November 25, 2015

The State of the FIU Football Union of the Snake River Canyon Ranch Spa (Part II)

Q: Which players stepped forward this year that maybe you didn't expect?

A: I think T.O., not that I didn't expect it, but probably quicker than we thought. (Redshirt junior center) Mike Montero played really well. He started every game and graded out really well. He graded out a winning grade in almost every game, I'm not sure every one, but he palyed really well. I'm very pleased with how he stepped up. (Sophomore running back) Alex Gardner, we expected it, but I didn't expect him to play sixtysomething plays a game and hold up as well as he did. We were playing him too many plays, but we really didn't have a choice.

When Napoleon Maxwell went down -- that's one we didn't mention -- that hurt because he's our biggest and fastest back. He would've really spelled (Gardner). (Fifth-year senior) Anthon (Samuel) and (freshman) Anthony (Jones)...Anthony wasn't quite ready to play early. When he got ready, we were really trying to get him in the game. He hurt his hamstring and missed two and a half weeks. When he came back, he still wasn't 100 percent. I thought A1 really stepped up with his durability.

Defensively, the defensive line guys were guys we anticipated playing well. Jephete stepped in and did all he could do.

Q: Where did you grow as a coach this year?

A: Learning to deal with frustration and staying focused. (Turner said this with a laugh.) Probably that and handling the adversity, having to make the adjustments with everything you worked on in the preseason not being able to do. Mentally, the emotional part was keeping everyone positive, keeping everyone focused. For the most part, we did. The guys worked hard and prepared hard. There was a game or two, it wasn't where it should be. For the most part, they came in and competed every day in practice hard and maintained a tremendous attitude.

Q: You mention "a game or two where it shouldn't be." In retrospect, how disappointing is the loss to FAU? I know you want to win every game and think you should win every game. But as far as games that look like...

A: ...on paper.

Q: Yeah.

A: The UMass game (24-14 loss) was worse. I think FAU is a very good team. They're not a 2-9 team. I have no idea how they're 2-9. I know they lost to Tulsa (47-44) and they lost some of those games where they had a lead and somehow didn't win them. But you look at them up front on both sides of the ball. They're a physical team, got a good quarterback and good running backs. Defensively, they're physical up front. They're much, much better than 2-9.

Of course that one hurt because it's FAU. We just didn't play as well as we're capable of playing. The UMass one was the one that you look at and say, "That one we let get away." For whatever reason, we didn't play well. We had (10) penalties, (five) of them 15-yard variety. And several personal fouls, late hits, stuff like that. And we had 10 dropped passes. That's the one I look at and say the focus wasn't where it needed to be and we did not play nearly as well as we're capable.

Q: Where do you think you failed or needed to be better as a coach this year?

A: A lot of areas, I guess. (Laughs) I don't know, tough question. Not adjusting as well to the injuries and probably trying to do too much. Not hide my frustration, but not get as frustrated and not try to do too much. I didn't do it a lot, but I did it at times. Like I said earlier, tried to do things we weren't capable of doing. Same thing talked about Alex and some of the players did. Not so much game planning, but calling he game sometimes. I knew we probably couldn't protect this, but I'd call it anyway. Or, I knew we didn't have the receivers or whatever, call it anyway. That's probably the biggest thing. On the offensive side of it. You've can't let the frustration get to you. Stay in the moment -- this is what we can do.

Q: What did you think of Alex McGough's development this year?

A: I thought Alex played really well, especially through the first 10 games. His development -- his decision-making, his accuracy, his ball placement, especially down the field, his touch. When he came in here, he was a fastball thrower every play. And he wasn't very accurate down the field. He really improved his downfield accuracy, he improved his touch. He improved his eyes. His eye discipline for the most part through the first 10 games was good. The last two games, it was not. It goes back to trying to do too much. I think he made huge progress from last year to this year in just being a quarterback. That's probably the best way to put it -- being an overall quarterback, not just a thrower.

Q: You used Anthony Jones at running back a lot this season. Obviously, that's a place where you can get him the ball easily. Is he a guy you'd rather place more on the edges?

A: His main position is going to be running back. But he's a guy we can put in there with A1 or with Napoleon and now get him out in the slot. Those are the things we wanted to do with him, but it was hard. First, we had him playing receiver, then running back, then trying to do both. We weren't getting him in as much as we wanted to because of that -- where does he fit in? So we put him in at running back and said, "OK, he's going to go in every other or every third series." Then, he got hurt. That game he got hurt (vs. Old Dominion) on the opening kickoff blocking for Richard (Leonard), that was the game we said "He's going in every other series. And we're going to give him the ball and do the things he knows and we can do." He got hurt on the opening kickoff and he went into the game early. He starte dthe game. We threw him a little screen pass. He caught it and was jogging. I said, "What is wrong?" and he was out (hamstring). I think he played three plays. He was out the next week, came back and still wasn't 100 percent. But he's a guy who'll be a huge part of what we do starting as a running back. We wanted to do some of the so-called "Wildcat," which we call "Rocket Package," but we couldn't. He's a guy we've got to make a big push to get him playing and involved.

Q: With all the injuries, did you have to burn any redshirts you hadn't planned to burn?

A: Oh, yeah, definitely. And we almost did a couple of others. (Offensive lineman) Neal Mars, for sure on the offensive line. We played him week (eight). He ended up playing mostly on field goal, but we had to get him in there. What other true freshmen played? We almost did with (running back) Collin Olsen. One game, he was the backup. He came this close to going in to putting him in and we didn't. The next week, he would've played, but he got a concussion in practice. (Cornerback) Kenyatta Anderson was one who wouldn't have played. He got a blocked punt for a touchdown, but...(Emmanuel) Lubin would've played, regardless. Kenyatta would not have. (Defensive end) Fermin (Silva) played, but he would've played anyway. Anthony (Jones) played, but he would've played. (Tight end) Mac Carey, for sure, would not have played...Milord Juste would not have played. Came that close to playing (linebacker) Sage Lewis. When I say close, I'm talking about on the sidelines asking "Should we put him in?" We did that one game with Neal Mars, "No, let's not put him in" and the next week, he went in anyway.

Those guys were great. Even with one or two games to go, they said, "If you need to put me in, I'm ready to go." (Wide receiver) Austin Maloney came close in one stretch.

Q: Will (safety) Wilkenson Myrtil be back? (Myrtil suffered a scary concussion in the third game of the season).

A: I don't know. He's made good progress the last two weeks. Right now, to be honest, that's the least of our concerns. Our concern is just getting him right. And it's going to be a little while. He's made really good progress and the last week or so or two weeks, he's looked like the Wilkenson of old.

Q: Has he been able to go to classes?

A: He has not. He went home for about 10 days. He's come back and not gone to class. He's getting a medical (withdrawal). He was doing a little better for while, then he wasn't doing very well. I've never seen one take this long, but it was pretty severe.

Q: Do you anticipate any coaching staff changes?

A: I hope not. I feel good about the guys. There's some things we have to do better, but nothing major. The staff gets along really well. They work hard. I think they do a good job. On my part, no. Hopefully, there won't be too many other parts, but you know how that goes. People come in and double their salary, it's hard to argue. I'd anticipate a couple. There usually are. Hopefully, it's just a couple.

Q: Anybody on the roster you've told not to come back?

A: No. I feel good about the roster. I like the guys coming back. I like this team. Whether or not some guys decide, on their part, they want to move, I don't know. As far as what we have, no, I feel good about the guys we have.

The positive to look forward to is we've got a lot of good young players on this team. I mean, really good. And, I guess the positive is they got experience this year. (Laughs) More than they wanted, more than they bargained for, which, in the long run, is going to help them. We've got a very good recruiting class coming in. In fact, we've got more guys who want to come than we have scholarships. It's going very well.

Q: In recruiting, any positions you want to focus on?

A: Overall, you hit every position. As the season goes, it changes a bit. Defensive line and offensive line, we've got commitments in both those spots. We should be in good shape there. We are going to look at a junior college or possible senior graduate in the defensive line and possibly offensive tackle just to get a little more experience in there if we can find the right guy. Cornerback, we might do the same thing. See if there's a JC corner out there who can come in and help us. Continue to fill the depth at all positions. Take one quarterback, at least one running back, maybe two. Get some receivers. Got to get a tight end. Defensive line, got to get two or three linebackers, already got two committed. Probably one more linebacker. Just got to find where we're going to get the spots for him.


