August 08, 2015

Stuff Like That and This

What FIU got out of Friday night's Dolphins scrimmage financially might stop at rent and concessions, probably not a bad little take considering how Friday night festive Dolfans seemed to be. Festive fans eat and drink.

The school also got to show off FIU Stadium to several fans who probably hadn't been in La Cage before. Some of my media peers making their first appearances, even as they frowned through the Calcutta crowded nature of their own workspace, opined that it's a nice, well-sized venue for a G5 football school.

La Cage improved its sound system, thus allowing officials to actually be heard this year.

ACADEMICS

Sand volleyball player Anna Budinska was awarded Outstanding Student Performance by faculty vote in the International Business Masters program this year. Budinska transferred to FIU from North Florida, where she was the 2013-14 Female Scholar Athlete of the Year.

FOOTBALL

The Giants signed safety Justin Halley as an rookie free agent Friday. Interesting symmetry as the Jets signed FIU's other starting safety from 2014, DeMarkus Perkins, for a minute this spring.

And UMass still doesn't have a start time for the Oct. 3 game. Television could be involved.

 

 

 

August 04, 2015

Preseason CUSA Women's Soccer, FCS Bowl, National Bowl stuff

Coming off a disappointing 2014 season that ended short of making the Conference USA tournament, FIU's ranked sixth of 14 schools in the CUSA coaches' preseason poll. Senior defender Marie Egan is FIU's lone preseason all-conference player.

Rice came in atop the poll.

RENTERS

FIU's got an easier time filling FIU Stadium dates than filling FIU Stadium for the school's football team.

The FCS Bowl, an all-star game for FCS teams and historically black colleges, and the National Bowl, an all-star game for Division II and Division III players, will be at La Cage Sunday, Dec. 7. Tickets go on sale Nov. 10.

 

July 17, 2015

MLS to Marlins Park area? Flamengo to FIU?

 

Desiring a location at least some fans can reach on foot or via Miami's adequate-for-1962 mass transit system and with minimal nose-picking along State Road 836 during rush hours, the David Beckham Group has now stated they prefer to build a stadium alongside Marlins Park. Many local politicos can now smile that they've bent the soccer bringers to their will somewhat and can now discuss the fringe benefits for the local powers-that-be.

Not that FIU athletics acted as if the MLS fantasy still had even a Law & Order episode's basis in reality. FIU athletic director Pete Garcia's been in Brazil a few times to get popular soccer club Flamengo for an exhibition game at FIU Stadium and keep the lines of communication open with the top muckety-mucks of Brazilian soccer. The national team's trained at FIU twice before friendlies at Sun Life Stadium. 

Speaking of soccer, I'm still unclear on what the school plans to do about the embarrassment of FIU Soccer Stadium before the school hosts women's soccer's Conference USA tournament. According to some folks I spoke with this week, the grounds crew does a good job with the pitch. But nothing says "first class institution" to people from other schools like picking 35-year-old splinters out of their butts from stands that look bought second hand from an early 1900s minor league baseball park. And the banners ringing the field look better than bare fences yet don't fool anyone that they're above being lipstick on a pig (and I'm not saying which end of the pig).

The place is beneath the soccer programs and beneath FIU as a school. 

But soccer games, indeed all games, on PantherVision should look better this year. FIU's hired Brian Duval as a dedicated video coordinator.

 

June 30, 2015

Dolphins Coming to FIU

The Dolphins will hold a public practice at FIU Stadium Aug. 7 as part of a Friday Night Festival, featuring live practice and scrimmage, player autographs afterwards, cheerleaders and Dolphins alumni smiling and waving after signing autographs...all you'd expect from a franchise of good people working very hard to help everybody overlook 20 years of professional mediocrity on the field.

Tickets can be purchased here for $5 each.

 

February 03, 2015

Beckham's People: We'll Think About It

Miami-Dade County approved the measure telling Mayor Carlos Gimenez or associates of Carlos Gimenez to go talk to FIU about using FIU Stadium as a temporary home for International Soccer Sex Symbol FC or whatever the David Beckham group's Major League Soccer franchise will be named. Beckham's been having problems finding a spot on which to build a privately-funded soccer joint for Miami's second swing at an MLS franchise.

This could be a most convenient and profitable occurrence for FIU Athletics. The official Twitter feed for Miami Beckham United (proves he's a neophyte to Miami, where NOTHING is united) says over four Tweets, posted this morning:

"Things are progressing in Miami & we are very much on track in our plans. Beckham is very positive about the future of the club & he continues to enjoy incredible support from the people in Miami. Right now, our focus is on identifying the location for a purpose built stadium that will be the team's permanent home. Careful consideration will be given to FIU when we address the opportunities for a temporary facility."

When Beckham toured FIU back in 2013, he smiled, said nice, non-committal things then didn't mention FIU again while pursuing sites in or around downtown. Aside from size, FIU Stadium's almost everything MLS says it doesn't want. But FIU athletic director Pete Garcia possesses a Squidward's worth of tentacles in local government. Don't be surprised if the county tries to horse Beckham's group into a deal with FIU with some light political blackmail around the building of a permanent site.

That would be government teamwork worthy of the name "Miami Beckham United."

FOOTBALL

Tem Lukabu is the new linebackers coach. Lukabu coached Colgate's outside linebackers last season. The two seasons before that, he was an defensive assistant with Tampa Bay's linebackers in 2013 and defensive line in 2012. That's when Lukabu shared a staff with FIU head coach Ron Turner.

 

 

Who Did You Vote For?

The Miami-Dade County commission will vote today on a resolution that will tell representatives from Mayor Carlos Gimenez's to reach an agreement with FIU to use FIU Stadium as a temporary home for the Miami David Beckhams Major League Soccer franchise, according to ESPNFC.

MLS says it wants a stadium in urban areas, where fans can march from residences or stagger to/from drinking establishments. The Beckham group, clearly not understanding the down-the-rabbit-hole, out-of-your-wallet nature of Miami-Dade politics, expressed shock at being rebuffed in its first two attempts at getting a spot downtown.

