November 19, 2011

Medlock hurt on 2nd play of the game; and other sports stuff.

FIU redshirt freshman quarterback Jake Medlock hurt his right shoulder when tackled on the second play of the game Saturday against Louisiana-Monroe and left the game.

Medlock, making his second consecutive start, kept on an option run around left side, put his shoulder down to crash through several defenders. This time, it was Medlock who remained down. He went to the locker room and returned by first quarter's end -- out of uniform.

Fifth-year senior Wesley Carroll came into the game and guided FIU to a 7-0 lead after the first quarter, 28-10 at halftime. Carroll threw for 196 yards and 3 touchdowns in the first half helped by two spectacular catch-and-runs by Glenn Coleman and T.Y. Hilton.

 

No live blogging here for FIU vs. Louisiana-Monroe. Follow me on Twitter at http://twitter.com/DavidJNeal

VOLLEYBALL

After Western Kentucky pulled another natural hat trick (3-0) on FIU to end the Panthers season Friday night in the Sun Belt Conference Tournament, senior hitter Andrea Lakovic was named to the All-Tournament team. In FIU's two tournament matches, Lakovic pounded 24 kills, six blocks and two service aces. Lakovic ends her career as the rally-scoring era leader in hitting percentage (.302), block assists (351) and total blocks (388) and second in solo blocks (37). Her 1,005 kills rank fifth in the rally-scoring era.

SWIMMING & DIVING

For the first time in the program's history, FIU's ranked in the Top 25 of CollegeSwimming.com's Mid-Major rankings. FIU is No. 24 in the season's first poll.

November 18, 2011

FIU vs. Western Kentucky (one more time); bowl business; Carroll in Battle of Florida

Here we go again. November's become FIU vs. Western Kentucky Month in the Sun Belt Conference.

First, the two schools faced each other in the Sun Belt Tournament women's soccer final, which FIU won on penalty kicks. Later that day, Western hung around until FIU screwed up just enough to lose a key football game at Western. Now, they'll meet in the Sun Belt Volleyball Tournament, Friday at 7:30 after FIU got rid of Denver, 3-1 (25-21, 23-25, 25-21, 25-18) Thursday and Western Kentucky dismissed Troy.

FIU, as host of the tournament, will enjoy a home court advantage. And they don't have an antiquated nickname like "Lady Toppers" (is that a brand of wigs?). Other than that, the preponderance of the evidence suggests another Western win. Only Middle Tennessee State, among Sun Belt schools, emerged victorious from a meeting with Western Kentucky. It'll be FIU"s third match against WKU and FIU's still waiting for their first set win. WKU zapped FIU twice this season, both 3-0 sweeps.

Listening to FIU coach Danijela Tomic's analysis of Western sounded like both the women's soccer and football breakdown: great defense, simple offense. 

Thursday, junior hitter Jovana Bejelica rolled up 18 kills and 15 digs. Marija Prsa banged down 15 kills and 11 digs. Andrea Lakovic had a season-high 16 kills. Jessica Egan rolled up 51 assists and 12 digs.

No. 2 seed Middle Tennessee faces No. 6 North Texas in the first game of the night, a 5 p.m. contest.

FOOTBALL

Quaterback Wesley Carroll might've lost his starting quarterback job to Jake Medlock, but he didn't lose his spot in The Battle of Florida, to take place Jan. 21 in Boca Raton. The game involves NFL draft eligible players who played high school or college in Florida or were born in Florida. Outgoing FAU coach Howard Schnellenberger will coach one team and FSU's former longtime coach Bobby Bowden will be on the opposite sideline.

BOWLING FOR DOLLARS

As expected, sources tell The Herald, if Arkansas State wins Saturday, the Sun Belt tie-in bowls will be Louisiana-Lafayette to the New Orleans Bowl and Arkansas State into the GoDaddy.com Bowl. Everybody else will have to get what they can get.

November 17, 2011

Bjelica All-Sun Belt 1st Team, Sun Belt tourney starts Thurs. at The Bank

OK, just found out I didn't win the lottery. So, might as well file this blog...

FIU junior outside hitter Jovana Bjelica was named All-Sun Belt first team at the Sun Belt Volleyball Awards banquet held at FIU Stadium's Stadium Club.

Bjelica led the Sun Belt in kills per set, 4.60, and was 13th nationally. She was Sun Belt Player of the Week four times, including back-to-back late in the season.

Western Kentucky's Jordyn Skinner was named Sun Belt Player of the Year. The Lady Toppers -- a nickname dumb, dated or nasty to anyone with more than 42 working brain cells -- put three players on the all-conference team, including Ashley Potts, Defensive Player of the Year.

No. 4 seed FIU opens against No. 5 seed Denver. Should FIU beat Denver, which they spanked 3-1 (25-20, 23-25, 25-20, 25-19) at Denver, they'll likely face No. 1 seed Western Kentucky ("likely" translated as "will happen unless the entire Western team gets lost after being sent to look for downtown Sweetwater"). The expected tournament final is Western Kentucky and Middle Tennessee State, both of which skunked FIU 3-0 twice.

So I asked FIU coach Danijela Tomic what made Western and Middle the two preeminent teams in the conference. 

"Very, very different teams. Western is very efficient. It's a simple offensive system they play, but they're very efficient in what they do," Tomic said. "Their hitters don't make too many errors. They play an unbelievable defense. They're just very solid. Solid in every position.

"Middle Tennessee, they're just so athletic. Their game is really, really quick. Their middles, their outsides, right sides, they all probably reach over 10 feet. they're just very physical. The speed of the game against those two teams is very different. Western Kentucky sets a little bit higher, one and a half as we call it in volleyball. Middle Tennessee goes really quickly. Two different teams. It's hard when you play them in two days. You have to adjust one style of play to another." 

FOOTBALL

Time set for the FIU-Middle Tennessee State regular season closer: 3:30 Eastern time. No TV, radio only, maybe online streaming. I recommend beaching yourself on the couch, fat and happy with Thanksgiving leftovers, tuning in on the radio and following me on Twitter (http://twitter.com/DavidJNeal).

November 12, 2011

Football Gameday X, many XX games

I had a furlough day Friday and I'm still chaperoning a sleepover this morning. So, while they're playing Trouble and before I take them out for a wagon ride:

FAU's young. Unless FIU comes out flatter than the Eggo Minis I just served for breakfast or makes some incredible mental screwups -- like taking a 13-yard sack when you're up by two in the last two minutes -- it should be a happy home senior sayonara for FIU.

FIU 33, FAU 10.

That's just one black man's opinion. I could be wrong.

WOMEN'S SOCCER

A 2-0 loss at Central Florida Friday night ended FIU's NCAA tournament after one game. They finish the season 13-7-3. I might have more later on the game and season wrapup.

WOMEN'S BASKETBALL

Sophomore Jerica Coley put up 22 points and 11 rebounds as FIU routed Jacksonville, 63-37 at The Bank in the season opener for both. Coley, starting at point guard this season instead of two-guard, also had eight assists and seven blocked shots. One freshman, Kamika Isom, chipped in 12 points and , another, Zsofia Labady pulled down 10 rebounds.

Monday, FIU hosts Florida Gulf Coast at 6 p.m.

VOLLEYBALL

FIU hadn't lost to South Alabama in seven years, almost two full classes. The Panthers hadn't dropped a set to South Alabama in three years. The Jaguars were 9-17, 4-10 in the Sun Belt and figured to be a fodder on the front end of a regular season-closing Alabama Weekend for FIU.

And FIU lost 3-1 (25-2, 22-25, 18-25, 20-25).

Jovana Bjelica had 15 kills. Sabrina Gonalez had 11. Marija Prsa had 11 kills and 11 digs. Jessica Egan racked up 47 assists.

November 05, 2011

Football Game Day IX, XX Futbol Game Day XXII, what makes Bjelica a baaaad hitter (shut yo' mouth)

Let's break it down -- FIU vs. Western Kentucky. Winner dances. Loser slumps home to cry in their chocolate.

Part I takes place in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, on the campus of Middle Tennessee State. This would be the Sun Belt Conference tournament women's soccer championship. Standing between No. 2 seed FIU and an NCAA tournament bid as Sun Belt champion is No. 4 seed Western Kentucky. Now, I'd just offhand predict an FIU victory as the Panthers showed tremendous heart and leadership in turning their season around after several early games they controlled, but didn't win followed by a 7-0 wasting by Oregon State.

Remember my golf-auto racing analogy from the FIU-Arkansas State pregame post? Applied here would be a team spinning, heading for a low wall and an ugly fate. Instead, they didn't just survive, they kept it off the wall with a 2-1 win over Oregon two days after the Oregon State shellacking and motored to a 11-1-2 record since then. They pulled a team sport version of Danny Sullivan's Spin 'n' Win.

 

But keeping me from an instant prediction that FIU's train keeps a-rollin' is when the two teams met in the regular season both teams had 14 shots at goal, six shots on goal and no shots in the goal. Granted, that was at Bowling Green and this is a neutral site game. But Western lives by defense. In 21 games, the Lady Toppers (ridiculous name) have scored 29 goals and allowed only 17. FIU, with the same 13-6-2 record, has scored 33 goals and allowed 25. Granted, seven of those were in one game, so outside that game, the Panthers goals per game allowed almost equal Western's, 0.90 just above Western's 0.81. Western's Libby Stout got the All-Sun Belt goalkeeper spot.