The State of the Football Union of the Snake River Canyon Ranch Spa (Part I)

I sat down with FIU football coach Ron Turner for the Third Annual Football Season Q&A Eulogy Tuesday. If you're here, you probably already know that the Panthers began the season with an upset at Central Florida, ended it with losses to Marshall and Western Kentucky by a combined 115-7 and finished the season 5-7. If you didn't know that, you do now.

Turner's answers are presented here with commentary limited to the expository.

Q: One more win than last year. But the teams you beat this season had a total of eight FBS wins. Just with Middle Tennessee and UAB last year (five FBS wins each), you beat that in 2014. Overall, was this a moving forward year?

A: I think so. This was was just a very disappointing year and very frustrating year. Disappointing just because we had such high expectations coming in. I'm not disappointed in the players, I'm disappointed in the results just in the fact of I don't think we were able to do what we wanted to do. We weren't the same team halfway through the season that we were coming into it. Just because of the injury situation and the youth we had to play.

Everybody has injuries, I understand that. I've never been through anything like this. With five games to go, I’m watching the (practice) tape with the coaches and I said, ‘This feels like spring ball because we’re running new plays with new people doing them. The difference is we’ve got three days to get them ready to go.’ 

That part was really frustrating for me, personally, and us because of that. I knew coming in -- I don't know if you remember my comments -- but I said I think we have a chance to have a really good team and be really competitive in this conference if we stay healthy because we don't have a ton of depth. Obviously, we didn't. It hurt.

And it was certain positions. Offensive line got hit hard, starting with (junior guard) Jordan Budwig in the summer before camp even started. Two-year starter, preseason all-conference first team and Trenton Saunders getting hurt in the third or fourth game, missing eight and a half to nine games. All of sudden, we've got (redshirt freshmen) Kai Absheer and Chris Miller in there who are going to be really good players. They're going to be really good players, but they weren't ready to play this year. Then, they got hurt. One missed three and a half weeks, one missed four and a half. But that's four weeks of practice time they miss and all of a sudden, they're thrown back in. (Redshirt freshman) Daquane Wilkie started at right tackle (12 games) who is going to be a really good player as well, but he's not there yet. He shouldn't have been playing. That part of it got hit hard, especially at the guard position. Our tackles were fine.

And then the safety position, four guys, three of them basically for the season. Jordan Davis played one game, (missed) two because of academic suspension, then got hurt. Shemarke Spence (broken arm) didn't play any. Wilkenson Myrtil missed nine games. Niko (Gonzalez) missed four. Not only did he miss four, he had a shoulder, he couldn't work out, so then he comes back and he's...the development part of it. That really hurt. Then, obviously, our tight ends (Ya'Keem Griner and Jonnu Smith). Tight end, linebacker -- two of our starting three linebackers basically missed the season. Treyvon missed (eight). Davison (Colimon) missed 11/2.

Our two best playmakers on offense. One missed seven games and the other one, Jonnu, missed four. That made it frustrating. All the stuff we planned to do on both sides of the ball, we had to limit what we did, minimize what we did and try to play to their strengths.

Q: (Graduate senior transfer) Jephete Matilus came in and clearly did the best he could. But, realistically, his actual game experience was almost at a freshman level. What kind of dropoff was that from (junior middle linebacker) Treyvon Williams?

A: Jephete came in and gave us everything he had. I'm glad he was here. I don't know what we'd have done without him. He stepped in and did as well as he could in a tough situation. He didn't have a lot of game experience. A lot of our guys, even though they might've been juniors or seniors, in some cases, they didn't have much experience. (Offensive lineman) Edens Sineace, first year starter, he played left tackle. Then, we had to put him at guard and all that stuff.

But, getting back to (Jephete)...first time in the system. Didn't go through Spring Ball. Limited playing time -- most of his playing time was on special teams at Minnesota. And he's thrown in as a starter for eight games. Give him credit, he did as sell as he could do. But, it hurts your depth. Now, if something happens to him, you're going down (indicates with his hand moving to a lower level).

"That's the thing -- we had too many guys playing too many plays because of the injury situation. Playing more plays than they should and, by the end of the year, you're worn down. It affects your practice time. By the end of the year, we couldn't practice as much as we wanted. We couldn't wear pads as much as we wanted, even (just) shoulder pads. We had to cut the time down in practice because we had nobody. Guys were just so worn down, we had to try to get them fresh on game day.

No bye didn't help. (FIU's open week is this week.) Not that we would've gotten a lot of guys back because most of them were season-ending (injuries), but at least we could've rested some people and healed up a bit.

Q: How does that happen? Where does that fall through the cracks?

A: That's the conference scheduling. I called immediately when I saw it. Called (Senior Associate Commissioner) Alfred White immeidately and said, "Alfred, we don't have a bye." He said, "Yeah, you have one the last week." I said, "We're playing 12 straight weeks. So, we have no bye." There's two teams that didn't. Somebody else had a bye the first week and they played 12 straight. (North Texas, which started 0-7 and is now 1-10).

If you stay healthy and you get on a roll, you don't mind, you go. But even then you have to be smart, you have to be careful how you practice and everything else.

Q: What did you have to change in the offense and defense to accommodate your situation?

A: Everything, honestly. Offensively, when you lose guards and you've got young guys in there, you limit your protections, you limit some of the run schemes you do. We had a lot of stuff we wanted to do that we did in training camp and spring ball and we just said, "It's too much. We can't do it. With all the adjustments you have to make and different fronts that you see, it's just too much for these guys." So, we really had to simplify what we're doing.

When Griner went out, that had an effect. We're such a two-tight end-oriented offense. We were that 70 percent of the time when those two guys were healthy, especially on first or second down. If we weren't that, we were one tight end. We always had at least one. We even had a three-tight end package that we did earlier in the year, that we worked hard on in training camp. That went out the window quickly.

When Jonnu went down and we've got Akil Dan-Fodio...he did a tremendous job for us. He did the best he could. But, he was out of his element. He's more a F motion guy, put him in the slot, block backside, that sort of stuff. All of a sudden, he's at the point of attack trying to block and that's not his strength. So we had to limit what we could call -- "we like this, but we don't have the tight end to do this. It's not his strength." It's unfair to ask people to do something they're not capable of doing. It really affected what we had in the game plan and, on game day, what we called.

Same thing defensively. With our safety situation, our linebacker situation. We've got Jephete in there, like you said, new in the system. Davison (Colimon) out, who had great experience. We could make a lot of adjustments and do some things with him. He was our best blitzer probably. Missed the whole year, basically (hurt in the first game).

Then, it has a trickle down effect to special teams. All of a sudden, you've got guys playing and somebody else has to take their place on special teams. You've got to watch their reps. It's the culmination of everything. It takes its toll.

Everybody has injuries. But I've never seen anything like this. Going into the last game, we had 27 guys that were either starters or were going to play a lot miss games. Sixteen of them missed four games or more. Several of them were season-ending. If you total those games up, it was 138 games by guys who are going to play a lot. Budwig, 12. Shemarke Spence, 12. Davison Colimon, whatever the number. I don't know anybody that can lose four guards, four safeties, two linebackers and two tight ends and go play. Nobody. I don't care what school. I don't care if you're Alabama, to lose that many and not have a huge dropoff.

For us to be playing game No. 12, to get win No. 6, to me, it's a credit to those guys. I told them that (Tuesday). I was disappointed in the season, in teh results, in the finish, but not disapointed in you guys. Alex McGough was in here. We talked for 45 minutes. He didn't play very well the last two games as he admitted. He goes, "To be honest with you, the frustration built up and I was trying to do too much."

I told him, "you know what Alex, I found myself trying to do some things we weren't capable of doing. Trying to make some calls we probably weren't capable of doing because I'm trying to make a play." I'd love to have some of those calls back. With our normal team in there? Yes, it would've been great. I said it minimized what we did, but there were times I tried to do it anyway. And, it didn't work because we weren't capable of doing it. It's not fair to the players to ask them to do something they can't.

Eventually, I think it took its toll on everybody. But I never heard one guy complain about it. I was sitting here talking to (redshirt junior defensive tackle) Imarjaye Albury today and I was telling him about some of the injuries. He said, "Wow, I didn't realize that." I said, "You didn't realize our top four guards were out, top two out for the year, basically?" He said, "No. I knew Jonnu (was out)." I said, "You didn't realize our top four safeties were out? Three of them for the entire season?" He said, "No, not really."

(Freshman safety) Tyree Johnson goes in and, again, he's going to be a really good player. But he shouldn't have been playing. But those guys didn't know. I guess that's why they didn't complain about it!