 

January 09, 2015

Ballers On Campus

UPCOMING HOME GAMES/MATCHES

Swimming & Diving, FIU Relays, Saturday, 1 p.m.

Women's Basketball, vs. Alabama-Birmingham, Sunday, noon

Elsewhere on The Herald news platform, it was noted that the HBO show Ballers shot over at the University of Miami. We must note here that, before going over to Coral Gables, the show shot at FIU Stadium and used FIU staffers as extras for scenes of practice.

While on the subject of on campus, I'm hoping to talk to the early enrolling football recruits today, all of whom are on campus and going through the registration process (for those eternally predicting last minute flips).

Pitt officially announced Josh Conklin as its new defensive coordinator this morning.

 

September 22, 2014

Albrecht C-USA Player of the Week; Moving Suites; Moving Lines

Senior forward Quentin Albrecht's second and third goals last week came late in regulation to tie San Diego State and in overtime (via bicycle kick, no less) to give FIU guys' soccer its second win against a ranked opponent this year.

And that's why Albrecht's the Conference USA Men's Soccer Offensive Player of the Week.

SUITE SALES

As a beat reporter covering the athletic department, I often like to hunker down to work in the public buildings where much of the athletic department works. Some people don't like that.

Others see me and remember they want to inform me of things such as: of the 16 FIU Stadium inside suites, nine now have been sold to outside entities and five and a half have been sold to inside FIU entities. My count at the start of the season showed five unsold suites and only six sold to outside entities.

Why does it matter? Because the department can use every dollar and ticket sold it can get.

FOOTBALL

FIU opened an 11.5-point underdog to Alabama-Birmingham this week. Early line hunters saw that and jumped all over UAB like good barbecue. The line's now up to 15 some places, 15.5 others and 16 in one place.

September 21, 2014

A few thoughts on Louisville 34, FIU 3

Yucky, depressing drizzle. Lousiville quarterback Will Gardner doing what Buffalo's EJ Manuel did with the Dolphins last week: just enough to keep both teams in the game. FIU giving up the early score, yet tenaciously refusing to let Louisville pull away. Time brought closer that moment when 7-0, Louisville, would make the Cardinals jittery enough to make a big boo-boo or two for FIU.

From the game's second drive until the hat trick of Louisville touchdowns began with 5:33 left in the second quarter, Saturday felt like that 2012 night when FIU came a Jake Medlock injury and some questionable fourth down decisions from slaying Louisville again.

Except, this year, FIU's offense ran in place. Sort of like the cars on all arteries around 836 West and Red Road Saturday. Choose your dead car metaphor from there -- FIU ran out of gas, overheated, etc. -- for how FIU's offense left Ron Turner resembling those people I saw standing roadside, peering with worried frustration at their immobile vehicle.

I don't know how many potential customers FIU or Ikea lost to that only-in-Miami piece of contruction planning. I do know FIU's defense and returners make the Panthers an annoyance to good opponents.

In his last six games, going back to the last two games of last year, Michael Wakefield has 5.5 sacks and 8.5 tackles for loss. The defense came up with two more fumble recoveries, including the career first for freshman linebacker Anthony Wint. The secondary came up small Saturday against a quarterback no better than some FIU sees in Conference USA or each day in practice (I'd put Will Gardner behind both Alex McGough and E.J. Hilliard). Redshirt junior cornerback Richard Leonard blamed himself for not preventing James Quick's marvelous catch-Gregory Hines-and-run 74-yard touchdown, but at least Leonard was there to make a play. On Quick's 37-yard touchdown and the third-down 28-yard completion to Gerald Christian that got Louisville off their own 4-yard-line, each had more space than the GC on a Friday.

Leonard brought three kickoffs out of the end zone. You can't blame him, even on the one he didn't get back to the 25. The other two were the closest FIU came to finding the Louisville end zone.

It's FIU's offense that doesn't allow the Panthers to rise above being a bother in an era when so many scores resemble Mattel Football I after you figured out the three defenses.

The offense has improved. It could hardly get worse without team moonwalking. Even with statistical Cialis Wagner (loser to Monmouth last week) on the schedule, FIU ranks 103rd in passing, 117th in rushing and 120th overall (out of 125 FBS teams). The Panthers are last in the nation in third down conversion percentage, 122nd in sacks allowed, 117th in tackles for loss allowed and 107th in fumbles lost.

The offensive line's a year older but a year better for them remians well short of good enough. Saturday, both quarterbacks took a beating. Freshman Alex McGough actually took a bouncing, a couple from Louisville linebacker Lorenzo Mauldin. Mauldin did the same to running back Alex Gardner or Anthon Samuel. 

Line play isn't helped by play-calling that's gotten pretty predictable by situation, personnel and formation. A little film study and you can smell what FIU's cooking. Against a riotous Louisville front seven, did FIU try one old fashioned screen or draw? They ran a few counters off fake handoffs to wide receivers in motion. Louisville devoured those. One football person proposed that it looks like FIU's trying to do too much offensively. Run less and get better at it, he said.

(Digression: speaking of football people, a Kansas City Chiefs scout was at the game. He left in the second quarter. From what I heard, he was unwilling to endure the afternoon bluster under the partial protection of an outside tent. Both radio broadcasts, who work outside instead of in some sort of semi-indoor accommodations like every other FBS school I've seen, were affected. When the stands had to be cleared, the radio people couldn't stay in their tent. There was no pregame or even weather delay filler talk on the FIU broadcast. Tune in to 1210AM ESPN Deportes for pregame and you heard Spanish sports talk radio.

As only six of 17 indoor suites are sold to non-FIU entities and five were unsold at my last count, why not use them to prevent embarrassing situations that have many others around the nation excoriating the school far more ruthlessly than is done here?)

Neither McGough nor Hilliard, throws with consistent accuracy. Both hold the ball too long, taking too many Ken O'Brien sacks. Both shortcomings are to be expected more from a freshman than a junior although McGough actually throws the ball away with more prudence.