I don't trust defense-heavy teams in big soccer games. They tend to get so tight, you want to feed them Ex-Lax like M&Ms. They forget that, at some point, you've got to score. I think back to how Italy, which hadn't attacked since World War II, faced wonderfully talented Brazil in the 1982 World Cup, they opened up and won 3-2. In the 1994 World Cup Final, Italy packed it in, barely had possession, got their 0-0 and lost on penalty kicks (as silly a way to decide a title as the shootout in hockey, which is as silly as counting points scored in college overtime the same in team and individual statistics as regulation point).

I say late in the first half, Chelsea Leiva sets up Ashleigh Shim for a goal. Western tries an early second half wave, but FIU's too good at possession. A counter goal puts FIU up 2-0. Forced out of a defensive posture, Western can't get what they want and only half of what they need. FIU comes home 2-1, wins the Sun Belt and a berth in the program's first NCAA tournament in 18 years.

At least, that's one black man's opinion. I could be wrong.

PART II -- FOOTBALL

Back when I was in elementary school, we had these Houghton-Mifflin readers. Early soft cover ones were named after animals such as "Tigers" and "Lions" then you moved up to hardcover books with names like "Rainbows," "Panorama" and "Kaleidoscope" with appropriately trippy 1970s art on the cover. The very first of these readers was "You Can Learn to Read."

I never stopped laughing at the cover and title -- "no kidding, did that three years ago," I thought -- but inside I suspect was the Western Kentucky offensive game plan.

It's the old Walter Payton game plan before the Bears collected quarterback Jim McMahon and the players for the 46 Defense: Walter right, Walter left, Walter up the middle, pass to Walter, halfback option pass from Walter, punt (or Walter quick kick). That's Rainey with Western Kentucky. He's even two for two passing for 48 yards and a touchdown.

Quarterback Kawaun Jakes completes 57.1 percent of his passes to Rainey and a receiving corps that's about as scary as undercooked pasta. Jakes' longest completion of the year is 42 yards...to Rainey, of course. Jakes can boast of a 39-yarder to Jack Doyle. By comparison, FIU has six players with a pass reception covering more than 42 yards. 

Defensive tackle Joshua Forney's supposed to play, but is questionable on how many plays. I don't know if he plays much, if at all. If FIU's defensive tackles, especially Andre Pound and Isame Faciane, dominate inside, Rainey will find himself handicapped by having to carry linebacker Winston Fraser.

On offense, FIU needs to do what they do. In the Panthers case, that means swing from the heels and for the fences. Embrace the big play. If ever there was a game to get all your big play people on the field and touching the ball early, this afternoon in Bowling Green, Kentucky is it. Nothing sucks a little bit of heart out of a team than to grind and push the ball down the field for nothing or a field goal, then get socked back with a three-to-five play touchdown drive. That happens a couple of times and it slowly drains the resolve, drip by drip.

Early in the season, I was convinced we'd have seen a kickoff return for a touchdown by now, either by T.Y. Hilton or against FIU's porous kick coverage. No fools they (at least as far as kickoffs), teams tend to kick away from Hilton. On the other side, the Panthers have improved greatly on kick coverage. Stil, Western averages 27.3 yards per return and has two players, John Evans and Antonio Andrews over 29 yards per return. 

Look for some quick openers early, maybe a counter or a misdirection. Western's athletic, but gives up 147.5 yards per game on the ground. And they have only 13 sacks. Look for Wesley Carroll to go deep after a few probing shots at Western.

FIU gets some early points, 10 maybe 14.Western uses special teams, probably a long kickoff return, to get back into it. Rainey breaks free and runs Western into position for the go-ahead score. That's when Jakes throws another interception. A few plays later, a bomb puts Western down. This time, unlike other times they've had 10-point season half leads, FIU finishes the job. They come home 27-14.

That's one black man's opinion, I could be wrong.

VOLLEYBALL

A sixth straight win, Friday’s 3-0 (25-17, 25-22, 25-18) blasting of Louisiana-Monroe, seems a good time to talk a little Bjelica.

TalkintoBjelica
(Photo by FIU's Maegan Azpiazu)

If you had to pick a pentathlon winner, the best athlete, from the volleyball team just on the eye test, you’d take hitter Jovana Bjelica, the Sun Belt Player of the Week each of the last two weeks. The 5-11 Bjelica possesses a look both sleek and mesomorphic, exuding explosiveness for the sprints and jumps and enough overall strength for the throwing events.

A peek at Bjelica’s genes certainly wouldn’t dissuade you. Dad played pro basketball. Mom sprinted for Yugoslavia’s national track team. Grandma played volleyball. And, yes, Bjelica tried the sprints, long jump and high jump when encouraged to run track as a teen.

“I was pretty good actually,” Bjelica said. “But that sport was boring. It wasn’t creative. You just know what you need to do. Nothing was changing. Not like here, in volleyball, everything is changing second to second.”

So, I felt comfortable assuming Bjelica’s superior athleticism produced her superior hitting ability when I asked FIU coach Danijela Tomic about that.

My assured spike got rejected.

“She’s not the tallest player, but she can jump, she’s very strong in her lower body,” Tomic said. “It’s not really physical. She has a very high volleyball IQ. That’s what separates her from other players. You can have a great athlete who can jump higher than her, can hit ball harder than her, but they don’t have same volleyball IQ.”

When I asked Tomic to explain how Bjelica uses her volleyball IQ, she elaborated, “She sees the block really well. Many hitters don’t see the block. She sees the other side of the court. For example, this past week (now, actually two weeks ago), the set was pretty tight, she had two blocks, she just tapped the ball, just played the ball off of the blocks so she could play it again. She didn’t try to swing it hard and get blocked, just intentionally soft hit or she could play it again or somebody behind in our defense. Or, if she sees two blocks, she’s going to use the outside hand of the hitter.”

Tomic pointed to Bjelica’s hitting percentage in her 31-kill match Oct. 21 against Arkansas State, when Bjelica pounded out the final points in a five-set win. In racking up the third most kills in FIU history, behind two matches by quadruple All-American Yamir Rosa, Bjelica’s hitting percentage was .424. That’s like knocking down 50 points on 60 pct. shooting from the field. Her situation recognition, Tomic said, made her hits count.

Athleticism did propel coaches to play Bjelica up – with 16-year-olds at 13, with grown women at 15 – once she took up volleyball. But, she felt her raw physical ability and knowledge of the game outdistanced weak fundamentals at 15.

Bjelica’s gotten on a roll even after losing main setter Renele Forde to a thigh injury in late September. Redshirt freshman Jessica Egan, also 6-2, adroitly assumed the position she’d shared with Forde. Friday, she got her second double-double of the season with 18 assists and 14 digs.  

“Egan is doing an outstanding job right now, the way she runs the offense, she’s making really good decisions,” Tomic said. “Tactically, she’s doing a very good job. She’s developing the personality of a setter, a leader on the court. She’s getting more confidence because of the way she’s playing, the way her hitters are hitting. You can see it in her demeanor on the court. Egan’s one of the hardest working player on the team.

“I told Egan after that first weekend she played when Renele was injured, this position is hers to lose.”

Bjelica said, “Renele was older, she knew the game a little better. I think Egan is doing a great job. I’m really proud of her. She’s improved so much in the month she’s played. I think she’s doing great and I think she can do much better.”

Using the way Bjelica’s worked with Egan as an example, Tomic said, “If she wants to go into coaching. She could be a very good coach. She thinks the game. “

Told that, Bjelica laughed, “No. Definitely not. Much more fun to be a player than a coach. I wouldn’t like to do it as my career. After I finish here, I would go play professional, then come back here to be an assistant. But I don’t want that to be my career. That’s why I came here to finish school.”

She sees herself using her business degree to work in sports administration.

Huh. I’d always believed what I heard on “The White Shadow:” “Those who cannot do, teach. Those who cannot do or teach, administrate.”

Bjelica’s doing it just fine.

October 31, 2011

Griffin, Bjelica Sun Belt POWs; Seedings, honors for soccers

FIU kicker Jack Griffin, now a semifinalist for the Lou Groza Award, won the Sun Belt Special Teams Player of the Week award for last week's games. Griffin knocked in three field goals against Troy, including the overtime 22-yarder, and kicked off well. His 15 field goals this season are only two behind his school record.

On the downside for FIU, nobody the Panthers needed to lose in the Sun Belt actually did so. Arkansas State beat North Texas to go to 4-0 in the conference. Louisiana-Lafayette spanked Middle Tennessee State, 45-20, so they're 5-1 in conference. Western Kentucky, this week's FIU opponent, outlasted Lousiana-Monroe in overtime as Bobby Rainey ran for another C-note.

VOLLEYBALL

This is the almost-weekly announcement that FIU hitter Jovana Bjelica has been named the Sun Belt's Player of the Week. Again.

In the 10 sets of FIU's three wins against FAU, Troy and South Alabama, Bjelica racked up 52 kills, 26 digs and six blocks. She had two 20-kill matches.

