Making a bit of a comeback on the long MLK Day weekend, FIU went north to get some linemen, which aren't always plentiful down here.
According to Rivals.com, FIU has flipped Kingsland (Ga.) Camden County High offensive guard Trayvon Williams, who had been committed to Marshall. FIU also got a commitment from offensive lineman Daquane Wilkie out of Orlando Oak Ridge.
Williams, 6-3, 315, is rated at three stars by ESPN.com, 247sports.com, two stars by Rivals.com and unrated by Scout.com. Wilkie, 6-4, 250, is unrated by any of the recruiting services.
Why this week's FAU recruiting bonanza, which included several players from Dade and Broward Counties including a couple of former FIU commits, could hurt FIU beyond 2014:
Before John Madden became a broadcaster, a video game and a cartoon, he was the youngest coach to win 100 NFL games and did so in 10 seasons of coaching Oakland. Whenever he was asked the key to being a great coach, Madden would usually start his response with, "First, have great players."
Former Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Drew Pearson had a merchandising company that wanted to do work with the pro sports leagues. That's a tough market to crack, double tough for minority-owned businesses in the 1980s. Through some opportunism, the company eventually got a deal with the NFL -- the low-end hat market. Pearson's company developed that perceived small market, developed that as the ground they owned and became members of an exclusive club of rightsholders that made $1 milllion in royalties for NFL Properties three consecutive years.
Being good starts with your players, even more so in college than the NFL. And when you're trying to build your company amidst larger, more established competitors, you have to grab some patch of space and declare it as yours on which you'll contruct your foundation of success.
Howard Schnellenberger's "State of Miami" philosophy that stocked those legendary University of Miami teams of the 1980s is well-stated. When SMU rose from ashes in the late 1970s and early 1980s, Ron Meyer decided they would own Dallas, Houston, the rest of East Texas and Western Louisiana. They were the smaller brands trying to break into a tight club, like Drew Pearson Enterprises.
If FIU's ever going to be more than what it is now in football, if it's ever going to be, say, where Central Florida is now (three 10-win seasons in the last four), the ground needs to be grabbed and held. It doesn't need to be Dade or Broward County's upper crust recruits nor is it realistic think it would be in the next few years. But, they need to establish themselves as a first line possibility for the next rung down and the rung after that.
Last fall, I talked to UCF's George O'Leary about the turnaround there.
“When I first got here, we needed players,” O’Leary said. “Our goal was to get hold of kids who were thinking of leaving the state. Once we accomplished that, we’re able to go after the same kids as (the Big Three). More so than not, we don’t get them. But we get some.”
That's what stalled some at FIU with the last coaching change. Some ground had been claimed in South Florida --T.Y. Hilton, Wesley Carroll, Johnathan Cyprien, Winston Fraser, etc. -- and in Louisiana, where Mario Cristobal developed a thin pipeline of defensive linemen. Just using that as an example, not wanting to rehash the firing or anything. It's done. Moving on, time for FIU to reestablish its ground under the current staff.
Except it's FAU doing the establishing in Dade and Broward while going after the same echelon of players as FIU. The Owls are doing it with a campus just far enough away to be not home yet close enough for quick visits, emergencies, family to make games; a debt-ridden but beautiful stadium; a campus that's nice and ever-growing, just like FIU's. They've got relationships locally. FIU's got some relationships and several acquaintances.
Meanwhile, what's FIU's ground? California quarterbacks?
Watching this recruiting week play out, somebody said to me it reminded him of Fillmore Slim's story in the documentary American Pimp. Other pimps took Fillmore's women from him hours after he set up in Los Angeles the first time. Fillmore went to the phone and called out seven more women, his first string. The LA pimps realized when they only got from Fillmore what he let them have. They gave him his respect and his space. The difference, the guy said to me, is that FIU's getting its first string taken.
I'm not saying FIU won't get any good players out of Dade or Broward in years to come if they don't get their act together now. Just out of talent overload, they'll get some. By the way, their top recruit this year, Orlando Timber Creek wide receiver Javonte Seabury, isn't going anywhere. I'm convinced the issue with his visit being cancelled this weekend was grades, not getting poached.
What I am saying is big changes often start with small, decisive moves. FAU is making them. FIU needs to make some that lets folks know that, on some small level, this is FIU's area.
