trailed 21-13 in the fourth quarter, I thought, “This is easily their best game
of the year.” I’d hold to that statement even considering the final score.
Carolina’s a good team, probably the best in Conference USA. They’ve got
experience and a crispness honed from years of playing together where FIU’s
still trying to find players to coalesce. They've got a great offense, excellent special teams and good enough defense. What set up and began as a blowout
turned into a tense struggle with the Panthers trading blows evenly with the
Pirates from the middle of the second quarter to the middle of the fourth. In
the end, the deeper, more experienced team made the big play on a trick play (young
teams can be particularly gullible) to force FIU into a one-dimensional
sacks of E.J. Hilliard – five in the fourth quarter after the flanker reverse
pass touchdown made it 28-13 – skewed the rushing yards a bit. Lamarq Caldwell ran
for 53 yards on only 10 carries. Caldwell’s power fit this game better than
freshman Silas Spearman’s shifty speed. Caldwell also had three catches for 30
end Jonnu Smith clearly is FIU’s most consistent offensive skill position
player. It’ll be interesting to see how he changes as his still-young body
does. Right now, Smith’s both security blanket (Hilliard’s term) and big play
threat. FIU needs another Smith on offense and a couple on defense to emerge
for this program to make the leap forward that’ll keep the rebuilding from
being the building of the Second Avenue Subway line.
junior quarterback Jake Medlock doing the Danny White could’ve been done weeks
ago. FIU’s punting the first seven games looked like performance art, if you
were describing premature ejaculation via the medium of punting. I know FIU
didn’t want to put its game, but injury-prone quarterback out there for any
special teams psycho to obliterate. Medlock’s 45.0-yard average on four punts,
two of which were downed inside the 10, should give him that job for the next
Hilliard, I thought he had an OK game. The end zone interception, a bomb into
double coverage with the score 21-13 and FIU on the East Carolina 43, was a bad
decision. But he ran the ball decisively and took the passes that were there
most of the time. And engineering that long drive, even if a bunch of it is on
the ground, takes good quarterback leadership.
Big ups to Austin Taylor, who followed his school-record tying 52-yard field goal with the first touchback of FIU's season. It went in on the bounce, but none of FIU's previous kickoffs that reached the end zone stayed there.
and 1 from the East Carolina 20...I understand going for it. FIU was down 14-3.
A touchdown on the drive makes it 14-10 and establishes the idea in both team’s
minds that FIU can trade scores with East Carolina if necessary. Also, Ron
Turner wants to show and instill confidence in the offense.
On the other
hand, a field goal makes it a one-score game at 14-6. Also, on third and 1, FIU
went straight power, overloading the right side and running Lamarq Caldwell
behind the beef. The attempt to buffalo their way to a first down got stoned by
the Pirates. So, on fourth and 1, FIU lined up similarly. In the press box, a
scribe who covers East Carolina regularly said FIU should come back with the
same play because the Pirates trend is that they’d give up the ground on the second
report beat FIU’s. The play action pass fooled nobody and Hilliard got chased
toward the sidelines. He crossed the sideline before he threw. That showed he
needs to adjust his mindset to the situation, something that showed on the second
fourth quarter possession with FIU down 28-13. On both fourth downs, Hilliard
had nothing to lose by just finding a receiver downfield and throwing toward
him. Maybe you get a pass interference penalty. Maybe you get a catch. Maybe
you get The Immaculate Reception. It’s the fourth down version of knowing when
to give up on a play and throw it away on first through third down.
second game I covered in three days, I saw coaches outthink themselves. Or,
maybe just get too into “We’re going to do what we’re going to do” instead of
adjusting to the situation.
re-reading John Feinstein’s Next Man Up
on the year he spent with the Baltimore Ravens. When All-Pro cornerback Chris
McAlister goes down against the Jets, thus bringing aging Corey Fuller off the
bench, injured Deion Sanders instantly says the Jets will go after Fuller. He
grabs safety Ed Reed and warns him to shade to Fuller’s side. Sure enough, the
Jets attacked Fuller for some big gains.
2004 season, Denver went to Indianapolis for a playoff game. The previous year,
Peyton Manning strafed the Broncos so badly, the Colts never punted in a 41-10
playoff win. Denver traded for All-Pro cornerback Champ Bailey over the summer
and put Bailey on Marvin Harrison in the playoff game. Manning saw Bailey on
one side and rookie Roc Alexander on the other against Reggie Wayne. Manning
went at Alexander, to the tune of 10 catches for 221 yards and two touchdowns
for Wayne. They daggone near retired Alexander – Denver took three cornerbacks
early in the next draft. Alexander never started another NFL game and played
only 11 more.
that with Thursday, when Cincinnati didn’t seem to realize the Dolphins needed
to use third string R.J. Stanford, a 2010 seventh-round pick of Carolina’s, at
cornerback late in the game. The Bengals never threw Stanford’s way. Saturday,
East Carolina seemed to take some time finding freshman Brad Hyman-Muhammad,
starting in place of senior cornerback Sam Miller. Once they did, completions
of 43 and 27 yards fueled the drive that put the Pirates up 21-3 in the second
quarter. Then, they left Hyman-Muhammad alone for the most part.
FIU’s defense for refusing to stay down. The Pirates were going like 60 until
FIU responded with that long…long…Gunsmoke-long…march to their touchdown. The
9:20 march and halftime – after a sack by Isame Faciane and a pass breakup by
Demarkus Perkins forced East Carolina to try a field goal it missed – allowed
the defense to steady itself.
most impressive part of FIU’s defensive performance was the sacks came off
coverage, not just the strength of the team, the defensive line, beating their
counterparts. In fact, the pass rush did little, even those times ECU got rid
of the ball quickly. Cornerback Randy Harvey credited the defensive backs with
having good “eye discipline” and just staying with their receiver no matter
what moves, crosses or looks they got from East Carolina’s routes.
I need to
remember to ask Turner this week about this end-of-first-half silliness. With 27
seconds left, instead of just taking a knee, FIU ran Caldwell into the line for
a few yards, as they did last week. I reiterate -- either you’re trying to
score or you don’t run a play. Running between the tackles with your
three-yards-and-a-cloud-of-dust back amounts to coaching masturbation that serves
only to get somebody hurt. And Turner tells us weekly about how too many guys
are playing too many snaps because he’s dealing with a short roster.
early FIU possession, I heard repeated high school-like cheers of “Take it away,
dee-fense, take it away!” The clarity in the cheers sounded as if they emanated
from below the press box, which is at the east end of the stadium’s south side.
Why were FIU’s cheerleaders chanting for the defense? Then, I realized they
were coming from the East Carolina cheerleaders down at the west end of the
south side. You need a long bridge of silence to carry that little noise that
score 21-13, East Carolina’s fans drummed their feet on the stands during an
FIU third down. FIU’s student section? Lounging. Forget all the other things
wrong with the football program, the stadium, athletics. Your one-win team has
a shot at upsetting the conference favorite and you can’t raise your voices for
your fellow students? Your fellow athletes?
To quote Cartman,