybody another half-second to get open while causing defenders to pause for that half-second and hitting an open receiver. FIU’s receivers need that. Other than deep patterns, Panthers receivers just don’t get open consistently. Walk-on Fred Porter got his first start of the year. He had two catches for 16 yards.
Medlock declared before camp he felt comfortable with this offense with its similarity to what he ran at Jacksonville Fletcher High. He hasn’t looked it in three games. Of course, no other part of the offense that helps make quarterbacks look good can say they’ve done their part. Perhaps they’ll perform better with Hilliard. Perhaps not.
Those looking for a sunny side for FIU should note: the academic suspensions of Richard Leonard, Glenn Coleman and Willis Wright make this their redshirt season. They could all be back next year. And senior cornerback Sam Miller had a 42-yard punt return, a 41-yarder to set up FIU's second touchdown and an interception that led to, well, Tim Burke's 92-yard interception return touchdown for Bethune.
As for this year, well…there’s Louisville (ooo, that’s going to hurt) and then a bye week
before starting Conference USA play at turnover factory Southern Mississippi. The next home game won't be for almost a month, Oct. 12 Homecoming against Alabama-Birmingham. If that wasn't Homecoming, judging from Saturday, the unveiling of my father-in-law's headstone that same weekend might have a bigger crowd.
If you’re going to stay along for the ride, I offer the advice of Senator Blutarsky: I suggest you start drinking heavily. Judging from the tailgates, you are.
By the way, Kedrick Rhodes had a 29-yard touchdown run for West Alabama against McNeese State tonight.