Junior college running back Donavan Williams announced his commitment to FIU via Twitter. Williams brings 225 pounds at 6-1, an inch taller and 10 pounds heavier than sophomore Lamarq Caldwell. the biggest back on FIU's roster, with much more giddyup.
Williams, an 2013 National Junior Colllege Athletic Association Honorable Mention All-America for ASA College, ran for 1,024 yards and 12 touchdowns on 145 carries, 7.1 yards per carry. Perhaps even more impressive: one fumble. Williams came out of Belton (Tx.) High School after running for over 1,300 yards as a senior, but came out without a test score. He went to Blinn Junior College, where he played three games and ran for 117 yards, 3.7 yards per carry.
I hear FIU coach Ron Turner wants to pull a quarterback from the junior college pool. That's not terribly surprising. Turner's got junior E.J. Hilliard plus two early-enrolled freshmen quarterbacks and, according to one source, is telling potential quarterback recruits that all the above doesn't equal one starter.
Add a Williams, subtract a Bussey. FAU's been on Hialeah running back Henry Bussey, a roadrunner who averaged over 10 yards per carry in the regular season this year. Bussey Tweeted in the wee hours while on his FAU visit, "I know where I will be going to college for the next 3-4 years" and confirmed Sunday morning he's now heaeded for FAU. The Owls also got Coral Gables running back Gregory Howell.
Tonight, visiting FIU recruits were taken to Texas de Brazil on South Beach. Thank goodness Club Madonna is on a forced hiatus. It seems that place has trouble carding anyone. Of course, this year, it seems the hosts did the smart thing: took the visiting young men to an FIU party.
If you're going to be a college student, you better learn to be a bargain shopper.
Tulsa's Donald W. Reynolds Center opened in December 1998. In the 15 years plus one month since, nobody of either gender has scored more points in game there than the 43 FIU senior guard Jerica Coley put up Saturday afternoon in FIU's 78-73 loss to Tulsa.
The efficiency of Coley's performance sets it apart from many of her high scoring efforts: 17 of 31 (54.8 percent) from the field, seven of seven from the line with 10 rebounds, three assists, two blocks, two steals and only one turnover. She averaged 6.25 rebounds per game and 2.8 turnovers per game before Saturday. She came into the game shooting 42.8 percent from the field and shot 50.0 from the field in only three previous games -- Wednesday's win against Florida Atlantic, the 47-point game against Wake Forest and on Nov. 29 against Valparaiso.
As the only consistent scorer, Coley's often double teamed and often winds up with the ball late in the shot clock. Then, she's got to force up a shot the same way she does on too many possessions during those games the rest of the Panthers can't hit the broad side of a Klump.
If you want to know whether or not FIU won, don't look at Coley's shooting or scoring. Look at guard Taylor Shade, forward Brianna Wright and center Tynia McKenzie. Saturday, they went a combined three for 20 from the field for 10 points. McKenzie pulled down seven offensive rebounds and scored only two points.
What a weird, exciting game Saturday at The Branch, the Shankweiler Shootout by FIU 66-62 against East Carolina.
Whereas Thursday's officials acted like calling a guy for traveling sentenced him to 10 years at hard labor, Saturday's officials called that and anything that looked like it might involve contact, like a pair of Bob Jones University chaperones. Both teams got in the double bonus in the first half, which would've had those playing the Over buying drinks by halftime if either team could shoot free throws as well as New Castle High.
Both East Carolina point guards got into early foul trouble. Soon after, FIU began trapping just after half court, forced some turnovers and got the kind of easy baskets they didn't get Thursday against Old Dominion. But FIU coach Anthony Evans said it wasn't the Pirates personnel situation that brought the pressure from the Panthers. Evans said FIU's lack of depth doesn't allow for game-long pressuring so they do it in spurts. It was just time for a spurt.
Also, FIU's lack of depth seemed to come up in the second half when providing help on defense. The Panthers were a step slow on many possessions. Layups and short flips resulted for East Carolina. Fatigue? Maybe. On the other hand, when the Pirates missed, the Panthers crashed the boards with authority (or as much authority as this officiating crew allowed). That's effort they summoned.
FIU's poor free throw shooting almost caught them again. Their defense, lot of determination and a ridiculously panicky final possession for East Carolina got them to the finish line. Good for them.
Martinsville, Indiana's John Wooden eschewed the superior basketball school about 20 minutes away in Bloomington and went on to become an All-America at Purdue and, some years later, a pretty fair hoops coach at UCLA. The Wooden Award recognizes the best college player of each gender who also is moving toward a degree at a 2.0 GPA or better clip.