FIU coach Ron Turner sounded like a man about to return to two-quarterback games when he said McGough could've gone back in after suffering a knee contusion, but Hilliard was doing some things well. My thinking is pick a guy and stay with him for at least a game so he feels comfortable enough to play, knowing he can make the mistakes from which he'll need to learn without getting yanked. Former Dolphins coach Cam Cameron said it badly with "fail forward fast" but his point was the same as the great cartoon director Chuck Jones' first instructor at the Chouinard Art Institute, as quoted in Jones' autobiography Chuck Amuck: "All of you here have 100,000 bad drawings in you. The sooner you get rid of them, the better it will be for everyone."

So do quarterbacks need to get their bad throws out of them. Such as the interception by McGough that Gerod Holliman returned for a touchdown that put Louisville up 14-0. From the snap, that left side pattern was an Overtown bar at 3 a.m. -- nothing good going on and you'll be lucky to get out with only your feelings hurt.

And sometimes, receivers need to make those bad throws into good plays. Aside from sophomore tight end Jonnu Smith, FIU's receivers rarely make more of a play than is there. Saturday, at 7-0, a McGough deep ball up the left sideline hit a leaping T.J. Lowder in the hands. Drop. It wasn't the easiest catch but it's one your quarterback needs when he's struggling. Also, it would've put FIU in field goal range.

FIU's personnel is better than last year in all three phases of the game. The defense has shown demonstrative improvement, especially in making so-called "impact" plays. Leonard makes every punt or kickoff a potential touchdown.

But without offensive improvement beyond incremental, even in Conference USA, 2014 won't add up to much more than 2013. Time for the players to step up and the coaches of the aforementioned units to coach up. Alabama-Birmingham's next week. UAB put up 34 points on the road at Mississippi State and 48 points against Troy.

FIU put up 28 points combined against it's two FBS opponents.

 

 

August 06, 2014

Ocean Bank Field at FIU Stadium or The Money Pit at The Cage

The headline works best if you say it in the voice William Conrad used for narrating Rocky & Bullwinkle episodes.

Anyway, told ya so -- for the next three years, it'll be Ocean Bank Field at FIU Stadium, the athletic department announced today.

 

I don't know yet how much money Ocean Bank will pump into FIU, but expect it to be generous -- there's enormous cross-pollination between the bank and the school.

What happened to Alfonso Field, named after David Alfonso, who ponied up money to the FIU Foundation in 2011 for five years of Alfonso Field? He hasn't returned our calls. But here's a truism -- money-starved schools don't tend to end five-year deals with major donors after three years unless the money flow gets constipation. And that might have nothing to do with the school.

The next athletic department structure to get a revenue-bringing name will be Formerly Sunblazer Arena or What Once Was U.S. Century Bank Arena.

August 04, 2014

Betting on the field (exposure)...

The signage outside La Cage still calls the fake grass inside "Alfonso Field." Alas, that will be changing.

FIU needs the money that comes from slapping a name on the field. You've got the NCAA saying Division I schools can stuff their athletes like Sunday at Big Mama's, and Conference USA claiming all scholarships will be full scholarships as of the 2015-16 school year. Time to go find a different source of Other People's Cash.

Might FIU go with a corporate entity? Banks and energy companies seem popular to woo for naming, with their gushers of cash. South Florida comes a little light on energy industries. Ocean Bank loves the College of Business Administration and already have the Ocean Bank Auditorium in the College of Business. Might Ocean Bank love them some Ocean Bank Field at FIU Stadium?

Lime named the basketball court. Might they want some fake grass under their logo?

NFL FOOTBALL

What a Vikings beat reporter sees from former FIU defensive tackle and cook Isame Faciane in training camp so far...

GOLF

Tania Tare put up on Instagram a picture of her just-arrived 2013 graduation ring and Sun Belt Conference championship rings.

May 08, 2014

Jenkins All-Academic Team; Can't Spell MLS With FIU

FIU sophomore pitcher Corinne Jenkins went 15-7 with a 3.37 earned run average this season. She's also a psychology major with a 3.74 grade point average.

Which is why Jenkins made the Conference USA Softball All-Academic team.

MLS

If you're one of those who has been sold by athletic department administrators on the dream of David Beckham's Major League Soccer franchise choosing FIU as a home and injecting $255 million into the athletic department, here's the alarm buzzing, "Wake up!"

Beckham, potential co-owner Simon Fuller and lobbyist John Alschuler said during their meeting with The Herald today that MLS has told them the stadium must be downtown. Alschuler later said, "We don't want to be south, we don't want to be west, we don't want to be north."

They envision a cool, hip, yuppie crowd walking to the game from offices, condos and nearby parking lots. In other words, not what you'd get from a suburban site.

Time to find another possible source of Other People's Money for the athletic department.

February 24, 2014

Ramble On

While the stick and ball teams take a break from using their bats on visiting teams like they owe FIU money, swimming and diving prepares to leave for Atlanta and the Conference USA meet.

(They won't need to do any Internet panhandling, but the volleyball team is still at http://www.gofundme.com/FIUVolleyball, $195 toward their goal of $6,000. While you're on the site, you can contribute to the Oswego State Synchronized Skating Team's trip travel to nationals. Or the Coppin Academy Girls Basketball team trying to raise $6,000 to attend a summer camp.)

Lack of diver depth hurt FIU in the Sun Belt meet and could do the same here after senior Sabrina Beaupre takes the 10-meter platform and at least one of the two springboards. She's favored in all three.

In the pool, C-USA's tougher than The Belt and FIU no longer has Madame Butterfly, Marina Ribi, to pick up points in that dastardly stroke. Still, junior Johanna Gustafsdottir ranks first in the 200 backstroke and second in the 100 back. Senior Sonia Perez Arau comes in with the best 400 IM time in the conference. Klara Andersson is a close third in the 50 freestyle, which she won at last year's Sun Belt meet.