A longer post on Bjelica will be coming in the next few days.

WOMEN'S SOCCER

FIU has the No. 2 seed in the Sun Belt Conference tournament, hosted by Middle Tennessee State, and will open against No. 7 Arkansas State Wednesday at 10 a.m., the tournament's first match. If they win, they'll play at 4 p.m. Thursday against the Denver-South Alabama winner.

In the regular season, FIU beat Arkansas State 2-1 in overtime; South Alabama 2-0 at home; and Denver 1-0 at home. The Denver win gives FIU the tiebreaker for the second seed. FIU also beat No. 1 seed North Texas this season.

MEN'S SOCCER

Sophomore goalie Eric Reyes shared the Conference USA Defensive Player of the Week Award after stopping eight shots, including an overtime penalty kick, as FIU tied No. 25 Alabama-Birmingham 0-0 at UAB Saturday.

The PK was one of several things FIU coach Munga Eketebi didn't like about the officiating.

"I think the ref let the game get out of hand," FIU coach Munga Eketebi said. "It's the first time I've seen 20something fouls called in a game and there wasn't a single card given.The game was a typiical conference battle, but the ref just kept letting everything go. Players eventually started cheap shotting each other."

Saturday was the third time FIU's tied or beaten a ranked team this season, which ends Friday with a home game against Florida Gulf Coast. Senior Night also will be Message from Marli Foundation Night. The foundation raised $40,000 for ovarian cancer research.

October 27, 2011

Men's Hoop Belt Media Day, football injuries, volleyball pounds FAU

Meant to make this post yesterday afternoon, then last night, then fell asleep early after pounding blackened fish and Rice-A-Roni, still didn't win Lotto, so here I am getting my daily cup of Colombian from Europa with a little mini-jambalaya of topics.

FOOTBALL

Wide receiver Glenn Coleman got the wind blasted out of him on the play that resulted in Troy's fumble return touchdown, then spent Tuesday dealing with bruised ribs and a stiff neck.

According to FIU coach Mario Cristobal, defensive tackle Joshua Forney suffered a sprained ankle when we went down in the third quarter.

MEN'S BASKETBALL

 

Only on TV.

The Sun Belt coaches voted FIU 5th in the six-team Sun Belt East and honored only one player, DeJuan Wright, with a preseason All-Sun Belt selection (second-team at that). Somewhat predictably, FIU coach Isiah Thomas didn't show pique at the poll even if he felt it.

"We just want to play well every night," Thomas said during Wednesday's Sun Belt men's basketball teleconference. "Clearly, the people making the poll think other teams have better players than we do and they probably do."

But, Thomas said, he hopes the team learned from the way they lost several close games last year.

"We lost with a young  group that hopefully learned the importance of making foul shots, not making key turnovers in situations," he said.

Thomas also thinks the team's got a better grasp of defensive concepts he wants to execute, which involve a lot of trapping, switching and rotation. FIU's foul problems last season, he believes, came after they got seduced into "excessive gambling" by their success at making steals: "We were second in the league in steals. I think our team got too excited about trying to steal the ball rather than containing their man and forcing a tough shot."

By the way, FAU coach Mike Jarvis responded to being the East Divsion favorite and the consensus overall favorite with some suspicion and paranoia -- "I know there are people who pick us to win because they don't think we will. It's the ol' set up game" -- but also said, "every team I've coached that was expected to win has."

What Jarvis can't be happy about is the only place FIU's been shown any love, the Sun Belt Network schedule. The Panthers have three games on the Sun Belt Network while FAU has only one. That one is the game at FIU Jan. 21. FIU's also on against North Texas, a Feb. 9 home game, and on the road Feb. 16 against Arkansas-Little Rock.

The FIU women will be on Sun Belt Network Dec. 11 at Western Kentucky live. The women's Jan. 21 home game against FAU will be on the next day at 1 p.m. 

VOLLEYBALL

Sabrina Gonzalez had a team high 15 kills, Jovana Bjelica had 11 kills, freshman Silvia Carli had three service aces as FIU crushed FAU 3-0 (25-9, 25-22, 25-16) Wednesday night. FIU's 14-7, 6-4 in the Sun Belt. Or, put another way, 14-4, 6-0 in the Sun Belt against everyone except Western Kentucky and Middle Tennessee State. 

October 25, 2011

Football Gameday VIII, volleyball, smidgen of hoop mention

Even before I heard outside hitter Jovana Bjelica now had a hat trick of Sun Belt Player of the Week awards, I rolled over to The Bank with the intent of talking to the Serbian junior who had 31 kills against Arkansas State Friday and averaged 6.38 kills per set over weekend wins against ASU (five-setter) and Arkansas-Little Rock (1-2-3-and-out)

Though the volleyball team wasn’t practicing, at least not at the normal time, I did wind up talking to a tall, blond woman who was a pretty good college athlete – Inge Nissen, longtime FIU women’s assistant coach, a Hall of Fame player at Old Dominion way back in the day. Our short conversation reminded me that Sun Belt media days for basketball are nigh, Tuesday and Wednesday. FIU women’s coach Cindy Russo’s up late Tuesday morning. So, we’ll finally have some hoop here.

 

FOOTBALL

On to the What Happened To Us? Bowl, between Sun Belt favorites FIU and Troy Tuesday. The advance is at http://www.miamiherald.com/sports.

The line opened with FIU as 5-point favorites. It’s moved up to 6.5 in Vegas, 6.0 on some of the offshore sites. The money’s coming down on FIU. The over/under got set at 55.5 or 56 depending on the book or site. Despite having Sun Belt Preseason Defensive Player of the Year defensive end Jonathan Massaquoi, Troy’s averages giving up 34.7 points per game and 460.8 yards per game, both worst in the Sun Belt, which is akin to being the worst driver in Hialeah. And they play fast, so there’s lots of plays and possessions -- 77.5 plays per game on offense, a conference-highh 77.0 on defense. Ergo, that over/under number would be higher if FIU’s red zone offense didn’t look as confused as Kramer in a hospital.

 

Speaking of which, I keep wondering why FIU didn’t go to 6-4 tight ends Jonathan Faucher and Colt Anderson more in the red zone, where they have one red zone touchdown pass. In the NFL, good red zone offenses often involve good tight end usage. The Patriots in the red zone? Like a Rick Barry free throw. One of the reasons the Dolphins have struggled in the red zone the last two seasons is a) Anthony Fasano’s a C-list tight end and b) they don’t know how to make the most of what Fasano can do.

This isn’t the NFL, but the same logical principles apply. When shrunken space shrinks speed advantages, bring on the combination of quickness and size. When FIU threw to a covered Faucher against Duke, he jumped over the defender for the ball and the touchdown.

Why not do that more often? Mario Cristobal’s answer:

“We’ve seen things that are there for them to have. We plug it in, we rep it, we make it part of the game plan. When we feel they’re taken away or we feel it’s more advantageous to go another route, we do so as well. One thing we have been for the most part is pretty efficient with the football. We haven’t thrown many interceptions. We’d like to stay along those lines when we do throw it. We would like to use them. They are good football players. When the ball’s been throw to them, they have been effective. It’s always part of our regimen looking, not only for the tight ends, but the backs as well, getting the ball to them in the passing game. The outside guys as well, involving them more. That’s a challenge we’re working on consistently – continue to spread the ball around and find the holes in the defense.”

Uh-huh.

However FIU gets to the end zone, the Panthers likely will need to do it often. Stop me if you’ve heard this before – Troy quarterback Corey Robinson averages 296.5 yards per game not far off what Arkansas State quarterback Ryan Aplin did before he met FIU. But Aplin showed up for Tuesday’s game apparently fresh from using the WABAC machine to swipe the body of Turner Gill in his prime. Almost half of Aplin’s 341 rushing yards this season came against FIU.

Offensively, again, FIU should move the ball at will. Troy’s not stopping anybody. We’ll see whether another week at work gives FIU the ability to run their offense without a false start penalty or some basic scewup that brings the drive screeching to a General Lee halt.

Troy’s kicked only six field goals this year. I’ll take FIU 38-35.

That’s just one black man’s opinion. I could be wrong.

October 17, 2011

Pregame FIU-Arkansas State blog coming late night...or tomorrow.

I've had a few days off. I planned to throw up a few blogs during that time as the women's soccer team got a big win, the guys soccer team suffered heartbreak in Dallas against SMU and the volleyball team again got KO'd in straight sets by Western Kentucky and Middle Tennessee State, but, well, it just didn't work out that way and I decided to use my days off to be...off.

I'm covering Dolphins-Jets tonight and have a 6:30 a.m. flight to start the journey to Jonesboro. This causes me to debate the necessity and practicality of sleep. Don't expect the usual pregame blog or if it's of usual length, it'll exceed the others in incoherence (no mean feat). It might get posted tomorrow morning between flights instead of the usual wee hours the night before the game.

Check out Armando Salguero on the Herald's Dolphins-Jets live blog over at http://miamiherald.typepad.com/DolphinsInDepth.

 

 

October 11, 2011

Soccer ties UCF 0-0, Colimon commits for football, Forde gets injured

FIU's men's soccer team's zeroed out their two Top 25 opponents this season after a 0-0 tie with No. 6 Central Florida Tuesday.