No surprise then that FIU senior guard Jerica Coley has made the midseason final 20 list for the women's Wooden Award. The FIU women face Tulsa Saturday.
Texas-San Antonio snagged a commitment out of two-star Orange Park Oakleaf linebacker Justin Todd, who had been committed to FIU.
FIU is making a run at Dillard wide receiver Dennis Turner, a former UM commit. Of assistance in that pursuit should be Dillard quarterback Bud Martin, who has enrolled early.
One commenter mentioned Marquese Dudley-Gordon, a three-star defensive back from Cypress Bay who spurned several more prominent schools to commit to FAU. One school not playing France Joli and singing "Come to Me" to Dudley-Gordon was FIU, but I think that had more to do with frigid feelings on the other end. Remember last year, when FIU yanked the offer of Cypress Bay defensive lineman Jason Rae during the two weeks of Luke Butkus and about a week before Signing Day? Rae was stunned. Some folks were left angry and hurt. Rae wound up at Central Florida, where his older brother played.
Javonte Seabury's cancelled visit could be just screwed up paperwork in Compliance, which still isn't fully staffed. Or, there could be a problem with his grades. You do have to wonder when Seabury, rated at three to four stars and a former Florida State commit, isn't getting dive bombed with offers. That can mean something's up (or not up enough) in the grade department. I hope whatever the problem is, it gets cleared up.
Thursday night's basketball presentation at The Branch could be likened to walking in on your octogenarian mother or mother-in-law in the midst of an undies change: an unsightly ragged surprise that shrinks your appetite for anything similar.
Upon returning to South Beach, I didn't want to see even one attempted jump shot, dunk or entry pass. What Old Dominion and FIU did to basketball put it almost in a state from which not even sure the Jackson Five could save it.
Most annoying in the 36-point performance, an FIU-record for offensive futility, was the lack of movement. Too much statue basketball -- get the pass, stand, observe, pass to another person to do the same -- where there's not much movement of the ball or off the ball. That led to forced drives, which leads to bad shots and turnovers.
"Combination," assented FIU coach Anthony Evans about the stagnant nature of the offense. "I think the ball is stoopping too much. Going to one person and sticking instead of crisp ball movement so we can get open shots."
And, FIU saw some inside shots dance around the rim before falling away, inevitably to an Old Dominion rebound. Evans said practice today would be devoted to defense, reasoning if your offense is slumping, get the defense together to create offense from defense.
I apologize for the lateness of the blog. After dinner, dessert, Daddywork (melted cough drops in the backpack...c'mon, kid), I banged out some of the postgame blog then went face down on the keyboard. Then, this morning, after dropping the kid off, I skedaddled over to the 23rd Annual Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Commemorative Breakfast at the Graham Center ballroom.
I saw Senior Associate AD Bobby Staub at the breakfast. I was told the athletics table across the rom included several coaches including, predictably, swimming coach Randy Horner (the swim program defines "ubiquitous"). Not in the house full of successful, affluent Miamians and FIU-connected folks? Ron Turner. I know a pile of recruiting visits are this weekend, but that's exactly the kind of event at which an athletic department living student fees-to-student fees needs the coach of its most visible program.
The keyote speaker was Dr. Clarence Jones, a speechwriter for and close friend of Dr. King, a copyright lawyer and professor at Stanford. I really wish I'd gotten down verbatim his quoting of Dr. King on striving for personal excellence and taking responsibility for your personal behavior.
Another thing about football recruiting: that other schools are sweating some FIU recruits speaks well of them. You want players other schools want. That also means, however, you've got to make them love you enough to keep their affection through the wooing of others.
Just a thought as FAU's making a run at Hialeah running back Henry Bussey, an FIU commit.
Perhaps the most interesting part of FIU's release announcing the hirings of running backs coach Kerry Dixon II, linebackers coach Rob Harley and special teams coach Shannon Moore -- a Nebraska native fresh off eight years at FCS school South Dakota State -- was that offensive line coach/run game coordinator Steve Shankweiler got promoted to offensive coordinator.
Last year, Turner served as his own offensive coordinator. This year, it'll be Shankweiler, who applied for but didn't get the head coaching position at Elon in his native North Carolina, who'll do double duty.
So the staff recruiting South Florida has nobody with any South Florida ties beyond Texas native Dixon's one year at FAU recruiting Dade county and three coaches of color out of 10. Not sure how often fishermen bag cheetahs, but let's see how it all works.