Q: Why did the run defense just fall apart?

A: As the season went on, I think we got worn down. We didn't have our main linebackers in there. I think it took its toll. We didn't have our top safeties in there. In our defense, safeties are huge in run support.

Like most people, you play quarters coverage, they're the run support guys. The corners play outside, we had two good corners. It affected how we played. We couldn't get the safeties down involved as much as we wanted because they just weren't ready for it. So we couldn't press the corners and challenge out there as much as we wanted. Our safeties were inexperienced. When they did feel for the run, it wasn't always exactly where they should be. And they were young. They weren't as physical. No fault to them, they gave everything they had. So, we had to watch what our calls were and couldn't get them as involved as we wanted to.

And I think we got worn down. Too many reps, guys playing too many plays. And the last two weeks, we played the two best teams in the conference (Marshall and Western Kentucky). Very physical offensive lines that were senior dominated. Last week, that was the most physical line in the conference. We played two really good teams.

Q: What happened to (sophomore wide receiver) Thomas Owens the second half of the year?

A: Teams started to press him more, play him a little differently, get a safety over the top at times. Protection-wise, we got against better teams, we had to get the ball out quicker. I think Alex got frustrated, a combination of things. We just weren't able to get the plays to him. We tried. We tried going to him and making plays. We just struggled sometimes beating press man coverage. That takes a little longer to get open. His strength is not his speed, his strength is being physical, going up and battling for the ball and yards after the catch. He's a strong runner afterwards.

You catch a touchdown pass in six straight games, they're going to realize that, too. They're going to put a safety over the top and do some things that make you look to the other side. Especially when Jonnu went down. Once Jonnu and Griner went down, we didn't have that inside threat. When Jonnu wasn't as productive earlier in the year and people were saying, "Why isn't he as productive as he was last year?" I said, "Well, they're playing him. They're doing things to take him away." All of a sudden, T.O. starts making plays and Griner starts making plays and we're running the ball, it opens up Jonnu. Well, when Jonnu's not in there and Griner's not in there, they can do things to take away T.O."

(Part II in transcription)


November 22, 2015

A few thoughts on Western Kentucky 63, FIU 7



Westminster Christian wide receiver Elbre "Tony" Gaiter IV, son of former Killian All-Dade player and Hurricanes player Tony Gaiter, has committed to FIU, according to and The former didn't have him rated. The latter had him rated at three stars. Gaiter caught 28 passes for 479 yards (17.1 per catch) and nine touchdowns this season. He ran seven times for 78 yards and three touchdowns.

Let's take care of two things that aren't happening...

1. FIU dropping football or dropping to FCS. Anybody suggesting this should happen based on the results of the last few seasons or attendance reveals himself or herself to be a whiny baby who needs the Entitlement Pacifier taken away. FIU's had some truly awful years, a couple of good years and a bunch of losing seasons that run together. Your actual in-house attendance fluctuates congruently before applying other factors (noon start, lousy weather, etc.). Welcome to life as an FBS college football program that's not a traditional power.

In case you haven't noticed, schools don't tend to move from FB0 to FCS. You went 5-7 by beating some weak sisters. Again, welcome to life as an FBS college football program that's not a traditional power.

2. FIU coach Ron Turner's not going anywhere. Look at athletic director Pete Garcia's situation. He doesn't have a new contract yet (but does have an attendance bonus of $8,393 coming from FIU's 15,381 average, 117th in the nation). Firing Turner after three seasons says "That guy I fired in December 2012? Big mistake." And that might as well be asking FIU to move on to a new athletic director. 

Has a 5-7 season ever had a more depressing end than Saturday without involving an ambulance? Lightning delays alternating with rain. Barely enough people to fill the Graham Center food court, much less La Cage. Western Kentucky scored on the second play from scrimmage and what turned out to be the last play from scrimmage (and a whole lot of plays in between).

There really isn't much to say when a team ends its season getting outscored 115-7 over its last two games. I'm not going to say the team quit. That's too harsh an insult. I will say they seemed to become disheartened and locked into bad patterns (and I'm not even talking about the 4-yard bubble screens).

Injuries hurt the defense, especially the safety positions. The loss of middle linebacker Treyvon Williams, one of the defense's two batteries along with outside linebacker Anthony Wint, unplugged the defense. But so did flat play by some from whom more was expected and a soft concept.

When you like to run a lot of double tight end sets and two of the most productive tight ends in the country go down for the last four games, it hurts. Period. That's not a position of depth at many Power 5 conference teams, much less G5 teams. The inexperienced, banged up offensive line never got together. Also damaging was cautious play calling and inscrutable personnel deployment.

I'll have more later and expect to talk to Turner this week at length about the season.

November 21, 2015

Gameday XII: Trying to Tame the Wild, Wild Western

Been a busy week at Casa David (which is also a fantastic Italian restaurant in Amsterdam). As I'm just getting around to this now, I'm just letting fly with a bunch of thoughts about today's FIU football regular season finale.

*If they call one of those bubble screens with one blocker and one receiver against three defenders in the first five plays, sophomore quarterback Alex McGough should audible to a deep ball. And throw it, no matter if the receiver's open or not. And when asked about it, tell the coaches, "Same result, less beating, more exciting and chance of success."

*Play Juwan Caesar. What the heck, this could be his last college game and he's a big possession receiver body for those predictable chain-moving slants FIU will use when trying to keep the ball away from Western's point-a-minute offense. No reason for Caesar to not be out there.

*Give freshman Anthony Jones the ball before you're 30 points down in the third quarter and give running back Alex Gardner a breather. The last time we went through such a "why isn't he playing/getting the ball more?" with a prized recruit, Willis Wright got stapled to the sideline. Word was he didn't know the offense enough. Yeah, well, same thing I thought then -- if you have to draw it in the sand, on your shirt like a street football quarterback or flat out call the play then tell him what to do, do that. And get the man the ball.

*Gamble on defense. Stop playing church bingo and enter the casino. Hey, House, bring the house. Send The Company. Get the cornerbacks up and chucking. Don't sit back and get cut up like Jim.

Western Kentucky 45, FIU 34

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



November 14, 2015

Round 1 to Marshall. Round 2 tomorrow.

OK, you knew it could happen, maybe even felt it probably would happen, hoped it wouldn't happen, but it did. Marshall took FIU to Fiftyburger and got a Shutout Shake with it.

Playing on the road against a team that's better than they are anyway and on a day heavy with feeling, the Panthers gave up big plays early and got nothing steady going offensively. Then, they got crushed.

Obviously, the soccer team can't make up for 52-0 when it faces Marshall in the Conference USA Championship Sunday afternoon at 2 p.m., although FIU will be heavily favored. The Panthers smoked The Herd 5-1 earlier this season.

There won't be an official FIU watch party for that. There was for Saturday's game, at Carolina Ale House in Doral. I arrived early in the first quarter with Marshall up 7-0.

I've been in Miami long enough to know: heavy rain=light crowd, even indoors. There were 17 people there. That's 17 more than I saw or recognized from Athletics. Nor did I see the advertised giveaways of two basketball courtside tickets or two suite tickets for next week's regular season finale. And I heard that the circle of televisions on the game weren't on the game until after kickoff.

What's was up with that? The advertisements for the Watch Party didn't say canceled in case of rain. 


Gameday XI: Respect With a Smack

I know it's late. Long day, short night, Saturday morning walk to the Publix Sabor, Bob Evans on sale, walk back...



Some quick asides/observations before I get to the pack of Panthers dealing with the Thundering Herd...

1. Soccer observers tend to find the FIU men a good watch -- smart defensively, open and skilled offensively. No. 11 Kentucky's more like a futbol Floyd Mayweather: all about defense, good enough offense, regularly getting the soccer version of a unanimous decision. So, don't think there's much crying over FIU taking down the Conference USA tournament's No. 1 seed in the semifinal. Besides, especially if FIU wins Sunday, this means one more CUSA team in the NCAA tournament beyond those in line for at-large bids anyway.

2. Compared to the last few seasons, the women's basketball team looked like each player powerbombed an entire colada, David J-style, before the season opener. The obviousness of the difference in energy and alert proficiency from a largely similar roster drew a broad-based conclusion from several in the house: they just didn't play for the last coaching staff. I don't know why. But that was obvious.

3. Watching the FIU men's exhibition that counted against Trinity Baptist, this team needs every non-conference game it can get. Think of them as like The SImpsons house Lego set -- Adrian Diaz as the large frame piece and a lot of accessories whose proper places need to be found.

