September 22, 2014

Albrecht C-USA Player of the Week; Moving Suites; Moving Lines

Senior forward Quentin Albrecht's second and third goals last week came late in regulation to tie San Diego State and in overtime (via bicycle kick, no less) to give FIU guys' soccer its second win against a ranked opponent this year.

And that's why Albrecht's the Conference USA Men's Soccer Offensive Player of the Week.

SUITE SALES

As a beat reporter covering the athletic department, I often like to hunker down to work in the public buildings where much of the athletic department works. Some people don't like that.

Others see me and remember they want to inform me of things such as: of the 16 FIU Stadium inside suites, nine now have been sold to outside entities and five and a half have been sold to inside FIU entities. My count at the start of the season showed five unsold suites and only six sold to outside entities.

Why does it matter? Because the department can use every dollar and ticket sold it can get.

FOOTBALL

FIU opened an 11.5-point underdog to Alabama-Birmingham this week. Early line hunters saw that and jumped all over UAB like good barbecue. The line's now up to 15 some places, 15.5 others and 16 in one place.

Wakefield gets CFPA hugs; temp floor in the house

Defensive end Michael Wakefield's been tearing it up since late last season. Saturday's two sacks, one other tackle for loss and forced fumble got him another Honorable Mention from the College Football Performance Awards.

REPLACEMENT LIME COURT

It should be down and painted with FIU colors soon. No time for the beach, though. 

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I kind of like the dual imagery of funky, unique (but dented) arena in front of me, pretty campus behind me.

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September 21, 2014

A few thoughts on Louisville 34, FIU 3

Yucky, depressing drizzle. Lousiville quarterback Will Gardner doing what Buffalo's EJ Manuel did with the Dolphins last week: just enough to keep both teams in the game. FIU giving up the early score, yet tenaciously refusing to let Louisville pull away. Time brought closer that moment when 7-0, Louisville, would make the Cardinals jittery enough to make a big boo-boo or two for FIU.

From the game's second drive until the hat trick of Louisville touchdowns began with 5:33 left in the second quarter, Saturday felt like that 2012 night when FIU came a Jake Medlock injury and some questionable fourth down decisions from slaying Louisville again.

Except, this year, FIU's offense ran in place. Sort of like the cars on all arteries around 836 West and Red Road Saturday. Choose your dead car metaphor from there -- FIU ran out of gas, overheated, etc. -- for how FIU's offense left Ron Turner resembling those people I saw standing roadside, peering with worried frustration at their immobile vehicle.

I don't know how many potential customers FIU or Ikea lost to that only-in-Miami piece of contruction planning. I do know FIU's defense and returners make the Panthers an annoyance to good opponents.

In his last six games, going back to the last two games of last year, Michael Wakefield has 5.5 sacks and 8.5 tackles for loss. The defense came up with two more fumble recoveries, including the career first for freshman linebacker Anthony Wint. The secondary came up small Saturday against a quarterback no better than some FIU sees in Conference USA or each day in practice (I'd put Will Gardner behind both Alex McGough and E.J. Hilliard). Redshirt junior cornerback Richard Leonard blamed himself for not preventing James Quick's marvelous catch-Gregory Hines-and-run 74-yard touchdown, but at least Leonard was there to make a play. On Quick's 37-yard touchdown and the third-down 28-yard completion to Gerald Christian that got Louisville off their own 4-yard-line, each had more space than the GC on a Friday.

Leonard brought three kickoffs out of the end zone. You can't blame him, even on the one he didn't get back to the 25. The other two were the closest FIU came to finding the Louisville end zone.

It's FIU's offense that doesn't allow the Panthers to rise above being a bother in an era when so many scores resemble Mattel Football I after you figured out the three defenses.

The offense has improved. It could hardly get worse without team moonwalking. Even with statistical Cialis Wagner (loser to Monmouth last week) on the schedule, FIU ranks 103rd in passing, 117th in rushing and 120th overall (out of 125 FBS teams). The Panthers are last in the nation in third down conversion percentage, 122nd in sacks allowed, 117th in tackles for loss allowed and 107th in fumbles lost.

The offensive line's a year older but a year better for them remians well short of good enough. Saturday, both quarterbacks took a beating. Freshman Alex McGough actually took a bouncing, a couple from Louisville linebacker Lorenzo Mauldin. Mauldin did the same to running back Alex Gardner or Anthon Samuel. 

Line play isn't helped by play-calling that's gotten pretty predictable by situation, personnel and formation. A little film study and you can smell what FIU's cooking. Against a riotous Louisville front seven, did FIU try one old fashioned screen or draw? They ran a few counters off fake handoffs to wide receivers in motion. Louisville devoured those. One football person proposed that it looks like FIU's trying to do too much offensively. Run less and get better at it, he said.

(Digression: speaking of football people, a Kansas City Chiefs scout was at the game. He left in the second quarter. From what I heard, he was unwilling to endure the afternoon bluster under the partial protection of an outside tent. Both radio broadcasts, who work outside instead of in some sort of semi-indoor accommodations like every other FBS school I've seen, were affected. When the stands had to be cleared, the radio people couldn't stay in their tent. There was no pregame or even weather delay filler talk on the FIU broadcast. Tune in to 1210AM ESPN Deportes for pregame and you heard Spanish sports talk radio.

As only six of 17 indoor suites are sold to non-FIU entities and five were unsold at my last count, why not use them to prevent embarrassing situations that have many others around the nation excoriating the school far more ruthlessly than is done here?)

Neither McGough nor Hilliard, throws with consistent accuracy. Both hold the ball too long, taking too many Ken O'Brien sacks. Both shortcomings are to be expected more from a freshman than a junior although McGough actually throws the ball away with more prudence.