FIU's highest-ranked 2014 commit, Orlando Timber Creek wide receiver Javonte Seabury, just Tweeted that his official visit this weekend has been cancelled.
I truly believe, as I wrote in an opinion column today in The Herald, that there's no way the Univrsity of Miami can dominate football recruting in South Florida as it did during the glory days. That's not inconsistent with my feeling that FIU needs to recruit Palm Beach, Broward, and, especially Dade with Klingon aggression.
To that end, FIU might want to fill the special teams coordinator position with someone who knows his way around a palomilla steak or Pork 'n' Beans (the project, not the canned dinner). As of now, there's nobody with local roots or background on FIU's staff. Running backs coach-to-be Kerry Dixon, a Texas guy assigned to recruit Dade when FAU hired him in 2012, is as close as it gets.
Meanwhile, FAU's Charlie Partridge just finished his coaching family, a bus that includes Corey Bell (Edison High graduate and coach, American High coach), Roger Harriott (Davie University School coach for eight years) and Dan Shula (Fort Lauderdale St. Thomas Aquinas graduate).
Just an observation.
FIU's lookng for a date. The Panthers dance card already has Bethune, Louisville and Pittsburgh as home games. With the four Conference USA home games, that's seven home games, six against FBS opponents. FIU could add a home game against an FCS opponent without violating the NCAA scheduling rules.
They might need to go win hunting. Louisville, Pittsburgh and Bethune-Cookman adds up to 1-2 at best. Maybe 0-3, as we saw this year when Bethune battered FIU at La Cage. For interest, anything better than a trickle of attendance later in the season and any program momentum, FIU needs all the wins it can get.
If FAU running backs coach Kerry Dixon is on his way south to FIU, as CoachingSearch.com suggests, that would be a guy with experience in recruiting Dade County and with ties in Texas. Neither exactly hurts in recruiting raw talent.
American High safety Andrew Soroh, rated at two or three stars depending on the site, switched his committment from FIU to FAU today, announced via Twitter. As commenter FIU Fanatic pointed out, American High coach Corey Bell has just joined FAU's coaching staff. Bell will be the defensive backs coach at FAU.
Wonder if somebody ever suggested, as Ron Turner was putting together his first staff, that it include Bell or Telly Lockette, now running backs coach at South Florida...
Of course, all this is just conversation until Signing Day.
According to a Tweet from former Northwestern coach Stephen Field, now the coach at Citra North Marion High, Northwestern defensive back Shermarke Spence has committed to FIU. Spence wasn't rated by 247sports, ESPN.com (but that site lists him erroneously at only 5-6and at two stars by Rivals.com, which has done the opposite of some recruiting sites and boosted a recruit's rating after he commits to FIU.
He's the younger brother of former University of Miami player Sean Spence.
The Associated Press Florida All-State high school teams came out over the weekend. They included a few FIU commits.
Plant City defensive end John Broome (no, not THAT one) made the Class 7A First Team and Booker T Washington offensive lineman Jordan Ingraham got onto the 4A First Team. Frostproof defensive back Jarviel Hart made 3A First Team. Tampa Tech linebacker Fred Russ is on the 7A Second Team
Hialeah running back Henry Bussey, Flanagan defensive back Mark Bruno both were among the 8A honorable mentions. Largo wide receiver Raheem Harvey's a 6A honorable mention.
"Yes, I will be here next year. I will be here next year," redshirt junior quarterback Jake Medlock said when I asked him directly about 2014.
I'd heard from three different places that Medlock was leaning toward transferring. I asked him if ever considered transferring.
"No. I can't leave these guys. I came in here with David (Delsoin), Donald (Senat), Jordan (White), Greg (Hickman) and all of them. They're my boys. They always have been since Day 1 and always will be until the day I die."
Medlock left FAU Stadium the same way he left it last year -- resembling a health insurance advertisement. The finger he broke on his throwing hand hasn't healed. The shoulder injury he suffered last year at FAU still isn't right. And he's got messed up ribs after spending too much of the evening under FAU's pass rush.
Medlock also could've been leaving as the winning quarterback again without receivers dropping touchdown passes like they were last year's team GPA. Those plays -- T.J. Lowder had two, Rockey Vann had one, Dominque Rhymes dropped an underthrown (but still on the numbers) end around bomb -- demonstrate the difference between speed guys/athletes and speed receivers/athletic receivers. Lowder might want to spend the offseason cuddling up with the Juggs machine. While praising his effort two weeks ago, before Lowder dribbled a slant with room to run against Marshall, Turner did say Lowder had some drops at UTEP.