Now to Huntington and FIU vs. Marshall.

At first glance, we've seen this movie before (and I'm not talking about We Are Marshall). This is Monday Night Football coming to Indianapolis for the first time ever and on Halloween, 1988 (Colts 55, Denver 24). Or Buffalo, in the midst of their four Super Bowl run, walking into Kansas City's Arrowhead Stadium noise tunnel with MNF for the first time in years (1991, Kansas City 31, Buffalo 6). Or, perhaps most appropriately considering the connection between a community tragedy and the football team, MNF as the Superdome reopens a year after Hurricane Katrina (New Orleans 23, Atlanta 3).

That game's instructive for how FIU can leave today with a win and bowl eligibility.

*DON'T GET OVERWHELMED EARLY -- Atlanta opened that game going three-and-out. Then, Steve Gleason blocked the punt and the Saints recovered for a touchdown, a play that's memorialized by a statue in front of The Superdome. That's when everybody watching knew "The Falcons are probably going to get their Atlanta kicked tonight."

Minutes later, Louisiana son and LSU product Devery Henderson scored on a reverse. You knew the Falcons were done. The Saints knew it. The broadcast team knew it. The crowd knew it. The Falcons probably knew it. Both my grandmothers knew it including the one who'd been dead for five years. And it was only 14-3 in the first quarter!

FIU can't give up big, momentum-building plays early. There's already going to be enough juice in that place with the traditions that go with the yearly anniversary of the 1970 plane crash that changed life on and off the Marshall campus. Add to that being the 45th anniversary and a Senior Day.

There's a time to go all in and there's a time to check up. The first quarter's time for the latter. On offense, FIU's often-infuriating dinking and dunking can suck the life out of a visiting place if they get a few first downs. Defensively, unless there's a stupidly obvious tell, don't gamble for a big play, just play sound defense. Let some electricity drain.

*RIDE THE WAVE -- How often do the Panthers get to play, home or road, in a truly rockin' house? Or be around some truly moving ceremonies? FIU should feed off all that energy, too. And might be able to sustain it more than Marshall.

*TAKE THE POINTS -- Again, don't give a chance for momentum building. Unless the Panthers simply can't stop the Herd offense, on fourth down in field goal range, FIU should take the points. Rolling the dice worked against Old Dominion and Charlotte. This isn't Old Dominion or Charlotte across the line.

*BRING THE COMPANY LATER -- Around the second quarter, start giving Marshall freshman quarterback Chase Litton some pressure hell. He's near the end of the season, but he's still a freshman. Freshmen do funky things under pressure. Also, Litton won't be expecting it. FIU's been Publix vanilla ice cream defense this year. Time to go Ben & Jerry's Red Velvet Cake from the second quarter forward.

This isn't last year's Marshall juggernaut. They've won without coming off as impressively invincible. They lost last week to Middle Tennessee State because their kickers choked.

Still, FIU's been kind of a bully this season -- beating up the weaklings as they should, wilting against equals. The Panthers also are pretty banged up and, as I wrote earlier this week, that matters with a mid-major no matter how much everybody would like to say it shouldn't (with two weeks to heal, UTEP looked eight times better against FAU than it did against FIU).

Strip everything else away, those last two paragraphs remain.

Marshall 34, FIU 20

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




November 11, 2015

Raising APRizona

As former FIU head football coach Mario Cristobal gets looked at for that job at his alma mater 9 miles southeast of FIU you hear the claim that Cristobal left the FIU program in worse shape than the city of Detroit, on the field and off of it.

How the firing affected 2013 recruiting and how the stop-work order to football operations staff from on-high stripped players of their support system with finals nigh (and whether THAT should matter or not) already has been discussed here. Argue among yourselves.

One of the things pointed to by the No Cristobal crowd is the 2010-11 single-season APR of 897, well below NCAA standards at the time, to say nothing of the tougher standards today. And if you look up APR in the database, it'll still tell you the FIU football team's APR is 897. But if you look for APR via head coaches, it says FIU made a 919. What's the deal?

An NCAA spokesman told me the 919 is correct. The 897 is on the initial report, but that report never gets changed, no matter what new data comes to the NCAA. The number on the head Coach APR Portfolio gets updated, however.

For the record, FIU's single season APRs for Cristobal's full academic years were: 969, 951, 932, 919 and 954 out of a possible 1000.



November 10, 2015

Football Hits & Giggles; FIU Water Women Take Weekly Honors (Again)

You can "Next Man Up" it all you want. Few college teams pack the talent so there's not a "where's my Cialis?" performance dropoff from the injured guy to the next guy on the depth chart. Some schools wind up stacked at a certain position or do so by design while sacrificing at other positions. But from Alabama to Appalachian State, you take all-conference players away, you're taking a big step back at that position.

That's why my first question to Ron Turner each Tuesday concerns the medical report. Some guys' clearly won't be seeing the field again for a while, so I stop asking. But, then, sometimes, I don't update them here to let you know, essentially, they're still hurt.


Here's a broad injury update as FIU preps for Marshall.

Junior tight end Jonnu Smith -- FIU coach Ron Turner admitted Smith and his sprained knee are "in NFL terms, probably Doubtful" for the last two games of the season. Turner said Smith suffered the injury in the second quarter against Old Dominion. Smith's been working out separate from the team, never a good sign.

Senior tight end Ya'Keem Griner -- Out for the season, foot injury. Remember what I wrote about seeing "The Boot" in an Oct. 20 post? The Boot is bad. The Boot is evil. I'd rather see Rover than The Boot.


Redshirt sophomore linebacker Vontarius West -- Turner said he'd be fine. Some FIU birds said West's practice participation was limited.

Fifth-year senior running back Anthon Samuel -- Questionable for this week with his bum ankle.

Junior linebacker Treyvon Williams -- No longer on crutches, but I wouldn't expect to see him either of the final two games. His replacement, senior Jephete Matilus, gives good effort and actually played well for a guy with probably less than 60 minutes worth of college game snaps playing time at linebacker. But take Williams and sophomore linebacker Anthony Wint away from this defense and it's just not the same. 

Redshirt junior safety Jordan Davis -- Now on crutches. Knee injury. Done for the season.

Junior safety Wilkenson Myrtil -- Out for the season. Concussion.


Told you so. Though FIU's dual meet streak got broken by Illinois, don't blame sophomores Kyna Periera and Rebecca Quesnel.

Periera won the 200 freestyle, 500 free, 1,000 free and anchored the 200 medley and 400 free relays. Quesnel swept platform, 1-meter and 3-meter in the diving.

For this, as predicted, Periera was named Conference USA Swimmer of the Week for the second time this season. Quesnel shared her second Diver of the Week award of the year with Marshall's Megan Wolons. Quesnel won it six times as a freshman.

November 09, 2015

Conference USA Loves Michael Wakefield...Kind of

When Conference USA gave FIU defensive end Michael Wakefield its Defensive Player of the Week award for his four-sack performance against Charlotte, as CUSA did Monday, logic says that's a tacit admission something was wrong with the roughing the passer call on Wakefield, subsequent ejection for targeting/head shot and automatic supplemental discipline. After all, a CUSA zebra flung the flag.

"One has nothing to do with the other," a Conference USA spokesman e-mailed me Monday afternoon.

I don't know where these folks went to school or who raised them. In all my schools, if you got booted out of math class on a cheating accusation, you didn't get Outstanding Math Student. Ergo, if you did get kicked out on a cheating rap and still got Outstanding Math Student honors, the clear implication was that you shouldn't have been kicked out in the first place. That's the administrative way of saying, "Our bad."

Now, Conference USA solicits the opinion of several media members, of which I'm one, before selecting the player of the week award. We get a list of players nominated by their schools with summaries of what they did in that week's game. We send in our selections. The conference doesn't have to listen to us.

I was informed by FIU this afternoon that there's no appeals process with Conference USA regarding Wakefield's situation. No matter that the football program submitted video to argue it was a legal hit.

So Conference USA's reigning Defensive Player of the Week will miss the first half of Saturday's game against Marshall for a football crime CUSA insists Wakefield committed in that game.

That makes about as much sense as The Chewbacca Defense.



November 08, 2015

A few thoughts on FIU 48, Charlotte 31 (and other observations)


Volleyball -- Sunday vs. North Texas, 1 p.m. (Senior Day)

Women's Basketball -- Friday vs. Florida A&M, 5 p.m.