And FIU will bring home a relay win or two. I'm thinking 400 medley and 800 free. Just noticed -- the common thread in every school record relay is Gustafsdottir swimming the first leg. That makes sense. She's strongest in back, the first stroke of a medley relay. Her next strongest stroke is free. Classic relay set up uses the second fastest to lead off with the fastest anchoring.

I'd be shocked if the water women can give the athletic department its first Conference USA title. Defending champion Rice is still strong and East Carolina looks like a possible problem. That leaves baseball and softball -- track? Name the last conference champion without a coach -- and both of them get blocked. Rice owns baseball while UAB and Tulsa tussle over softball.

No, the baseball team isn't outscoring the football team after eight games. They were after three games (25-23) and four games (30-23). But if you just count scoring against Division I/FBS opponents, it's closer than you think after eight games: 78-63 for football.

When I saw FIU football coach Ron Turner at FIU Baseball Stadium with his family Saturday on the concourse on the first base line. I thought, "Boy, he'll go anywhere to see some offense." The Sunday juxtaposition couldn't have been more ripe -- FIU sports and centertainment head Pete Garcia attending hte baseball game with Butch Davis, the currently unemployed former coach at the Universty of Miami.

Now, if Davis wants back in coaching, he's got to cleanse himself by working somewhere else for a year or two. Obviously, FIU would be a fine place for that. Maybe Davis has changed his mind about FIU. He certainly could've joined his buddy Garcia a year ago and a few candidates (or their representatives) said they were told, "don't bother, this is Butch's job." Garcia's fits of temper and rash decisions would do Lewis Carroll's Queen of Hearts proud -- thus why some in the department call the second floor area housing Garcia's office "The Tower of Terror" -- but firing Mario Cristobal without a card like Davis to play exceeds Garcia's Yosemite Sam quotient.

 

North Carolina was on the hook for Davis' money, so nothing about that green affected Davis taking FIU's green. A theory I formed while writing about Saturday's 10-0 baseball thumping of Stony Brook: Davis learned the horrible academic situation facing FIU football in 2013 and decided to let someone else deal with that academic barf. If I knew about it in December, 2012, why wouldn't Davis?

This weekend's baseball stories were easy to write. FIU won three blowouts, scored early in each one and I didn't have to spend any time waiting to talk to coaches or players or transcribing their quotes. I did talk to Stony Brook Friday night starter Frankie Vanderka, one of the better pitchers FIU will see in non-conference play, about what pitch Julius Gaines drove for a home run and what he thought of FIU's lineup. On Saturday and Sunday, I wasn't going to waste the Stony Brook coach's time asking him his opinion of a team that just waxed him by 10 runs.

I'd have liked to talk to Aramis Garcia, hitting .500 over the first eight games; or freshman JC Escarra, with a team-leading .577 on-base percentage; or Josh Anderson, last year's team leader in doubles with 22, already with five this year and 14 RBI.

Alas, FIU coaches and players were unavailable for comment to the media. I'd been told before Friday's game that would be the case. Officially, it was Turtle Thomas' decision so everyone could remain focused on baseball without any distractions. Logically, that dog didn't hunt. Postgame interviews are, you know, postgame and about 18 hours before the next game. They take less than 10 minutes total time, two or three players and Thomas combined, once they start. There wasn't media, only a medium -- me -- for three of the first five games (as well as Friday and Saturday). And the Panthers looked none too distracted in winning their first five games. Also, Thomas does answer questions from FIU media relations after the game.

Of course, this came from above Thomas. Thomas' bosses are Garcia and Senior Associate AD Bobby Staub. This was a predictable reaction to the Dennis Wiseman story, but mostly because I'd long ago heard that neither was too pleased about a series of public records requests I've been making since December on a broad range of things. Sometimes, I just feel there's information I should have. Sometimes, I'm curious. Sometimes, I smell something.

Marketing's now Staub's thing, by the way. He's now the most motivated salesman in FIU athletics. In addition to his $110,000 salary, Staub gets $1,000 bonuses for football season student attendance being above $20,000, then another grand if over $30,000; basketball season student attendance over 5,000, then 10,000; basketball season tickets over 500 and over 750; baseball ticket revenue over $15,000 and $20,000; football ticket and sponsorship revenue (excluding Pepsi) over $1 million and over $1.5 million; sells the naming rights to FIU Baseball Stadium or five other new athletics assets; and sells all the suites for one season for football and basketball.

By the way, the victory song for FIU during the Turtle Thomas era used to be "New York, New York." Not sure why, but it's become custom since 2008. Now, under directions from marketing, it's Kool and the Gang's "Celebration," both the highest charting and worst Kool and the Gang single ever. Feel the cliche.

Oh, I forgot, The Master Plan Development for Camp Mitch from Feb. 14 still shows a soccer field surrounded by a track as a Future Development. Not even Funded or Likely Funded. Future Development.

To let you know how far into the future that might be, also in that category is Stadium Upper Bowl Expansion. That'll be about as useful as a weave store for skinheads until Ron Turner turns into Dr. Alchemy followed by Staub turning into P.T. Barnum.

That would be something completely different.

 

 

 

October 30, 2013

Stacking

They're doing some serious stacking out at Camp Mitch concerning this Saturday's game against East Carolina.

Not just the psychological stacking, whereby you "stack" stressful situation atop stressful situation until the ones on the bottom cause you ulcers or to yell at MickeyD's workers who put cheese when you clearly said sin queso. In adidution to that, the athletic deparment or marketing department or whatever department got called into the emergency meeting stacked promotion atop promotion to get a more-than-laughable crowd in the house Saturday against East Carolina.

And, if they don't, to paraphrase Richard Pryor's Mudbone character, there will be less laughing than at a funeral on Sunday, Christmas Day.

FBS schools must "average 15,000 in acutal or paid attendance for home football games over a rolling two-year period" according to last year's NCAA manual. FIU averaged 13,634 in 2012, according to the NCAA.

This year, the average official attendance is 14,966. The team is 1-6. The remaining home games are against East Carolina and Marshall, two nightmare guests: neither brings caravans of fans like an Ohio State or Dale Earnhardt Jr., they're non-entities to the casual fan while the cognescenti knows they're threats to blast FIU halfway to Naples.

