Before I get to why today's game against Marshall reminded me of lines from two 1970s sequels, Bad News Bears in Breaking Training and Let's Do It Again, here's some stuff I didn't have room for in The Herald advance story.
When I asked senior defensive tackle Isame Faciane for his favorite FIU Stadium moment, he actually didn't bring up his 51-yard fumble return touchdown against Central Florida in 2011. I did. I found it interesting he didn't immediately go to that moment when he scooped up a fumble and outraced a UCF lineman so badly, the guy pulled up around the 20. That play tied the game 7-7 with a few seconds left in the first half in front of a packed house and turned the momentum in a 17-10 win that pushed FIU to 3-0.
Faciane laughed, "That was my highlight moment. That took the cake. I think I went deaf running that play. All I heard instead of (breathy crowd noise imitation we all do) was "eeeee," like a straight ringing. I was so out of breath, I couldn't even celebrate right. They tackled me before I got to the sideline."
When I asked Sam Miller, the son of a Sam Miller who'd been coaching high school football a long time when the senior cornerback was born, the most important thing he learned, he said “As a freshman, get your priorities straight. Have everything in line in life. Everything doesn’t revolve around football. I had to see a bigger picture, not just with my work ethic with football, but with life and the classroom.”
I asked defensive tackle Greg Hickman how he's grown the most during his four years at FIU.
"I think I became more coachable. Very coachable," Hickman answered. "My leadership skills...I didn't have the good people skills growing up." He smiled, "Here, I was not "The Man" anymore, I have to fit in and do my job like everybody else."
When I asked him about playing with his injured ankle, a flawed load-bearing piece of the body, Hickman said, "I think I would’ve sat down for a game or two if I had the time to waste. But this is my senior year, when every down matters. I have a dream and a goal that I want to accomplish, so being hurt isn’t an excuse.”
The NFL's a possible future for Hickman and Faciane. Not so for fifth-year senior middle linebacker Markeith Russell. Russell doesn't have NFL size, speed, quickness or instincts. He's got an NFL heart and persistence that'll serve him well in the white collar world he'll soon enter. Each game, he's having to be helped off the field two or three times, ground down by being in the middle of a defense on the field too often even before factoring in the lack of depth.
"When I see a guy do that, he goes down and two or three plays later, he's back, I'm a ltitle suspicious," FIU coach Ron Turner said. "I don't like that stuff. In his case, it's legit. He's legitimately hurt. He probably should not go back in, but he's going back in. In a lot of cases, you're 1-8, those are "1-8 injuries." Not with him. He couldn't even walk to get to the plane. To get through security to the plane (after the UTEP loss last week), it took him 10 minutes. He couldn't walk. His body is a mess. He's out here today. He'll be out there Saturday giving it everything he's got."
I wrote earlier in the season and I'll say it again now -- this team's losses aren't about effort. They're trying. And, as much as I love to question play-calling and conceptual approach, as much as I still question whether this entire coaching staff fits in South Florida, no college coaching staff could've gotten more than three wins from this roster. Not Nick Saban's Alabama staff. Not Bo Schembechler's staffs at Michigan. Not Woody Hayes staffs at Ohio State. Not the staff at Miami of Ohio with Bo Schembechler working under Woody Hayes. Not the 1994 Cleveland Browns staff with Bill Belichick, Nick Saban and Kirk Ferentz.
This was a roster stripped down by losing 30 seniors from last year, stripped down further by academic issues in play before the staff got here then supplemented by one of the lowest rated recruiting classes in the nation (for what those ratings are worth -- some of the best contributors are freshmen). Even before you install completely new offensive and defensive systems, what do you expect?
Which brings me to this game and a scene from Let's Do It Again. Jimmie Walker's gawky, ectomorphic boxer Bootney Farnsworth, days from facing muscular punching machine 40th Street Black for the title, asks his manager what's going to happen.
"He's going to beat your brains in, kid."
This defense would be hard pressed to hold Marshall under the speed limit when fresh. Quarterback Rakeem Cato averages 7.9 yards per attempt. Their top three rushers this season average 5.2, 9.4 and 5.5 yards per carry. Wide receiver Tommy Shuler catches one of every three Cato completions. He's the possession guy. The next two top receivers, Devon Smith and Gator Hoskins, average 18.9 and 16.3 yards per catch, respectively.
That's a team breaking off Bunyonesque chunks of yardage. Last week, Marshall lost the turnover fight to Tulsa, 5-1. The Herd still rampaged for 619 yards of offense and 45 points.
Anybody expect FIU's offense, which could be quarterbacked by both Jake Medlock and E.J. HIlliard Saturday and ranks dead last in the nation, to keep up with that? Didn't think so.
That brings me to the Bad News Bears in Breaking Training line. After scouting the Houston team they're about to face in the Astrodome, a Bears player tells William Devane's Mike Leak, "I'd say pray for rain, but we're playing indoors."
Which is FIU's chance of staying in this game. A rainy evening won't help the crowd (will anything?) but if you're hoping for a miracle, the first thing you hope for is bad weather. That's slips, drops, fumbles, turnovers, a randomness that injects more chance into the game. It also tends to dampen scorching hot offenses.
Or not. The famous Doug Flutie Hail Mary ended a rain-soaked shootout at the Orange Bowl.
The line's 33. The over/under has dropped to 54. I'm thinking Marshall can't wait to rest players with a big game against East Carolina coming up next week, especially if the field's bad.
42-10, Marshall. But that's one black man's opinion. I could be wrong.