November 15, 2015

FIU Wins Conference USA Men's Soccer Title

Midfielder Patrick Lopez's goal off a header in the 75th minute gave FIU the only goal it needed in Sunday's Conference USA championship game against Marshall. The 1-0 win gave FIU it's first Conference USA men's soccer title, the third conference title for the Panthers athletic department in 2015 (Swimming & Diving, Baseball, Men's Soccer) and an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament.

Midfielder Daniel Gonzalez was named Offensive MVP of the tournament. Goalkeeper Arthur Clapot was the defensive MVP. Lopez and defender Marvin Hezel also made the All-Tournament team.

FIU's last NCAA tournament appearance was 2004, the same year as their last conference title (Atlantic Soccer Conference). The NCAA announces the tournament pairings Monday afternoon.

"(Marshall) did a good job of limiting our space around the midfield," FIU coach Scott Calabrese said. "Once we got into position, you had to make a perfect pass and a perfect run. Still, we were close to scoring in the run of play. And they were dangerous on the counter and very dangerous on set pieces. They have a couple of guys who are good in the air.

"The statistics might look lopsided, but there were times in the game when we had to sharp defensively."

As conference titles go, this might be FIU's most impressive in any sport -- ever.

Conference USA's one of the best soccer conferences in the country. The last National Soccer Coaches of America Association poll included three CUSA teams (No. 11 Kentucky, No. 17 South Carolina, No. 24 Charlotte) and Old Dominion in the Others Receiving Votes. None of them made the conference tournament final. FIU knocked off Old Dominion, 4-2, and Kentucky, 1-0. Marshall took out Charlotte and South Carolina. Of the seven teams in the conference tournament, six had been ranked in the Top 25 at some point in the season.

I asked Calabrese when he thought FIU could finish on top of this savage battle royal of soccer.

"I think there were signs early on with how well we competed with UNC and Wake," Calabrese said, referring to close losses to teams now ranked No. 4 and No. 1, respectively. "It was clear we had players who could compete at that level. As the season went on, when we fell behind and were able to fight back into games, it showed we had the desire to win."

Whether within games or in the season, Calabrese liked the way FIU answered when challenged. They lost to Charlotte 1-0 in a game Calabrese felt they controlled. That was followed by a 4-3 loss to UAB when the Blazers came back from a 3-1 halftime deficit. Less than 20 minutes from a third straight loss, goals by Gonzalez and Lopez gave the Panthers a 2-1 win against Old Dominion.

"Every good team deals with adversity," Calabrese said. "What you do with it determines your season. We always fought our way back."

At least one more fight to go.



November 14, 2015

Round 1 to Marshall. Round 2 tomorrow.

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

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

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

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

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

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


Gameday XI: Respect With a Smack

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



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

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

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

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

Now to Huntington and FIU vs. Marshall.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Strip everything else away, those last two paragraphs remain.

Marshall 34, FIU 20

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




November 13, 2015

Men's Soccer Kentucky Fries the Wildcats

Despite all the jokes about 1-0 soccer scores, FIU doesn't know anything about 1-0. The Panthers didn't win a single game by that score this season. Heck, they only managed two shutouts, 3-0 over Stetson and a 0-0 Senior Night game against New Mexico.

No. 11 Kentucky knows about 1-0. In fact, the ultra-defensive Wildcats beat FIU by that score in the regular season finale. They conceded only one goal in Conference USA play all season.

Make that two, as FIU advanced to the Conference USA title game with a 1-0 win over Kentucky Friday night. Daniel Gonzalez first half penalty kick held up for the Panthers, which play the winner of South Carolina-Marshall Sunday at 2 p.m. for the championship and NCAA bid.

Volleyball Sweeps Into CUSA Tournament

FIU's 3-0 (25-14, 25-17, 25-15) sweep Thursday at Louisiana Tech combined with Marshall's loss to Conference USA leader Western Kentucky and Middle Tennessee State's loss to North Texas put FIU back into the Conference USA tournament after a year's absence.

FIU likely will be the No. 7 seed, unless Florida Atlantic zombie dances through its match with La Tech and FIU whips Charlotte. In that case, the Panthers would move to the No. 6 seed. The probable first round opponent is Texas-San Antonio, which gave FIU the what for, 3-1 (25-17, 25-27, 25-9, 25-17) at FIU Arena Nov. 1.