Through Sept. 9, FIU claimed it had sold 10,045 season tickets. If true (ahem), they still need another 5,000 pay for tickets or show up. They certainly can't afford a rerun of Saturday when maybe, maybe  2,000 attended. The Four Letter People can be relied upon to overlook many things if you make them stacks of money. But FIU doesn't bring home the NCAA's bacon. So, the NCAA's a little quicker to fry FIU in the pan.

 

That's why FIU has stacked Military Appreciation Day (military personnel with ID or in uniform can get in free or with four other people) with FIU Faculty, Staff & Retiree Appreciation Night ($7 for a reserved seat, hot dog, bag of chips, 16-ounce drink) and FIU Football Free-4-All for students (each student automatically entered into a raffle for these prizes four scholarships, four textbook vouchers, four Panther Dining vouchers, four $100 gift cards to Cadillac Ranch, techonology vouchers for a 50-inch TV, an iPad, iPod Shuffle, iTunes gift card). Also, each student gets a free hot dog, drink, all that and a bag of chips.

Seem like a lot? Imagine what attendance probation or the ensuing drop from FBS would cost FIU in conference money. Or, matchup money from the big schools looking for an FBS team to beat up. Or, athletic department credibility.

September 14, 2013

Game Day III: FIU vs. Bethune-Cookman; volleyball takes two

 

Time to get it together, FIU. Let Saturday be your day of atonement for last week’s home opener.

I’m not talking about the football team, much as they might feel the need for redemption after the Central Florida skunking. They’re not at a good stage of the program right now and nobody looking with anything other than FIU beer goggles thought it would be different. Anybody saying they lack “hunger” or need to “care more” needed to stop watching Rocky movies after Rocky I. Put down the
try-hard myth. Vince Lombardi’s considered a great motivator, but Lombardi himself said you can have all the motivation in the world to beat Joe Louis, but what does motivation matter once you run into the reality of Louis’ superior speed, punching ability and skill?

No, I'm onto things like...time to get the FIU Stadium scoreboard together. A 2008 stadium shouldn’t have a scoreboard looking and working like it came from Fishers High by way of Sanford & Son
Salvage. An paint-flaking scoreboard with a faulty video screen flashing scores like “87-0” and “4-0," as happened last week for extended stretches, does nothing for the idea that progress lives at FIU.

Time to get FIU Stadium together. Enclosing it removed the Carmel High School look. Now how about some new signage that doesn’t look more faded than my $10 1996 Tom’s Restaurant t-shirt? And properly equipped restrooms? I’m not even going to discuss the press box.

I'm betting the stands say it's time to get the marketing together. The only name listed on the athletic department’s staff directory in marketing is a graduate assistant. Going into your highest profile sport’s season so anorexically staffed equates to going into a game with one healthy wide receiver.

On the field, as they said in GoodFellas, everybody takes a beating sometime. There’s not much shame in that. But these other things don’t take any time, money or energy not available to FIU. Do it right.

Now, on the field, FIU should be able to be able to muscle an undersized Bethune front line, especially if they spread the Wildcats defense out enough to limit the run support from the safeties and outside linebackers. Also, quarterback Jake Medlock hasn’t been Mr. Precision lately so working the run, rotating backs unless one gets truly hot, seems not only the most productive but prudent approach early.

Bethune loves the run, but threw the ball 20 times in each of its first two games. Last season, the Wildcats averaged 20.6 throws per game. I don’t think they throw it as much here unless they get behind big early. They’re not a big time of possession team, averaging 32:27 per game last year despite being a 9-3, run-based team. So when their offense gets on the field in this heat with a
defense spending the night battling FIU’s size, I’d expect them to call plays with defensive rest in mind more than usual.

Too, I see the Wildcats having success on the read option and on quarterback scrambles. Expecting
FIU’s containment issues to disappear in Game 3 is foolhardy and, once confusion enters the Panthers defensive huddle, the pace of Bethune’s offense could keep them reeling.

I wouldn’t be surprised if both teams put up some points (the over/under line of 47 feels
low). Besides moving the ball, I also can see each offense getting a layup score from a fumble. Bethune has committed 24 fumbles and lost 12 in the last 14 games. FIU’s lone touchdown this season came off a fumble recovery and they’ve lost two themselves, leading to 10 opponent points.

Go to special teams and you find the same stalemate. Neither team does anything special. FIU wasn’t happy with placekick snaps last week. Bethune’s placekicks and punts apparently look like a One Direction concert with festival seating – four field goals blocked last year, two punts blocked last year, two extra points blocked this year. That could be the difference in the game.

I’ll take FIU in overtime 31-28. But, that’s one black man’s opinion. I could be wrong.

VOLLEYBALL

FIU swept both Tennessee-Chattanooga and South Dakota State, 3-0 each Friday, and finished the FIU Invitational 2-1. Senior Kimberly Smith banged home 12 kills in the first match and 15 in the second along with six blocks. Senior Jessica Mendoza had 14 digs in the afternoon, 16 digs and three service aces at night

September 02, 2013

The National Bowl at The Cage

When I first saw "The National Bowl," I wondered if there was also an Eastern Bowl, a Braniff Bowl and a Pan Am Bowl. Alas, no.

The Fourth Annual National Bowl, an all-star game of seniors from football programs under the FBS level, will be played at FIU Stadium on Dec. 8. The previous three years, the game was played in Allentown, Pennsylvania. I'll wager on better weather this year.

 

 

October 28, 2012

A few thoughts on Western Kentucky 14, FIU 6

Several years ago in Las Vegas, I made a late night trip from my room at The Venetian down to the blackjack tables. I was there for a few hands of even play, then got one on which I split aces. With what the dealer had showing, this should’ve been two hands of collecting chips. Instead, I got a push on one hand and lost the other. When the cards start going that way, I knew what to do. I immediately got up from the table and called it a night.

