Sophomore quarterback Alex McGough shouldn’t play Saturday against North Carolina-Central.
A strong, gutsy young man took a shot to the head hard enough that he needed to be helped up off the faux Indiana grass and could manage only a few yards to the sideline before going down again for a KO count. I’m not a doctor. I’ve just seen enough concussions over almost three decades of covering collision sports that I don’t always need a three-knockdown rule to believe a guy’s head could use some rest and reset time.
Besides, McGough’s got too much of both blue collar competitiveness and swashbuckler in him to have a seat on his own. If backup Trey Anderson can’t handle North Carolina-Central, that speaks to other problems.
As to the play that ended with McGough’s injury and Jameel Cook's 96-yard touchdown that clinched the game for Indiana similar to the way Indiana product Tracy Porter’s 74-yard interception return clinched New Orleans’ 14-point Super Bowl XLIV win over Indianapolis down here in Miami Gardens…bad concept, bad execution.
“We didn’t execute very well,” FIU coach Ron Turner said. “We had two plays called. He went to the second one. I think they checked after when we checked. We still had a chance on it…(Indiana) got some penetration, (McGough) couldn’t get the ball off and just tried to make a play.”
McGough checked off, and dutifully rearranged the backfield.
(Digression: McGough was probably making double sure everyone was in the right place when he indicated where the H-back and sophomore running back Alex Gardner should replace themselves. But is it just me or anybody else notice that when the quarterback has to tell a guy where to lineup to start a play, that player rarely seems to get the ball? I’ve always theorized that’s because when guys know they’re among the top options on a play, they keep deep focus on their position relative to the ball at all times.).
FIU crossed up Indiana on the two-point conversion try after Dennis Turner’s touchdown – essentially a do-or-don’t 3-yard play -- with an inside quick opener to Alex Gardner that was ridiculously open. Maybe going back to that well wouldn’t have been smart, but the cliché rollout pass/run option to the off-hand side when FIU’s pass protection had begun resembling my 33-year-old Flannerhouse 5K road race t-shirt didn’t place anybody in the best position to succeed.
Predictably, McGough got pressured, sacked, tried a desperation throw as he went down and Cook ran it back.
For the three turnovers that handed Indiana 20 points, getting moved aside for 228 yards of what I call Real Rushing (rushing stats with sacks subtracted), here’s how close FIU came to winning Saturday: Wilkenson Myrtil extended to get his hand to break up a post pattern and gave himself a chance at an end zone interception. He couldn’t hold it. Indiana quarterback Nate Sudfeld scrambled for a touchdown the next play when FIU lost containment in the pass rush, one of the few times they did all night against an active quarterback.
On second down before the Pick Six-Concussion, Indiana Dawson Fletcher did an Elongated Man act to get his fingers on McGough’s flick to a wide open Jonnu Smith in the back of the end zone. Fletcher’s alteration caught Smith off guard and the ball glanced off his normally dependable hands. Hey, NHL goalies get beaten by deflections all the time.
Two tough plays. If FIU makes them both, they win. Make one, maybe the game goes to overtime. They made neither and lost.
This isn’t to put the loss on Myrtil and Smith. It’s to show how close victory and defeat live in a game such as Saturday’s.
Had FIU won, the highlights might've on the website might've been a bit thin. Video coordinator Brian Duval, who already has upgraded so much of FIU's in-house production, wasn't brought on the trip. Maybe there wasn't enough room on the charter. If that was the case, they could've left behind a couple of the boosters who clearly don't give enough to keep FIU's athletic department staff from working on a shoestring budget, but act inappropriately enough to be one outburst from getting tossed from the press box Saturday night.
As it turns out, I had a better grasp on this game in our preseason section, when I saw this game as similar to last year’s Pitt game – some big plays out of FIU’s offense, but the Panthers getting pounded down. I was four points off on the score, two too few for Indiana, two too many for FIU.