November 12, 2015

Pregame Friday

Roast pig. Free stuff. Games. Swimmers. Divers.

Aw, now you know it's serious at FIU when they bring out the swimming & diving team, the best team in FIU athletics. Is there any other campus that uses the water women or men to draw a crowd for football and basketball?

Friday's occasion, of course, is the season-opening basketball doubleheader for FIU women's and men's basketball, tipping off at 5 p.m. with the women's game against Florida A&M. The men's game versus Trinity Baptist is scheduled for 7 p.m., but that never holds. Bet more 7:20 p.m. 

But from 3-5 p.m., in front of FIU Arena, there's a tailgate with food, which I hear will include a roast pig (it'll already be roasted, so it won't be exactly like your uncle in the backyard). There will also be an autograph session with the last year's Conference USA champion swimming & diving team around 4 p.m. The women's hoops team will be signing autographs between games in the FIU Arena lobby.


November 11, 2015

Men's Soccer Advances, 4-2

FIU's first appearance in the Conference USA tournament since 2007 will go at least one more round after the Panthers knocked out Old Dominion, 4-2, Wednesday afternoon. Next up comes No. 1 seed Kentucky, which had a first round bye.

The Panthers scored the match's first two and last two goals for their second win of the season against Old Dominion.

FIU vs. ODU Men's Soccer On the Pitch at 2 p.m.

Or on the laptop or desktop telly.

If you have Veterans Day off or if you're of a mind to be a corporate time-stealing weasel (not in the pejorative sense), you might want to click here to see No. 5 seed FIU vs. No. 4 seed Old Dominion in the first round of the Conference USA men's soccer tournament.

You'll see two Conference USA All-Academic Team members wearing the Former Sunblazers colors. Junior defender Marvin Hezel's a First Team All-CUSA defender and on the all-academic team for his 3.31 GPA in international business. Goalkeeper Arthur Clapot started three games in goal and has a 1.08 goals against average. More impressive: a 4.0 GPA in marketing.



Raising APRizona

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

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

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

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

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



November 10, 2015

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

Calabrese Shares CUSA XY Soccer Coach of the Year; 5 Make All-CUSA Love

Men's soccer, the best of fall sports at FIU back when the PC and DM comprised half the campus classrooms, returned to that station this fall with a 9-6-1 season and the first Conference USA tournament berth since 2007.

The CUSA coaches recognized this by voting Scott Calabrese Co-Coach of the Year along with sxxxx from regular season champion Kentucky. Defender Marvin Hezel got First Team all-conference honors. On the Second Team: midfielders Daniel Gonzelez, Ismael Longo and forward Luis Betancur. Defender Stefen Bohm made the All-Freshman team.

FIU plays Old Dominion Wednesday in the first round of the Conference USA tournament.


November 09, 2015

Conference USA Loves Michael Wakefield...Kind of

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

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

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

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

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

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

That makes about as much sense as The Chewbacca Defense.



What Volleyball Needs to Do

Quickie summary then need to get the bald spot groomed at Mop City:

If FIU wins Thursday at Louisiana Tech, which is 10-18 overall and 3-11 in Conference USA, the Panthers are in the conference tournament.

Six of the eight spots in the Conference USA tournament have been filled. FIU sits seventh with a 7-7 conference record, one game ahead of 6-8s Marshall and Middle Tennessee State and two up on 5-9 Charlotte. Middle and Marshall close the season against each other. FIU's final match is at Charlotte, next Saturday.

So, an FIU win Thursday means the Panthers can't be caught by Charlotte and can only be caught by either Marshall or Middle, but not both because those two play each other.

A Panthers loss Thursday, while the kind of blown opportunity that calls into question if they deserve to be in the tournament, still could leave FIU in a great position. Marshall plays CUSA's best team, Western Kentucky. Middle plays North Texas, right now tied for the fourth seed. Charlotte plays FAU, the No. 6 team. If all three lose (not just a possibility, a probability), FIU's in the tournament.

If it comes down to tiebreakers, FIU has the head-to-head tiebreaker over Marshall. Middle has the head-to-head tiebreaker over FIU. Charlotte has it on Middle. Marshall and Charlotte met twice, splitting matches.



