Friday, Men's Basketball, vs. Florida Memorial, 7:30 p.m.
Sunday, Women's Basketball, vs. Cleveland State, 2 p.m.
It's only November. Conference swim meets remain on the far side of holidays, Valentine's Day and NHL and NBA dog days. Still, strong performances at the Mizzou Invite, which began this morning and continues through Saturday, have presaged strong seasons for the FIU swim team the last couple of years.
FIU's best showing in this morning's prelims came in, predictably, the 200 Individual Medley. FIU brought the defending champion, senior Johanna Gustafsdottir. Not so predictably, FIU junior Karin Tomeckova edged Gustafsdottir in the prelims, 2:01.23 to 2:01.45, the third and fourth fastest times. Freshman Silvia Scalia's 2:02.30 got her in with the seventh swiftest.
Sophomore Jenny Alfani's 23.31, fifth fastest, got her into the 50 freestyle final. Junior Valerie Inghels made the 100 butterfly final in 55.12. Freshman Brittany Fant's 4:55.39 in the 500 free was good enough for the ninth best time, just outside the final.
Men's basketball vs. Florida Memorial, Friday, 7:30 p.m.
Women's basketball vs. Cleveland State, Sunday, 2 p.m.
FIU's next real opportunity for its first Conference USA team title comes in February when swim & dive takes a break from making the best coladas at the baseball concession stand to hit the conference meet. After that, it's the softball team, which should win a title in the next two to three years.
The class signed to letters of intent last week, in alphabetical order:
Lissette Garay, RHP, Indian River State College: 10-3 with four saves 106 strikeouts in 118.2 innings and a Gibsonian 1.12 earned run average. Garay went to high school at Winter Haven All Saints Academy.
Megan Kugelmann, RHP/1B/OF, Cocoa Beach High: .519 batting average with four home runs and 32 RBI last year. In travel ball with the Tampa Mustangs, .393 average with 19 RBI. She played varsity in high school ball in seventh grade. She made All-State in 2012 (Second Team) and 2013 (First Team).
Janae Perera, OF, Tampa Sickles High: Played on Wagners GOLD Dunn, American Softball Association 18U national champions
Halie Roberson, SS/OF, Sarasota High: .330 batting average, .458 on-base percentage, with four home runs and 25 RBI.
Jackie Schoff, OF, Bradenton Lakewood Ranch High: She's also an outfielder with Roberson on the Sarasota Meet the Heat 18U team.
Abby Summers, P, Weston (Mo.) West Platte High: Class 2 All-State pitcher.
This is the kind of letter you get from the four-letter non-word when you're an FBS school and your attendance falls below a 15,000 average, as FIU did in 2012.
Considering a second consecutive year like this would put FIU on double secret NCAA probation for a decade (one misstep from restricted status, meaning no conference championship game and no bowl game, both of which are possibilities two years from now), somebody needs to work on getting fans in the stadium.
Conference USA's All-Freshman volleyball team includes 6-2 freshman middle blocker Jennifer Ene, the first FIU volleyballer to get award love from C-USA. Ene finished the season with 65 blocks, the strongest part of FIU's game in conference play. The Panthers finished third in blocks and fifth in digs in conference play.
From that conference caress, we go to a national cuffing from The Mackey Award folks. The honor, named after tight end John Mackey, goes to the nation's best tight end. The eight semifinalists don't include the national tight end leader in catches, yards and touchdowns, FIU sophomore Jonnu Smith.
If the Mackey Award folks confined its finalists to Power Five conference players, well, you could understand the biased thinking, even if you don't agree with it. But junior Jean Sifrin from UMass made the finalist list. I'm not going to pretend I know Jean Sifrin's game as well as I know Lalo Schifrin's music.
What I do know is Sifrin's caught 40 passes for 621 yards and six touchdowns in 10 games while sharing the field with wide receiver Tajae Sharpe, who has 81 catches for 1,245 yards and five touchdowns. Smith's put together better numbers, albeit in one more game, without any other receiver who revives drives the way he does. As Ron Turner said today, it's not as if everyone who faces FIU doesn't know who the primary receiver/safety blanket is in passing situations.
Five blocks in the opener, five blocks Tuesday' against Stetson for 6-10 Adrian Diaz and the last of those blocks preserved Tuesday's 53-52 win. Also, it was Diaz whose help defense got him the steal before guard Dennis Mavin's driving layup with 5.6 seconds left that completed an 8-0 closing run. Methinks FIU's got a post presence.
Another key late play came when 5-10 guard Tashawn Desir retreated in transition defense with enough anticipation to draw a charging foul with FIU down 52-51. Desir slid into position, established it beautifully, took the hit.
This isn't a good team now. I'm intrigued to see the evolution, however, into what it'll be in January.
FIU allowed Florida Gulf Coast to shoot 56.1 percent from the field Tuesday in a 97-49 loss. That's 56.1 percent from the field in a game. How many Division I women's teams shoot that in practice?