When bad things happen to fishermen while working an area, they’ll hang in for a bit before declaring the area has “bad juju.” They leave the area and, hopefully, leave the bad juju behind.

Unfortunately for FIU, the Panthers can’t metaphorically get up from the table when a dependable kicker becomes as reliable as Antonio Cromartie’s birth control. They can’t leave the area when their long snapper starts sending skipping stones back to the punter.

They can’t just shut it down when they get what they want and still don’t get what they want.

For the third consecutive week, FIU’s sitting on a Sunday, shaking their heads at a loss that they feel shouldn’t have been. Compound it now with looking at a future possibly without quarterback Jake Medlock, depending on how badly his right hand and left shoulder were injured on the final drive. Tough kid. Maybe too tough for his own body.

FIU wanted to get up early on Western Kentucky, hit them with a couple of big plays. And, they worked one to perfection, wide receiver Wayne Times going in motion to the right, taking the backward swing pass from Medlock, suckering Western’s secondary up and launching deep to Willis Wright. You knew Times would underthrow Wright – the last thing the passer, especially a stand-in passer, wants to do to a receiver that open is overthrow him – yet Wright still was a stride from the end zone when Western’s Jonathan Dowling stripped him from behind. Good play? Yep. Was Wright holding the ball properly? Tough to tell from my angle. Huge play?

Gargantuan.

That set the tone for the night. FIU would get what it wanted, then fail to take advantage.

Almost as big was Kedrick Rhodes fumble at the Western as he tried to gain a couple of extra yards at the Western 17.

FIU could’ve easily been up 10-3, 10-0, 14-3, 14-0 in this game. Unlike Middle Tennessee and Troy, Western doesn’t have the kind of offense that’s built to come from two touchdowns behind. They got some runs from Antonio Andrews especially when FIU failed to set the edge, and quarterback Kawaun Jakes made two completions over 20 yards. Overall, though, FIU kept Western from finishing drives. Western held the ball for 33:21, but had only 289 yards of offense and one real scoring drive. FIU kept Andrews from grinding out consecutive runs despite his 158 yards rushing on 27 carries. The Panthers kept Jakes under pressure and underperforming. Mr. Passing Efficiency looked like Mr. Just A Guy again. Jakes came in having thrown only four interceptions in seven games. FIU got one and came near a few others. He came in completing 70.1 percent of his passes and completed 66.7 percent. He averaged 12.1 yards per completion and FIU held him to 9.1.

FIU got what it wanted on defense. It even stuffed Western on a fourth and millimeters when the Hilltoppers inexplicably (OK, stupidly) eschewed a quarterback sneak for the first and ran fullback Kadeem Jones on a quick hitting line plunge. The interior defensive line took that extra second to get a great push inside and before Jones could find anywhere else to go, senior safeties Chuck Grace and Johnathan Cyprien were all over him. That stop at the FIU 3 kept the Panthers in the game instead of being down 14-3.

They gave up, really, one scoring drive…but launched that drive and kept it alive with the kind of mistakes you just can’t have. The kickoff got blown when Jack Griffin had to stutter step while the ball started to topple. That caused A) a lousy kickoff and B) an illegal formation penalty on Griffin that got added to the return. Western started just 53 yards from paydirt.

They had the drive stalled – or at least Western looking at a tough fourth down – when Jakes overthrew Rico Brown on third and 6. Problem was, just before the snap, senior defensive end Tourek Williams did the offside cha-cha. And this wasn’t one of those, free-play-high-risk throws. Jakes blew the throw on his own. Instead of going for it on fourth and 6, Western converted the third and 1 with a play action 20-yard lob to tight end Jack Doyle.

And Western would’ve gone for it, just as they ran some half-baked draw play on fourth and 4 from the FIU 28 in the third quarter. Maybe FIU could’ve held Western to no points. Maybe the drive continues, but with No matter what Western coach Willie Taggart Tweets, he clearly has no confidence in kickers who haven’t been allowed to make a field goal attempt beyond 36 yards and longest made field goal is 27 yards. Somebody should tell Willie there’s a pretty good women’s soccer team at Western. Go find himself a kicker.

Not that FIU’s feeling thinks of Griffin as Prudential these days. He made two Saturday, from 29 and 39, but missed wide left from 40. Valuable points in a defensive struggle. At least he didn’t blow an extra point for the third consecutive week. (OK, he didn’t get a chance…)

But long snapper Mitch McCluggage did blow a punt snap for the second straight week, leading to an opposing touchdown. Three bad McCluggage punt snaps, the first three of his career, have led to 16 opposing points this year. And that was a huge score, the one that put Western up 14-6. At the end, instead of one final, futile play for the end zone, FIU could’ve lined up Griffin from the right hash mark for a 38-yard, game-winner. No lock, but even as erratic as he’s been, Griffin’s odds of hitting from 38 beat the odds of E.J. Hilliard coming in cold and hitting a 21-yard pass against the Sun Belt’s best defense.

Speaking of that defense, which got its ninth sack on that final play…Medlock did what got Wesley Carroll benched last year: held onto the ball too long too often. Western sat on some of the quick stuff FIU wanted to throw and when that wasn’t open or Medlock believed it wasn’t open, here came the deluge.

“He’s trying, he’s a young quarterback, but you can’t hang onto the ball, not against a defense like that,” FIU coach Mario Cristobal said. “If it’s not there, you’ve got to tuck and run. You can’t hang back there. That protection is not designed to sit back there.”

The FIU bench drew two flags. One was on Cristobal and, whether he earned this one or not, I wasn’t surprised – mounting frustration with the Sun Belt officials this season, years of him being quickly hot and off the bench to protest calls, I’ve been waiting for that flag to fall. Call it a lifetime achievement flag. The other time, an official claimed he ran into an FIU coach.

It’s that kind of year. With three hands left to play before FIU can leave the table.

 

October 26, 2012

Streaking women's soccer; football pleads with, er, dedicates game to schools

Depening on what happans tonight between Middle Tennessee State and Western Kentucky, the women's soccer team will head into next week's Sun Belt Conference tournament either as a No. 2 seed or No. 3 seed after beating FAU Thursday night 2-1 on a pair of goals from Chelsea Leiva.