FIU actually did an OK job on FAU quarterback Jaquez Johnson's running. Johnson broke out for a 17-yarder, but based on FIU's previous failures at containing run-first quarterbacks, 64 yards on 17 carries isn't bad.
FAU worked the play action game, however, and that's been a problem for FIU all season. Here's where not having Richard Leonard and Sam Miller, who was injured for what would've been his final game, on the corners hurt the Panthers. Without those two, you had Randy Harvey, who got targeted as the season went along; Brad Hyman-Muhammad, a freshman walk-on; and Jeremiah McKinnon, whose status fluctuated throughout the season because of off-field problems. Besides, on the field, McKinnon's often on the scene yet essentially a bystander. He doesn't take away the ball or the man. Maybe with a full season playing and practicing, he'll develop into the kind of playmaking cornerback you sense sits somewhere inside him.
Kicker Austin Taylor got his first true too-deep-to-return touchbacks of the season.
By the way, Turner didn't sound like a man planning on going anywhere other than recruiting and doing some season wrapup stuff. I do think he was surprised at the way things work -- or don't -- at FIU. I also think he wants to see what he can do with a full offseason, a staff that he isn't cobbling together in a rush (which, frankly, seems to be The FIU Way considering the timing on athletic department decisions) and a full season of recruiting. Also, as I wrote earlier, I don't see his NFL options extending much beyond his family and if he leaves here, he's got to pony up a year's salary. That'll come out of his pocket. Just because NFL franchises print money doesn't mean tbey're into dishing out $500,000 just to free up a quarterbacks coach.
While the Naismith Award folks name Jerica Coley to their Early Season Watch List on the women's side, the FIU Compliance folks seem to have trouble figuring out whether or not the women's basketball team's second best player, Marita Davydova, is eligible to play.
Here's the statement I received from FIU's non-sports media relations:
"FIU's Athletics Compliance Office identified a potential question regarding women’s basketball student athlete Marita Davydova’s eligibility status. At the time, the University took the proactive step of withholding Marita from further intercollegiate competition until her eligibility status could be confirmed. Based on the information present at this time, it appears that Marita will be eligible to represent the university in intercollegiate basketball competition pending ultimate approval of the NCAA Student-Athlete Reinstatement staff. Given that the issue involves the eligibility status of a currently enrolled student-athlete, there are no further details that we can provide."
Hold on NCAA Reinstatement staff? To be reinstated, you have to be booted. And why should her eligiblity status be a question now? Shouldn't this have been cleared up long ago? She didn't just get here. She was a Third Team all-conference center last year.
Then again, why should the eligibility of a point guard who has been on your campus over a year and a half be an issue (Ray Taylor)? Either he is eligible or he isn't. And, if he isn't, why was he given a scholarship the last two years?
Sounds like Compliance needs to get into compliance with its job description.
Columbus linebacker Nick McBeath decommitted from FIU, he announced via Twitter Monday night. McBeath's got several other options and might head for a school with a stronger academic reputation (don't jump down my throat. For the many good things happening academically, let's not act like FIU's Stanford-by-the-Turnpike).
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.
The Comments section buzzes with arguments about next year's recruiting class. Rivals.com indeed has FIU rated 65th in the nation, tied with Rice for first in Conference USA based on verbal commits. 247sports.com, which has former Rivals.com writer/analyst Chris Nee, ranks FIU at No. 83 overall and fifth in Conference USA.
Truth is, the 50 years past deal in Dealey Plaza is less a mystery than ranking recruits, recruiting classes and especially recruiting classes based on verbal commits. Kids can change their minds on Signing Day. Kids can lose their minds once they get away from home. The light goes on for one young man, the fire burns out in another. Johnathan Cyprien, T.Y. Hilton and Tourek Williams, two star guys entering FIU, start in the NFL. Larvez Mars and Willis Wright, FIU's four-star recruits, crashed.
FIU's offensive skill position commits, however, demonstrate one certainty: the Panthers need for nitro.
