November 14, 2015

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.


October 21, 2015

Cubs Win! Cubs Win! (so predicts Ron Turner)

Football coach Ron Turner, who did two turns as Chicago Bears offensive coordinator and one stretch as University of Illinois head coach, insisted after Tuesday's practice that the Chicago Cubs would win the National League Championship Series. Turner insisted I put it on the blog as he left to go Tweet it out.

So there's the big news out of Wednesday's football practice. That and quarterback Alex McGough being allowed to talk to Pete Pelegrin for some FIU in-house produced content. It's McGough's first chat with the media, aside from home postgame sessions, since the season started.

A relaxed mood predominated. Some of the players got into an argument over which recruiting class was the best. Certainly, it depends on whether you're talking production or star rating.


Just as the men's soccer program joined Conference USA during FIU's Sun Belt era because the Fun Belt didn't sanction men's soccer, beach volleyball (nee sand volleyball) is now part of the Coastal Collegiate Sports Association with Florida State; LSU; South Carolina; Tulane; FAU; UAB; and Georgia State.

October 20, 2015

Tuesday Foot Break (or Sprain) and Other Hits


According to head football coach in charge Ron Turner, senior tight end Ya'Keem Griner is "day-to-day" with a foot injury. I saw Griner getting off the field on crutches and in the boot. I never like seeing the boot.

The boot tends to be bad. Foot injuries tend to be very bad. That's too bad as Griner's having a career year with 21 receptions for 225 yards and two touchdowns.

At least junior linebacker Treyvon Williams appeared to be off his crutches, but not in pads.

The guy throwing to Griner, sophomore quarterback Alex McGough, can claim to be having a pretty good season.

Granted FIU's passing game dines mostly at the Woolworth Five & Dime lunch counter (yards per completion 11th out of 13 Conference USA teams), but McGough's thrown 14 touchdowns and 1,659 yards, but with only three interceptions. And one of the interceptions was a desperation fourth down, game situation heave against Indiana. He's gotten lucky on some near-picks, but every quarterback does. You can tell a quarterback's maturing when he reduces his interceptions and near-interceptions via forced throws. 

Here's a fun discussion. McGough has a sophomore No. 1 running back in Alex Gardner and a sophomore No. 1 wide receiver in Thomas Owens, both of whom are good players at the G5 level. They're better at what they do than most of their competition. But give McGough the advantages over opponents at those positions that Florida State's Everett Golson can call upon or the Hurricanes' Brad Kaaya enjoys and what do McGough's numbers look like? How much better would FIU be -- if at all -- with Golson or Kaaya?

I'd love to do a story on McGough's season. That would require talking to McGough in something other than a postgame situation. Each media request, even by the radio broadcast team, to talk to McGough during the week once the season started has been Dikembe Mutumbo'd by Turner. I guess that's about protection or keeping the young man's head from getting too big or something.

That makes about as much sense as finally joining the rest of Division I/FBS college sports and hiring a dedicated video coordinator, then leaving him at home on two football road trips because there's not enough space on the plane. FIU did that to video coordinator Brian Duval again last weekend.

Then again, maybe actual professional videos focused on sporting events aren't what moves needles around FIU.   


October 18, 2015

A few thoughts on Middle Tennessee 42, FIU 34 (and teams that won)

FIU men's soccer (8-4, 3-2) upset No. 9 Old Dominion tonight, which might move them back into the Top 25. It's also a Conference USA men's soccer win. Considering all the ranked teams, previously ranked teams and almost ranked teams in the conference, that's almost the Willy Wonka gold ticket of Conference USA sports. That's harder to get than a straight answer on why the new softball locker rooms that weren't to be impacted by the money spent on Miss Universe aren't done (or, even started).