A Middle win vaults it over FIU and North Texas into the No. 1 seed and pushes FIU down to third. A tie puts Middle, FIU and North Texas in a three-way tie at 8-1-1 (25 points), but still puts FIU in third because FIU has the worst record in intrateam competition (0-1-1) among the three. North Texas beat Middle Tennessee and tied FIU, so would get No. 1. Middle would get No. 2. A Middle loss leaves FIU where it sits now, as the No. 2 seed.

No matter the seeding, the preseason Sun Belt favorites and defending champions go into the tournament as the hottest team, on a five-game winning streak and seven-game unbeaten streak. The 1-1 tie at North Texas was the last game FIU (11-5-2) didn't win.

Leiva's two goals give her 10 for the season and pulled her into the team goals and scoring (25 points) lead over sophomore Scarlett Montoya (nine and 22, respectively). Freshman midfielder Madlen Weinhardt has a team-high nine assists.

FOOTBALL

FIU Stadium was half full for the home opener, back when bowls, rankings and conference titles remained in FIU's possible future. When you start from that, you know that at 1-7, ticket sales could be so slow and crowds so sparse that marketing becomes a red light district of ideas.

So it is on Thursday that FIU announced Saturday's game against Western Kentucky will be dedicated to Miami-Dade County Public Schools. Free tickets for staff, students and their families! All they have to do is fill out the form below, print it out and bring it with them Saturday an hour before the game to Gate 8. They give up information abou themselves and get free tickets. Sounds like a football version of a timeshare seminar.

https://fiupub.wufoo.com/forms/fiu-dedicates-football-game-to-public-schools.

August 27, 2012

Mario Wants Panthers to be Bubble Boys

Monday's nomadic FIU practice -- from FIU Stadium t0 under the south stands of FIU Stadium to the Dolphins practice bubble in Davie -- gave FIU coach Mario Cristobal a chance to point out to the school how handy dandy it would be to have one of these down at the ever-expanding Mitch Maidique Campus (Camp Mitch).

"I think it's a good idea to get our FIU people down here and look at this bubble first hand and see the benefits of something like this, especially with the weather we have here in South Florida," Cristobal said. "The track team, soccer team, certainly our football team. This is a tremendous investment and it showed today."

Don't pooh-pooh just yet. What I call the Nick Saban Memorial Bubble is air-supported and built to withstand serious hurricanes by Stiles Construction. The reported cost, back in 2006, was $2 million. FIU will have the land. As Cristobal pointed out, it could be of use to several teams (heck, you could open it to students for large chunks of rainy days). And, finally, let's be blunt: Cristobal's the most important coach FIU has right now, keeping him isn't a matter of throwing annual salary cash at him and a construct that would make him or his successor happy also would drop happy pills in a several other coaches' Kool-Aids.

The first players to enter the into the bubble took pictures of each other...

Davie-20120827-00708

...so did succeeding players (Ya'keem Griner critiques the work of photographer Jacob Younger)

FIUpracticeatbubble 008

By the way, looks like the joint is pretty much finished.


South Westside-20120827-00707

 FOR ENTERTAINMENT PURPOSES ONLY...

The latest line on Saturday's game favors Duke by 3.5 to 4.0 points, down from an open of Duke by 5.5. In other words, what money is coming in on this game so far is being put on FIU.

Expect some radio news by the end of the day tomorrow. I'll be on furlough, however, so the earliest you can read it here will be Wednesday.

 

August 24, 2012

Men's soccer starting Friday; volleyball, too; football, see you next week

Both the soccer field and the men’s program needed a spruce up job. Friday against Bryant University, 7 p.m., will be the first showing for how far new head coach Kenny Arena is on both.

To swim down the fault stream of FIU Soccer Field just sends anyone who cares screaming for tequila, so let’s just use the old reliable “What a dump.” But Thursday morning, Arena stood at the field checking out some of the improvements being made that’ll make the field more presentable.

 “We’ve tried to make the players understand that this is a very important program with a very rich tradition,” Arena said. “We’ve tried to upgrade everything from the way we practice to our facilities, to make this an environment that not only looks very professional, but operates very professionally. It’s what this program deserves based on what the program has achieved.

The nod to that tradition comes from the replacement for the last connection to that tradition. Munga Eketebi – All-American player on the great mid-1980s FIU teams that were as good as any at any level, longtime assistant coach, then head coach – couldn’t beat NCAA sanctions and Conference USA. A 5-8-2 record last year left him at 27-51-9. Sacking Eketebi as the program finally got back to full scholarships reeked of both unfairness and an understandable desire to just start anew.

FIU showed signs of being something like what it once was last season. Against ranked teams, they went 1-0-2 and lost in overtime to perennially good SMU. But it also included a loss to Georgia state and getting smoked badly at Tulsa and Memphis.

“We definitely had a strong squad,” said senior defender Anthony Hobbs, FIU’s lone representative on the preseason All-Conference USA team. “It was whether we were going to turn out to play or not. Against the better teams we did well, we competed with them. Against teams we should beat, we just didn’t show up.”

In addition to Hobbs, FIU returns sophomore forward Quentin Albrecht, who lead the team in goals, and senior midfielder Lucas Di Croce, third on the team in scoring. Freshmen outnumber seniors, 8-5.

Perhaps it’s a good thing, then that Hobbs notes Arena brings a more positive vibe. Positivewavesbutton

When I asked Arena about his emphasis on the postive, he covered more ground than grass in an interesting answer:

“There’s going to be times you have to critique, but if you do it in the right way, everybody enjoys learning. So, it’s my responsibility to make sure that they want to come to work every day. That they enjoy this experience. But also that the experience is very challenging.