FIU coach Ron Turner sounded like a man about to return to two-quarterback games when he said McGough could've gone back in after suffering a knee contusion, but Hilliard was doing some things well. My thinking is pick a guy and stay with him for at least a game so he feels comfortable enough to play, knowing he can make the mistakes from which he'll need to learn without getting yanked. Former Dolphins coach Cam Cameron said it badly with "fail forward fast" but his point was the same as the great cartoon director Chuck Jones' first instructor at the Chouinard Art Institute, as quoted in Jones' autobiography Chuck Amuck: "All of you here have 100,000 bad drawings in you. The sooner you get rid of them, the better it will be for everyone."

So do quarterbacks need to get their bad throws out of them. Such as the interception by McGough that Gerod Holliman returned for a touchdown that put Louisville up 14-0. From the snap, that left side pattern was an Overtown bar at 3 a.m. -- nothing good going on and you'll be lucky to get out with only your feelings hurt.

And sometimes, receivers need to make those bad throws into good plays. Aside from sophomore tight end Jonnu Smith, FIU's receivers rarely make more of a play than is there. Saturday, at 7-0, a McGough deep ball up the left sideline hit a leaping T.J. Lowder in the hands. Drop. It wasn't the easiest catch but it's one your quarterback needs when he's struggling. Also, it would've put FIU in field goal range.

FIU's personnel is better than last year in all three phases of the game. The defense has shown demonstrative improvement, especially in making so-called "impact" plays. Leonard makes every punt or kickoff a potential touchdown.

But without offensive improvement beyond incremental, even in Conference USA, 2014 won't add up to much more than 2013. Time for the players to step up and the coaches of the aforementioned units to coach up. Alabama-Birmingham's next week. UAB put up 34 points on the road at Mississippi State and 48 points against Troy.

FIU put up 28 points combined against it's two FBS opponents.

 

 

September 20, 2014

Gameday IV: Matchup.com; Futbol Sweep

So often, life’s about matchups and timing.

Mrs. Miniver gets Best Picture over The Magnificent Ambersons during World War II. Only early 1990s political correctness can explain Dances With Wolves getting that award instead of GoodFellas.

Muhammad Ali nemesis Ken Norton beats The Greatest once and loses two other questionable decisions. But a fading Ali barely survives Earnie Shavers in a 15-round decision win almost 18 months before Shavers blasts out Norton in 118 seconds.

 

Metallo nearly kills Superman. He wouldn’t last a page against Flash. A panel against Green Lantern.

Richard Nixon narrowly lost the first television age election to JFK. Could Jimmy Carter have won any Presidential election besides 1976?

I got on this riff thinking about Louisville and FIU.

This is the fourth game of Bobby Petrino’s second turn as Louisville coach. For whatever else can be said about Petrino, he’s a tremendous college-affiliated football coach. What he isn’t is the coach who constructed most of this roster, former coach Charlie Strong, now at Texas. Charlie Strong knew Florida and Florida players. Assistant coaches might still be translating Petrino for the many holdovers from Strong.  

Also, the book on Louisville says the Cardinals come at you with speed, Florida speed. They hit the flanks and fly. What does FIU have? Speed, Florida speed.

Louisville probably brings better athletes to those get-togethers on the corners. Still, that seems to play into what the FIU defense does well – get lateral, chase down plays going away from them. Expect the Panthers young linebackers to look fantastic one play, then fall for an okie doke on a reverse or a counter the next play. Where they’ll be tested most will be in pass coverage with the tight end off play action.

Pitt hit FIU between the tackles with the occasional quarterback keeper around the edge. There’s talk Louisville coach Bobby Petrino might want to use this week to work on Louisville’s inside running game. Remember Michael Dyer, freshman running back on Auburn’s 2010 national championship team? He’s trying to come off injury as a fifth-year senior at Louisville. He might be back Saturday.

At least FIU won’t have to worry about a mobile quarterback. Louisville’s Will Gardner, like predecessor Teddy Bridgewater, runs with great reluctance. Louisville’s offensive line is still trying to get its act together, so expect FIU’s pass rush to bring heat and humidity on passing downs.

“He’s not a run first guy,” Petrino said in his Thursday media session. He’s really more of a passer. Thinks of himself more as a passer. He needs to stand taller, stand his back leg under his hip so he is 6-4.”

Petrino said in practice this week, Gardner, “set his weight, snapped his wrist, worked on the timing, throwing the ball hard. You could certainly see he’s making a conscious effort to do the things we’re coaching him to do.”

FIU batted down some passes against Wagner’s 6-4 Brian Gehring and might play swat pong with a couple here. Expect Gardner’s mechanics to be off on a few throws, giving the Panthers some interceptions chances.

Gardner likely will go the whole way or until the clock strikes blowout. He usually swaps with freshman Reggie Bonnafon. Bonnafon will miss the game while attending his father’s funeral.

Also, FIU must make the Cardinals work for their scores, which means good punting and solid punt returns. Punter Chris Ayers needs a good game to hold onto his position.

Pitt’s touchdown drives were shorter than a dinner rush line at a Pollo Tropical drive-thru. The long drives tended to end in James Conner fumbles. It’s hot for the offense, too. People get tired. Mistakes get made.

With the ball, expect Louisville to send numbers at freshman quarterback Alex McGough out of its 3-4 defense. Until FIU starts running the ball consistently, what’s to stop teams from creating stampedes to the quarterback with the thought of just collecting the run along the way?

There’s going to be chances for the kind of boom plays that helped FIU get up 16-0 on Pitt. A missed tackle on sophomore tight end Jonnu Smith. Glenn Coleman, TJ Lowder or Dennis Turner outrunning man coverage downfield. Alex Gardner on a screen or draw.

