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.