Sophomore tight end Jonnu Smith's two actual touchdown receptions and one cool touchdown ruled a reception by another wacked NCAA rule -- you pick up a fumbled reception and run in with it, it's like you caught it yourself -- Saturday against Middle Tennessee State gave him school records for touchdown receptions in a game (three) and in a season (eight). Smith caught 140 yards worth of passes Saturday on eight receptions.
For this, the College Football Performance Awards named him their Tight End Performer of the Week for the second time this season. Smith's 57 catches for 695 yards and eight touchdowns leads the nation's tight ends in each category.
The CFPA found junior linebacker Davison Colimon worthy of honorable mention in the Linebacker Performer of the Week category. Conference USA thought Colimon's one-interception (returned 79 yards for a touchdown), two-sack, six-tackle game in the 38-28 win against Middle was worth C-USA Defensive Player of the Week.
FIU opened a two-point underdog at North Texas this Saturday. The line has bumped up to three.
You can read about the "Do what?" parts of this game here.
The scoring summary says this game, like a Betty Boop cartoon crossed with an early 1990s football comedy's climactic contest, calmed down after three quarters. It did. Two things though: the incredulous quality of the first three quarters lingered so strongly that some of us in the press box didn't fully realize until later that nobody scored in the fourth; and, in place of the wackiness, we got a drama building step by step at the pace of a villain clomping step by step down the hall toward your closed door.
Since successfully handling such a situation against Alabama-Birmingham, the Panthers bungled the job against Texas-San Antonio and Old Dominion. Allowing six points in the final 1:54 against UTSA, 10 points in the final 1:05 against Old Dominion, transformed diamonds into dung for FIU. Those losses, which today separate FIU from being bowl eligibile (as you knew they would), saw the Panthers unable to convert the advantages of a lead and momentum into final victory.
So, Saturday, with FIU up 38-28, the tension began. Middle pushed into FIU land, then quarterback Austin (Not Kelsey) Grammar went for a bomb on junior cornerback Jeremiah McKinnon. McKinnon, recruited as Mario Cristobal tried to put some size on the corners, a 6-footer with length, speed and the knack for being around the ball just enough to be blamed for the catch. McKinnon, who first showed that tendency against Middle two years ago in a thrilling fourth quarter and had such a rough second half at Old Dominion, an ODU fan actually poked fun at him in a Twitter meme. McKinnon, who has zero career interceptions despite his talent (although that one-armed pick against UAB should've counted).
Until Saturday. Maintaining perfect position, McKinnon came down with the ball at the FIU 5-yard line. That started a succession of plays demonstrating how you close out a game.
*Anthon Samuel broke a 16-yard run on second down out to the FIU 22. Then, Jose Laphitzondo bombed a 59-yard punt to swing the field. Middle started from its own 25.
*Junior linebacker Davison Colimon hit a blitz perfectly and buried Grammar for a loss of 6 on first and 10 from the FIU 39. That put the drive on the ropes. A third and 15 sack by senior Giovanni Francois knocked down the drive. A fourth and 22 incompletion ended it.
*FIU went three and out, but kept the clock running with two inbounds runs and a completion. This forced Middle to use all its timeouts.
*Senior Demarkus Perkins tracked a sideline pass perfectly to intercept at the Middle 38.
*With Middle out of timeouts, Napoleon Maxwell and Anthon Samuel grind out a first down. Ballgame.
"Having confidence you're going to do it," FIU coach Ron Turner said of closing out the game. "Defensively, we were stopping them so our guys felt confident they could stop them. Offensviely, we were moving the ball. It's all about confidence. We hadn't done it. I told them, once we do it once, then you learn how to do it and know what it takes. Our guys got it because the confidence they gained as the game wore on."
The journey to that finish from the start could've been drawn by M.C. Escher. Here's how quickly things descended to the edge of hopelessness Saturday.
Though harder in the age of live Tweeting, I've always taken play-by-play notes of greater detail than most of my peers -- down and distance, yard line, offensive formation, defensive formation (if a notable departure from the expected), description of the play, time on the clock if important, etc. Sitting next to me during a game for the first time at Thursday night's Dolphins game, Adam Beasley was moved to say, "You take a lot of notes," something former colleague Jeff Darlington also noticed during Dolphins games.
Saturday, I stopped taking play-by-play notes on Middle's drive to a 21-3 lead. Oh, for the rest of the half, I noted big plays and scoring plays. But I'd already started writing the game story in my head, figuring I'd be taking the green flag on that at halftime. That's how single sheet flat FIU looked.
I've never questioned this team's effort or want-to. When they got annihilated 72-0, 48-0, 38-0 last season, I didn't think the players gave up. On a player level, I thought they gave all. They were just bad and playing teams better than them by 72 points, 48 points and 38 points (OK, maybe not 72 points, but other factors hampered the playing Panthers there and if you want to revisit those, go find that postgame blog.).
Anyway, the matchstick of emotion with which the Panthers began the game quickly whooshed into wisps. Sad enough so few showed for Senior Day.