(The only downside with starting a freshman running back: predictability. Picking up blitzes in pass protection usually doesn’t come naturally after a high school career in which they have the ball or the pass is designed to go to them. So, the freshman sometimes gets swapped out for a better blocking running back. Meanwhile, the entire opposing coaching staff starts whoopin’ and hollerin’ because they’ve got a solid hint that on an obvious passing down, the offense will pass.)

“Offensively, we had 10 big plays,” FIU coach Ron Turner said of the game against Pitt. “I don’t know that we had 10 big plays in any game last year. We might’ve gone six games without having 10 big plays.”

Probably – they had only 24 plays (21 run, three pass) 20 yards or longer all year.

I don’t think they’ll get 10 against Louisville. If they do, the score will be much closer than my prediction:

Louisville 38, FIU 10.

But that’s the opinion of one man raised by a single African-American lesbian (and I thank God for all of that). I could be wrong.

SOCCERS

Two goals by fifth-year senior Chelsea Leiva and the women's soccer team opened the night with a 2-0 win against Stetson, their third win in a row. They get a shot at a ranked team Sunday when No. 23 Long Beach State comes to the field.

The FIU men now have two wins against ranked opponents after senior Quentin Albrecht's bicycle kick goal gave FIU a 2-1 overtime win against No. 25 San Diego State. They beat then-No. 19 Michigan 1-0 in August.

 

 

September 19, 2014

Tymell Murphy headed for the D-League

Former forward Tymell Murphy, of Brooklyn and FIU, has signed a NBA Developmental League contract. The D-League draft is Nov. 1. If you hear happy hollering with a Brooklyn accent that day, it could mean Murphy wound up with the D-League affiliates of the Heat, the New York Knicks or Brooklyn Nets.

Or, it could just mean Murphy's just happy to have a D-League home and an outside shot at the big show.

 

Women's Hoop Schedule Set (court not yet set)

FIU's women's basketball team will host Tennessee Tech, UCF, Cleveland State, Arizona and Auburn in non-conference games, according to the schedule released by FIU Athletics today.

The Nov. 14 opener against Tennessee Tech apparently will be part of a doubleheader with the men's basketball team's opener against Florida College. Expect they'll be playing on Replacement Lime Court at FIU Arena over the original Lime Court after last weekend's weight-dropping fitness competition left the floor -- and those of us who liked the beach-themed paint scheme -- all broken up.

FIU gets a hat trick of home games to start the Conference USA schedule, Jan. 4 vs. FAU, Jan. 8 vs. Middle Tennessee State and Jan. 10 vs. Alabama-Birmingham. The Boca Raton part of the FAU home-and-home is Jan. 24. 

As far as in-state schools outside Conference USA, FIU goes to Florida Gulf Coast on Nov. 18 and hosts UCF on Dec. 6, then up to Jacksonville Dec. 14. FIU's back in Jacksonville the following weekend, Dec. 20 and 21, for the North Florida Tournament.

FIU faces Arizona Nov. 28 in The Thanksgiving Classic, and either Toledo or Virignia on Nov. 30. FIU's other annual tournament, The Sun & Fun Classic, Dec. 29 and 30, sees FIU vs. Auburn on Dec. 29 and against Bowling Green or Hampton on the 30th.

 

September 17, 2014

Alex Overflow

Some stuff that didn't make it into this story on Alex McGough and Alex Gardner:

From McGough on when he feels he gained the trust and acceptance a quarterback needs to have from his teammates:

“Probably spring, going through spring, doing pretty well. When they would do something good, congratulate them and tell them they did well. When they did something badly, I had enough respect for them to tell them they did it badly. Same thing goes for them. They can tell me, ‘Hey, this ball needs to be here so I can have a better catch.’”

Alex Gardner said his Instagram account has video of McGough singing badly.

I asked McGough if it's a heady thing starting this early, especially against an opponent like Pittsburgh, which has a storied history (probably prehistoric to a kid born late in Dan Marino's NFL career).

“There’s a point where you just have to say, just let me take a breath, step back. Look at it like third person. And just try to understand the whole situation, the concept of the game and say, "I can do this. One step at a time.' Just take it from there. One play, every play.”

His favorite play of the season so far: the 3-yard touchdown run against Pitt. "Great moment, holding the ball in the end zone, the whole crowd going wild. It was good moment for me."

His least favorite play: the fumble against Pitt, his only turnover so far this season. “It was a bad feeling. Just sitting there on the ground, miserably. Can’t get (the ball).”

I've said to a few people Gardner could be FIU football's Jerica Coley: potenially a very good player, already a very good student, a church-going young adult who seems to attend with a purpose.

Hump Day, The Blog

Not much to see at Camp Mitch today.

Junior cornerback Jeremiah McKinnon wore an orange injury jersey and limped off the field after going through a full practice. This might seem like a good time to note that senior backup cornerback Randy Harvey will be back this week after FIU coach Ron Turner put him in timeout for one game following his brief boxfight with a Wagner wide receiver.

No one else on the two-deep wore a Home Depot jersey.

THIS NEXT PARAGRAPH IS ABOUT TICKETS. IF YOU DON'T LIKE TO READ ABOUT TICKETS, YOU CAN SKIP OVER IT. REALLY. THERE WON'T BE A TEST OR A REFERENCE BACK TO IT LATER.

I'm hearing some season ticket holders are receiving generous offers of near free tickets so as to prevent The Cage from being half La Cage Aux Folles from the Louisville support. In addition to the fans who'll travel, there's going to be more than usual local support for a visiting team. The Cardinals roster features 16 players from Miami-Dade County, one from Broward County, two from Palm Beach County and nine other players from the state of Florida. Even if every player brings in 20 friends and family -- a generous number, but using it because it's at the high end -- that's still only 560 extra Louisville fans. 

Lamar Thomas coaches Louisville's wide receivers. I wonder if he'll be in one of the coaching carnival booths or along the sideline. I'm not sure which would be more entertaining.