November 08, 2015

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


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

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

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

Newsy day at Worlds Ahead.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

November 07, 2015

Gameday X: Quickie Afternoon Delight


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The regular season ends at Charlotte next Saturday.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

FIU 45, Charlotte 13

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



November 04, 2015

Questions & Trujillo & Veksler


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

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

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

Football -- Saturday vs. Charlotte, noon

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

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

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

Q: Any other injury updates?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A: Facilities improvement is an ongoing imperative.

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

A: (No answer)

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

A: (No answer)

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

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

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

A: (No answer)

Q: Hope to see you at the game Saturday afternoon

A: Absolutely, go FIU.

Q: let me know when and where :)

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


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


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

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




November 03, 2015

Some Props for Women's Soccer and the Military

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

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


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

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

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



November 01, 2015

A few thoughts on FAU 31, FIU 17

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

October 31, 2015

Gameday IX: Beat a Hoot or Bowl is Moot II



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

FIU 30, FAU 17.

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


October 30, 2015

Miss and Out


Tennis -- Friday, Saturday, Sunday, FIU Invitational. Like Adrian Peterson -- All Day.

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

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

Volleyball, tied for fourth in the conference with Rice, North Texas and Florida Atlantic (which FIU beat at FAU), has a 7-4 Conference USA record and is close to clinching a spot in the conference tournament.

Women's soccer, on the other hand, needs more help than Grandma trying to put up the Christmas tree the years after Grandpa passed on as the Conference USA soccer season ends Friday and Saturday. FIU sits 10th with 12 points, two points behind UTEP and Middle Tennessee State, which sit tied in seventh and eighth. Eight teams make next week's FIU-hosted Conference USA tournament that's caused FIU to put a new coat of paint on the Soccer Stadium stands (sort of like when that Between AARP and Social Security aunt stops by the Walgreen's makeup counter before hitting the Bowl Bar on Friday night). 

First, FIU (8-10, 4-5 in conference) needs to win against playing-for-pride Charlotte (6-11-1, 2-6-1) Friday night. A tie or a loss, dead, no tournament. That'll give FIU 15 points (3 points for a win, 1 or a tie, 0 for losing). Then, FIU needs ninth place Louisiana Tech needs to lose or tie against North Texas, which already clinched the regular season title. And Middle Tennessee State to beat UTEP in UTEP's season finale. That combination would do it right there. BUT...

If UTEP beats Middle Friday, then FIU needs to root for Old Dominion to keep Middle behind FIU (and, possibly, Old Dominion) in Sunday's season finale by beating Middle. Got that?

Tough position for FIU to be in after leaving for Western Kentucky and Marshall in a position to get into position. Two wins there and they would be within a lower rung team's loss of clinching a spot in the tournament. Instead, they lost 1-0 at Western in double overtime, 1-0 to Marshall, then, last Sunday, 2-0 to FAU on FIU's Seniors Day.

Takes a long time to get up the slide, not much time to come down. On the verge of following last year's stunning tournament miss with another miss, head coach Thomas Chestnutt. But unlike last year's team loaded with the kind of talented experience that begets conference title projections, this year's team came with the uncertainty of youth.

"Outside of a couple of results, I think we can be reasonably happy with our season," Chestnutt said. "We started out pretty well in the non-conference (portion), had a really tough non-conference schedule. I think we're in the top 40 in terms of opponents records. We've played some good quality teams and gotten some results. I think the last couple of games, we've lost our way in the offensive side of the game. We didn't create, didn't finish off situations we created.

"This team has in some ways has outpaced what we expected," he continued. "Not in terms of results, maybe, but in terms of their play. It's been pretty impressive. These things don't count, but, in terms of style of play, 500 passes a match -- we've never gotten close to that before. We've been there twice (this year) and we've been over 400 multiple times. The passing percentages are high -- well over 80 pct. That part of the game has gone really well.

"We knew we had no recognized goal scorer's coming into the season. So, we knew we'd have to make it by committee. That's worked to some degree. We've kind of fizzled out toward the end." 

While lauding the leadership growth in the seniors and the performance improvement of sophomore defender Gaby Bovo, junior goalie Sophia Trujillo and others, Chestnutt also acknowledged, "Missing the tournament isn't acceptable for this program."


Team Stats

» View more stats



Powered by TypePad