FIU's got fast guys. Speed, however, doesn't always add up to in-game explosiveness. The Panthers don't get cheap touchdowns the way they did last year with Wright and Glenn Coleman off play action passes, in 2011 from Kedrick Rhodes or 2008-2011 from Hilton. Fault scheme, fault quarterbacks who've spent the season struggling, but also fault a lack of true playmaking ability at the running back and wide receiver positions.
(It's worth noting here that the player known as The Playmaker, Hall of Fame wide receiver Michael Irvin, wasn't a speed guy even at the University of Miami yet averaged 16.9 per catch there and went on to average 15.9 yards a catch as a No. 1 possesion guy in the NFL)
Hialeah running back Henry Bussey, averaging 10 yards a pop, was discussed in an earlier post. Javonte Seabury, the Orlando Timber Creek High wide receiver/running back/free safety, is a 20 yards per catch guy.
Jarviel Hart, a Frostproof wide receiver, gained 331 yards (23.6 per catch) and scored five touchdowns on only 14 catches and ran for 146 yards on only 13 carries (11.2 per carry).
The numbers for one of FIU's commits, quarterback Alex McGeough, fell off drastically this year: 47.3 completion percentage after 57.3 in 2012, 979 yards after 1,541, a 5/4 touchdown interception ratio after 20/4. McGeough had a reason. Aside from him, the only offensive starter returning was a lineman.
Jacksonville Fletcher quarterback Luke Medlock, current FIU quarterback Jake Medlock's brother, wasn't a high percentage thrower -- 42.2 percent, 62 of 147 -- but threw for 1,347 yards and 14 touchdowns against six interceptions. It's not uncommon for high school quarterbacks to punt also, but the Medlocks do it to a next stage starter level. Luke was the Class 8A-7A Second Team All-State punter in 2012. This year, Luke averaged 36.0 yards per punt with a long of 53.
Luke, Jake or both could wind up being this generation's Tom Blanchard or Tom Tupa, college quarterbacks who went on to good NFL careers as punters.
The hanging drummers present Thursday won't be there every night. FIU contracted with Galaxy Entertainment only for Thursday night's home opener, the 85-39 waxing of Florida College. Galaxy provided the drummers and the scaffold from which they sat in harnesses. Check out my Twitter feed, http://www.twitter.com/DavidJNeal, for photos of the drummers, the cabanas, etc.
"We've done it everywehre from amusement parks, bar mitzvahs, any kind of party," said David Parente, who hung and drummed along with Sean Woods before the game and during halftime. "Any place they'll have us, we'll do it."
Is the whole shebang as overdone as the name "Lime Court at U.S. Century Bank Arena?" Sure. And I'm OK with that.
(By the way, "Lime Court..." A Mexican restaurant chain founded by a white guy, who sold it to a restaurant company named after a British rock band's hit song, gets its name put the basketball court of a university largely identified with the Cuban-American community. Add in a black person somewhere and it's the epitome of diversity, Miami-style.)
Sophomore Jerome Frink said it'll be a while before he gets used to the courtside cabanas. Both he and Rakeem Buckles felt the team got too distracted by what FIU head coach Anthony Evans called a "festive" atmosphere. Once they started rolling Florida College at 10-0, the Panthers tried to be as flashy as the show around them. Didn't work.
Evans said he was fine with it -- "We're in Miami. So, sometimes, you have to do things that kind of stand out. I guess we did that" -- but he always comes off as the kind of guy who thinks including Crunch Berries ruins Cap'n Crunch. I think he'll be happier Saturday
He's definitely a man-to-man defense kind of guy.
"I've always been a man-to-man coach," Evans said. "But it seems like they play well in the zone. It seems like I'm going to have to shift it a little until we can become a better man-to-man team. I don't like to play a lot of zone, but if we're good at it, then we're going to continue to play it."
Thursday, FIU went to a zone late in the first half when they took over the game.
"I thought when the younger guys came off the bench, they really gave us a boost with their athleticism and their length because it gave them problems in the zone," Evans said. "Once they started missing shots, we wre able to take the ball in transition and get some layups."
I asked Buckles, once again the team's leading scorer, if he's surprised with what he's been able to do so far. He replied, "No, I feel like I should be doing it. I'm 23 years old, this is my fifth year in college (basketball). I had lofty goals for myself, so I'm happy with the way I'm playing...it's expected, let's put it like that."
Evans said, "I'm very impressed with Rakeem. With everything he's gone through, he still has a true passion for the game," Evans said. "I really didn't know what we were going to get because he hasn't played basketball in two years. Once we started practicing, you could see he was trying to work the rust off. The first game, he was still trying to work the rust off, get into game shape. Then, he started getting into a rhythm. That's what you see now."