Pool problems up at the BBC forced Swim & Dive to summon FAU and the University of Miami down to Gulliver Prep to take their butt-kickings in Saturday's portion of Dual-A-Palooza. The final counts were 138-62 over FAU and 122-83 over the Hurricanes. Bet on sophomore Kyna Periera to be CUSA Swimmer of the Week and possibly to appear in the first College Football Playoff rankings after finishing in nothing but first in the eight events she swam over the two days.

Meanwhile, up here in Murfreesboro, FIU and Middle Tennessee State football did some strange things with each other. Not freaky amateur webcam strange. Buut "Do what?" strange.

I'm too tired and full of Arby's to organize my thoughts and I've got to get up to cover Man Campbell's coaching debut tomorrow. So, I think I'm going to do that Old Man-Don't Give a Ham thing where I just throw down my thoughts randomly as they come. I'll try to keep them in chronological order.

*FIU's second drive shows why you hustle out every play. When Richard Leonard picked off Middle quarterback Brent Stockstill's first throw, everybody watching thought "touchdown." Leonard had picked off a cross field 10-yard pass -- the first and last Middle would ask Stockstill to throw Saturday -- with a clear track to the end zone. Stockstill got on his horse and knocked out Leonard at the 1. FIU got nowhere with two line plunges, then ran a terribly thrown fade to Ya'Keem Griner, one of Alex McGough's few truly bad passes. The throw hit the defender in the back. Griner never had a chance to make a play. Anyway, FIU field goal instead of what seemed a sure touchdown. And you just knew this was going to be the kind of game where both sides would need every point they could muster.

*You won't score every time you reach the 2-yard-line with downs in your pocket. But you can't go two for four as FIU did Saturday.

I heard the late Jim Mandich (a good football player, better person) say one day in that distinctive voice, "A coach of mine once told me in ev-er-y game there will come a time when you have to gain 1 yard." FIU didn't get that yard. Or 2. I know Middle puts a pair of 6-1, 318-pound wide loads, fifth-year senior Patrick McNeil and redshirt junior Shaquille Huff, in the defensive tackle slots and dares you to move them. Maybe you can't. What you really can't do is fail twice and settle for field goals. That's eight points left on the table. What was the final score again?

*Wide receiver Shawn Abrams was on the trip. I couldn't help but think as FIU failed on that first drive then later on first and goal from the 2, uh, how about putting the 6-4 guy with the shelf grabber reach in and throwing him a fade? FIU tried it last week and McGough threw a terrible pass that almost got picked. But that's no reason not to try it this week.

*Speaking of guys whose usage seemed questionable, Ron Turner talked in the preseason about getting freshman Anthony Jones the ball. And, a couple of times a game, you see FIU put Jones in to run a jet sweep or bubble screen to try to get him the ball in space. Then, unless the game's already decided, he gets called back to the sidelines and stored the way Barney Fife stored the one bullet he was allowed to have. Old Person pop culture reference but appropriate because FIU uses Jones in a series of one shots. Saturday, he had three carries, two of them when FIU trailed 35-19 and the offensive line was getting less movement than public records requests get in Rick Scott's office. "Special player" doesn't mean you use him only in special situations. Jones needs to be used more. Throw him the bubble screen on third and long and have the tight end or bigger wide receiver block instead of throwing it to the wide receiver or tight end and hope they can break tackles.

*Or just not drop the ball. McGough threw the ball well Saturday. For 51 passes, there weren't many bad throws or bad decisions. Unfortunately, his receivers fought the ball and the ball won often enough to be a problem. McGough had a lovely, perfect deep ball dropped for the second consecutive week among the many (six? seven?) drops Saturday.

*Thomas Owens makes nice adjustments when McGough's in trouble.

*And what's up with the timeout before the two-point conversion? FIU trailed 35-19 in the fourth quarter, so you know you're going for two if you get into the end zone. You have (or should have) a set of two-point conversion plays. You've had three quarters to see what's working and what's not. And you waste one of three valuable time stoppers to discuss?

I'm of the John Madden school on timeouts -- timeouts are too valuable to waste just on a little uncertainty or avoiding a delay of game penalty.