The line's hanging around 27 with an Over/Under of 48.

VOLLEYBALL

Tonight's match against FAU will be at the Rec Center after weekend kettlebells broke the beach, also known as Lime Court at FIU Arena. Free admission and posters to all. Autographs afterwards.

Still waiting for final official word about what'll be done about a floor. The temporary floor over the dented floor for this season seems to make the most sense with the least displacement.

 

September 16, 2014

Tuesdays with Natalya

Tidbits from today, with my Gatorade carried by my able assistant, Natalya...

Freshman Alex McGough will start again at quarterback against Louisville. Asked if junior EJ Hilliard would make another relief appearance, FIU coach Ron Turner said, “He could. We’ll see how it goes.”

I felt I'd just heard a football coach version of, "I feel full after the risotto."

 

Junior linebacker Davison Colimon will be a captain this week. "He went from really deep in the doghouse to captain. Hopefully, he can sustain it," Turner said. "Zero accountability. Like a lot of guys here last year."

Defensive end Denzell Perine ranks 12th nationally in sacks, 21st in tackles for loss. Richard Leonard's still ninth in both punt return average and combined kick returns. The defense ranks 16th in total defense, seventh in pass defense. That's the product of a good secondary, strong pass rush and opponents who think pass is what you do after the extra greasy burritos.

When you're a punter, are 91st out of the 92 punters ranked by the NCAA statistics, have dropped one game-winning field goal snap and turned a grass-hugging punt snap into a safety, you might need a strog GPA to save your spot. Study, Chris Ayers, study.

BEACH BREAKING

The CrossFit people want you to know that RAID Games VI, while calling its FIU Arena floor-destroying weekend competition a CrossFit competition, had no legal right to call itself a CrossFit competition. CrossFit, like Xerox and Kleenex, is the proper name of a company.

September 15, 2014

Broken Beach -- UPDATED

Organizers for RAID Games VI rented FIU Arena this weekend. FIU Arena's often rented out to make a little extra scratch for a department light on fund-raising and ticket sales.

The event left significant dents in the floor, probably from the weights used in crossfit competitions. The Athletic Department issued a statement just after 5 p.m. Monday:

"As a result of an outside event held at FIU Arena this past weekend, the court was damaged.  The event was fully insured. We anticipate repairs being complete over the next couple of weeks. Unfortunately, the September 17th volleyball match between FIU and Florida Atlantic will be affected and will be played at the FIU Rec Center."

Last year, FIU spent $50,000 to paint beach scenes that created one of the most unique floors in college sports.

I hear there won't be repairs as much as a portable floor will be laid over this floor -- which was laid over cement -- and used for volleyball and basketball seasons.

I had been hearing eight weeks for a new floor, which makes current replacement impractical. That would've put the volleyball team on the road even for its remaining home matches, unless they went with the Rec Center. Eight weeks from now also leaves only four days wiggle room before the Nov. 14 men's basketball season opener against Florida College.

A story and photo gallery to come on MiamiHerald.com.

 

 

 

September 14, 2014

MacLaren Races to Medalist Honors; Early FIU-Louisville Line

While Michigan State quarterbacks starred in the NFL on Sunday, FIU junior golfer Meghan MacLaren starred as the medalist at the Michigan State-hosted Mary Fossum Invitational. MacLaren shot a 2-over 74 Sunday to go from one-shot down to two-round leader Grand Valley State's Gabrielle Shipley to a one-shot victory with a 5-over 221.

FIU finished tied for fifth as a team.

FOOTBALL

FIU opened a 28-point underdog to Louisville. It's down to 26 in some spots. FIU is 5-2 against the spread in the last seven games at home. 

 

New Herald Policy on Blog Commenting

Starting Tuesday, to comment on this blog you’ll need to log in with a Facebook account.

We encourage lively discussion on the blog, but also believe that respect and civility must be part of good debate.  

This change brings commenting on MiamiHerald.com blogs in line with our policy on the rest of our website. We made that change in February 2013.

Your blog posts will carry the name on your Facebook account; you will have the choice of whether your post also appears on your own Facebook page.
 

 

A few thoughts on Pitt 42, FIU 25

Was this the best effort of the Ron Turner Regime? Possibly.

Look, you can't blame anybody for what eventually happened. The sun came up in the west, the woman at Publix didn't close the lids properly on my coladas and the team with beef pounded the team with bombs when the latter ran out of bombs too soon. The former never runs out of beef. That's why you have to put them down far enough to where they've got to shelve the beef.

Pitt's brings Buicks with boost. On Pitt quarterback Chad Voytik's first two big runs, 335-pound freshman center Alex Officer pulled out in front and buried a safety. And Officer started camp as the third string center. Though huge running back James Conner rolled up 177 yards on 31 carries, there were times where he reminded me more of Franco Harris, a big guy with dancing feet. (When Harris and smallish Lydell Mitchell were at Penn State, they were pushed as the new Mr. Inside and Mr. Outside with the twist being the bulkier back was Mr. Outside).That did not include the 20-yard carry on which Conner powered through the hole and Demarkus Perkins' tackle like a Peterbilit rampaging through a parking lot. While Conner dragged a rap group of FIU tacklers 6 or 7 yards, Perkins went to the sideline with his right arm hanging for a few plays.

FIU couldn't run with any consistency, either, leaving them long third downs. FIU on third down=Dennis Miller on Monday Night Football. Or worse -- three for 14 this week.

Overall, what we knew probably would happen did happen. Still, FIU hung in with Pitt as well as Boston College did. Boston College beat USC Saturday night. The point isn't that FIU can beat Boston College (maybe) or USC (no). But FIU spent a good chunk of a game playing on a higher level than they've previously shown in the last two years, similar to Alabama-Birmingham last week against Mississippi State. They didn't look like a team marching to another 1-11. Next week's opponent, Louisville, lost Saturday to Virginia, an ACC team with a 10-game losing streak to FBS teams going into this weekend.