Men's Basketball -- Friday vs. Trinity Baptist, 7 p.m. (probably more like 7:20).

Newsy day at Worlds Ahead.

I know it's a beautiful day as well as an NFL Sunday. But it's also Senior Day for volleyball, which could go a long way to wrapping up a spot in the Conference USA tournament by beating North Texas today. Seniors Lucia Castro, Gloria Levorin, Jovanna Santamaria, Adrianna McLamb will get some final love on the FIU Arena court.

Men's soccer lost to CUSA regular season champion Kentucky 1-0 to finish the regular season. That's not the news. That's everybody's score against Kentucky. The blue-clad Wildcats apparently not only dress like the Azzurri, but also employ the same brand of negative soccer that makes the Italian national team every World Cup's least favorite side. No, the real news is FIU opens the Conference USA tournament as the No. 5 seed, Wednesday, against Old Dominion. If the Panthers repeat their regular season win against ODU, they'll get a second shot at Kentucky in the second round.

I'll just lay this here and let it go: the Conference USA All-Academic team member from last year's basketball team who got popped last night on a felony charge of strong arm robbery and marijuana possession (is that still a crime?), Kris Gulley, was working on his masters at FIU in criminal justice. Gulley's out on a $500 bond.

 And I'm going to pour out a little in remembrance of swimming & diving's dual meet streak. Their streak of 13 straight dual meets ended Saturday when Illinois came back to take out FIU 197-174. Illinois took first and second in 100 freestyle, 100 breaststroke, 100 butterfly and swept the podium in the 400 individual medley. FIU sophomore diver Rebecca Quesnel took both springboards, 1-meter and 3-meter.

So the swim meet cost FIU it's streak and the football team half the student section at Saturday's game.

To recap, for those of you doing something else Saturday...There were approximately 300 people in the stands for the noon kickoff demanded by American Sports Network and, yes, I counted. Less than five minutes into the game, ASN's generator, apparently purchased from the same ACME company that provided equipment to Wile E. Coyote, blew up thus putting the truck out of action. Truck down, broadcast down. Replays down until the replay booth got access to the coaches cameras.

(After the broadcast came back up, there was another problem when a replay booth-ASN feed reunion was attempted.)

For the rest of the first half until about halfway through the third quarter, the nation -- or the nation's bettors who lowered the line from FIU by 19 to FIU by 17 -- might as well have been back in 1935 when it came to Charlotte-FIU. Strictly radio. And, well, Twitter. Meanwhile, a few other people wandered by FIU Stadium. They didn't come from the dorms. Take out the band and the student section wouldn't fill one of the FIU Arena classrooms.

On the field, what happened was what should've been expected. Well, aside from freshman Kenyatta Anderson making FIU's first blocked punt touchdown since 2008. Otherwise, FIU scored a third quarter KO with sophomore safety Niko Gonzalez's interception return. Nice to see Gonzalez enjoy a big play after an often tough season of stingers, burns and a kind-of-concussion.

Linebacker Vontarius West went out with an injury early in the game. Freshman defensive end Fermin Silva returned from injury. He'll probably get more snaps next week with Michael Wakefield probably out for the first half against Marshall after he bopped Charlotte quarterback Matt Johnson.

Let's talk about that play. Start with why the first stringers remained in the game with seven minutes left, a 24-point lead, a banged up team and a huge game next week at Marshall. Jonnu Smith's missed the last two games after getting hurt against Old Dominion, probably late in the game considering his season-high production that night. The starters stayed in far longer than they should have against UTEP. That's supposed to be the beauty of college blowouts. Get your key players out of there, and get backups some reps to build depth.

The play happened in front of the press box. At regular speed, I thought, borderline late hit back in the day, it'll get a flag these days. Unnecessary at this point in the game. A hard hit that Johnson sold a bit. He didn't move until the flag fell, then rocked, rose and seemed to exchange pleasant words with Wakefield. All the replays on the broadcast didn't convince me either way on the quality of the call.

Running back Devon Johnson didn't play Saturday against Middle Tennessee State. Marshall's lost two Conference USA games the last two years. Johnson, who crushed FIU last season, didn't play in either one of them. There's a direct correlation. And the Huntington Herald-Dispatch reports Johnson might be out for the season with a back injury.

November 07, 2015

Gameday X: Quickie Afternoon Delight


Swimming & Diving -- Saturday vs. Illinois, 10:30 a.m.

Volleyball -- Sunday vs. North Texas, 1 p.m. (Senior Day)

Women's Basketball -- Friday vs. Florida A&M, 5 p.m.

Men's Basketball -- Friday vs. Trinity Baptist, 7 p.m.

Before we get to what FIU needs to do Saturday at La Cage against Charlotte, let's give a quick update on the two fall sports mentioned above.

The water women keep doing what they do, leading Illinois 100-85 after the first of a two-day dual meet. Sophomore Kyna Periera won the 500 freestyle, 200 free and anchored the winning 200 medley and 400 free relays. But FIU owes its lead in the meet to the 16-2 advantage in platform diving. Illinois entered only one diver and FIU Sophomore Rebecca Quesnel, junior Lily Kaufmann, Laura Coronado and Natalia Coronado all beat her.

That meet resumes at 10:30 a.m. or one hour, 15 minutes before cops bike around the FIU Stadium parking lots and politely tell the few tailgaters to pack it up.

Everybody around FIU in the fight to make the volleyball tournament turned into Johanna Gustafsdottir and backstroked Friday. The top eight teams get into the tournament, but only No. 22 Western Kentucky and UTSA had clinched spots doing into Friday. FIU was tied with FAU, but with the head-to-head tiebreaker.

The Panthers, 7-6 in conference, lost to Western. And FAU beat North Texas. But Marshall, sitting behind FIU, got swept by Southern Mississippi, which clinched a tournament spot. With a chance to pull even with eighth place Marshall, Middle Tennessee State stumbled over Charlotte.

So FIU's alone in seventh, one game behind Rice, North Texas and FAU, but a game and a half ahead of ninth place Middle and two games up on 10th place Charlotte.

The regular season ends at Charlotte next Saturday.

As to Charlotte and FIU on the football field this Saturday, FIU's favored by 18-19 points, depending on your oddsmaker. That's the largest since kicking off the 2012 home opener a 23-point favorite over Akron, which took FIU to overtime before losing 41-38. That's No. 2 behind "a loss" on the Last Thing FIU Needs list.

Charlotte's a third-year program in its first FBS season and playing like it. If FIU's the bowl team it believes itself to be, then the Panthers come out intense and focused Saturday to do one thing: get in, get out, hit it and quit it.

Do to Charlotte what they did to UTEP in the other noon game, and get the starters out as soon as you can. That's a common sense move late in the season anyway. Doubly so for a team with a whose injury report sounds longer than the Warren Commission Report. Triply so for a banged up team that's got to get a win from one of a hard final pair of regular season games for bowl eligibility.

(And I'm sure FIU would like to thank Conference USA for making the Panthers bye week the final week on the overall schedule. That's like having a driver switch in the 24 Hours of LeMans after the checkered flag.)

Get sophomore running back Alex Gardner out of the game the week after he played every snap. Get sophomore quarterback Alex McGough, who was the pinata last week with FAU a bunch of Coke-bottle baby five-year-olds with bats looking for their sugar. Get the linemen out. Get whoever's playing tight end out because they've been dropping like leaves up north.

UTEP allows 9.7 yards per pass attempt in conference games, second most behind Rice's 10.0. Charlotte allows 8.6. Translation: FIU should be able to hit Charlotte with similar big plays to that which they hit UTEP. Charlotte will try to run the ball, as UTEP did. Well, they'll try to run the ball as Middle and FAU did on the Panthers. The run defense needs to show up this week or Charlotte will have a chance to shorten this game. Or just keep FIU's starters involved longer.

FIU's got mountains to climb the next two weeks. They need to stomp on the molehill, not stumble over it.

FIU 45, Charlotte 13

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



November 04, 2015

Questions & Trujillo & Veksler


Volleyball -- Friday vs. Western Kentucky, 1 p.m.

Swimming & Diving -- Friday vs. Illinois, 5 p.m.

Swimming & Diving -- Saturday vs. Illinois, 11 a.m.

Football -- Saturday vs. Charlotte, noon

Volleyball -- Sunday vs. North Texas, 1 p.m.

Q: What's up with junior tight end Jonnu Smith?

A: FIU coach Ron Turner called Smith day-to-day. Smith was padless with a brace around the left knee. Didn't look day-to-day unless those days were today and a week from Saturday.