Then, to see blown coverages, badly missed blocking assignments, a substitution penalty on the field goal... Such things happening in game No. 11 spoke both to a lack of player focus and to failures on a couple of levels of coaching.
I flashed back to a sepulchral Senior Day/Night I covered in 1988. A spotty, wet crowd watched an Indiana class on its way to a third consecutive bowl game for the first time in school history get rolled by Michigan State. Blake Ezor ran wild. Daily News Journal's Will Borthick, who covers Middle, wondered aloud if FIU remained weighed down by heavy hearts after last week's crushing defeat at Old Dominion. As he said that, I realized the Indiana game came a week after blowing a seemingly won game at Illinois ended the Rose Bowl hopes with which they began the season just as last week's loss ended FIU's hopes of winning a bowl game this season.
So, it seemed a solid theory. Ron Turner shot it down after the game.
"You might think that, but I didn't see it at all during the week because we came bcak here Sunday and had good focus during practice."
Turner felt, "The accumulation of the season. We don't have a lot of depth. Our offensive line and defensive line played a ton of plays. Some of those guys playing 60, 70 plays a game. We have four defensive linemen with bad ankles who were nursing them in practice. Part of it was that, the fatigue. Worn down physically causes you to be worn down mentally. We did some things, we cut practice back, to try to get that back. It's not because of want-to. They've got a tremendous desire to be successful."
He pointed out Middle was coming off a bye, played BYU the week before that and had another bye before that.
Jonnu Smith said, "Some games you come out fired up. Some games not so much. I don'tthink it has to do with anything htat we were ready or not. It just goes like that."
FIU got some flag help at key moments. With Middle up 21-3, a second and 10 21-yard completion to the FIU 43 came back on an illegal helmet contact penalty, a drive killer. The play before Colimon's 79-yard pick six gave FIU a 31-21 lead, Middle got busted for a different kind of pick. Instead of first and goal at the FIU 2 off the completion, Middle had third and 20 from the 29.
Hey, nothing wrong with that. You need breaks to make big comebacks. Jordan Parker's goal line fumble was just him dropping the ball. I don't think he saw linebacker Anthony Wint fill the route to the end zone and got flustered with fright (I would). FIU went from being driven on down 21-3, 1 yard from being down 28-10 and ended the half down only 21-17.
As to the difference defensively in the second half, when FIU cut the yardage on Middle's bubble screens and hitches from 10-15 down to 0-6 and allowed only seven points, Turner said, "Energy. We didn't have it early. And the coaches did a really good job of making adjustments to some things they were doing. The players did a good job of handling the adjustments we made."
Showing that each play matters, each possession matters, the drive that got FIU going resulted in nothing. Austin Taylor missed a 37-yard field goal after the aforementioned substitution infraction. But that drive began with Smith taking a hitch up the right sideline for 34 yards. And, on fourth and 4 from the Middle 27, quarterback Alex McGough did a lesser version of Eli Manning's Super Bowl scramble on the David Tyree play. McGough kept trying even as he came into the grasp of two Middle defensive linemen. He extricated himself for a 7-yard gain.
Not a turning point on the scoreboard, but it sure was on the field. He kept trying. That's a simple, significant thing. Once they got some juice flowing, they kept trying.
Just like Anthon Samuel kept trying on the 31-yard run before the Hail Mary. You might question whether or not FIU seriously kept trying to score, running inside handoffs with 40 seconds left on the clock. Heck, I'm on record as believing you're either seriously trying to score or you're not and those plays aren't serious attempts to score with less than a minute on the clock. They gain more pointless pain than yards. Turner said after the game some of his own coaches said to him "kneel down" instead of run the ball.
But it worked because Samuel's legs never stopped moving and Middle let up on the play.
I know the football Panthers sit at 3-7 and falling. I know it's a 3:30 p.m. game. I know the national telecast allegedly will be shown on local TV.
But I consider last year's empty stadium for the senior ceremony one of the saddest things I've seen in 27 years of covering sports, aside from events that involved serious injury or death.
Remember Middle Tennessee State's Kevin Byard? Down here, we prounounce his name "RICH erd LEN erd" just like Murfreesboro is pronounced "just drive to Nashville, OK?" Byard's the guy who returned an interception 51 yards for a touchdown less than a minute into the second half of a 48-0 shellacking Middle laid on FIU last year. He's got four career Pick Sixes. Earlier this year, against Old Dominion, he returned his first punt in college competition. He took it back 76 yards. He hasn't returned another one. I'm sure there's a perfectly good and fearful reason, explainable in authentic coachspeak gibberish, that Byard doesn't get used on punt returns.
FIU just should be thankful. Freshman quarterback Alex McGough should be thankful while avoiding Byard, who has 14 interceptions and is the NCAA's active leader with 327 career interception return yards. Might not sound manly. Ask Rice, Marshall and Old Dominion if they cared how hairy-chested they looked when they treated Richard Leonard like he came straight outta Chernobyl. Throw his way every once in a while just to keep everybody awake, then go pick on somebody else.