Despite the near inevitability of the outcome, this Safety Saturday still left much to discuss.

Let's start with quarterback switching. EJ Hilliard came into the game right after Pitt made it 16-7. The previous possession, working from the FIU 4, the coaching staff clearly feared a turnover or a safety (imagine if they knew two safeties remained to be scored). They played it safe on first down, waved the white flag on third and 9 with an Alex Gardner run. FIU had scored touchdowns the two drives before that, when they let McGough play. The deep ball he'd been working to improve had just worked for a 57-yard score to Glenn Coleman.

(Three games into the season and Coleman has a 57-yard touchdown and Richard Leonard has an interception return for a touchdown, a 71-yard punt return to set up a touchdown and a fumble caused. Those two guys were the cheap points coupons FIU lacked last year.)

"We'll look at the film, decide where we're going," Turner said. "We came into this game saying we're going to play both guys. EJ knew he was going in at some point, so we put him in. And then we put him in in the second half." He also said he didn't think taking McGough out took him out of any rhythm. 

Sometimes, Turner's classic Football Coach. Coaches love to stick with their plans. Game plans, personnel plans, pregame meal plans, vacation plans, plans for where the kid will go to college. There's a time to treat those plans like God's lightning etched them in stone on Mount John McKay.

That time is "never."

I'd have stayed with McGough. After one three-and-out Hilliard possession, Turner went back to McGough on FIU's last two possessions of the half.

Hilliard's second half appeareance went much better, leading FIU to a field goal before the panicky intentional grounding, which is a safety when committed in the end zone. Turner said he tried to argue Hilliard was outside the tackle box, but he thought it was probably a good call.

Another good call, a coaching one, that needs notice: defensive coordinator Josh Conklin's call for a blitz when Pitt started on their own 8. Jeremiah McKinnon said FIU expected the play action pass. Voytik showed no recognition of a blitz coming from that side. The blitz might as well have changed the ball to the Orb of Confusion.

 

Pitt seemed to get a little cute early, evidence of them taking FIU lightly, as Conner admitted afterward. They got burned for it on the safety. They almost got burned again, near the end of the half when sophomore cornerback Wilkenson Myrtil jumped a predictable short route. Myrtil did well to get the interception. Had he been able to keep his feet at all, later. But I had just thought, this seems like time for a Richard Leonard interception return touchdown. Slow, predictable routes and fast corners make for a dangerous way to live.

Covering the game live and re-watching via DVR (or as much of it as I could -- rookie move, Fox Sports 1, switching it to Fox Sports 2 out of the lightning delay), it's hard to believe freshman linebacker Anthony Wint had only four tackles.

Turner said FIU didn't get anything going into the wind all day. True enough, when going east to west, FIU scored 25 while being shutout when heading for the big clock in the second and third quarters. Pitt managed to score 26 points going east to west, 16 points going west to east. Then again, Pitt didn't lose its starting center in the third quarter as FIU did when Donald Senat got carted off.

"First down, it seemed like we ran the ball, we got nothing," Turner said. "If we threw the ball, it was incomplete, so we got nothing. We were faced with long yardage situations the whole second and third quarter."

Turner also pointed to the wind when giving a Tony Sparano explanation for why he didn't go for a Hail Mary at the end of the half after Myrtil's interception gave FIU the ball at the FIU 42 with seven seconds left.

"We didn't want to risk anything to give them an opportunity to get something," Turner said. "We were going into a hell of a wind and we had a ways go to."

If he thinks McGough couldn't have gotten the ball to the end zone, OK, that's a point. But what about the possibility of a pass interference or a catch-and-face mask? The half can't end on a defensive penalty. Or the possibility that somebody makes a catch and runs it into the end zone? Why indulge in disaster think when you're trying to pull an upset and big plays bring your points? There's seven seconds left. I've seen maybe one Hail Mary intercepted and run back for a score.

It reminded me of Sparano's explanation for why he didn't order a Hail Mary at the end of the first half of a Dolphins-Green Bay game in 2010. He said if the Packers had picked off the pass and run it back, the media would've been all over him for throwing it. I thought,\ at the time, so you didn't take a low percentage shot at a good play because of the infinitesimal percentage possibility of a bad play?

Speaking of the wind, punter Chris Ayers had a terrible day. The punt snap from Sam Medlock that turned into a safety skipped through Ayers hands. Tough, but makeable scoop. Aside from the punt roll on his 54-yarder that preceded the McKinnon safety, Ayers didn't hit anything well in either direction. Eventually, Argentine rugby club member Jose Laphitzondo replaced Ayers. He nailed a 40-yarder into the wind before putting a post-safety free kick out of bounds.

"Somebody's got to step up and execute," Turner said. "We'll keep looking until we find someone."

The longest Pitt drive for points was 50 yards. That's not helping your defense.

I thought the lightning delay actually helped FIU delay the destruction. Pitt pushed FIU around on the 47-yard touchdown drive before the stoppage. The Pitt crew was starting to open holes and pave sidewalks. The delay gave FIU time to recover. Also, that's a once a week occurrence at training camp.

I'll just say this about the crowd. 

Both as a guy raised on Midwestern early afternoon kickoffs and a guy who likes a deadline I can make at a canter, I used to lament FIU's lack of noon or 1 p.m. kickoffs. No more. I'm not sure I'd pay to roast on the racks of the No Shade Cage throughout a four-hour college football game unless the Associated Press is mentioning my team Sunday evening.

Now, if it was free, different story. I did kind of hope students in the Towers or Parkview falling out of bed in the early afternoon would see the score, go "Whoa!" and wobble across the street.