*Turner said after the game that Middle had "the best secondary in the conference, by far" and "they've got as good a defense as we'll see in this conference." Middle did allow only 4.3 yards per play, an averaged helped by FIU's troubles getting the ball over once inside the 5-yard line. Otherwise, I'm calling Coachspeak -- the Panthers moved the ball pretty well most of the day and, despite leaving at least nine points on the field, scored 34 points with two turnovers' help. That's the week after Western put up 58 on Middle.

*The Blue Raiders always seem to find running backs. Injuries to their top two running backs meant Jeremiah Bryson started. Bryson was arrested and accused of instigating a fight between his baby mama and his current woman; providing transportation to the brawl for the current female; and participating in that brawl. Oh, and being a deadbeat dad. Down two running backs, Middle coach Rick Stockstill graciously decided to withhold any punitive measures on Bryson.

Bryson went out with a shoulder injury, leaving freshman Desmond Anderson out of Spartanburg Broome High School to carry the load. He went Ed Podolak on FIU, running for 144 and adding 102 yards on kickoff returns. Anderson ran hard, but many plays he didn't make serious contact with anybody until he was 5 to 7 yards downfield.

FIU got shoved aside in the front seven, particularly the defensive left side. And, for the first time since last year's loss to Marshall, FIU went sackless. Yes, most of Stockstill's completions were off quick throws that that get the ball out too fast for even an unblocked rusher. Still, he got protected like a teenage daughter when he really needed time for downfield throws.

*FIU's gotten their return game going the last two weeks. Middle came in allowing 20.96 yards per kickoff return. Saturday, the Panthers averaged 31.7 yards per runback and that includes two short returns by Clinton Taylor off squibs.

*Did Middle safety Quay Watt talk about some official's mama or something? He took three major penalties. The first, a late hit call on Jonnu Smith as Smith strode up the sideline, was even worse than the one at UMass called on Jephete Matilus. Showing the inconsistency, Smith had just left the field of play by maybe a half stride before Watt hit him. But a few drives later, an FIU player gots tackled halfway into the call. Nice consistency.

Watt also got rung up on a pass interference when Jonnu Smith turned and ran into him as a McGough deep pass sailed over their heads. Now, when it came to the pass interference/holding in the end zone, Watt clearly did all that.

On to next week.  


October 17, 2015

Gameday VII: Stuck in the Middle with Blue; Saturday Swim Dual-a-Palooza moved


Today's last two FIU meets in Dual-A-Palooza, FIU vs. FAU at 10 a.m. and FIU vs. Hurricanes at 3 p.m., have been moved from the Biscayne Bay campus to Gulliver Prep, 6575 Kendall Drive, in the lovely suburb of Pinecrest.

Pool malfunction, says an FIU source. Will it be fixed by the next home meet, Nov. 6 and 7 vs. Illinois? "Hope so."

Anyway, when I talked to FIU swim & dive coach Randy Horner last week, he downplayed the significance of Friday's meet against Conference USA's second best swim team, Rice. Some of the events aren't regulation NCAA events, it's early in the season, etc.

Bet Horner still puts that 133-90 win against Rice, however, with the other feelgood wins on the shelf. On the FIU whole, that almost balances out women's soccer losing 1-0 in double overtime to Western Kentucky and volleyball losing in 3-2 (21-25, 25-21, 11-25, 25-17, 15-8) to Southern Mississippi.

Now, then...

Middle’s first two Conference USA seasons, the Blue Raiders averaged 240.1 rushing yards per conference game. Bunches of running backs coming into the game to steadily move the ball in 4 to 8-yard cracks. Now, with head coach Rick Stockstill's son, Brent, at quarterback, they throw it for over 300 yards per game, 307.2 to be exact over their first six games. The run game's getting only 3.5 yards per crack, 3.9 under my Real Rushing stat, which discounts quarterback sacks.