Lightning suspended the game with 4:49 left and the rain rendered the field unplayable. Officials called the game.

UCF brought in the nation's leading scorer, McKauley Tulloch, but FIU threw senior defender Jahbari Willis at him. Tulloch mustered only two shots at goal, none on goal. Freshman Rodney Greiling, who blanked No. 21 Kentucky, stopped all six UCF shots.

FOOTBALL

Been watching for when Riviera Suncoast safety Davison Colimon would make his decision on where to go. He'd said it was down to FIU and SMU before the season. He attended the FIU-Central Florida game with Suncoast teammate and close pal cornerback Abiade Granger (rivals.com says Granger has an FIU scholarship offer. Sources based around Camp Mitch say FIU has not offered Granger).

Monday, Colimon verbally committed to FIU. Colimon's a state high hurdles champion and could be moved down to linebacker in the Jimmy Johnson way adopted by FIU.

 

 

VOLLEYBALL

Jovana Bjelica was named Top Performer of the Week by The Collegiate Volleyball Update after her 20 kills and eight digs as FIU swept Flroida Atlantic 3-0 (25-22, 25-23, 25-17). Bjelica's 4.28 kills per set rans 23rd in the nation.

On the downside, setter Renele Forde suffered a thigh strain in practice Monday and coach Danijela Tomic said Forde was questionable for this weekend's matches. I'd go for less than questionable after seeing Forde hobble through the Graham Center this afternoon on crutches with left thigh wrapped. 

Senior Andrea Lakovic said wanting to get work with a new setter is one of the was one of the reasons Tuesday's practice, run by the players after Tomic felt Monday's practice was flat, ran long.

 

October 08, 2011

Football Gameday VI; volleyball; soccers; Hong Kong Phooey

The question for many of you in General Seating for today's NBA all-star charity event at U.S. Century Bank Arena is, “When do I get in line to be sure I claim a good seat?”

My answer would be, “Now.”

FOOTBALL

Like most of the Midwest, Ohio’s filled with pleasant people who chase you down over several floors when they don’t give you back your credit card promptly and who upgrade you automatically to a gargantuan SUV then drop you to a Dodge Charger when you remind them you’re driving around Akron, not the Eastern front. As I was buying an Akron Beacon-Journal, a late 40s guy with scruffy face, jeans, work shirt and baseball cap stopped to tell me a juvenile joke he tells his grandkids. Just because he saw me buying a newspaper and wanted to make me laugh. And this is in an area even more abused by the economy than South Florida.

Ohio’s favorite son, Archie Griffin, is the original subject of the line, “he’s a better young man than he is a football player and he’s the best football player I’ve seen.” That’s Woody Hayes on Archie. Aside from Mister Only Two-Time Stiff Arm Winner (who really is a tremendous person), Ohioans at stadiums on football game days more often resemble Woody’s famed bursts of temper -- angry, gravely-voiced, rude, belligerent, often drunk. Some of these people I count as shirt-off-my-back friends.

As much of a homecoming crowd as you can get for a 1-4 team will be in Akron’s house (I’m not writing that full name until I have to), some riding their first beer buzz of the day. So this tilt should have atmosphere if not fans, about 14,000 actual attendance. It might have a fair amount of scoring, too.

Akron does what teams used to do – pound the ball and, when either you couldn’t do that anymore, or you were doing it so well they feared you, go up top with a play action pass downfield. That’s important – downfield. That’s where FIU’s looked discombobulated lately. Receivers are coming open quickly, then staying open, giving little time for a pass rush. There's been communication issues there not helped by Chuck Grace's absence. If Akron bangs away, I think FIU eventually takes away the run, forces Akron to become one-dimensional while playing from behind, then hunts down the quarterback.

But, Akron might decide early on, "to heck with it, these guys have been eating the run like a Bob Evans breakfast, but seriously refunding against the pass the last two weeks and they've lost two shootouts. Forget about that shortening-the-game stuff. Let's look to throw, especially play action on first and second down, and try to get some points." That's what I would do if I were the Zips. What's to lose?

It won’t matter. Akron can’t stop the run – 4.5 per carry, 204.2 yards per game. So FIU will work it until the Panthers get bored or impatient or decide, eh, we could use another couple of T.Y. bomb touchdowns to get us on a highlight show or two. The last two weeks, the Panthers outmuscled Duke and Louisiana-Lafayette with Darriet Perry handling the load against Duke and Kedrick Rhodes doing 30 carries against Lou-La.

Watch for a kickoff return touchdown or near touchdown by FIU. Akron’s opponents return an average of 25.6 yards per kick and FIU’s fifth in the nation in kickoff returns.

Akron’s bad. FIU shouldn’t be a homecoming miracle victim.

FIU 45, Akron 24

To paraphrase an ex, that’s just one black man’s opinion. I could be wrong (as we've seen the last three weeks).

I won't live blog. I will Tweet throughout, http://twitter.com/DavidJNeal as I won't have the deadline pressure of night games.

VOLLEYBALL

After getting shoved toward the back of the bus by Western Kentucky and Middle Tennessee State last weekend, the volleyball team marched up to FAU to redeem themselves. FIU got some of that with a 3-0 (25-22, 25-23, 25-17) victory. Jovana Bjelica ripped 20 kills, Renele Forde and Jessica Egan, a redshirt freshman, each got 15 assists. This is travel partner week, so no Sunday match for FIU.

WOMEN’S SOCCER

A tie is like kissing your roommate. Or, something like that. FIU played Western Kentucky  to a 0-0 tie Friday night that ends FIU’s winning streak at five, but stretches their unbeaten streak to six. They’re 7-5-1 and 4-0-1 in the Sun Belt.

The men’s soccer team, last seen knocking off No. 21 Kentucky, is at Memphis for a 7 p.m. game tonight. Akron, which is ranked No. 4, would have a much better shot at FIU in this futbol than the American version.

Because it's the kind of sunny, 57-degree Saturday that reminds me of my youth...

 

October 05, 2011

Catching up with football losses, futbol wins, all-star game ticket sales

To get started after a day off Monday...

Serious hoits: Apparently, suddenly getting work with the ball can be hazardous to your health.

Wide receiver Glenn Coleman will miss his second consecutive game with a shoulder injury suffered against Louisiana-Lafayette while catching four of his eight receptions this season. Wide receiver Jacob Younger’s two catches for 26 yards against Duke, one pass completion for 44 yards to Dominique Rhymes and two key penalties apparently came with a shoulder injury. He’s officially questionable for Saturday.

Don’t expect Coleman or free safety Chuck Grace back this week. Guard Curtis Bryant (thumb sprain) is questionable. 

The Line: FIU opened a 19-point favorite. It’s up to 19.5 or 20 depending on which sportsbook you check. Translation: some light FIU money by serious bettors who like to get down on games before the sportsbooks figure out they might’ve miscalculated on a line. 

Timeouts and such: As I forgot to ask about the timeout usage in the postgame and had Monday off, I brought it up to Mario Cristobal Tuesday. He gave a full explanation of those and threw in a side swipe at me for questioning in the blog them not running Perry on third and 1 in the fourth quarter on the play Wesley Carroll bounce passed a hitch to Wayne Times. One of you tattletales definitely told him about the latter and probably the timeout section, too. I couldn’t help envisioning some guy my age in t-shirt and khakis yelling in Eric Cartman voice down Collins Avenue, “Coach Cristobal! Coach Cristoballll! David just said you waste timeouts and, for the third time in three weeks, called out your running back usage!”

(How do I know someone told him? He said someone called him on the Perry thing. When I expressed mock disappointment that he didn’t read the blog, he gave an explanation that could be summed up thusly: I don’t know enough to make it worth his while to read me. I thought, “Aw, SNAP.”)

After I stopped laughing at all of that, I thought of this…

 

Anyway, as he’d said Saturday after the game about the second timeout in the second half, a player got rocked and disoriented. The first timeout of the half, off the fourth and 1, he said was caused by “a personnel issue.” He wouldn’t elaborate, but I have the feeling that it wasn’t all about FIU’s personnel.

The first half timeout on a second and 3, he said, “They jumped into something that was very foreign and did not match up with the play or the check to it. We hoped that they were bluffing or disguising something and they didn’t. So we used it for that purpose.”

He did admit they perhaps would’ve liked to have had one of the first half timeouts back. While talking timeouts, without segue, he jumped to:  

“And third down over here, that is a run play. I know you had written that it was a throw out on third down with Perry getting hot. It is a run first play. That’s a read option. When there’s six guys in the box, plus a seventh safety coming in the corner where we’re playing it, you’re outnumbered by two. It’s all option football. So you have to pull it. You keep it there, you’re going to get blasted for minus two.”

SOCCER STUFF

For shutting out No. 21 Kentucky 1-0 on six saves in his first collegiate game, freshman goalkeeper Rodney Greiling got the Conference USA Defensive Player of the Week honor. Usual starter Eric Reyes got sidelined by an illness, moving Greiling's debut up by several games.

She didn't get Sun Belt Conference Player of the Week, but few players have been as tangibly hot as freshman forward Ashleigh Shim. In the women's team's current five-game winning streak, Shim's picked up a point in four games and her two goals Sunday against South Alabama gave her four goals and an assist in the streak.

