Before we get started on Saturday afternoon's Bizarro show, congratulations to former FIU basketball player Tymell Murphy on being drafted by the NBA Development League's Canton Charge, the affiliate of the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Also, I don't know how much American Sports Network pays Conference USA and, by extension, its schools, but it can't be enough. Anybody who has read this blog over the last few years or follows me on Twitter knows I'll never confuse FIU with Nebraska or Ohio State as far as attendance. The reasons for that are numerous, well-documented, oft-discussed and not worth listing right here, right now for the few newbies who might be here.
But ASN exacerbated a tough sell for FIU -- losing record, ambivalence-inspiring Rice as an opponent -- by forcing the kickoff back to noon. Noon on the day after Halloweeen in a city that's knows about early mornings only if coming from late nights. Noon on the day after Halloween involving a school that's obese with enrollment, but still relatively bony as far as campus and near campus housing.
That's how you get about 20 cars in FIU's famous tailgating area. That's how you get a student section crowd at kickoff that wouldn't fill a classroom. That's how you get an overall crowd that maybe got into four digits at its peak. This week's attendance embarrassment wasn't wholly on FIU. ASN shared parenthood, then didn't make sure its telecast aired in this market after sending out releases declaring the game would be shown here.
What everyone else could see on their TV screens was bizarro football, at least from FIU. It's as if the appearance of Rice caused a negative version of FIU to appear, one governed by the George Costanza theory of doing the opposite of his instincts.
The team that couldn't complete a deep ball not only did so twice, but opened the game with a bomb and another throw over 20 yards downfield off play action. It took surveillance van-sized running backs to crash through through FIU's run defense this season. On Rice's first play, 5-7 chunky Jowan Davis resembled a snake molting tackles on a 19-yard touchdown run. FIU defended well against wide receivers downfield, yet been leaky against tight ends and pass catching running backs. But senior Jordan Taylor and James Mayden got free for touchdowns of 63 and 69 yards, Taylor escaped bad tackling and Mayden frolicked away from zero coverage.
"That's not who we've been all year," FIU coach Ron Turner fumed.
When FIU started using freshman Shemarke Spence on Taylor, Rice began looking for Taylor.
I haven't seen Turner this upset about a loss since last year's Bethune-Cookman game. And, he sounded the same.
"I'm disappointed in the football team for not playing anywhere close to the way we're capable of playing," he said. "I know exactly why. I'm not going to share it with anybody. I'll share it with the team. And I'll share it again tomorrow. I know exactly why we didn't play very well today. We'll get it straightened out one way or another. We wouldn't have beaten a high school team today."
Considering FIU shares a town with Booker T. Washington and Central, if you wanted to put a positive spin on that comment, you could say at least it shows the coaching staff's been out there at the high school games involving the big teams this year.
As for the reference to what Turner believes is the reason FIU went wacky Saturday, a reference he made at least one other time in his postgame media session, I don't know what he's talking about. I asked if it had to do with attitude. He verbally wriggled, seemed to indicate I was on the right path, but wouldn't really elaborate.
“I know exactly why and I’ll share it with the team. We didn’t play well. I’ve got a folder full of mistakes we made throughout the game. It started off the bat – missed assignments, false starts, offsides. Stupid stuff. But I know why. I won’t go back and say it’s necessarily an attitude thing.”
One thing FIU had to be happy about from Saturday is freshman running back Napoleon Maxwell. In place of injured freshman Alex Gardner, ran for 88 yards on 16 carries as the two bombs to Glenn Coleman helped unclog opposing run defenses as hadn't happened in a few weeks. The Panthers look Conference USA solid with Gardner and Maxwell as a running combination the next few years, the next year plus with junior Anthon Samuel in the mix. If the offensive line ever gets together, book the bowl tickets.
“We had some guys, some individuals do some really good things today," Turner fumed after complimenting Maxwell. "Some individuals. Make sure you note that – some in-di-viduals do some really good things today. We didn’t do anything well as a team. And, in this game, you win as a team. They were a team, we were not.”
Turner also needs to ask for answers from the halls of the Fieldhouse. This is the third consecutive game that FIU went flaacid in the second half. Against Texas-San Antonio, you can say that didn't happen until the Panthers reached the red zone in the second half. But against Marshall and Rice, the post-break offense need not have bothered. That can't be blamed wholly on player error.
FIU's best second half drive came after redshirt freshman linebacker Jordan Guest cracked the spit out of Darik Dillard on a fourth and 1. The Panthers marched to their 48 where on fourth and 1, they decided to ride with the momentum and go for it. Well, sort of momentum -- quarterback Alex McGough slipped when cutting into open space for that final yard on third down.
The fourth down call, well...I'm always of the belief if you need less than a yard and you've got a quarterback who stands a legit 6-feet or over, put him behind the center and guard and tell them to move something. Or just not get shoved back into the quarterback's mouthpiece. Instead, FIU did what used to drive folks crazy during the Mario Cristobal days on third or fourth and short -- shotgun snap, running back into the line. Maxwell got stacked up. I'm not sure he ever was down. He wasn't sure he ever was down. But he accepted that the refs whistled his forward progress stopped.
Remember when wide receiver Richard Burrows got first team reps through much of training camp? He made his first catch of the season Saturday. The starting wide receivers were Glenn Coleman and Fred Porter. Junior cornerback Jeremiah McKinnon played, but sophomore Wilkenson Myrtil started in his place.
I hear that sports and entertainment director Pete Garcia responded to "Fire PG!" chants from the famous Section 112 by inviting them up to his suite where free beer would be served. Half went.
With the Conference USA tournament field set and neither FIU nor Alabama-Birmingham included, the two schools decided to say "never mind" for the makeup game re-scheduled for today at UAB.