Something tells me this game could come down to who takes advantage of turnovers for points and field position. Yeah, I know, basic stuff. Still, you can win the turnover battle and lose. I don't see that happening today if both teams have turnovers.
Middle comes at you running Reggie Whatley, Jordan Parker, Shane Tucker (95 yards vs. FIU last year) and sophomore quarterback Austin Grammar. I see FIU getting more flummoxed in pass rush against Grammar than the read option stuff. Grammar throws the ball 29 times a game, yet has taken only seven sacks. I'd expect FIU to get to Grammar earlier than they got to Old Dominion's Taylor Heinicke, who whipped some senior savvy on the Panthers whether beating the blitz by spotting the open receiver in time or escaping collapsing pockets. Unless the numbers lie, the Blue Raiders aren't quite as explosive on the outside as you'd expect on the outside. One completion longer than 60 yards this season and Devin Clarke's 14.2 yards per catch on 21 catches leads the team.
I'd be shocked if FIU just pounded Middle with Anthon Samuel, Napoleon Maxwell and quarterback Alex McGough all day, as happened against soft tackling Old Dominion. They're going to have to get something more than good downfield blocking from the wide receivers.
Earlier tonight, I thought Middle, 31-20. The sportsbooks have Middle as a five-point favorite with an Over/Under down to 49 after starting at 53.
I'll stay with Middle, but 28-20.
That's one Irish Black man's opinion. I could be wrong.
For football, naturally. The power rankings are back after spending seven days in Boulder, Colorado, eating pizza rolls, Pop Tarts and think tanking trenchant issues such as what state would Dr. Sheldon Cooper eventually evolve/devolve to if Cosmo Kramer were his neighbor?
1. Marshall (9-0, 5-0 in Conference USA): Hiding a diamond in the dirt of a weak schedule.
2. Louisiana Tech (7-3, 6-0): Because they didn't just outscore Western Kentucky. They stoned the Hill People's prolific offense while putting up nearly a point-a-minute on their own, 59-10.
3. Middle Tennessee State (5-4, 4-1): Suffered their only conference loss to Marshall.
4. Rice (6-3, 4-1): They've got six (in a row). If that's not all there is, the Owls will get Lucky Seven Saturday against Marshall.
5. Alabama-Birmingham (5-5, 3-3): On the verge of bowl eligibility. And, possibly, extinction. Daggone shame.
6. Western Kentucky (4-5, 2-4): Say "Hilltoppers defense" to a Western fan or coach to see this reaction...
7. UTEP (5-4, 3-2): If UAB's Bill Clark isn't Coach of the Year for getting the Blazers to the edge of bowl eligibility as the program crumbles under his feet, Sean Kugler deserves to be for getting UTEP even this far.
8. Old Dominion (4-6, 2-4): Treacherous steps. Fun stadium. Good game experience.
9. FIU (3-7, 2-4): Remember when the Former Sunblazers were .500 and leading UTSA 10-0 late in the first half? Good times, man, good times...
10. North Texas (3-6, 1-4): Somehow whipped FAU last week in Denton, 31-10 with their ninth quarterback or something.
11. FAU (3-7, 2-4): There's a Dutch oven full of disappointment cooking down at this end of the power rankings...
12. UTSA (3-7, 2-4): ...and the Roadrunners serve up theirs in a cup of Coker.
13. Southern Miss (3-8, 1-6): Probably thinking "ESPN didn't send Wright Thompson to Hattiesburg when WE were repping the state with an undefeated record..."
The preseason men's basketball poll of the newly formed Conference USA Media Association -- I'm a member but didn't vote -- ranks FIU 11th in the conference. We don't know how that compares to the Conference USA preseason coaches poll. C-USA released only the top four in the poll. Not sure if it's a self-esteem thing or what.
Anyway, my peers agreed with the conference coaches in putting Louisiana Tech as the clear favorite and LA Tech's 6-3 senior point guard, Kenneth "Speedy" Smith, as the preseason Player of the Year.
The survey asking fans, alumni, students and faculty why they weren't coming to games has been taken down from the FIU Alumni Association site.
According to an FIU source, Athletics asked someone at the Alumni Association to put up the survey and that person did so despite lacking the authority to do so.
Alumni Association President Frank Pena said he thought a survey properly timed, after the athletic/academic year finished, would be a good idea.
SWIMMING & DIVING
Sorry I didn't get this up previously, but freshman Silvia Scalia received her second Conference USA Swimmer of the Week honor for Nov. 3-9. She set a Biscayne Bay campus pool record, third best in FIU history, of 1:58.77 in the 200 backstroke and was on the victorious 200 medley relay as FIU whipped Illinois State.
The Athletics Department, through the Alumni Association, has put out an online survey to find out why students, alumni, faculty and staff generally avoid FIU athletic events the way South Florida politics avoids honesty.
From the page hyperlinked to above: "In recent years, there has been a noticeable decline in attendance at many of our collegiate sporting competitions – including football, men’s and women’s basketball, baseball, softball, men’s and women’s soccer, volleyball (sand and arena), swimming and tennis – despite recent successes in many of these programs. It is our hope that your input will help us to identify the causes of this decrease in fan participation as well as to assist us in finding ways to mitigate and reverse this trend."