Also not making an appearance was cornerback Randy Harvey. Conference USA didn't have anything extra for him after last week's brief post-play sparring session with a Wagner wide receiver. Clearly, Turner did.

September 13, 2014

Gameday III: Welcome Back to FBS Brunch 'n' Crunch.

After two weeks splashing around in the FCS pool, FIU gets back to big boy ball. Literally.

Pennsylvania's a long state. The east end, where Philadelphia grumbles next to South Jersey, accurately considers itself East Coast. Western Pennsylvania, where Pittsburgh quaffs beer and football players stream out at the rate of neighboring Ohio, is the easternmost point of the Midwest. Pitt coach Paul Chryst grew to manhood in Wisconsin during the Big Two, Little Eight "Three Yards and a Cloud of Dust" era. He spent two years as a graduate assistant at West Virginia, There's no doubt what he wants his team to look and play like.

Pitt's offensive line starters go, left to right, 305, 300, 305, 335 and 315 pounds. The experience is weighted to the right, too -- fifth-year seniors Matt Rotherham and T.J. Clemmings at guard and tackle. (Starting center Artie Rowell is out, so look for problems on the exchange). H-back Jaymar Parrish goes 270. Sophomore running back James Conner stops the scale at 250, ouweighing all but one of last week's FIU defensive front seven starters.

That's a lot of weight firing off into you, pushing on you, laying on you for four quarters in midday Miami, muggier-than-an-underarm heat. Size matters. But it matters for both teams.

FIU's greater depth along the defensive line and among the linebackers will be needed, especially if the offense can't give the defense a rest with some first downs. FIU's running game has been good enough for government work against Bethune-Cookman and Wagner. That won't get it done here. But the offensive line, facing Pitt's also robust front seven, must get a better push than they've gotten the first two games.

I asked Ron Turner if FIU's problem on third down (seven of 31) started with problems on first down creating bad third down situations.  

"Most of it has been third and mangageable," the FIU head coach said. "The whole problem has been us -- dropping passes, missed assignments in the running game, missed assignments protection-wise."

FIU can't afford three-and-outs. Two or three in a row will leave the home defense gassed by the time the visitors start cramping. When FIU punts, there's concern over the punt (distance this-a-way) and the return (distance that-a-way). In last year's Little Caesar's Pizza Bowl, Pitt wide receiver Tyler Boyd, a worry when he lines up on offense, pulled off the first punt return touchdown for Pitt since Darrelle Revis did it back in 2006. 

Also, on offense, FIU must make Pitt defend the whole field. Play wide. Use the deep ball. Run some counters, traps and screens early to get Pitt thinking instead of just stampeding. Bring the ball handling skills of each quarterback, Alex McGough and EJ Hilliard, into play with a couple of medium play action passes maybe before trying to establish the run. Unless Pitt got lost in South Beach or at a couple of FIU parties Friday night, I have a tough time seeing FIU's offense moving the ball just on execution. T.Y.'s Panthers are going to have to fool Hugh Green's Panthers.

Even if they do, there's still that downhill tonnage problem when Pitt's got the ball. Plus, quarterback Chad Voytik can skitter about for yards. He's not a great passer, but a muscular running game can help him summon some Marino for a play or two.

And that's how I see this going. Pound, pound, pound, option quarterback keep as FIU's young linebackers bite hard, pound, pound, pound. Seemingly ceaseless body blows. Offense can't punch back enough. Finally...

  

Pitt 31, FIU 10.

But that's the opinion of one descendant from a former slave and the slave's Irish wife who was disowned for marrying him. I could be wrong.

WOMEN'S SOCCER

Women's soccer beat Oregon State 1-0 on a header in the 71st minute by Chelsea Leiva. Fiu's now won three of its last four, all three wins coming by the score of 1-0. 

September 12, 2014

Getting the Money Right

An FIU source got hold of me Thursday morning to correct a money matter from a previous post.

New Senior Associate Athletic Director for Revenue Craig Angelos makes $65,000 per year plus some money still owed him from his $141,000 job at South Florida. I'd wrongly figured Angelos would be paid in the same six-figure yearly amounts as Senior Associate AD Chief of Staff Heath Glick ($103,616, according to Florida Has a Right to Know), Senior Associate AD/SWA Julie Berg ($111,347 says Right to Know) and Senior Associate AD Bobby Staub ($110,000).

The total for the four Senior Associate ADs is $389,963.

IN ANSWER TO THE QUESTIONS IN THE COMMENTS

Angelos' FIU salary wasn't on any site. The Right to Know site updates every few months. I originally thought he'd be in six figures just because of his title and his USF salary. I requested his employment agreement. I was told it didn't exist. I requested his employment file. Ditto.

Pretty confident the person who corrected me was accurate. In a roundabout way, it fit with a conversation I'd had the previous day over a claimed salary error (they were wrong, I was right on that one -- I have the contract). Getting Angelos for a bargain rate fits perfectly, especially when the 2014-15 university budget puts the department's revenues at $24 million this year and expenses at $24.9 million. Got to clip coupons where you can, even if it's in personnel.

 

 

September 10, 2014

Conference USA says, "Whoops."

The full account of today's Board of Trustees Athletics Committee meeting can wait until tomorrow. Much like the one last spring, many words were spent on many issues, too many words to transcribe and analyze after a school Open House and dinner. This time, with the SAAC and Compliance Department better armed in almost every way, you didn't have much "how does this happen?" over Animal House grades and season-turning NCAA violations. So most of the many words bore happiness.

What I want to get to before I get to bed concerns two things from Conference USA. A CUSA spokesman said senior cornerback Randy Harvey will receive no further punishment for his brief bout with Wagner wide receiver Keith Foster. No word on what punishment Harvey will receive from FIU coach Ron Turner.