That's why Middle's thrown 10 more passes than they've run, 21 more subtracting sacks and kneeldowns. That's also why FIU's most worried about wide receivers Ed'Marques Batties, a fifth-year senior, and redshirt freshman Richie James, each of whom has 49 receptions. Expect a bubble screen bath from Middle and the usual Lawrence Welk Show of bubbles and 5-yard Stop-and-Pops from FIU, too. Safe passes, get elusive or strong players in space and see what happens.

If FIU uses 6-5 senior wide receiver Juwan Caesar, it would make sense to use his big body not only as a chain mover, but a people mover. Run the edges to his side, run bubble screens with him making the 3-or-30 block (the block that determines whether the play goes 3 yards or 30 yards). When FIU’s run bubbles using sophomore wide receiver Dennis Turner or sophomore Thomas Owens as the blocker, you can see the play’s potential right before the block gets shed and the receiver upended. 

Middle’s defensive backs didn’t look good against Western. Yeah, I know, Western could make the Seahawks secondary look confused and pregnant. But tackling’s tackling. Or, rather, not tackling is not tackling, in the case of Middle. That's a problem when if you have to deal with El Dorados with acceleration like tight end Jonnu Smith, Ya'Keem Griner, Caesar and Thomas Owens.


As far as the defense Middle runs, FIU coach Ron Turner said, "Very similar to ours -- 4-3, quarters coverage, like a lot of people. They're fairly basic on first and second down, as most people are. But they've got a very good third down package that schematically presents a problem."

Middle's picked off 10 passes this season already. Could be some jumpy defensive backs, especially if they start to think they can time FIU's Stop-and-Pops. With some patience and time, quarterback Alex McGough could find himself with some receivers running relaxed through the secondary like a cigarette ad couple strolling by a country pond.


For what it's worth, this game’s at 11 a.m. Murfreesboro time. Middle looked sleepy for its 11 a.m. start against Western Kentucky last week. FIU had UTEP down for an afternoon nap by noon. Temperatures should be a little nippy for FIU, low 60s, but good football weather.

Both teams, on both sides of the ball, do their job in the red zone partially because both defend the run better than the pass. Both teams also have shown vulnerability to the big play. And I think we'll get several of those. As noted in today's advance story, things tend to get weird when FIU and Middle get together.

Middle's at home. Alabama, Vandy, Illinois and Western in-conference might make the Blue Boy Group a little more competition tempered than FIU. 

Middle Tennessee State 30, FIU 24.

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


October 14, 2015

CUSA Sexy Seven, Bowl Possibilities, Big XY Soccer Weekend


Swimming & Diving -- Friday vs. Rice, 4 p.m.

Swimming & Diving -- Saturday vs. FAU, 10 a.m.

Swimming & Diving -- Saturday vs. University of Miami, 4 p.m.

Men's Soccer -- Saturday vs. Old Dominion, 7 p.m.

Actually, let me open with women's soccer, which can clinch a spot in the Conference USA tournament this weekend. Wins at Western Kentucky and Marshall -- or a win at Western, a tie at Marshall, FAU ties or beats Western Sunday, Louisiana Tech doesn't win both weekend games (got that?) -- put the Panthers into the tournament they'll host Nov. 4-8.

Think that's not a big deal? Ask the nearest FIU softball player, forced to sit in the timeout of offseason while the 2015 Conference USA tournament teams played in her sandbox. Or the remaining women's soccer players from last year's very talented, very underachieving team that somehow didn't make the conference tournament. Or volleyball. Or men's soccer. Or women's basketball.

(Boy, it really was Big Enchilada In or Big Enchilada Out for FIU last year as far as last year's Conference USA tournaments/meets, huh?)


Conference USA's Sexy Seven. Not much movement at the top, but this weekend could make things interesting.

1. Western Kentucky (5-1, 3-0 in conference play): Is North Texas adding a third digit to the visitor's side of the scoreboard for Thursday's game? This weekend: If I have to tell you, you're not paying attention and I'm not coddling that.