Give them credit for reaching out. I'd love to see the responses.
Senior forward Quentin Albrecht ended his FIU career on the upswing, though the team didn't make the Conference USA tournament: Third Team All-Conference USA his freshman year, Second Team All-CUSA as a sophomore and junior, First Team as a senior after an eight goal, two assist season.
Junior midfielder Daniel Gonzalez (two goals, five assists) made the Third Team and redshirt freshman midfielder Donald Tomlinson (two goals, one assists) was named to the All-Freshman team.
Going against an experienced multi-faceted offense with point totals that resemble Super Bowl ratings, you'd kind of want good health for the very physical strong safety you consider a team leader. Alas, FIU plsyed the whole same Saturday without fifth-year senior Demarkus Perkins. Junior Jordan Davis played strong safety with Richard Leonard moonlighting at free safety.
"He had a quad contusion," FIU coach Ron Turner said. "We were hoping he was going to be able to go, thought he was going to be able to go. He didn't do much in practice, we knew we weren't going to start him, but we were hoping he'd be able to go. Doctors thought he would be able to go. But, he couldn't. He should be fine this week."
All FIU's ouches from Saturday's game -- center Donald Senat, left tackle Dieugot Joseph -- apppear to have been healed.
It would've been nice if some of the coaches or higher up suits in the FIU football contingent had gone over to Old Dominion's soccer field or taken some of the players to show support for FIU's men's soccer team in its season finale Friday night. The football charter arrived soon enough. FIU's athletes often show solidarity with one another. It would be cool if the post-college adults would show a little love, too, even off a disappointing season.
If that sounds wacky, consider that two years ago, Mario Cristobal planned for the football team to go en masse to the FIU-Middle Tennessee State women's soccer Sun Belt tournament game at South Alabama. The Panthers' charter plane managed to get to Mobile late enough to make that impossible.
FIU coach Ron Turner ducked out of the early evening chill into the S.B. Ballard Stadium alcove used for postgame media bringing enough steam to cook an entire bag of green beans. Definitely not in "ho ho ho" mode.
Hopefully, Turner reserved some of the boiling stuff for himself. Everybody played a part in the second loss of the season (with Texas-San Antonio) that the Panthers will remember when they're home for the holidays and somebody else is in the Bahamas on Christmas Eve.
I logically opened by asking about freshman quarterback's Alex McGough's reckless attempt to alchemize a sack into a gain, which turned into the interception that turned into ODU's game-winning field goal. I asked if that's something you have to expect sometimes when you've got a young quarterback. Turner quickly made sure I knew that play didn't lose the game and other things happened to drive FIU down the losing path.
"It's not one play. It's not one play, believe me, believe me," Turner said. "It's not one play. That play was not the game. We had other opportunities."
I think Turner was being protective of McGough. Expected and fine. By comparison, after the similar loss to UTSA, Turner referred to running back Alex Gardner's third quarter fumble on the UTSA 1-yard line three times, prompted only once by a question and not a question directly about that play. But Gardner's a running back. Show me a coach who worries about his running back's mindset as much as his quarterback's and I'll show you a coach selling insurance or real estate.
Later, in talking about McGough's overall play, Turner did say, "Alex did some good things. We didn't ask him to do a lot as far as throwing the ball, but he did a really good job of handling the run game, getting us in and out of the proper plays that we wanted. Did a nice job. Obviously, the last one, he'd like to have that back. We'd all like to have that back. He's just a young guy trying to make a play..."
Exactly the point of my original question.
Turner aggressively corrected me when I asked about not being able to run more clock on the previous two possessions when up 35-28.
"We were trying to get first downs. We did what we did all game long, which was running the ball. We felt that was the best opportunity. We were trying to get first downs and score some more. We had to score. If we were running the clock out, we would've gone to two tights and just pound the ball. We continued to run our game plan. And we didn't get it done. We had no thoughts about running the clock out. We had thoughts about getting first downs and scoring points because these guys are very good on offense."
No. 1: I was referring to better running what they call in the NFL "the four-minute offense." OK, FIU had 5:53 when they got the ball, but the same principles apply. Run properly, the four-minute offense chews clock while picking up a few first downs and forcing the opponent to use timeouts. It's not as easy to do in college with the clock stopping after first downs to move the chains, but FIU already showed it could move down the field in bite size pieces. The first drive of the game, 80 yards, took 8:19 off the clock.
No. 2: I know this is playing the result a bit, but exactly what would've been wrong with going double tight end, one wideout-I formation or two wideouts-one back and bludgeoning Old Dominion to death?
FIU's game plan all day -- as good as it was obvious, mind you -- came straight from Big Two, Little Eight, Woody Hayes-Bo Schembechler Ten Years' War Era: work the ground game, mix in the occasional throw to keep the secondary from creeping, maybe catch them peeking (into the backfield). Add terrible artificial turf and it's 80 percent of the college football games I watched in the 1970s.