Q: Any other injury updates?

A: Freshman running back/wide receiver Anthony Jones will be back, and maybe fifth-year senior running back Anthon Samuel. Turner hated having to overuse Alex Gardner, who played every offensive snap Saturday then faced the media, visibly hurt by the loss

Q: Is Juwan Caesar ever going to see the field?

A: He's got three games left before his college career finishes without taking the field. He seems to want to play on whatever's wrong with his knee. Why not try him, especially when they're unhappy with Thomas Owens as they were last Saturday?

FIU played "Ask Rosenberg" on Twitter Tuesday night. As this is a sports blog, we'll stick to the sports questions I saw. Quoting the questions and answers without commentary on either.

Q: When will our football team get a better coaching staff? Our football program is not getting any better.

A: We appreciate fan support. Our coaches are hard working and committed.

Q: Are there any plans to expand athletic facilities? For example, a future natural grass practice field.

A: Facilities improvement is an ongoing imperative.

Q: Are there any plans to expand and improve FIU Stadium? Better concessions and perhaps an upper bowl for the stadium?

A: (No answer)

Q: FIU football disaster. So r other FIU Athletics teams. Facilities & fan support are a joke. Why is Pete Garcia still employed?

A: (No answer)

Q: When is Cheerleading at FIU going to receive the same benefits as other athletes on campus?

A: I appreciate what our cheerleaders do to build the school and want the best possible conditions for them.

Q: 1st -- I'm a huge fan! 2nd -- why is Pete Garcia still at FIU. As an alum, it hurts to support when he is in charge.

A: (No answer)

Q: Hope to see you at the game Saturday afternoon

A: Absolutely, go FIU.

Q: let me know when and where :)

A: Give me your contact info and I will get you that information.


Junior goalkeeper Sophia Trujillo and her 4.0 in sports and fitness studies made the Conference USA All-Academic team.


Freshman Maryna Veksler went 10-2 in singles matches during October and won the ITA Southeast Regional Consolation Bracket.

For this, Veksler was named Conference USA Women's Tennis Athlete of the Month.




November 03, 2015

Some Props for Women's Soccer and the Military

FIU senior center back Marie Egan got the Panthers only All-Conference USA nod, a First Team honor. Hey, that's a bump from last year's Second Team nod. Left back Lyrik Fryer made the All-Freshman team.

The Panthers' season ended 8-11, 4-6 in Conference USA play and outside the conference tournament (played this year at the FIU Soccer Slum) for the second consecutive year.


This week's attempt to get bodies to Charlotte-FIU at FIU Stadium, a noon kickoff forced by your friends at the American Sports Network, is a Salute to Hometown Heroes Day.

All active or retired military personnel and first response folks (fire department, police department, emergency medical personnel) will receive free admission for them and their entourages. Tickets can be picked up at the University Credit Box Office in the R. Kirk Landon Fieldhouse (that's a mouthful).

The military personnel and the first responders also will be asked to help form the tunnel through which the Panthers run onto Ocean Bank Field. 



November 01, 2015

A few thoughts on FAU 31, FIU 17

When you get emotionally overwhelmed in your rivalry game, do you deserve to go to a bowl?

Not blown out, understand. Although, really, FIU was in Saturday's loss only as long as it took FAU to answer the Panthers' second half epic journey to a field goal with epic journey to a touchdown and 24-10 lead. Other than that 8:04 drive, the Panthers were a prop in FAU's Saturday afternoon movie.

Blowouts happen in rivalries. And I don't default to "desire" and "want-to" when a team takes a butt kicking. Sometimes, the other team brings more talent, is better coached and have their own "desire" and "want-to." But Saturday, I saw FIU get overwhelmed not by talent, which the Panthers have more of in developed form; not by coaching in the strategic or fundamentals sense; but by the Owls being ready to make a high emotional and mental investment in beating the stew out of FIU.

That FIU wasn't able to match that falls on players and coaches. Afterwards, FIU coach Ron Turner said he could see it coming in warmups. Turner didn't say what he did to address it. What I wrote in this space after the Louisiana Tech game holds: if a college team isn't ready to play, the biggest finger gets pointed at the coaching staff. That said, that's not a much bigger finger than the one to point at players who couldn't get amped or focused for perhaps the most pivotal game of the year.

While FAU's pass rush has been a strength of its defense, No. 1 in Conference USA now, there's good and there's the-last-day-of-school look that accompanied almost every FIU dropback Saturday. FIU's pass protection got overrun. Give the Owls credit for doing their homework -- they smelled out every FIU screen, ignored the fake handoff on every play action pass. So little that slows a pass rush helped FIU deal with the stampede.

Sophomore quarterback Alex McGeough took a beating. He walked out stiffly with a modified Frankenstein's monster gait. In addition to the seven sacks, he caught some heavy shots after throwing. He turned tentative Saturday and held the ball too long on a few occasions, something he hasn't done much this season. Junior tight end Jonnu Smith's sprained left knee took his familiarity and ability to draw attention away from McGeough. And McGeough didn't seem to have the confidence in other receivers to try to throw them open or give them a chance to make a play. 

On other side of the ball, FAU clearly saw how much trouble the Panthers had against Old Dominion covering the check down guy. That's when the Owls weren't plowing FIU under in a similar manner to the way Middle Tennessee did. FIU's allowed 225.4 yards rushing per game and 5.3 per carry in its five conference games. Do you know how many CUSA teams give up more in each category? One -- North Texas, which got its first win Saturday.

Linked to that statistic is FIU also being next to last in sacks. If you get run on, teams don't have to pass as often and the play action game slows down your pass rush. So, you get fewer sacks, which produces no drag on your rushing defense numbers. FIU got little push Saturday, even in obvious passing situations. Starting defensive tackle Imarjaye Albury being out didn't help, but that's life.

Oh, and when FIU had a prime chance for a drive-ending sack, blitzing cornerback Jeremiah McKinnon jumped to rodeo ride FAU quarterback Jason Driskel. Driskel proved too smart a bronco, ducking his torso to send McKinnon slipping off before completing an 18-yard pass. The play came back on an FAU penalty, but a third down sack would've meant declining the penalty (if FIU had any sense) and forcing a punt. Instead, FAU hit a third and 17 bubble screen to Henry Bussey for 21 yards. Instead of a punt, FAU continued on its second touchdown drive.

(Hint to young players: when you blindside a quarterback, go for the mid-torso to lower back. A surer tackle and often jerks the body forward, causing a fumble).

Back to the run defense's failures in conference it the erratic play of the defensive line? Is it FIU being down two linebackers most of the season? That's where FIU's losses to Middle Tennessee State and FAU began. 

You can't accuse these Conference USA officials of calling the game with an eye on the bowls. FIU got five penalties, FAU got six. The third quarter Trey Rodriguez fumble recovered by FIU that went to review looked like a fumble to everyone in the press box from both schools who saw the video during the review. FIU would've gotten the ball near midfield down 17-10. Instead, the zebras deemed the call on the field confirmed. Later that drive, the press box murmured in surprise again as an egregious hold at the point of attack allowed FAU quarterback Jaquez Johnson to rumble around the left side on fourth down. 

Shrug your shoulders at it. It all added up to a fair result. FAU deserved at least a two-touchdown win. And get used to some of those FAU names. You'll be worrying about them for a while. 

October 31, 2015

Gameday IX: Beat a Hoot or Bowl is Moot II



Tennis -- Saturday and Sunday, FIU Invitational, all day

Men's Soccer -- Saturday vs. New Mexico, 7 p.m.

Volleyball -- Sunday vs. UTSA, 1 p.m.

Volleyball -- Friday vs. Western Kentucky, 1 p.m.

Swimming & Diving -- Friday vs. Illinois, 5 p.m.

The Conference USA women's soccer tournament isn't on the above schedule. Like softball in the spring, FIU women's soccer will sit in season-ending timeout while the rest of the conference plays in its sandbox. A 3-1 loss to Charlotte ended FIU's season at 8-11, 4-6 in conference play. In losing its last four games, FIU scored one goal.

FIU's postseason hopes also ride this weekend. Not saying FIU can't win at Marshall or Western Kentucky if they don't get to six wins by winning the next two games, but, well...putting aside how good Marshall's been since that inexplicable loss to Ohio, FIU gets Marshall in Huntington, West Virginia on the 45th anniversary of the 1970 plane crash that wiped out the football team. Now imagine playing after the pregame ceremony or series of them seeds the stadium with emotion. I flashed back to Panthers at Philadelphia for the NHL season opener a month after 9/11, when the Flyers first mixed Lauren Hart's live singing of "God Bless America" with old video of Kate Smith doing it at The Spectrum in the 1970s.