ALL-STAR GAME TICKET SALES

A line at FIU for basketball tickets? A line two or three times greater than the actual attendance for most of the games I’ve covered at FIU? I couldn’t miss the opportunity to see that. So I swung by Alfonso Field at FIU Stadium at Camp Mitch Monday morning after dropping the kid off at school. Ticket sales for "LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh present The South Florida All-Star Classic" figured to be amusing, at least. 

Some snapshots from the morning.

 South Westside-20111003-00143

South Westside-20111003-00142 
South Westside-20111003-00141 

 

Two young women left the southeast window with Lower Bowl reserved seats, which were sold out in about 40 minutes. Immediately, a guy in a white shirt and sunglasses descended on them asking if they would sell. “No.” He left.

I said to them, “You didn’t even want to hear his offer?”

One said, “No! We just paid $100 a piece for these!”

And probably could’ve sold them right then for at least $200. I understand you camp out for royalty seats to what you think is a once in a lifetime event that’s going to be The Scene, man. Been there. I’m not sure how much money you would’ve had to offer my 9-year-old butt for my 1977 Indy 500 ticket, but you don’t have it on you and probably can’t get your hands on it. But I was 9.

As a college student and as a full adult, with food to buy and rent to pay, I’ve at least thought about going for the money – Publix and FPL don’t cash memories. To not even listen to the man’s offer says you have too much money or too little sense.

It was nice meeting those of you who stopped me to say hi or ask if I knew what was going on as far as if or when they would stagger the opening of the windows. Oh, for those of you who saw me being so absorbed doing a crowd estimate count that I went on the wrong side of the open gate at the southwest corner of the stadium and ran into a fence: I hope you saw the whole thing and laughed really hard.

At first, surely to create buzz and a great scene for media, tickets were to be sold only at the Fieldhouse University Credit Union Box Office. Great idea, I thought. About as pure as it gets, gives an advantage to students and the scarcity of tickets in the hands of ticket brokers would really drive up the secondary market prices, multiplying the buzz.

Upon rolling up Monday, I saw lines running from ticket windows on the south side of the stadium, in addition to the one at the main box office. And two of the south side ticket windows had signs announcing “Upper Level GA $50 CASH ONLY” while others were marked “Lower Reserved $100 Upper Level GA $50.”

Uh, oh.

This is where old school concert ticket buying training would’ve come in handy. Back when TicketMaster was young, jheri-curls were cool and if somebody said an album dropped, we figured it broke, concerts meant camping out at a record store with a TicketMaster machine and as much cash as you could scrounge. Nobody used credit cards to buy tickets. Too much could go wrong with credit cards. Machines could get slow (happened Monday at one window) or just stop working. And, a cash transaction was faster, a big consideration when a few seconds could cost you a few rows or even a section.

(Besides, you couldn’t give up your credit card to the person buying your tickets. You never bought your own tickets. There was a 12-ticket per person limit. As we were suburban spawn but no longer in an area so rural we had fields that needed tending by a large brood, nobody had that many brothers and sisters. So, the first person in line bought their ticket, their best friends’ tickets and probably those wanted by No. 2 in line. The No. 2 person did the same and so on. For Van Halen in 1984, I was 16th in line at the Georgetown Road Karma, but my money was up at No. 4. A lot of camaraderie and trust in those concert camp outs, now that I think about it. Each of us in line was holding hundreds of OPM (Other People’s Money), but beyond No. 3 or 4 in line, most of the people whose money we held, we had met at the camp out. Once, when I had to work a Mickey D’s shift a 15-minute drive away, I was given a ride and marked as present for the eight hourly attendance checks of my shift.)

What ensued Monday was predictable. First, came the complaints from those in the main box office line about the other windows opening at the same time. The main Fieldhouse box office opened approximately 20 minutes early, I’m told (I left at 11:15 to run an errand and came back at noon). And heeeere come the complaints from those in Upper Level Only lines that they didn’t know this line was Upper Level Only until they got near the window (reading is fundamental, folks.). Some of that group complained when they weren’t allowed to slide over into the front of the All Tickets Cash or Credit line. And, predictably, those lines moved more ponderously than Vince Wilfork does with a football.

When the cash only lines cleared quickly, the remaining desperate ticket brokers whipped out cash and lumbered through a couple more times. In the following video, you see a stampede for the last open window.

 

Angry folks still without tickets at the 1:49 p.m. announcement of "sold out!" griped they didn’t know there would be separate lines or that it would help to have cash or that some tickets were flipped on the spot for decent whip-out. My brow wrinkled with incomprehension -- how could they be surprised? – before I realized most of these students were used to buying tickets online.

“It’s socialism!” shouted one young man whom I hope isn’t a student.

No, son, it’s about as pure a form of capitalism as you’re likely to see.

October 03, 2011

Football recruiting, soccer winning, volleyball, well...

Saturday's loss to Duke didn't hurt recruiting. FIU's engaged to be engaged to a couple of more prospects.

Lemarq Caldwell, a 6-0, 210-pound Tampa Bay Tech High running back making his visit this weekend, verbally committed to FIU Sunday, according to sources around the Mitch Madique Campus. Caldwell's a power back as well as the kind of taller, heavier durable back that FIU would like to add.

Sources around Camp Mitch confirmed that Tampa Jefferson wide receiver Adrian Jenkins also has committed verbally to FIU. Jenkins is 6-3, 195 who looks like a possession receiver among the class of pass catchers the Panthers have coming.

Interesting stat: With Wesley Carroll at quarterback, FIU has 9 touchdown plays of 15 yards or longer, 3 touchdown plays shorter than 15 yards and 3 field goals shorter than 32 yards.

So when FIU snaps the ball inside the opposing 15-yard line with Carroll at quarterback, they're as likely to get a field goal as a touchdown.

THE SOCCERS

Freshman Roberto de Sousa's goal with 33 seconds left in the first overtime pushed FIU over No. 21 Kentucky 1-0 and pushed FIU (4-4-2, 1-1) back up to .500 Sunday afternoon.

Following de Sousa's heroics, another freshman, Ashleigh Shim, scored twice to lead the women's soccer team to its fifth consecutive win, 2-0 over South Alabama.

VOLLEYBALL

Defending Sun Belt champion Middle Tennessee State walked into U.S. Century Bank Arena, spanked FIU 3-0 (25-20, 25-12, 25-18). This left FIU (10-5, 2-2) 0-2 on the weekend, 0-6 in sets against Western Kentucky and Middle Tennessee. Jovana Bjelica had a team-high 10 kills. Judging from following this match on Twitter, you took about as long to read this summary as long it took Middle Tennessee to wax FIU Sunday. Must have been angry over having to miss church.

October 01, 2011

Football Gameday V & other balls, including ticket info on Wade, LeBron, Bosh game

The first part of this is a rerun from Friday afternoon's blog post. If you saw that, feel free to skip past this to the football, volleyball, futbol or whatever ball-type thing gets you groovin'.

 PSEUDO-NBA BASKETBALL

The NBA put an All-Star Game in Miami in the second year of the Heat and Miami Arena, a building that was outdated about 15 minutes after it opened. Why the NBA hasn't brought it's winter showcase back to Miami, despite American Airlines Arena downtown on the bay and South Beach nearby (maybe that's the reason), is a mystery. Which makes it all the more ironic that the next time a near all-star game gets played in Miami, it's at a small college arena in the suburbs.

Tickets for that game, "LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh present the South Florida All-Star Classic" at FIU's U.S. Century Bank Arena, 7 p.m., Oct. 8 will go on sale Monday at noon at the University Credit Union Box Office on the first floor of the Fieldhouse adjacent to at FIU Stadium. No phone or online orders will be taken. Tickets will cost $50 for upper bowl general admission, $100 for lower bowl reserved. Fans can buy two tickets per person until 3 p.m., four tickets per person after that.

The game, which Wade billed on Twitter as DWade vs. King James, will include the Heat's Big Three, the Knicks Carmelo Anthony and A'mare Stoudemire, Oklahoma City's Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, New Orleans' Chris Paul, and many other stars.

Proceeds will go to Mary's Court Foundation, a foundation established by FIU coach Isiah Thomas in honor of his strong-willed mother, the late Mary Thomas

FOOTBALL

This is going to look like a Reader’s Digest Condensed Book version of my usual pregame posts. I’m tired, have a stuffy nose, a Long Island waiting and a dissatisfaction with how much I’ve seen of Duke.

This is the kind of wacked team that drives fans and coaches crazy, makes prognosticators look stupid and keeps bettors away from like the team came Chernobyl-dipped. Losing to Richmond (what?), drilled by Stanford (expected), then punking Boston College (everybody’s doing it) in a comeback win, then blowing Tulane off the field.

Take that BC game. Duke allowed BC only three first downs on the ground, but trailed BC 19-7 in the third quarter. They came back to win 20-19 after a last second BC field goal attempt went awry.

When a line finally came up for this game after FIU coach Mario Cristobal said quarterback Wesley Carroll would play, it was FIU by 3. That’s moved to 3.5 to 4, depending on where you look. Translation: some money on FIU, probably not much, and even less on Duke. Bettors are staying away from this one.

