We need Pigmeat Markham's The Judge up here to talk about the weenie roast of a mess this season's turning into for FIU. ("I'm sentencing from The Book of Years...and I'm starting on the last page."). Who wants it first? Everybody needs to step up and get some.
First, some reality before we get into the ripping. FIU would've been hard-pressed to stop UMass at full strength. An offense that put up 30 points per game when it had its quarterback last year returned more starters just on that side of the ball than Central Florida did on both.
FIU was down players at each defensive level. Starting defensive tackle Darrian Dyson got left home in a disciplinary measure. Starting middle linebacker Treyvon Williams has a knee injury. Safeties Wilkenson Myrtil and Niko Gonzalez remain out and, let's remember, they inherited their starting spots from Shemarke Spence's injury and Jordan Davis' academic problems. Then, redshirt junior Deonte Wilson got left home in a disciplinary move. FIU decided to play the better player, cornerback Jeremiah McKinnon, out of position at safety and bump up backup corner Mark Bruno. Not sure moving Bruno would've worked any better.
So you've got a complex offense with a two-year starting senior quarterback directing a well-versed side against a simplified defense with a senior-aged, freshman-game experienced middle linebacker directing a banged up side.
Maybe not Chess vs. Checkers. Chess vs. Dominoes? I'm not surprised UMass put up 495 yards. I am surprised those turned into only 24 points.
As far as talent, South Florida owns neither a monopoly on it nor does every kid want to stay within a bus ride of the maternal teat. Many just want to go somewhere they can play. Which is how UMass gets players like quarterback Blake Frohnapfel (transfer from Marshall), wide receiver Taj Sharpe (Piscataway, NJ), wide receiver Marken Michel (Plantation American Heritage High) and running back Jamal Wilson (Fort Lauderdale St. Thomas Aquinas) in addition to some home state talent.
Bill Belichick would have trouble scheming his way out of the defense's situation. FIU's defensive approach looked vanilla, but if you're dealing with limited experience in production, you don't try for Cookies 'n' Cream. After a predictable half of "Which way did he go? Which way did he go?" and 334 yards of offense, FIU got UMass figured out a little better in the last 30 minutes. Of course, if UMass coach Mark Whipple hadn't kept choking on his own smarts in the first half, the Panthers might've been down 30 and played the second half with freshmen.
Offensive coaches who run sophisticated attacks love to show everybody how smart they are. They don't just want to score. They want to score and have you think, "Totally outsmarted and outcoached the other guy. They weren't ready for that. That so runs against the norm, what you think they'd do." That eventually slips into "Wile E. Coyote, Super Genius" mode and they overthink themselves. Such as when UMass got first and goal from the 3 and ran Wilson into the line for 1...then Wilson for a loss of 1...then got a chintzy pass interference call on Richard Leonard, first and goal on the 2, so then went with...Wilson for 1...Wilson for 0...then Marquis Young for a loss of 1 on a pitch play.
The whole time, you could hear that part of Whipple's brain going, "Hah! After all the end arounds and fakes, they'll never suspect a simple buck into the line! After I did it once, they'll never suspect it again! And again! And again! OK, let's run a pitch play against the faster defense on third and 1!"
Sort of like on FIU's lone touch for freshman Anthony Jones, I wondered who was thinking, "We'll cross them up on third and 5 by running a motion sweep with the fast guy to the short side of the field! It's so against what anyone thinking normally would do!"
That's about as imaginative as the offense got.
I have no doubt Ron Turner's postgame explosion, especially after last week's rant about discipline, was heartfelt. I also know that, like Dennis Green's more calculated "they are who we thought they were" postgame rant, it pushed some focus away from offensive strategic coaching failures. (Also, though any parent can tell you there's only so much you can truly control 50 guys old enough to vote, the buck on team discipline eventually stops at the coach's desk. One week is a bad game. Two weeks is a bad tendency. Three weeks is a bad problem.)
Back to the offense, which couldn't have been more bereft of creativity if stolen from a website selling C+ essays. Useful creativity, that is. Passing passed for creativity in the first half. The simple act, not anything about FIU's approach. FIU opened with a bubble screen to a clearly hobbled Jonnu Smith. I thought I heard hearty Falstaffian laughter among the New England trees as Smith was brought down for a loss of 2. Four of FIU's first five plays were predictable throws. The lone run was a 6-yard inside job by Alex Gardner. When FIU committed to a balanced attack in the second half, they ran the ball well enough and had their one good drive of the day.
Also, on those first two drives, McGough got lucky again. Either a miscommunication, misread by he or the receiver or something led to a throw that smacked linebacker Jovan Santos-Knox in the torso with nothing but teammates, green and glory in front him. Dropped it.
FIU pushed the ball downfield once all day, a sprint out to the left that hit fifth-year Clinton Taylor on his "5" before plopping to the ground. That was the sixth offensive play. Other than that metaphor for the South Florida wide receivers left from the previous regime, FIU let themselves be compacted for the second consecutive week.
Turner said La Tech set up last week to take away the bomb every time FIU had one called and complimented McGough for not throwing into the defense. I agree -- to a point. Using the defensive coverage as an excuse for the complete abandonment of the long ball is too Beta male for football. Sometimes, you've got to be gangster about it. Say "We don't care what you're giving us, we're taking what we want on this play." Maybe you get a pass interference call. Maybe you get a great play. Maybe you just keep it in the defenses mind that they can't dictate to you.
FIU inserted 6-4 Shawn Abrams in the third quarter. Abrams' initial target in college football was a quick slant on third down to keep the drive alive. They couldn't put him in earlier and ask him to run deep, jump high and see what happens?
Of course, maybe "protection issues" weighed on FIU play-calling minds. To the Minutemen, the Mass Turnpike ran through FIU's line with the right side being the fast lane. McGough got sacked three times. While there were no official "hurries," that's more on the stat crew. McGough got pressured. He wound up with 11 runs, a number that includes the three sacks and his scrambles.
I'm wondering if Anthon Samuel's OK. Gardner's the better all-around back, but there's never a change of pace or philosophy. Not to mention, he never gets a rest. (Yeah, I know, FIU doesn't stay on the field long enough for him to need a rest. Stop..).
For all the grumbling about the officiating, it was a Conference USA crew that delivered an inscrutable afternoon of calls and non-calls. Harrumphing about poor officiating after Saturday epitomizes noting the speck in someone else's eye while ignoring the log in yours.
The last two weeks demonstrated whole team failure. FIU's favored by 14 next Saturday against UTEP. They still have Old Dominion and Charlotte at home. There's still so much out there for the Panthers. Do they have the coaching, maturity and leadership to go get it?