The Panthers exhausted a defense that got punked when it was fresh. Anthon Samuel, who alpha male'd his way through half the Monarchs defense on his fourth quarter 26-yard TD run, said he thought FIU had worn Old D down. Despite being down center Donald Senat and left tackle Dieugot Joseph, the offensive line started to dominate Old Dominion, both on the flanks and up the middle, or at least control them enough. The wide receivers blocked beautifully downfield (Glenn Coleman's done a very good job of that).
The Panthers prepared Old Dominion's defense to be crushed. So why not crush them? Line up in a power formation against a weary, weak side and say "We're moving you or moving over you -- your choice." Everybody figured on FIU staying on the ground anyway. Heck, in for a penny, in for a pound. That even better sets up a play action mid-range throw or bomb, something McGough sells well with his ball-handling (such an underrated skill). If you're trying to score, then try to score.
Instead, Napoleon Maxwell got one carry, stoned for 1 yard. McGough kept on an option, which figured if the Panthers wanted to keep running the option as the Monarchs started going all out for the running back on those plays. He fumbled and wide receiver Clinton Taylor made his best play of the season by outfighting several for the recovery. On third and 5, Old D looked for a draw or screen and wound up body slamming Maxwell on a middle screen. FIU could've run a bootleg pass to Jonnu Smith or Akil Dan-Fodio (if not open, McGough keeps it), gone downfield off play action, power run, anything except deception that failed to deceive.
The next possession, went thusly: Samuel got stacked up sweeping left, tries to reverse field to the right and loses 4. OK, it happens. McGough, who looked gimpy after taking a hit on the Maxwell screen, keeps for 9. Third and 5 again. They ran Taylor in motion similar to the wide receiver sweep that worked for the 2-point conversion. McGough faked it to Taylor and carried for 3. No more Samuel, not even faking it to him on the third down. Old No D might've bought that better than they bought the fake to Taylor, which they looked at like a used Yugo.
The whole fourth quarter seemed like a blown opportunity after FIU had scored on five consecutive drives. You could include one of those drives, the field goal that put FIU ahead 27-21 with 3:00 left in the third, as another missed opportunity.
The first turnover FIU's gotten since Richard Leonard's second quarter interception against Marshall was a fumble scooped up by Leonard (of course). First, junior cornerback Jeremiah McKinnon, as part of his eventful evening, bumped into Leonard on the fumble return and unintentionally assisted with the tackle. Two rushes. Third and 6, McGough scrambled for no gain. Here was the receiver grouping on the field: T.J. Lowder, Clinton Taylor, Fred Porter. A chance to go up two scores and no Glenn Coleman? Not another big receiver besides Porter?
Defensively, FIU looked lost until the second half, their heads clouded by Old Dominion's multi-faceted scheme run with such aplomb by quarterback Taylor Heinicke. A nice passer, I found Heinicke's mobility to be more impressive. He's not fast, but terribly elusive. Ask FIU defensive end Michael Wakefield. Wakefield found himself staring down Heinicke in the open field like a father catching his daughter's boyfriend sneaking out of his house at 2 a.m. Sack, right? Maybe no gain. Heinicke gave Wakefield a little lazy leg and left the Panthers' sacks leader reaching at air. 17-yard gain. Wakefield seemed to linger a little longer than usual after hitting Heinicke on the next play.
You won't see a 1-yard touchdown pass with more athletic skill at both ends than Heinicke's toss to Zach Pascal in the third quarter. Heinicke rolled out with the pass-run option. FIU safety Jordan Davis got in Heinicke's path to the end zone and his length cut his vulnerability to Heinicke's slick wiggles. Just as Davis touched Heinicke with the sideline there as help, the quarterback backed up the right sideline and lobbed a ball to the back of the end zone. Pascal scraped the sky for the ball and tapped a foot inbounds. Originally ruled incomplete, the call was changed on replay.
McKinnon defended on that play and on Pascal's later dazzling catch to the FIU 6 two plays before the game-winning field goal. He made two nice pass breakups against Pascal earlier on goal-to-go plays from the 7, swatting away a slant and an out route. He also got the last of the five pass interference calls that vexed FIU's cornerbacks throughout the game and flounced so in reaction that Leonard went over to calm him.
Former FIU wide receiver Nick England caught one pass for 11 yards for the Monarchs, an important gain that changed third and 14 from the FIU 43 to fourth and 3 from the 32 on the drive to the game-tying touchdown. Both late Old Dominion fourth downs, a running back sat wide open on the sideline. On that same sideline, ODU didn't cover Maxwell on his 57-yard touchdown. I didn't mind FIU bringing the company so many times late in the game but leaving running back Gerard Johnson so wide open on fourth and 3 late in the 10th game of the season speaks of sloppiness at a couple of levels.
"In the first half, we made way too many mistakes defensively," Turner said. "We had them back on the 1 yard line. They've got a third and 8 (actually, third and 3) from the 7, 8, whatever it is, and we line up in teh neutral zone, give them a first down. They go down and score on that drive.