Duke lost defensive end Kenny Anuike, their best pass rusher, to injury early against Tulane. FIU will be without free safety Chuck Grace (right knee) and wide receiver Glenn Coleman (shoulder).

Duke undoubtedly saw the trouble Louisiana-Lafayette caused FIU with the quick wide receiver screen. FIU’s defensive backs couldn’t get off the Lou-La wide receivers’ blocks, thus allowing at least 5 to 7 yards before ball carrier contact. Eventually, they’ll draw FIU up, fake a hitch and throw the go. Until you prove you're not a fool, you'll get played for one.

FIU failed in both ends of its pass defense last week, but the pass rush gets the bigger they pass/you fail grade because that grew into a given after three weeks. When it didn’t get there last week, even by blitz, the secondary couldn’t maintain coverage. FIU coach Mario Cristobal uses “big” to describe every offensive line the Panthers face. But for Duke’s, he also used “long.” Long arms…that’s what scouts look for when searching for linemen that’ll keep the quarterback from being treated like a piñata at Westchester triplets birthday party. Cristobal’s worried about the pass rush getting erased for a second consecutive week.

One thing Lou-La did to loosen up FIU that the Dukies will do just because it’s their wont is throw on first down.

Duke allowed only eight rushing first downs against Tulane and BC. Take away the sacks and they allowed a combined 161 rushing yards on 43 carries, 3.7 per carry. Not overly permissive, but not The Great Wall of Durham, either. Richmond ran for 95 on 31 carries (no sacks). Duke coach David Cutliffe felt Tulane and BC were more straight ahead, physical teams. Cristobal called defensive tackle Charlie Hatcher “as good as we’ve faced” and, remember, Duke lost defensive end Anuike.

Add it up and I see another game where the shifty Kedrick Rhodes gets the bulk of the carries for FIU.  

Wesley Carroll’s back at quarterback for FIU. Despite an ankle that might still be bothering him, he needs to be a better passer than the Wesley Carroll who played against Central Florida and Louisiana-Lafayette. Against UCF, he was just a bit scattershot. Though the play calling got stale against Louisiana-Lafayette after the opening drive, Carroll’s decision-making wasn’t exactly Manning-esque before his injury. Carroll takes too many Ken O’Brien sacks/hits, where he holds onto the ball too long. By contrast, one play last week, he threw a panicky pass with the nearest upright Lou-La player pondering Kierkegaard on the sideline.

As well as Jake Medlock – the name just sounds like it should be followed by “A Quinn Martin production” – played against Lou-La, there were moments when Carroll would’ve made better reads. Against Duke, FIU needs to put more of the game in Carroll’s hands and he needs to be the senior leader in performance he can be. The plays -- small, medium, large and T.Y. Hilton – were there against Louisville and should be there against Duke.

Richmond’s Tre Grey got Duke for eight catches and 129 yards. That’s a secondary that should fear Hilton, even at 80 percent Hilton, or Wayne Times.

Let’s say both teams move the ball well. There’s been a defensive score in every FIU game so far, so figure on one here by FIU – a jumped route, a post-reception fumble, something along those lines. That score could wind up being the difference in a game where the punters should be able to spend the game arguing with the cheerleaders over who's the better athlete.

FIU 38, Duke 35.

But that’s just one black man’s opinion. I could be wrong (and have been the last two weeks).

VOLLEYBALL

In less time than it took my daughter to finish two bowls of matzoh ball soup, Western Kentucky swept FIU out of U.S. Century Bank Arena 3-0 (25-17, 25-22, 25-19). Jovana Bjelica had 13 kills and Chanel Araujo had 14 digs as Western left the former Sunblazer Arena with a win for the second consecutive season.

Defending Sun Belt champion Middle Tennessee State visits Sunday at noon.

WOMEN’S SOCCER

Since the humiliation by Oregon State two weeks ago, the women footballers have run off four in a row, the latest a 3-0 spanking of Troy Friday that gets them to 3-0 in the conference. They’re also 6-5 overall, their first time above .500 this season.

Chelsea Leiva and April Perry, striking early and late, each got her second goal of the season. In the middle, sub Deana Rossi sent FIU into halftime with a 2-0 lead off an assist from Kelly Ann Hutchinson. Hutchinson and Nicole DiPerna, who set up Leiva’s goal, are tied for the team lead with three assists.

South Alabama’s up next, at 2 p.m., Sunday.

September 30, 2011

Ticket information for Oct. 8 game with Wade, LeBron, Bosh, A'mare, Carmelo, CP3

Here's what you've been awaiting.

Tickets for the"LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh present the South Florida All-Star Classic" at FIU's U.S. Century Bank Arena, 7 p.m., Oct. 8 will go on sale Monday at noon at the University Credit Union Box Office on the first floor of the Fieldhouse at Alonso Field at FIU Stadium. No phone or online orders will be taken. Tickets will cost $50 for upper bowl general admission, $100 for lower bowl reserved. Fans can buy two tickets per person until 3 p.m., four tickets per person after that.

The game, which the Heat's Dwyane Wade billed on Twitter as DWade vs. King James, will include the Heat's Big Three, the Knicks Carmelo Anthony and A'mare Stoudemire, Oklahoma City's Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, New Orleans' Chris Paul, and many others.

Proceeds will go to Mary's Court Foundation, a foundation established by FIU coach Isiah Thomas in honor of his strong-willed mother, the late Mary Thomas 

2. Between paying attention that game, Rosh Hasannah -- Christian me read the first night prayers for our house in English and bad Hebrew off my BlackBerry in my right hand while hodling a Heineken in my left and had a great second night dinner at a friend's house -- football, furloughs and such, I've slept on a huge night for volleyball at The Bank Friday.

Yarimir Rosa, FIU's first four-time All-American, will have her number retired after the first big deal home match of the season, 6:30 against Western Kentucky. FIU's desire for an undefeated season at home gets perhaps its stiffest pre-Sun Belt tournament challenge here. Western's 15-1 and got five votes in the last Top 25 poll. Not only did this school spike FIU out of the 2010 Sun Belt tournament, 3-0, but it handed FIU its only home loss of the 2010 season, 3-2.

Western calls its women's teams, "Lady Toppers." I refuse to use a nickname that manages to be both archaically sexist and oxymoronic.

3. The Swimming & Diving team opens its season at 6 p.m. up on the Biscayne Boulevard Campus against Florida Gulf Coast. FIU's 2011 recruiting class ranked 23rd by collegeswimming.com.

4. Women's soccer, which opened Sun Belt conference play with a pair of wins last week and evened their overall record at 5-5, hosts Troy at 7:30. Senior defender Kelly Ann Hutchinson leads the team in scoring with three goals and two assists, but during FIU's current three-game winning streak, freshman Ashleigh Shim has two goals and an assist.

 

September 26, 2011

Carroll & Hilton practice; Bjelica, Sun Belt POW (again); women's hoop sked highlights

Not sure why the first injury I asked Mario Cristobal about after Monday’s practice was safety Chuck Grace. Maybe because Grace still has a brace eating up his right leg while quarterback Wesley Carroll and wide receiver T.Y. Hilton can be seen around campus walking normally. And Grace’s side of the ball reached a far deeper level of failure Saturday than Carroll and Hilton’s, turning Lou-La quarterback Blaine Gauthier into the Sun Belt Offensive Player of the Week.

As for Carroll and Hilton, Cristobal said, “He’s going to be fine. He practiced today. T.Y. continues to get better.”

Asked straight up if Carroll would start against Duke, Cristobal said, “I expect him to be fine, I do. If he had to go back in this past Saturday and just sit there, he would’ve been OK. It just wasn’t that type of game.”

Grace will be out for another two weeks with a knee injury. Wide receiver Glenn Coleman has a right shoulder injury.

The Zeppo?: A blog reader asked if running back Darian Mallary was injured. Among FIU's returning quartet of backs, none have carried the ball less than Mallary. It would be hard to -- Mallary has one carry for 1 yard.

Mallary hasn't looked hurt to me, but I asked El Jefe de Futbol FIU about it.

"He's OK. He's a good football player. He's helped us win a lot of games. He's going to help us win a lot of games," Cristobal said. "We're a litlte thick at that position right now. Shane Coleman's also a good player we'd love to play this year and not redshirt." 

Opening line vs. Duke: Not on the boards yet, according to vegasinsider.com. Quarterback injuries tend to do that. The sports books probably hate FIU after taking a beating on the Louisville game and probably taking a minor smack on Saturday’s loss to Louisiana-Lafayette.

TV thoughts: This game, which got upgraded from ESPN3 to ESPNU, suffered a couple of inches of shrinkage with Saturday’s loss. I was surprised, knowing how he can be, that Cristobal didn’t believe the increased media attention or talk of undefeated seasons caused any focus problems that manifested themselves Saturday. I tended to agree with Kedrick Rhodes, that the team lost something after the opening drive.

"I don't think it did at all. If we came out flat, i would've said so," Cristobal said. "We come out and score in five plays. And we come out and force three-and-outs right away. I don't think we responded well enough when the momentum slowly, slowly started to go back their way."

One of the ESPNU color commentators on the Duke game will be Danny Kannell, who went from Fort Lauderdale Westminister Academy to Florida State to the Giants for several years.