2. Marshall (5-1, 2-0): Responded to the challenge by a good Southern Mississippi team by giving them what for, 31-10. This weekend: at FAU.

3. Louisiana Tech (4-2, 2-1): That three-point win over UTSA looked much harder than it should have been. This weekend: at Mississippi State.

4. Middle Tennessee State (2-4, 1-1): The Blue Raiders defense Floundered against Western. (Capitalization intentional. It reminded me of Flounder throwing up on Dean Wormer.). By the way, check out this story on Middle's No. 2 rusher Jeremiah Bryson. This weekend: vs. FIU.

5. FIU (3-3, 1-1): The only team that's kept La Tech under 30 leads the conference in red zone offense, red zone defense and rarely turns the ball over. This weekend: at Middle.

6. Rice (3-3, 2-1): See Louisiana Tech, sub "one-point" for "three-point" and "FAU" for "UTSA." This weekend: Bye.

7. Southern Miss (3-3, 1-1): Todd Monken said it's time for this team to make a move. This weekend: hosting UTSA.

Let's talk bowls and bowl possibilities for FIU.

Nobody's saying FIU can't go to Marshall and win. And, maybe FIU's got the big play defense to fence with the swashbucklers at Western just as Western's offense made it the Metallo to Marshall's Superman last year.

The most likely results, however, land FIU at six or seven wins, the swing game being Middle on Saturday. Breaking down the schedule, it looks like it'll be a perfect fit -- seven bowl-eligible brides for seven bowl brothers. So, which bowl's bed gets FIU? Going chronologically...

Gildan New Mexico Bowl, Dec. 19: This is where UTEP went last year. Rice is the closest. FIU going here makes no sense.

R&L Carriers New Orleans Bowl, Dec. 19: Savvy sportswriters covering games at Southern Miss fly into New Orleans the night before and drive to Hattiesburg on game day. This is Southern Miss all the way.

Miami Beach Bowl, Dec. 21: I wish. But, no.

Last year's Miami Beach Bowl broadcast came back from commercial break to another establishing shot showing a December-chilled nation our sunny Miami home. A bowl suit and I pointed at the screen and laughed, "That's why this game exists!"

To an even greater degree than most bowls, the Miami Beach Bowl's about promoting tourism in our tourism-and-real estate-based ponzi scheme economy. Which means, if at all possible, the bowl wants two teams from out of town to bring their fans to Miami in December. They want two teams from out of town to bring their fan eyeballs to the broadcast, so those eyeballs' owners can see those establishing shots (mini-commercials) and say, "I'm tired of change of seasons."

Also, after last year's shootout-and-brawl between Memphis and BYU, they'll want a team that can help with at least the shootout part. Hello, Western Kentucky.

Popeyes Bahamas Bowl, Dec. 24: Got your passports? Might want to get them ready just in case. This tourism-based bowl would welcome a school a short plane hop away. I'm not sure FIU would welcome the expense compared to the other leading option... 

St. Petersburg Bowl, Dec. 26: The game called the Beef O'Brady's Bowl when FIU met Marshall in 2011 could invite FIU back. Of the seven previous incarnations of this bowl, five have featured a Florida school. Cheap for FIU, an easy gameday drive for fans the day after Christmas.

Zaxby's Heart of Dallas Bowl, Dec. 26: You fly into Shreveport when you go to La Tech and get on Interstate 20 East. The sign for I-20 West says "Dallas." Which is why La Tech went there last year and probably will again this year.

Arizona Bowl, Dec. 29: The first year of anything means all kinds of problems. There were problems in the Bahamas Bowl last year. The Miami Beach Bowl brawl doesn't happen if Memphis' doesn't have to run through the BYU bench to get to its fan section. Bet that'll be changed this year. Rice has more juice in the conference than Middle, so the Blue Raiders could wind up the guinea pig team.


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