As FIU linebacker Anthony Wint said, Indiana’s offensive line was stronger overall at the point of attack. FIU’s front four or front seven didn’t play prohibitively worse than against UCF. Their production was worse because this week’s competition, the other side of the equation, possessed more game and physical maturity than last week’s. The Hoosiers go senior, freshman, senior, junior, junior across the front. Not all returning starters and not the best of the Big Ten but four of the five played regularly. That means four guys used to playing big boy Big Ten football.
Also, it didn't help that junior starting middle linebacker Treyvon Williams got benched for the first quarter after missing a meeting.
The Panthers defense hung in there. Excepting the bumping and pawing on the 16-yard bubble screen touchdown, they tackled well and kept giving themselves chances to come up with a drive-stopping play. Indiana’s four longest drives resulted in three field goals and a touchdowns. Most college defensive coaches these days will take that before two donuts.
It helped FIU that Indiana made some strange reads on third and long. FIU’s offense, did, too. As a matter of fact. I’ve never seen a game with so many third and long runs that weren’t draws or option pitches or run out of some ground bound formation such as the Wing-T, single wing or wishbone. And unsuccessful on top of that.
Like UCF, Indiana attacked FIU’s safeties, but they also twice got guys behind cornerback Richard Leonard for big gains. That can’t happen to your best cornerback. That said, it’s far more likely to happen when he needs to move his run support duties up the priority list. Cornerback Jeremiah McKinnon nearly opened the scoring with a pick six and got an interception later. Still, I’m envisioning Western Kentucky’s Brandon Doughty watching both pass defenses in this game with the smiles you see on Tiny and Junior when Big Mama/Abuela starts putting the pork on the table.
Offensively, sophomore wide receiver Thomas Owens showed that he picked up speed, at least football speed, in the offseason. Not even counting his 75-yard touchdown, on which he did a Moses Malone box out on Andre Brown, then dissed not-strong-enough safety Tony Fields with a stiff arm, Owens got behind the secondary a few times. After his 166 yards receiving, fourth most for a single game in FIU history, he said I’d have to ask his teammates how much faster he is. But when you’ve got a big target who can both fight for first downs after the catch and get behind the safety, all kinds of options should flower.
Now, FIU’s got to pick one. FIU opened the game nibbling away at the Hoosiers with three-step drop throws and slant patterns under 10 yards. When the Hoosiers started sitting on the short routes in the second half, the Panthers never seemed to take advantage with pump-and-gos or sluggos. Or, maybe they had them called and the Indiana pass rush flooded the Panthers out of business. They did manage to get a couple of downfield pass interference calls on Indiana cornerback Rashard Fant, who isn’t terribly subtle with the little tugs and holds that are a part of a good corner’s repertoire.
Also, the Panthers wide receivers need to do a better job blocking on those bubble screens. Too many times, a big play got aborted by a block too quickly shed.
I didn’t know what to expect from FIU’s running game because I wasn’t sure what Indiana’s defense would bring. The Panthers didn’t run the ball as well this week, 145 Real Rushing yards on 30 carries, but 38 of that came from Andersen scrambles as he tried to create a Miracle at Memorial.
FIU got too cute in trying to get the ball into freshman Anthony Jones hands. Two inside handoffs? It’s not just about size. Jones is roughly the same size as Alex Gardner. Gardner’s got a running back’s wiggle. Jones brings open field wiggle.
Overall, FIU lost a winnable game. They committed untimely penalties. The quarterback committed three turnovers that led directly to touchdowns (yeah, the blind side sack should also go on tackle Dieugot Joseph’s account, but Joseph did push Nick Mangieri halfway to Bedford before getting falling). They also did several things well, especially considering the caliber of opposition.
They played on even terms with a Big Ten team that might sneak into a bowl game this year. No shame in that. Similar to the Pitt loss last year that got away from them in the fourth quarter, the Panthers just missed an opportunity.
But they’re closer to not missing it.
Cocoa High tight end/quarterback Zach Armour, 6-4, 200, reportedly committed to FIU Sunday.
Here's what he does.