“I respect the fact that they have a lot of responsibility, being student/athletes and playing. We demand a lot out of them as an athletic department to serve in the community. Being a student-athlete today is one of the hardest jobs. When we’re done as an athlete, I don’t think the first couple of years when we have careers that it’s as hard as it is when we’re here. These guys train from 8 to 10 in the morning. that means they’re up at 6 eating breakfast. Then they have treatment, weights, they have classes, they have community service. Then they have to study, they have games. It’s a very exhausting, but very rewarding experience.

“If you’re asking them to do that much, then it’s our job to make it a positive environment so that you keep them going.”

Just as men’s hoop coach Richard Pitino clearly got his half his chromosomes from Rick Pitino, Kenny Arena couldn’t be more recognizable as the son of former U.S. National Team coach and current Los Angeles Galaxy coach Bruce Arena. I asked Arena, 33 hours ahead of his first game as a college head coach, to name the one or two biggest things he’s learned from each coach he’s worked under.

“Bob Bradley was very disciplined. He made sure everyone was held accountable all the time,” Kenny Arena said. “My father, he treated each player with an incredible amount of respect and gave them their freedom, but found a way to have a culture that every time they stepped on the field, they gave it everything they had.

“The last coach I worked with, (UCLA’s) Jorge Salcedo, he was very organized,” Arena said. “He found a way to make life easier for the players, whether it was during practice or traveling. From the details of the hotel to what they’re eating to the timing of all that stuff, he made sure everything was organized so all operations ran smoothly and I found that helped the overall psyche of athletes. When everything’s organized and thought of ahead of time, they can just concentrate on playing.”

 FOOTBALL

Last week, Mario Cristobal declared Jeremiah Harden "1A," close to Kedrick Rhodes at running back. I asked the pecking order and if Harden and Rhodes were even going into the season. 

"Ked is No. 1. Ked's going into the game first," Cristobal said. "Those other guys have earned playing time. Both Harden and Mallary have pushed really hard. They've got to play. theyr'e smart, they're tough, they've made good plays in practice. Shane Coleman, he's getting better. He's not at the level of Harden and Mallary yet, but he's a guy you feel comfortable putting in the game as well."

Just throwing out there: don't sleep on freshman defensive lineman Fadol Brown. Brown and Darrian Dyson might have some problems early in the season as they get used to dealing with pushing and shoving against nearly grown men for 60 minutes. But both possess the size and athleticism that'll eventually get you a few plays a game if they're rotating off the bench.

Tonight's the free food, drink, stuff meet the Panthers event at The Stadium Club in FIU Stadium.  

VOLLEYBALL

As change marks the men’s soccer program, so does the volleyball program head into its Friday night season opener at the Campus USA Credit Union Invite in Gainesville against Florida handling grand metamorphoses.

And we do mean grand – big group of newcomers containing bigger young women playing a vastly different style for a very different head coach.

Daniela Tomic rolled up a .721 winning percentage in seven seasons, easily the best by any FIU volleyball coach, before leaving for Bowling Green last winter. Former Tomic assistant and Trinidad and Tobago national team coach Trevor Theroulde took over, then added assistant Travers Green.

Redshirt sophomore setter Jessica Egan said, “The coaching staff is more in sync, which is vital.”

One consistency left from Daniela Tomic’s seven years as head coach: Jovana Bjelica making the preseason All-Sun Belt team. The senior outside hitter’s third such honor was announced Thursday morning. Bjelica led The Belt in kills last year and realizes as the established best player on the team as well as being a senior

“In a playing sense, I’m playing the same, but I think it’s harder now,” she said. “there’s a lot of younger girls who need some kind of role model and we older ones, upperclassmen, we need to be more of a role model. So, I have to talk more, which I don’t like.” Bjelica laughed at her shyness. “We need to talk a lot because many of them are still shy and don’t feel the freedom to talk.”

In a 2011 blog post about Bjelica, I noted that on the eye test, you’d pick her as FIU volleyball’s best pentathlete. On this year’s team, that athleticism blends almost as much as her height (5-10) does among the team’s 10 players 6-foot or over (last year’s team had seven).

“We’ve added a lot of height and we’re very stacked in positions, you could say,” Egan said. “Last year, we kind of ran into an issue where ran out of people with injuries. This year, we’re not going to have that problem. There’s competition at every position.”

Egan's playing time increased after 6-3 Renele Forde suffered a season-ending injury. Forde is back as a fifth-year senior.

Four or five of the new players walked through the Graham Center two weeks ago while I was working there around lunch time. You never saw that place get so quiet. Palpable awe.

“We are much bigger than before,” Theroulde said. “We are playing way above the net. We are much more athletic. We could be big and slow, but we’re not big and slow. We’re big, quick, athletic. We’re more aggressive.

“My style of coaching, we’re going to be more aggressive. We’re really going after the opponent.” Theroulde laughed, “I prefer to be the predator than the prey. I want to be the real Panther.”

Which brings us to FIU’s nemeses, Western Kentucky and Middle Tennessee, picked to finish first and second in the Sun Belt’s East Division. FIU’s picked to finish where they have the last two years, third.

“We’ve been changing our style,” Egan said. “There’s still some kinks to it. It’s a powerful style we’re going for. Western and Middle have really different styles. Middle Tennessee is very fast. The way we’re playing, we’ll be able to handle that, no problem. Western Kentucky, they’re simple, but they’re good at what they do. It’s just a matter of zoning in on those players and executing our side of the court.”

Theroulde said the team must play up to its ability, but getting that out of them is his job.

“I put a lot of pressure on myself. I said, ‘if we do not do it this year, we have to analyze ourselves as a coaching staff,’” he said. “We have all the pieces. We need to put those pieces together. And make sure they’re able to function effectively. Then, we’ll see that beautiful picture. We’re trying to play a different style of volleyball. It’s faster, it’s powerful.

They’re strong teams, too. They’ve added parts, too. It’ll be interesting to see how they deal with us. It’s a totally different team than we had in previous years.”

Wednesday, Theroulde watched video of FIU’s 32-4 2009 team.

He estimated, “In key positions, we’re way better. We’re still trying to develop that mental toughness that last team had. If we’re able to get that and a level of consistency, nothing is impossible.”

 


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