Blood: I did finally get one question answered about cornerback Jose Cheeseborough. As a lifelong track fan, seeing a Cheeseborough from Jacksonville caused me to wonder if he was any relation to Jacksonville native Chandra Cheeseborough, a track sprinter who began racking up medals in international meets when she was 16 and became one of the most decorated sprinters in U.S. history.

“Distant cousin,” Jose said. “I’ve never met her.”

Committment: Nick England, a running back from Suwanee (Ga.) Collins Hill, verbally committed to FIU. England might play wide receiver at FIU. He allegedly runs a 10.5 100 meters.

 

VOLLEYBALL

The football team's three-week streak of having a Sun Belt Player of the Week ended (no, making Blaine Gauthier Offensive Player of the Week doesn't count). But Jovana Bjelica took up the slack, taking her second volleyball POW award in the last three weeks.

As FIU dispatched North Texas and Denver over the weekend, Bjelica rolled up 36 kills in eight sets. She had 12 digs against Denver to go with 19 kills for her sixth double double of the season.

WOMEN'S BASKETBALL

FIU hosts Maryland and Cal State-Bakersfield in its Thanksgiving Classic, Nov. 25 and 27, and Auburn, Charlotte and Albany in its Fun & Sun Classic, Dec. 29 and 30, on the schedule announced Monday.

The other highlights of the schedule for head coach Cindy Russo's 33rd season at FIU: Season opener and home opener, Nov. 11 vs. Jacksonville; first Sun Belt conference game, at Western Kentucky, Dec. 11; first home Sun Belt game, Jan. 7 vs. Louisiana-Monroe; regular season closer, Feb. 25 vs. South Alabama; Sun Belt tournament, Mar. 3-6, in lovely Hot Springs, Arkansas.

FIU Sports' Chromosome Weekend

The teams with a Y chromosome are asking "Why?"

As in, "why did the football team suddenly show up with a laissez-faire Sun Belt defense and look stunned that Blaine Gauthier, the Sun Belt Offensive Player of the Week, can pass something other than gas?" Or, for men's soccer, which lost in double overtime Friday, "why can't we even finish our Sunday game?" Up 2-1 at home on Howard on goals by Quentin Albrecht and Lucas Di Croce, FIU saw hard rain and lightning bring a halt to the game.

Meanwhile, the teams with two X chromosomes, the volleyball and women's soccer teams, each went 2-0 on the weekend as they opened conference play. The volleyball team dumped North Texas Friday and Denver Sunday. Jovana Bjelica had a team-high 19 kills Sunday. Renele Forde piled up 53 assists. The women's soccer team went to Arkansas-Litle Rock and Arkansas State and, on Pork Out Sunday at the Neal household, finished a weekend sweep with a 2-1 overtime win. Senior April Perry scored in overtime off a feed from Ashleigh Shim. Nicole Di Perna opened the scoring.

Although at the end of the day, the women's soccer team might've been asking "Why?" -- they didn't make their connection in Atlanta and spent Sunday night there.

September 24, 2011

Women Win, Men Lose, Football Gameday IV

Not to be confused with The Carter IV, referenced in today’s game advance now up at http://www.miamiherald.com/sports.

Bad enough for FIU that Sun Belt teams don’t win out of conference. Friday night, Central Florida failed against BYU. That little bit of BCS-ing out of the way, let’s get to FIU vs. Louisiana-Lafayette.

All week, this game reminded me of the gag at 3:06 in Stop, Look and Hasten (1954), the best of the early Roadrunner cartoons. (Gee Whiz-z-z (1956) is the best of them all, although Chuck Jones himself showed a special affinity for Zoom and Bored (1957).)

  

FIU’s shown excellent resiliency at key points each of the last two weeks. This game will test their focus.  

After getting the kid to bed each night this week, I’d settle into a long-ago present from the wife, a sleek German-designed recliner, and watch Louisiana-Lafayette Square against Oklahoma State in the season opener.

That was Lou-La’s first game under head coach Mark Hudspeth and against a program now ranked in the top 10.  Actually, what impressed me factored in all that.

Even as T. Boone Pickens State took the switch to Lou-La, 61-34, you could see the talent on the losing side, such as wide receiver/kick returner Darryl Surgent easing up field on a 31-yard punt return. On a per capita basis, Louisiana’s about as good as it gets for producing football talent. There’s more NFL players from Florida, California and Texas, but also a whole lot more electoral votes.

Louisiana-Lafayette’s offensive line gets bigger as you go left to right: 296, 300, 305, 324, 330. That’s a 311 average Both Louisville and Central Florida, got some push early before those big bodies wore down as the games wore on in the late summer swelter. September heat and humidity, particularly the South Florida brand, turned those offensive lines into a Deuce-and-a-Quarter getting started on a 15-degree morning by late in the second quarter. Will Louisiana-Lafayette Jeff, from a pretty dehydrating part of the U.S. itself, wilt the same way?

Despite size and talent, Lou-La can’t get it together on offense. In their other game against a Division I opponent thus far, Kent State, they managed only 159 total yards. That’s an acceptable showing only if the Kent defense lined up 11 Jack Lamberts coordinated by Nick Saban. Against Division I-AA Nicholls State, they moved only 280 yards.

Hudspeth blamed some of their offensive problems on an inability to settle on a starting quarterback between Blaine Gauthier and Chris Masson. He also said he’d like to let Blaine Gauthier throw the ball a little more. That would seem logical, especially on first or second down. FIU’s been beating up quarterbacks on third and long after beating up running backs on first and second down. 

I see no reason for FIU to play T.Y. Hilton and his strained right hamstring more than 15 snaps. If Hilton does play – and he’s expected to -- I’m not sure FIU will use him often in much more than a decoy capacity. Besides, Wesley Carroll’s been erratic the last two weeks and Louisiana-Lafayette Road Drive-In sustains itself on interceptions and pick sixes. Lionel Stokes should’ve had two more interceptions early against Oklahoma State.

From what I saw, the kind of runner who succeeds against this defense possesses vision and quickness, more a Kedrick Rhodes-type runner. Lou-La’s cornerbacks come down very low to help in run support. Expect FIU to try to back off the cornerbacks early with some stuff downfield, then move the ball with an implacable running game.

I don’t see many points for Louisiana-Lafayette unless FIU scores at such warp speed, Lou-La gets as many possessions as it could ever want.  I’m not sure about FIU. Overall, that is. Here, I’m sure they’re better than Louisiana-Lafayette and they’ll slowly pull away as the game huffs and puff toward its finish.

FIU 27, Louisiana-Lafayette 10.

Then again, that’s just one black man’s opinion. I could be very much in the wrong.

WOMEN'S SOCCER

This is a reversal  for the start of the conference season -- FIU got outshot by Arkansas-Little Rock 15-9, yet won 2-1 on goals by freshman Ashleigh Shim and Crystal McNamara.

It's the second consecutive game with a goal for Shim, who was set up by sophomore Nicole DiPerna. It's also the second consecutive win for FIU (4-5, 1-0).

MEN'S SOCCER

A male freshman, Arnthor Kristinsson, also has a two-game goal scoring streak working for FIU. Unfortunately, the team has a two-match losing streak after falling 2-1 in double overtime to Marshall at FIU Soccer Stadium. Marshall's Anthony Vigara struck both in regulation and in the 102nd minute. The men are now 3-4 and 0-1 in Conference USA.

VOLLEYBALL

In Denton, Texas, FIU took four sets to defeat North Texas 3-1 (25-15, 21-25, 25-18, 25-19). Renele Forde piled up 36 assists and 19 digs, both team highs. Jovana Bjelica had 17 kills and Marija Prsa had 12. FIU (9-3, 1-0) now heads for the University of Denver for a match Sunday.

 

September 22, 2011

Hilton, volleyball, soccer hitting the Belt

The Heisman Trophy goes to the best player in college football. Or, the best player with some preseason hype who makes highlight film plays while putting up numbers you can’t ignore while playing a skill position on a nationally prominent team.

That couldn’t have been made clearer when T.Y. Hilton moved up six spots, from 24th to 18th, on StiffArmTrophy.com’s list this week. Hilton picked up only 36 all-purpose yards -- his total after the opening kickoff against Louisville – against Central Florida. He played, essentially, one half. But FIU beat UCF 17-10 to move to 3-0. So up the list went Hilton. The poll contacts 49 Heisman voters in 29 states.

It’s a shame if this strained hamstring hampers Hilton beyond this week, if it does this week. I say that not because I’m rooting for FIU. I cover FIU but I’ve been in this business too long to confuse the fortunes of the team or school I cover with how well I do my own job. I say that as someone who hates to see injuries cut away the limited time for college athletes. That always makes me think of Kelvin Bryant. The North Carolina running back racked up 15 touchdowns in the first three games of his senior season, then suffered a knee injury. Bryant came back that season, but not with the same form. A season that could’ve rivaled Marcus Allen breaking the 2,000-yard rushing barrier for the Heisman Trophy and could’ve given North Carolina an outside shot at the national title got kneecapped.

Besides, Hilton at speed reminds me of a well-made Long Island iced tea – smooth and cool while it’s knocking you out.