The same spokesman also admitted an officiating boo-boo from the Bethune-Cookman loss.

With 3:32 left in the first half and FIU down 7-3, the Panthers decided to go for it on fourth and 2 from the Bethune 3. Quarterback Alex McGough called a timeout to discuss the play call. The timeout ended, officials started the 25-second play clock. FIU arrived back for the next play on Miami time. His receivers still not properly set, McGough turned and signalled another timeout. The referee refused to grant the timeout. The play clock struck zero. Fourth and 2 became fourth and 7 after a delay of game call. FIU took the field goal.

Conference USA admitted the official should've allowed the timeout. The NFL long has had rules against calling consecutive timeouts without a play happening. Colleges let you take all the timeouts you want.

Would FIU have gotten the first down? Maybe, maybe not. Would FIU have scored a touchdown? Maybe, maybe not. But a touchdown there, instead of a field goal would've put them up 10-7 at halftime. If the second half plays out the same, it's Bethune having to throw at the end, not FIU. The Wildcats' second touchdown aside, their passing makes a regular football do things that a Nerf football does after the dog takes a bit out of it.

Smith's This Week's Mackey Daddy

For his nine catches for 127 yards, which included a 41-yard touchdown, sophomore tight end Jonnu Smith was named the John Mackey Tight End of the Week by the Mackey Award committee.

Later on, I'll have an update from today's Athletics Committee meeting as well as what Executive Director of Sports and Entertainment (can we just shorten that here to EDSEl?) Pete Garcia reports to the Finance & Audit Committee.

September 09, 2014

Turner on Tuesday; Athletics Committee Wednesday

Highlights from Tuesday's post-practice mini-media session with football head coach Ron Turner (yes, I was there now that The Cone of Silence has been lifted):

FIU came out of Saturday's game healthy. I didn't see any of Home Depot orange injury jerseys as the players came off the field.

Turner again said freshman Alex McGough will start at quarterback, EJ Hilliard will play at some point, but the breakdown of playing time remains to be determined.

No special preparations or changes in practice have been enacted to prepare for the midday surface-of-the-sun heat that'll come with a noon kickoff at La Cage. "I coached in Pittsburgh -- it gets hot there, too."

Pittsburgh running back James Conner, on whom I'll be writing for Wednesday's paper, said it was 93 degrees on the field for Pitt's season opener against Delaware.

SPORTS SUITS

The Board of Trustees Athletics Committee meets Wednesday, 8:15 a.m. in the Graham Center Ballrooms. Executive Director of Sports and Entertainment (EDSEl?) Pete Garcia, Compliance Director Hank Harrawood and a cast of several athletics department administrators give States of Our Corner of the World addresses to the committee. Always an interesting listen.

There's usually a top notch student-athlete paraded before the committee to show the department at its best in both "student" and "athlete." With Jerica Coley now just a graduate student and Aramis Garcia now in the Giants' organization, expect perhaps softball's Corinne Jenkins or Stephanie Texiera to be the showpiece athlete.

 

September 08, 2014

CFPA Embraces Smith & Wakefield; Pitt Center Out; Louisville Game Time Set

The College Football Performance Awards keep an eye on FIU. So, the CFPA noticed sophomore Jonnu Smith's nine catches, 127 receiving yards and touchdown as its Tight End Performer of The Week. And defensive end Michael Wakefield's two fumble recoveries, forced fumble and sack got him honorable mention under Defensive Linemen Performer of the Week.

Meanwhile, Pitt will go into Saturday's game without starting center Artie Rowell, out for the season with a torn ACL. Redshirt sophomore Gabe Roberts is the likely replacement, although Pitt coach Paul Chryst said Monday Roberts and Alex Bookser would be worked at the spot during the week.

Pitt opened as a 27 1/2-point favorite. The line quickly moved down to 25 1/2 then back up to 26.

The Sept. 20 game against Louisville will kick off at 3:30 and be shown on Fox Sports 1.

 

September 07, 2014

A few thoughts on FIU 34, Wagner 3

Sorry this is late. Zero caffeine Saturday.

FIU got what Wagner came for Saturday.

The Seahawks gave FIU a chance to stack some confidence blocks and game experience before FIU's got to protect those blocks from Pittsburgh and Louisville's kicks over the next two weeks. In the manner of any good sparring partner, Wagner made FIU work for the goodies. Well, except for Richard Leonard's 60-yard pick six. That was a clear case of quarterback and receiver not being on the same page. Or, being on the same page, but one's reading Pete Gent and the other's reading Dan Jenkins. Credit Leonard for reading the quarterback correctly and sitting on the pattern. Again, cheap scores. When you have a poor offense, sometimes you need Eggo waffles for dinner. That's exactly what FIU didn't get last year and the second week in a row Leonard served up points (the 71-yard punt return preceding last week's touchdown). It was FIU's first interception return for a touchdown since Johnathan Cyprien victimized Louisiana-Monroe's Kolton Browning in 2011.

Also on the menu was a tray of eight other turnovers served up by both teams, the nine tying an FIU school record set against Arkansas State in 2005, then matched against North Texas (2005) and Arkansas (2007). In the previous games, FIU played main philanthropist with their opponents just occasionally getting in on the act. Saturday, Wagner provided six turnovers, tying Florida A&M for most by an FIU opponent.

Panthers defensive end Michael Wakefield caused two fumbles, recovered another, blocked two passes and had a sack. Pretty good night's work. Freshman Shemarke Spence caused one fumble and picked off a pass. FIU's other sack came from the other starting defensvie end, defensive end Denzell Perine. Perine left the stadium on a cart in the fourth quarter. He got off the field with great difficulty despite being supported under the arms by training staffers. He allegedly was seen walking well after the game.