"We had another two times where we had third and 13, third and 14," Turner continued. "(Heinicke) scrambles and gets the first down. We were undisciplined in our rush lanes. Guys weren't where they were supposed to be. They didn't make mistakes, we did. We're not going to win until we get that stuff corrected."
The third and 3 to which he referred was one of three snaps that resulted in offsetting penalties (it should've been four -- two plays after McKinnon's second PI, the Monarchs got called for holding while FIU senior corner Randy Harvey treated wide receiver Antonio Vaughan the way Mongo Santamaria did bongos.). Anyway, the Turner-mentioned third down was a 6-yard pass wiped out by offsetting penalties, the customary FIU offsides and an ODU hold.
As I said in the pregame blog, by this point in the season, those pre-snap penalties reflect on both the coaching staff and the players.
I'll get to Saturday's Former Sunblazers-Current Monarchs in football in a minute. First, FIU vs. Old Dominion footballers on the pitch Friday night.
Let's put aside that FIU lost 3-2 on a penalty kick golden goal by Sidney Rivera in the 104th minute after FIU senior Quentin Albrecht tied his last college game on a shot from maybe 4 yards inside the area in the 86th minute. FIU ends the season 6-9-1, 2-6 in Conference USA. Here's what I saw:
A school with similar soccer history to FIU's and an undergraduate enrollment of just under 20,000 playing in a this-century retro brick soccer stadium drawing several hundred fans covered in hats, gloves, scarves and blankets (my fingers are still thawing from being ungloved for occasional Tweets from the game). OK, Senior Night might've helped the crowd, but it's not exactly senior sayonara for Old Dominion. Next week's Conference USA tournament is on their home turf.
The apparent multi-level support -- economic, administrative, fan -- for that program should not outstrip FIU's to such an embarrassing degree. There's no excuse for it. Just as there's no reason Old Dominion, at $37 million, should have an athletic budget almost 50 percent larger than FIU's.
When I heard rumors FIU might host next year's men's or women's conference tournament, I wondered "How? Where? Did FIU show the conference pictures of Barry's place (University, not Jackson) or Little Haiti Soccer Park?" And how does a Division II school and a rundown neighborhood in one of the worst run major cities have superior soccer facilities to a massive school's athletic department gorging annually on all-you-can-eat student fees?
Maybe I'm smoking about this just because my body's still looking for any form of heat. By the way, some of you have asked about evaluations of executive director or sports and entertainment Pete Garcia. This was the most recent one, according to a records request response from FIU Download President to PG.
FIU's got a low flow money shower paralleled by its low flow offense. The latter should be helped today by facing an Old Dominion's Yard Sale defense -- show up, take what you want, including this yard, that yard, 10 yards, the whole development. The Monarchs give up 233.1 rushing yards per game, 485.8 yards per game and 40.7 points per game. They're like the prom date everybody wanted.
Still, FIU coach Ron Turner said, “If we get in a shootout with them, we have no chance. We have to play our game. And play within us. We’re not a get-in-a-shootout type offense. Obviously.”
And, obviously, Old Dominion knows this. The Monarchs know if you take away the tight ends, especially sophomore tight end Jonnu Smith, the Panthers lose their fizz aside from the occasional bomb to Glenn Coleman. FIU wants to pound it with Anthon Samuel and Napoleon Maxwell and keep Old Dominion senior quarterback Taylor Heinicke (pronounced like you're not going to pay a lot for this muffler) on the sideline, chilling in the late afternoon breeze.
To do this successfully, FIU must avoid its knack for the pre-snap boo-boo that turns the Panthers offense into a cha-cha dance -- two steps forward, one step back, 7 yards forward, 5 yards back -- and puts them in long yardage situations on second and third down. It's a demerit on the analysis sheets for both players and coaches that this remains a problem this deep into the season. It speaks to discipline. John Madden, who coached the legendarily rambunctious 1970s Raiders, used to always say he didn't define a disciplined player by whether he dressed cleanly, said "sir" and "ma'am," and made curfew. If he jumped the snap on third and short, he was an undisciplined player.
Speaking of discipline, after last week's 31-17 loss to Rice, Turner clearly was fuming about some aspect of team discipline. He didn't name names, but junior cornerback Jeremiah McKinnon got stapled to the bench after nobody covered James Mayden up the seam on his 69-yard touchdown catch.
“Just didn’t have a great week of preparation. He knew he didn’t," FIU defensive coordinator Josh Conklin said. "We gave up the deep one, which was one we covered all along. And we just felt some fo the other guys were playing a little bit better at the time. (Freshman Shemarke) Spence can cover and he did a pretty decent job covering the big guy (Rice's Jordan Taylor) until the end there. He can cover guys in the slot. We’ll use some different matchups this week. Jeremiah’s ready to go. We had a great talk. We’ve got to have those guys play well and use their matchups.
"I thought Wilkenson Myrtil played a really good game, solid game, physical on the perimeter, which was good to see."