(Just seeing the practice run through hours before the game, I gaped and my breath caught. When Herald columnist Greg Cote arrived, I said, "They're not winning tonight." When he asked how I knew, I just shook my head and repeated, "They're not winning tonight." Later, after the Hart/Smith combination sent chills and tears rippling around a howling arena, I turned to Cote with, "Yeah, they've got a shot." Flyers won, 4-1.)

Anyway, Western hung in there with LSU for longer than anyone expected. They'll be tough to outscore in the season finale. 

Back to this game, which has two statistical matchups that swing heavily in FIU's favor: FAU gets outscored 57-37 in the third quarter and 56-22 in the fourth quarter, 113-59 overall in the second half. This suggests the Owls youth and lack of physical maturity become a real problem in the game's late stages.

Also, FAU's one of the worst FBS teams in the red zone, getting points only 72.4 percent of the time (120th) and FIU is one of the best red zone defenses, giving up points on 63 percent of red zone trips (third). So, whether FAU's got Driskel the Younger, Jason, at quarterback or the not-quite-healthy Jaquez Johnson, they're unable to finish off drives.

Of course, you don't have to score in the red zone if you don't have to snap the ball there. The Panthers have shown a tendency to get gashed like shaving with a bad disposable razor the last two weeks. FAU freshman running back Trey Rodriguez has 219 yards on 28 carries, 7.8 a pop, in the three games since making his season debut against Rice. I think Rodriguez gets off another long one here, maybe in the second quarter.

If FIU's going to fuss around with the annoying bubble screen thumb twiddling early, do it to wide receiver Thomas Owens. Though only 50 miles from FIU Stadium and FAU's got a healthy number of 305/786 guys, this game's on Owens turf -- he's a Palm Beach County guy from Delray Beach Atlantic, the Owls' area of recruiting strength. He'll probably be a little jacked up and nothing harnesses that energy for positive use like some easy, early touches.

I see this game within four points one way or another into the third quarter. Then, FIU's Alex McGough hits on a couple of throws to tight end Jonnu Smith, maybe one to Akil Dan-Fodio, to start the Panthers on a long touchdown drive that saps the Owls energy. The Boca Boys respond with their own push inside the Panthers 20 only to see quarterback cool melt in the red zone heat. Hesitation leads to a turnover -- interception on a ball thrown too late, a fumble on a hit after the ball should've been gone. Not saying Richard Leonard makes a house call with it, but, soon after, FIU scores.

There's time left on the clock, but nobody needs to look to know what time it is -- time to go trick or treating. This business is done.

FIU 30, FAU 17.

But, that's just one black man's opinion. I could be wrong.


October 28, 2015

Hump Day at The Cage

Newsy Nugget Wednesday out at Camp Mitch, specifically FIU Stadium.

The folks at the John Mackey Award, the award for the nation's best tight end, named after the baddest tight end of the 1960s and 1970s, named junior Jonnu Smith their National Tight End of the Week after 10 catches for 183 yards and two touchdowns against Old Dominion. FIU coach Ron Turner said Smith's numbers jumped once defenses had to deal with sophomore wide receiver Thomas Owens or sophomore running back Alex Gardner or senior tight end Ya"Keem Griner in addition to Smith. 

FIU coach Ron Turner insisted backup running back Anthon Samuel would be ready to go Saturday, though Samuel still wore a walking boot on his left foot. Running back Silas Spearman III continued to work as a safety with the defense. After practice, backup quarterback Trey Anderson runs patterns as a wide receiver in 7-on-7s while the freshmen Alexanders, Christian and Maurice, take reps at quarterback.

Meanwhile, inside The Stadium Club, Miami FC officially announced it would join the revived North American Soccer League and begin play in 2016 at FIU Stadium.

At a presser attended by FIU president Mark Rosenberg and athletic director Pete Garcia, Garcia announced Miami FC owner Ricardo Silva ponied up a $450,000 gift to FIU's athletic department. My first thought after "whoa!" was "I want to see that lease."

Which Garcia put in my nail-picked fingers less than two minutes after I asked.

Length: Three years with a two-year Miami FC option. That three years coincides with the possible debut of David Beckham's MLS team. Miami FC's folks say they think this can be a two-team county. Maybe they're right, if they market themselves as the cheaper, more family-friendly option to MLS (and more accessible to family-heavy suburbia). Or, maybe there's a part of them that's betting Miami politics does what Miami politics does and the MLS team never achieves birth. If they're wrong and things don't look good, they don't have to exercise the option.

Rent: $10,000 per game, FIU's standard rate, plus $2,500 if visiting teams want to use the field for practice. Miami FC will pay the operational costs for each game. Despite the preference of grass over artificial turf, the fake stuff stays down for soccer.

Tickets: FIU gets $2 per ticket. Miami FC hopes for 10,000 per game. Let's say they get 4,000, which I think would be a tremendous number. That's $8,000 per game for FIU.

Concessions: What FIU would normally get from the concessionaires goes to Miami FC.

Parking: Miami FC gets it.

Miami FC will set aside some internships for FIU students.

So, FIU's walking out of this with a $450,000 one time chunk, about $150,000 per year in rent for three years and $2 per ticket for three years. Could do worse.





October 27, 2015

Tuesday Afternoon Futures


Tennis -- Friday, Saturday, Sunday, FIU Invitational, all day

Football -- at FAU, Saturday, 3:30 (yeah, it's not "home" but it's an easy drive on a Saturday)

Men's soccer -- vs. New Mexico, 7 p.m. 

Volleyball -- Sunday vs. UTSA, 1 p.m.

Backup running back Anthon Samuel was the latest on crutches this week. Ron Turner said Samuel had an ankle sprain. Safety Niko Gonzalez didn't practice with what Turner termed "mild concussion symptoms."

FIU opened favored by 2 and is now up to 3 1/2. That seems an awfully small spread, perhaps an awfully generous application of Rivalry Effect.

As far as which bowl FIU would go to if it gets to six wins, a local source told me I was way off in assuming the Miami Beach Bowl would eschew FIU for a team from out of town that would fill hotels and attract eyeballs.

The bowl's owned by the American Athletic Conference, the source said. Thus, it's not money driven as in current and future tourist money, but money driven by ticket sales. FIU would be a gift in that regard. So might the AAC's South Florida, which has four wins and a remaining schedule that includes Navy and disintegrated UCF. Also, the source reminded me, FIU athletic director Pete Garcia is on the Miami Beach Bowl committee.

Obviously, staying local would let FIU use its own facilities, saving thousands of dollars. Last year, both teams stayed in South Beach, but BYU practiced at FIU while Memphis practiced at Miami Beach's Flamingo Park. 


The Nov. 13 doubleheader will be streamed live on FIU Athletics' YouTube page as a demonstration of the streamcast's improved production qualities, sort of like the free week of NFL Sunday Ticket or NHL Center Ice you get at the start of each season.


October 26, 2015

McGough Gets First CUSA Player of the Week Honor

One of the key statistics now being discussed more by fans and media these days and long a favorite of those inside football is yards per attempt. You get around 8.0 yards per attempt, it's a very good day.

Sophomore quarterback Alex McGough hit an even 10.0 yards per attempt Saturday when he hit on 31 of 39 passes for 390 yards in the 41-12 drubbing of Old Dominion.

The completion percentage (79.4), yards and three touchdowns were enough by themselves for McGough to be awarded Conference USA Offensive Player of the Week Monday.


October 25, 2015

A few thoughts on FIU 41, Old Dominion 12

Before we get started with Saturday night, let us say the biggest, season-turning football game in town Sunday at 1 p.m. is at FIU.

I didn't say American football.

Women's soccer went into last weekend with a chance to clinch a berth in the Conference USA tournament FIU will host in just over a week. A pair of 1-0 losses to Western Kentucky and Marshall leave the 8-9 Panthers at 4-4 in conference play and in danger of missing the tournament again. There's 10 teams still in realistic contention for eight spots.

FIU needs a result, as the soccer folks like to say, today against FAU on Senior Day. That's where I'd be if I wasn't part of The Herald's army at the other 1 p.m. game in town, the site of the first college-affiliated football rout in town Saturday.

As for the second...some electronic dap to football coach Ron Turner.