TIME TO BELT THE BELT

Thursday afternoon, the women’s soccer team had landed in Memphis and was bouncing toward its weekend in Arkansas, against Arkansas-Little Rock Friday and their first Sun Belt match, Arkansas State, Sunday. They’re coming off a 2-1 win against Oregon in last week’s Nike Invitational.

Meanwhile, the 8-3 volleyball team gets its first piece of Sun Belt action from 9-6 North Texas Friday and 3-9 Denver Sunday. FIU goes into the weekend with four-match winning streaks against each.

That leaves the men’s soccer team to be the Friday night home appetizer on the home athletic weekend, facing Marshall at 7 p.m. The Sunday brunch I like to fix – eggs, pound or more of bacon, several sausages, biscuits – will be destroyed by the time men’s soccer puts the Sunday brunch finisher on the weekend when they host Howard at 1 p.m.

September 18, 2011

FIU gets Top 25 votes...and a few thoughts from FIU 17, UCF 10...and a little volleyball

FIU received votes in the AP and the USA Today Coaches polls for the first time in program history Sunday. The Golden Panthers picked up four votes in the AP poll and 11 votes in the coaches poll.

Fall2011 008 

Last week, as I sat on the cement steps outside the visitors' locker room in Louisville, frantically writing an already late game story, a gleeful Mario Cristobal appeared over my shoulder. He said a few things then as he bounced away, I said something like this creates the possibility for something huge in the bigger picture. He threw a smile and "now, now" gesture, thinking I was talking about his future coaching picture. "No," I said shaking my head. "13."

As in 13-0. I thought it was possible then. Now, the only thing that keeps at least 12-0 from being probable is most college teams lose a game or two each season that they shouldn't. We're talking about great athletes, but great young athletes. They have a bad day or the other guys have a great day or the ball just doesn't bounce their way. That's the only reason I picked FIU to lose three games this season. When I went through the season game by game for our special section, this was the only game where I felt sure FIU wasn't the better team. And I didn't pick them there or here in my pregame blog.

Wrong twice.

Central Florida's a good team, still the best team on FIU's schedule. And FIU beat them, not just with a monster defensive play and a short drive after a flat out dumb attempt at fielding a bouncing punt by UCF's Josh Robinson. The Golden Panthers outdefensed a team that shaped its identity around its defense. That's strong.

What happens if FIU goes undefeated? It depends on the way they do it and what happens elsewhere. The Sun Belt does have an automatic bid to a BCS bowl. It just doesn't kick in until a Sun Belt team gets ranked 12th or higher in the final BCS standings or if that team is ranked 16th or higher and is above the conference champion of one of the six automatic qualifier conferences.

Yeah, it's a longshot. At least that's the way it seems now. Something to think about as this season continues...

 

As I talked to FIU athletic director Pete Garcia about FIU's Cheshire Radio situation from Friday and Saturday, he looked out across a packed southeast parking lot with pride. I had just snapped a picture of that and put it on Twitter when another longtime South Florida media member came up to me and said pretty much the reason I took the picture: look at that lot and you see what FIU dreamed about when they decided to get into the college-affiliated football business. Never mind that it took a strong Central Florida travel crowd to almost fill up FIU Stadium. This energy center draws students. Look, I still believe your best schools remain your best schools for reasons independent of the athletic program, i.e, The University of Chicago, which had the first Heisman Trophy winner, dropped football soon after and has been an elite university for longer than anyone can remember. But I also belive in Bear Bryant's line, "It's kind of hard to rally around a math class." 

South Westside-20110917-00114 
The game that followed is the kind that coaches and players envision when they think, "football."

One big play for a score, Faciane's fumble return. Two long drives, Central Florida's to the game's first touchdown, FIU's to their field goal. Mostly, it was about speed and hitting and who could keep their heads while it was being knocked off.

Speaking of injuries, FIU's being -- surprise! -- a little coy about Hilton's injury. It's obviously a hamstring problem. The question is, how bad? When he came back into the game for a couple of plays, you could tell he was trying to give something that wasn't close to being there. More cereal for the Irony Bowl -- the play on which Hilton went down might've been Carroll's best pass of an erratic night and should've been a gorgeous 35-yard touchdown.

Still, without their dynamite, FIU moved the ball against a defense nobody's moved much against since November. Nobody else on FIU's offense requires you play consistently good team defense the way Hilton does. Subtract Hilton and what remains are enough players you have to respect that when FIU really spread things out with formations, then went between the tackles, they got room to run against UCF.

"I thought the rest of the recievers (aside from Wayne Times), even though they didn't catch that many balls, they blocked well, which was just as important the way they play their outside linebackers," Cristobal said. "If it is a run, they're involved in the box and our receivers did a good job of digging some of those guys out."

UCF's touchdown drive shows how psychologically tough FIU is. That's the kind of drive that crushes wills -- over 10 minutes, 94 yards, 18 plays, extended by a 23-yard scramble by quarterback Jeff Godfrey on third-and-11 and a qeustionable pass interference call on Richard Leonard that wiped out a third-and-goal stop (I like offense, especially pass offense, but let men play a man's game.). Just as with the Louisville score right before the half last week, the next series FIU unplugged the momentum machine with a three-and-out.

Godfrey's slippery, skittering, but FIU adjusted to him, started obeying pass rush lanes and at least getting him off balance on first contact. Like everyone else, FIU was impressed with the way UCF punked Boston College with their downhill running game, but they came out with a good scheme and "expressed it well," as former Colorado and Indiana coach Bill Mallory used to say.

"They have big backs, coaches were telling us every day wrap up, swarm," Isame Faciane said. "As long as you swarm, one person might miss, the next person will make the tackle."

"We had to mix it up. They're powerful up front. Either plus one in the box or you bring pressure," Cristobal said. "We had an eighth guy in (the box) versus their two-back stuff. Whenever they did their "22" personnel -- two backs, two tight ends -- we found a ninth guy to put in there as well. Against the one back stuff, "11" personnel, we found a seventh. We were always trying to put one extra. We were trying to bring pressure. We were trying to give Jeff Godfrey some different looks."

Kedrick Rhodes and Darriet Perry each missed practice early in the week going back home to deal with deaths in or close to the family. With Rhodes, it was a relative. For Perry, it was the mother of his son. I can't imagine as a young man dealing with that kind of tragedy for a few days, then going back to school and football.

While Perry banged in his team-record tying 24th career rushing touchdown to give FIU a 14-7 lead, I thought it was a mistake to take Rhodes out of the game once he ran FIU to a first down on the Central Florida 14 on FIU's next possession. Rhodes was hot with four carries for 46 yards on that drive alone. I'm a big believer when a shifty back like Rhodes gets hot, scrap the game plan and run him like water.

Faciane's 51-yard fumble return touchdown is exactly the kind of play I thought FIU needed to have to win this game, exactly the kind of play I had in mind when I wrote the momentum story for Friday's paper and exactly the kind of play FIU got in each of its first two games. That's a huge play any time of the game. But six seconds before halftime to tie the game, while your home crowd's already sighing wistfully about the injured best player they saw helped into the locker room? That's almost action movie script perfect on the timing.

As a football fan, I loved everything about that play. I like it when the big guys score. I like how Faciane ran, with perfect form and amazing speed. That is the fastest you will see a 290-pound man run without a meal at the other end. I cracked up watching UCF tackle Torrian Wilson start to chase, then peel off looking like he suddenly realized that he'd be expending a lot of big man energy for no fruit.

Just as I was filing the pregame blog at 3:15 a.m. Saturday, I saw Faciane tweeting, "So I went to sleep at 8 and now I can't go back to sleep thinking about this game."

Saturday night, he said, "I slept a lot actually. I went to sleep early, woke up, went back to sleep and kept waking up thinking about it."

Funny how things work -- if officials hadn't blown a third-down reception dead while UCF's Adam Wessley was still fighting for yardage, FIU would've had a fumble there and recovered on about their own 30. Nice close to the half, but not the transformative spell that Faciane's fumble return score would be.

FIU kept giving both Louisville and UCF long fields with nice punting by Josh Brisk -- guest appearance for a pooch punt by Carroll Saturday -- and hustling coverage. That's always been important in football, but more so in the current era, statistically the most offensive in college football history, when it's so hard to get three-and-outs in anything close to an evenly matched game. Field position gives defenses a greater margin for error.

 

 

 VOLLEYBALL

While the football team dumped UCF, the volleyball team truly broke UCF volleyball's heart. At the TownPlace Suites/UCF Challenge, FIU came back from two sets down to beat UCF 3-2 Saturday, 23-25, 25-27, 26-24, 25-21, 17-15, and win the tournament. Jovana Bjelica won the tournament MVP award, senior Sabrina Gonzalez and junior Marija Prsa were named to the all tournament team.

FIU trailed 19-17 in the third set, but came back to take a 20-19 lead. Bjelica, challenged by head coach Daniela Tomjic to be the go-to hitter, nailed the close out kill for that set. Prsa had that kill in the second set. Each had a double double, Bjelica with 21 kills and 16 digs and Prsa 14 kills and 18 digs. Gonzalez had 15 kills. Andrea Lakovic had 14. Renele Forde's 40 assists were a team high as were Chanel Araujo's 24 digs.


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