Heinicke's top three receivers, Antonio Vaughan, Zach Pascal and David Washington, have 42, 45 and 30 catches, respectively, and yards per catch averages of 17.7, 13.5 and 13.0. Translation: he'll look for the best matchup not involving Richard Leonard and work that. As I've written here repeatedly, FIU's four wins under Ron Turner have been Saturday morning at Roslyn's bakery -- a total of 20 turnovers in those four games. The three wins this season each featured a defensive touchdown by Leonard. Sometimes, coaches don't overthink themselves, go A=B, B=C, therefore A=C and tell their quarterbacks things like, "stay away from turnovers and, unless we're Liam Neeson looking for our daughter or saving Private Ryan, I don't want to see us in Leonard's neighborhood."
Leonard might not see the ball aside from kickoff or punt returns, where Old Dominion's gives up a whopping 15.9 yards per punt return, worst in the nation, and 24.3 per kickoff return.
Old Dominion opened a 2.5-point favorite and is now up to a 5-point pick by the smart guys. The over/under is 60 after starting at 60.5. So, they're seeing 33-27 or so.
I'll go 35-31, Old Dominion.
But that's one Irish-Native American-West African descended man's opinion. I could be wrong.
Places you can see Saturday's ASN telecast of FIU at Old Dominion football: Chicago; Washington D.C.; Baltimore; Boston; Pittsburgh; Las Vegas; Little Rock; Flint, Mich.; Beaumont, Texas; Wheeling, Ohio; Norfolk, Virginia, where the game's being played; and 44 other markets.
A place you can't see Saturday's ASN telecast of FIU at Old Dominion football: Miami.
Freshman Rebecca Quensel was named Conference USA Diver of the Week for the second time this season. She scored a 286.75 in the 3-meter and 246.15 in the 1-meter, both of which were good enough for second place against Indian River on Saturday.
Senior forward Ashleigh Shim, Third Team All-Conference USA on the field, was named to Second Team Conference USA All-Academic women's soccer player Wednesday. Joining Shim on the team for the second consecutive year was senior midfielder Johanna Volz.
Both Shim and Volz majored in Sports and Fitness Studies. Volz pulled a 3.77 grade point average while Shim pulled a 3.56.
Three FIU seniors -- forwards Chelsea Leiva and Ashleigh Shim and defender Marie Egan -- made the All-Conference USA teams announced Tuesday afternoon while Nevena Stojakovic was the conference's All-Freshman team goalkeeper.
Leiva, the No. 7 scorer in the conference with eight goals (five game winners, tying for the conference lead) and three assists, and Egan were on the second team. Shim, two goals and four assists, made the third team. Stojakovic had a 1.08 goals against average and six shutouts.
Freshman running back Alex Gardner's right shoulder was out of the sling, but head coach Ron Turner said he'll be out this week against Old Dominion, the week after against Middle Tennessee State and is questionable to return against North Texas. Freshman linebacker Fred Russ has his right arm in a sling, so, obviously, he'll be a spectator Saturday.
As for freshman linebacker Anthony Wint and his sprained knee, Turner said he'd be surprised if Wint isn't back to face Middle. I didn't see defensive tackle Imarjaye Albury among those coming off after practice, but Turner said he's fine after being helped off the field late Saturday against Rice.
Freshman quarterback Alex McGough missed practice while dealing with a family situation. He'll be back Wednesday.
Since my post a week ago on the postseason chances for the fall sports teams...
Men's Soccer: Beat FAU 2-0 Wednesday to stay alive for the Conference USA tournament then lost 1-0 to Kentucky to get eliminated. A win in the regular season closer against Old Dominion can only tie New Mexico and South Carolina, each of which beat FIU head-to-head.
Women's Soccer: Tied Marshall 1-1 Thursday and were shut out of the conference tournament when Louisiana Tech beat FAU in overtime. The remaining match, Sunday's makeup with Alabama-Birmingham, was cancelled as neither team would qualify for the tournament. Unless football pulls off a natural hat trick, this 8-8-2 record will be fall's Best of FIU.
Volleyball: Lost 3-1 to Rice and 3-1 to Charlotte to fall to 3-10 in conference, 6-20 overall...but they...are...ALIVE, in a pack with UTEP, UAB, Middle Tennessee and Charlotte, all of which have three conference wins and one of which will get the eighth and final conference tournament spot. Three conference matches remain for FIU: at UTEP (tossup), at Texas-San Antonio (12-0 in conference), home season closer against Louisiana Tech (1-11 in conference).
Football: Lost Saturday 31-17 to Rice and need to win three straight after losing three straight to even get a bowl to give up its phone number. The Former Sunblazers are three-point underdogs at Old Dominion this Saturday.
The swim team, a winter team that warms up in the fall, moved to 3-0 by beating Indian River Saturday 174-126 as last week's Conference USA Swimmer of the Week, freshman Silvia Scalia, won the 100 backstroke and 200 back. Freshman Brittney Fant won the 500 freestyle and 200 butterfly (my shoulders and lats hurt just typing "200 butterfly").