As for what they think of the team after five games, Frink said, "I think we're more talented than last year's team, we just have to get everything together, combine our talents and be unselfish."
Buckles assented: "It's going to take a while. Hopefully, we get it quickly. We're not the team that we should be right now, we'll say that."
I Tweeted at Herald high school sports scribe Andre Fernandez while he was covering tonight's Coral Gables-Hialeah game "How's Henry Bussey look?" He answered, "Legit fast. Speed back."
By that point, Bussey already had exploded for an 85-yard touchdown run on the second play from scrimmage. He finished with 141 yards on 10 carries, so he averaged 6.2 yards per carry on his other nine carries. That ended his season with 1344 yards and 19 touchdowns on just 133 carries (10.1 yards a pop). He also caught eight passes for 199 yards (24.9 yards per catch) and two touchdowns.
That's the kind of explosiveness FIU needs in its offense. It'll be interesting if Bussey can bring that combustibility to college.
FIU coach Ron Turner said after two games starting sophomore quarterback E.J. Hilliard, he's going back to redshirt junior Jake Medlock for this week's game at Texas-El Paso.
When I asked Turner if the decision's different had other players not left 17 points on the field at Middle Tennessee State and it's still a game early in the second half, he said he made the decision on Hilliard's whole body of work. He was especially ticked that, according to him, the first three plays were scripted and Hilliard made mistakes on all three.
Medlock said he reacted to the first benching of his high school or college career with anger at himself for how he'd been playing. He specifically mentioned the Southern Mississippi safety, saying he should've kicked the ball out of the end zone instead of picking it up, trying to throw and getting knocked out of the game.
Fifth-year senior outside linebacker Derrick Jones Jr. was on crutches Wednesday. Expect Davison Colimon to start there.
For what it's worth...an observer who's at most of the big high school games in Dade and Broward County (that don't run simultaneously -- he's not from Cargg) said he's seen coaches from all the other FBS football schools in the state more than he's seen from FIU. In fact, he estimates seen former FIU offensive line coach Alex Mirabal, now at Marshall, as often or more often at games than current FIU coaches.
Dennis Marroquin, Florida Fire 7-on-7 head coach, Tweeted tonight that Fire member and Hialeah High running back Henry Bussey has committed to FIU. That Bussey himself didn't tweet it causes the caveat at the end of the headline.
The 5-8, 170-pound running back is rated at three stars by 247sports.com's composite rating of several services, two stars by Rivals.com and is unrated by ESPN, Scout.com and 247sports.com itself.
Sheesh, come back from pseudo-vacation and the news showers down...
That men's soccer goalie Robin Spiegel, last year's Conference USA All-Freshman goalie after starting every game for FIU, was even available to do some kicking for the football team after Tuesday's practice might say more about his status with his first sport. After all, men's soccer is on a road trip now, which means a Spiegel healthy enough to kick for FIU coach Ron Turner was left home.
Turner said neither Spiegel or the FIU student who kicked with him, would join the team this year but might in the spring. Longtime FIU folks will recall that Karl Kremser, who built the FIU soccer program into a national power, also was a German native who did football placekicking.
As for this year, Turner said he wasn't happy that FIU was the only team in Conference USA without a touchback on kickoffs but he did have confidence in freshman Austin Taylor on field goals. FIU averages 52.6 yards of length per kickoff, exactly five yards fewer than opponents and 32.4 yards net kicking average, 7.9 yards less than opponents.
Turner said FIU's punting frustrated him more than the kicking because that's killing FIU in field position. Redshirt freshman Chris Ayers averages 35.0 yards per punt with one punt over 50 yards. FIU's 12th in net punting among the 14 C-USA schools and 14th in gross punting.
Also, about that scoreboard going Superdome lights late in Saturday's game, FIU assistant athletic director for facilities and operations Wes Hardin e-mailed me, "the transmitter that wirelessly sends signal from the controller to the board malfunctioned on Saturday night. It was unrelated to the issues we experienced during the UCF game and is something that we have been able to remedy."
FIU athletic director Pete Garcia said $150,000 to $200,000 of new equipment is coming for the four-year-old scoreboard.
Redshirt sophomore wide receiver Fred Porter is now on scholarship.
The new bowl at Marlins Park will be the Miami Beach Bowl. was