Football coaches can be downright dogmatic about following game plans and flat out scared kittens when faced with the possibility of risk. They tend to shy from the instinctive move, partially because there's rarely an easy explanation of it. Taking chances and following instincts guarantees you'll be second guessed if the concept fails. They don't like to be second-guessed and when, faced with the second guess, they want a Serena Williams second serve return -- a swift, powerful answer that gives them the point. 

There's no way FIU went into Saturday's game against Old Dominion planning to run the ball only 33 times with three of those being sacks. There's no way the Panthers didn't anticipate having more than 94 yards rushing (119 yards Real Rushing, subtracting sacks). This is a team with a defense treated like a possum on I-95 by most of its opponents this year, a defense FIU moved out of the way for 256 yards on the ground last year.

Turner said they went into the game seeking balance. But, early on, sophomore quarterback Alex McGough's Accuracy Pills kicked in (even aside from the interminable bubble screens), while FIU's running game apparently got stuck in traffic near an quinceanera hall. So, Turner put the offense on McGough's shoulders even more than normal and he responded with 31 of 39 (with a few drops) for 390 yards and three touchdowns. 

Should it be disconcerting that FIU, for the second straight week, twice failed badly in red zone short yardage situations and had to work way too hard to get the last yards on two drives that ended with 1-yard touchdowns? Unquestionably. Against a team better than Old Dominion (say, Middle Tennessee State) that can cost you the game.

On both those failures and the touchdown that put FIU up 14-0, Turner eschewed the field goal out of instinct:

 "It was a feel thing. The reason we went for it on both those fourth downs in the red zone -- and I told the defense this -- is I had a lot of confidence we could stop them. The first one, I said 'If we stop them here, we get great field position. They've got to punt it to Richard. We'll have great field position. We'll take it in and score.' We didn't make it, they punted to Richard and we went down and scored. It was faith I had in our offense to make it, No. 1, and then our defense to get us a stop and give us good field position." 

Let's be clear, I disagreed with both decisions, though the first worked exactly as Turner hoped. On the second drive of the game, after you've already scored a touchdown on the first, especially if you're up 7-0, I believe in taking the points as a psychological punch to your opponent. They don't know yet that they can stop you from scoring on any given drive. Also, coaches tend to get more nervous than a Bob in a biker bar down 10-0.

My thoughts on the second decision, with FIU up 27-12, were stated on Twitter Saturday night: stupid. Take the points, go up three scores with 4:55 left in the third, force Old Dominion away from the run. Don't stay within two big plays of a team that's blown up on you already for touchdown runs of 57 and 75 yards. When the Monarchs moved the ball Saturday, it wasn't in nibbles and bites. It was in chomps.

(I'm not saying Turner is stupid. I'm saying that was a stupid decision. Among the top three sentences my daughter has heard from me in her 10 years is "Sometimes, smart people do stupid things.")

Alex McGough's 1-yard quarterback sneak, the 14-0 touchdown, was into the end zone in front of the press box. Most of us in the press box and a few people on the field heard a whistle before the snap. Weird.

Turner could rely on a big Richard Leonard return. That's what Leonard's done the last few weeks -- 24.3 yards per punt return the last three games, 49.2 on kickoff returns. The creases not there before still aren't there -- they're gaps, evident early.

"We had some young guys in there," Turner said. "They're starting to understand more angles and where to be. They're giving him an opportunity. You give him an opportunity, the first guy's not going to tackle him. He gets by the first guy, they're doing a good job of giving him seams."

Big ups to the defensive line. They got rolled by Middle. Saturday, they stuffed Old Dominion bowling ball Ray Lawry on a do-it-or-don't play at the end of the first half from the 1. Different game if he scores there, then Pascal opens the second half with his 75 yard run to put the Monarchs in front.

Defensive tackle Leonard Washington would've taken the fumble all the way back 74 yards if one more teammate escorting him had thrown a block instead of started celebrating the Big Man Touchdown early. The last time he had a football in his hand on the field, Washington said, he took a fumble back all the way for New Orleans Carr High.

Like anybody else with a heart, I love to see the big guys grab the ball and run for glory.

October 24, 2015

Gameday VIII: ...As Often And As Much as FIU Wants...

It's been almost 31 years since the Miami Dolphins packed the team charter for a Super Bowl. That year's Ultimate Game, the 19th such event, sold easily as a potential classic with more points than a Big East basketball game -- the 14-2 Dolphins with NFL record resetting second-year quarterback Dan Marino vs. the 15-1 San Francisco 49ers with a pretty good offense themselves.

Beyond that simplistic comparison, I saw game San Franciso almost couldn't lose. For all Marino's greatness, the Dolphins were one-dimensional. They couldn't run. They'd be going up against a defense that won the NFC title game in a shutout; a defense whose secondary, perhaps the best ever, was the true propulsion in the 49ers rise from doormat to dynasty three years earlier; a defense with two or three devastating pass rushers.

Meanwhile, every part of the 49ers presented multiple threats. Joe Montana operated the West Coast offense expertly, led the NFC in passing and could run (he'd rush for 59 yards in the Super Bowl). Both running backs, 1,200-yard man Wendell Tyler and Roger Craig, could catch out of the backfield. And they'd get to see a Dolphins defense that had just given up 28 points to a 9-7 Pittsburgh team quarterbacked by Mark Malone.

Conclusion: the 49ers would score as much as they needed to win and might score as much as they wanted. I announced "I'm giving Miami and 4 points" in Calculus class. By the fourth quarter of the 38-16 Dolphins loss, I was making "you going to have my money tomorrow?" phone calls.

Relevance to Old Dominion vs. FIU Saturday: That's exactly the feeling I have about this game after more than a cursory look. This is FIU's rout to lose.

If I'm wrong, I'll be here in the postgame blog eating my crow with salt and Bob Evans sausage. But that'll mean Old Dominion will have performed to a level it hasn't this season and FIU will have contracted an ineptitude virus causing football incontinence all over Ocean Bank Field.

Don't be fooled by Old Dominion being, as Monarchs coach Bobby Wilder pointed out last week, 5-5 in their 10 Conference USA games over the last two seasons. Or by David Washington switching back to quarterback from wide receiver, then going 25 of 43 for 365 yards and four touchdowns against Charlotte "a good football team with good players," according to Wilder.

This is why those of us who hear and must transcribe such claptrap took a few minutes to mourn when Steve Spurrier walked away. Whether or not we covered him, we thanked God/Adonai/Allah/Jah for a coach who had little use for false modesty, fake puffery of opponents or speaking to the media (and, by extension, the public) as if a little research couldn't puncture the balloon launched by all that hot air. Spurrier's words weren't the New New Testament, but they weren't the coaching equivalent of teenage girls calling each other's new outfits "cute."

I can't tell you how many times I heard "very good" to describe UTEP's players and team the week before FIU hosted the Miners. "Very good" is a team in the Top 25 or at least a contender for a conference title. It's not a banged up, handicap parking space-eligible team with one FBS win (in OT against an annually pathetic program) and losses by 31, 49 and 19 points.

Charlotte's players probably give great effort. Clearly, they've made great strides to be any kind of competitive in only Season No. 3 after restarting the football program. But that's not "a good football team with good players." Good football teams with good players don't give up 73 points as Charlotte did to Middle Tennessee State. Charlotte's wins are against Georgia State and Presbyterian, which sounds more like a local high school and probably has less talent than two or three local high schools down here.

And trying to link last year's fast finishing Old Dominion team to this year's should get you a job selling stuff on 3 a.m. infomercials. Last year's team had enough offense to play everybody on the schedule close, save Marshall, and pull a few upsets. This year's team got steamrolled by Appalachian State 49-0, NC State 38-14 and gave up 309 yards rushing to Charlotte.

You're going to tell me some team only in their junior year as a program, first year in FBS, can punk Old Dominion for 309 yards rushing (323 on 67 carries of Real Rushing, minus the sacks) at Old Dominion, but FIU can't pound the rock on ODU at La Cage? That the Panthers can't run the ball on the Monarchs the way they did on UTEP, then hit the Monarchs over the top, just as they did UTEP?

Also, career backup Washington lights up Charlotte, so I'm supposed to believe he'll do that to an experienced group that's got a tad more talent than Charlotte?

Translation: FIU will score as many points as it needs and might score when it wants. 

FIU 48, Old Dominion 27.

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


A nice five-set takedown at FAU Friday night puts FIU (13-8, 6-3) a step closer to solidifying a spot in the Conference USA tournament. The Owls hadn't lost a conference match at home this season before Friday.


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