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October 26, 2013

Gameday VII: Cats and Dogs

Here’s what worries FIU about Louisiana Tech: the LaTech defense, especially defensive end IK Enemkpali, and big sophomore running back Kenneth Dixon.

So, essentially, FIU’s recycled concerns from 2011 Western Kentucky. Maybe that saves money...

Before the season, I had this as a close win for FIU. Both teams returned few starters under new coaches, FIU’s Ron Turner and LaTech’s Skip Holtz. Lou’s son isn’t Lou (for those who remember before Lou Holtz became a cartoon, he was one of the best coaches from the 1970s-early 1990s). And LaTech did its 2012 damage in the WAC, which didn’t stack up to the Sun Belt last year (actually, last year, Conference USA didn’t stack up to The Belt, but anyway…). I wasn’t impressed. Then again, I underestimated how unimpressive FIU would be six games into the season.

Nationally, only FIU (four) returns fewer starters than LaTech’s six. Ron Turner quickly points out that Tech’s new starters come with more game experience than FIU’s. Wacky statistical coincidence: each team’s returning starters average 30.5 starts per player.

Vegas sees less scoring than at a ComiCon, putting the over/under at 50, a low number. I’d take the under. Each team’s best players live on the defensive side of the ball.

In conference games, FIU redshirt junior quarterback Jake Medlock’s passer efficiency rating comes in at a pedestrian 125.8 with only a 50.0 percent completion rate.Tech redshirt freshman quarterback Ryan Higgins brings a Kawaun Jakes-esque 105.8 rating after his three conference games and looked like a freshman against Conference USA’s buffet pass defense, UTEP.

Even if LaTech saw Alabama-Birmingham target FIU junior corner Randy Harvey in the Roc Alexander way two weeks ago, does Higgins have the ability to do that? Unlikely, especially if FIU hurriedly gets him in a hurry. LaTech’s given up three sacks in each conference game. Besides, Higgins’ longest completion of the year is 39 yards. Not much worry about him hitting a guy deep.

Seven receivers have 10 or more receptions but leading receiver Andrew Guillot’s mundane 12.6 yards per catch tops the seven in that department.

In the aforementioned UTEP game, Dixon ran for 200 yards. That exceeds by a factor of 10 his production against the top two C-USA run defenses, Tulane and North Texas, 20 yards on 16 carries. Tulane allows 2.6 per carry in conference and North Texas allows 3.0. FIU allows 4.4 after getting trampled underfoot by UAB’s 217 yards, particularly Jordan Howard’s 150 yards on 20 carries.


Perhaps the site of a team from their home state with some very familiar faces – Isame Faciane’s
cousin Malcolm Pinchon plays defensive line for LaTech, LaTech running backs coach Jabbar Juluke coached FIU sophomore defensive linemen Darrian Dyson and Leonard Washington at New Orleans Edna Karr High – will motivate them to a particularly dominating performance. By the way, Pinchon won’t be hard to spot. He’ll be the other No. 99 on the field over 300 pounds.

Louisiana Tech’s not the Publix bakery of turnovers as Southern Mississippi was, the key to FIU’s lone win this season. Still, the Bulldogs have 16 turnovers in seven games, most stunningly and interestingly losing each of their 11 fumbles. That’s either some incredibly bad juju inflicting itself on LaTech or terribly bad
effort being put forth when the ball’s wobbling on the ground.

FIU’s turned the ball over 10 times this year, five up, five down and I can see another interception
coming from Medlock. The Panthers suffer more virtual turnovers, though. That’s what I call the change of possession caused by FIU’s numerous third down failures -- six of 28 (21.4 percent) in two C-USA games and 17 of 85 (20.0 percent) for the season – followed by a flabby punt.

LaTech can’t return punts worth a dag-gummit. FIU can’t punt even that well. The latter’s a bigger problem in what could turn into a low, scoring field position game.

Tech allows 3.7 yards per rush in Conference USA games. That’s helped by 5.5 sacks
from Enemkpali, who got honored by FIU this week when the scout teamer essaying Enemkpali wore a green jersey with his number. That’s when they want to make sure everybody gets used to looking for you every play. IK might leave redshirt junior tackle David Delsoin thinking “IDK” by midway through the game.

USC athletic director Pat Haden once was an above average NFL quarterback. After retiring,
he wrote in Sports Illustrated that when he faced Hall of Fame pass rusher Fred Dean, after which LaTech’s Fred Dean Defensive Player of the Year is named, he’d call a trap to Dean’s side at first opportunity. FIU might throw a trap or a screen at Enemkpali, last year’s winner of LaTech’s Fred Dean award. Forget the draw. FIU’s draws define “predictable” and “clunky.”

It’s tough get a handle on FIU’s offense. The Panthers lived by the big play against UAB. But, as LaTech gives up 193 yards rushing per game, you’d figure FIU would try to outwork the LaTechies in the first half, then let the physical pounding and heat take over. Alas, that’s not the way it’s likely to work.

I don’t feel rooted in opinion on this game. Neither team gives you much consistently. So, I’ll stay with FIU, coming off a bye, but only 24-21. I wouldn’t be surprised by a 17-12 score or some such.

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


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