I forgot to ask why any of FIU's defensive starters were still in the game in the fourth quarter. They lost their zero back in the first quarter after FIU's first turnover, the punt that touched punt return blocker De'Shawn Hazziez and wound up under a dogpile. That occurred at the opposite end of the field from the press seating -- writers and sports information folks now chew air in the westernmost suite -- so I couldn't tell how well Leonard gave the "SCATTER! GET OUT OF THE WAY! INNNNNCOOOMMMMMING!" warning.

Other than a handful of passes, FIU got what it should've wanted from the defense the first two weeks. Last week, the defense sat on Bethune-Cookman enough to give the Panthers a chance to win a game in which they went one for 16 on offensive third downs. This week, they allowed only three more first downs (nine) than turnovers snagged; outscored the opposing offense 7-3; and allowed that field goal on a drive that started at their 21. Overatched opponent? Squish him. Can't ask for much more than that.

While that's what FIU coach Ron Turner wanted to see out of his defense, what he didn't want to see was the welterweight bout between FIU cornerback Randy Harvey and Wagner wide receiver Keith Foster after a fourth quarter running play. Foster beat Harvey for a 38-yard gain two plays earlier. Whether or not things began there and had been escalating or began earlier in the game, it's a late game lapse in judgement that'll cost Harvey game time.

"We will not tolerate guys throwing punches," FIU coach Ron Turner said. "That will not be tolerated here. Guys do that, they will not play. I don't care who he is. It doesn't matter if he throws the first punch, which he didn't; or if retaliate, which he did. It will not be tolerated. I can assure you of that."

Losing the backup cornerback for a half or a game next week pales in comparison to keeping your now-backup quarterback's head in the game.

Junior E.J. Hilliard came into the game with FIU up 24-3 in the second quarter. After freshman starter Alex McGough took most of the third quarter shift, Hilliard took the last 2:07 of the third and all of the fourth. Hilliard completed 14 of 15 for 169 yards. McGough completed nine of 18 for 60 yards and two touchdowns.

If Hilliard hadn't done some growing up over the last 18 months, he'd be gone. Metaphorically, if not physically. Without a matured center of mental gravity, the new system, position battles, losses on the field and, for now, loss of starting job would have him kind of just...there. (In case you were wondering, Jake Medlock went 13 of 24 for 140 yards, two touchdowns and an interception Saturday in a 38-10 win for Valdosta State over Albany State.)

Turner said "I don't see why not" when asked about continuing to play both McGough and Hilliard.

"If we have to play two quarterbacks to get the W, that's what we have to do," Hilliard said. "It was a tough situation, going into the season starting then getting demoted. But we worked so hard as a team to get to the point where we're at to let something like that break the team down. I just wanted to make sure it wasn't me that brought the morale of the team down.

"They told me I was demoted. I did everything I could to help him. Because at the end of the day, we want to win. He wants to win, I want to win, the team wants to win."

Turner said, "A tough situation. He showed his character and showed he's a team guy."

McGough said he wanted to improve his deep ball accuracy this week, but didn't feel he did it. One bomb he did drop in perfectly went to fellow freshman Dennis Turner. Drop. Darn.

Too bad because that would've rounded out the youth contributions. The aforementioned Spence. A freshman starting at quarterback and, despite freshman moments like a 15-yard sack, having a 2-0 touchdown/interception ratio. Sophomore tight end Jonnu Smith's 127 receiving yards included buffing that quarterback's stats by trucking up the left sideline 41 yards with a short pass. And, of course, freshman running back Alex Gardner's 138 rushing yards on only 15 carries, which broke down to 104 yards on four carries and 34 yards on 11 carries.

Gardner said he wanted to work on his pass blocking this week because last week it was "horrible." While possibly true, that's to be expected. Pass blocking, both technique and recognition on who to pick up, always will be the toughest thing for a running back moving up a level. If you're good enough to get to the next level, odds are you didn't have to do much pass blocking because the offense tended to run through you.

"We've got to be able to run the ball. We've got to be able to run it better than we did a week ago," Turner said. "At times, we did today and at times it wasn't as good as we would like. But, we know going in, the style of defense they play -- they do a lot of different things, a lot of pressures -- we told them, with what we have in the game plan, there are going to be some minus runs, some zero runs and there are going to be some big plays. Because that's how they play." 

I didn't like the inability to shove the ball over from the 1-yard line after Gardner's 62-yard run. They got the touchdown anyway, on the rollout pass to Cory White, but you've got to be able to muscle that in on Mr. Natalie Wood. Former Dolphins tight end Jim Mandich said one of his coaches, I think, always said at some time in the game, there's going to come a point when you need to gain 1 yard and you better be able to do it.

(Pausing for a little melancholy writing Mandich's name on an NFL morning. Good man who I knew of since my single digits in age; knew as acquaintance just from working in the same market for over 20 years; but only got to know in any substantive way his last few years. And almost immediately wished I'd gotten to know him better much earlier.)

Nice to see running backs Alfonso Randolph (knee) and Anthon Samuel (transfer, head, hand) back on the field. Randolph fumbled on his only carry. Samuel got a fourth quarter touchdown by getting to the pylon on a 4-yard run. Shane Coleman didn't see the field.

Saturday's official attendance: 9,981. Yeah, it's Wagner after a disppointing home loss with the University of Miami hosting Florida A&M at the same time. Still, that means season ticket sales might be off by 3,000 or so from last year, 2,000 from two years ago. I counted only six of 17 suites sold to non-FIU entities.

That's more worrisome for FIU than Pittsburgh or Louisville. They'll at least get experience from those games.

It wasn't until afterwards, seeing the reactions of some FIU staff that I realized it's been since the second game of the 2012 season that FIU experienced happiness at home. It's nice for everyone to experience a little "ahhhh."