October 06, 2015

Tuesday Afternoon Quickie

I've got several things to write in story or column form, so here's a few things from Tuesday's practice:

*Upon further review, FIU football coach Ron Turner had a problem with only one of the penalties called on the Panthers by the Conference USA crew Saturday at UMass. Turner didn't have to say it was the late hit call on middle linebacker Jephete Matilus. 

*Wide receiver Dennis Turner didn't practice with a mild concussion, but is expected to play Saturday against UTEP.

*Jonnu Smith admitted he was "70 to 75 percent" Saturday but was out of the orange jerseys Tuesday. Of the injured safeties, Niko Gonzalez is the closest to coming back. 

October 04, 2015

A few thoughts on UMass 24, FIU 14

We need Pigmeat Markham's The Judge up here to talk about the weenie roast of a mess this season's turning into for FIU. ("I'm sentencing from The Book of Years...and I'm starting on the last page."). Who wants it first? Everybody needs to step up and get some.

First, some reality before we get into the ripping. FIU would've been hard-pressed to stop UMass at full strength. An offense that put up 30 points per game when it had its quarterback last year returned more starters just on that side of the ball than Central Florida did on both.

FIU was down players at each defensive level. Starting defensive tackle Darrian Dyson got left home in a disciplinary measure. Starting middle linebacker Treyvon Williams has a knee injury. Safeties Wilkenson Myrtil and Niko Gonzalez remain out and, let's remember, they inherited their starting spots from Shemarke Spence's injury and Jordan Davis' academic problems. Then, redshirt junior Deonte Wilson got left home in a disciplinary move. FIU decided to play the better player, cornerback Jeremiah McKinnon, out of position at safety and bump up backup corner Mark Bruno. Not sure moving Bruno would've worked any better.

So you've got a complex offense with a two-year starting senior quarterback directing a well-versed side against a simplified defense with a senior-aged, freshman-game experienced middle linebacker directing a banged up side.

Maybe not Chess vs. Checkers. Chess vs. Dominoes? I'm not surprised UMass put up 495 yards. I am surprised those turned into only 24 points.

As far as talent, South Florida owns neither a monopoly on it nor does every kid want to stay within a bus ride of the maternal teat. Many just want to go somewhere they can play. Which is how UMass gets players like quarterback Blake Frohnapfel (transfer from Marshall), wide receiver Taj Sharpe (Piscataway, NJ), wide receiver Marken Michel (Plantation American Heritage High) and running back Jamal Wilson (Fort Lauderdale St. Thomas Aquinas) in addition to some home state talent.

Bill Belichick would have trouble scheming his way out of the defense's situation. FIU's defensive approach looked vanilla, but if you're dealing with limited experience in production, you don't try for Cookies 'n' Cream. After a predictable half of "Which way did he go? Which way did he go?" and 334 yards of offense, FIU got UMass figured out a little better in the last 30 minutes. Of course, if UMass coach Mark Whipple hadn't kept choking on his own smarts in the first half, the Panthers might've been down 30 and played the second half with freshmen.

Offensive coaches who run sophisticated attacks love to show everybody how smart they are. They don't just want to score. They want to score and have you think, "Totally outsmarted and outcoached the other guy. They weren't ready for that. That so runs against the norm, what you think they'd do." That eventually slips into "Wile E. Coyote, Super Genius" mode and they overthink themselves. Such as when UMass got first and goal from the 3 and ran Wilson into the line for 1...then Wilson for a loss of 1...then got a chintzy pass interference call on Richard Leonard, first and goal on the 2, so then went with...Wilson for 1...Wilson for 0...then Marquis Young for a loss of 1 on a pitch play.

The whole time, you could hear that part of Whipple's brain going, "Hah! After all the end arounds and fakes, they'll never suspect a simple buck into the line! After I did it once, they'll never suspect it again! And again! And again! OK, let's run a pitch play against the faster defense on third and 1!"


Sort of like on FIU's lone touch for freshman Anthony Jones, I wondered who was thinking, "We'll cross them up on third and 5 by running a motion sweep with the fast guy to the short side of the field! It's so against what anyone thinking normally would do!"

That's about as imaginative as the offense got. 

I have no doubt Ron Turner's postgame explosion, especially after last week's rant about discipline, was heartfelt. I also know that, like Dennis Green's more calculated "they are who we thought they were" postgame rant, it pushed some focus away from offensive strategic coaching failures. (Also, though any parent can tell you there's only so much you can truly control 50 guys old enough to vote, the buck on team discipline eventually stops at the coach's desk. One week is a bad game. Two weeks is a bad tendency. Three weeks is a bad problem.)

Back to the offense, which couldn't have been more bereft of creativity if stolen from a website selling C+ essays. Useful creativity, that is. Passing passed for creativity in the first half. The simple act, not anything about FIU's approach. FIU opened with a bubble screen to a clearly hobbled Jonnu Smith. I thought I heard hearty Falstaffian laughter among the New England trees as Smith was brought down for a loss of 2. Four of FIU's first five plays were predictable throws. The lone run was a 6-yard inside job by Alex Gardner. When FIU committed to a balanced attack in the second half, they ran the ball well enough and had their one good drive of the day.

Also, on those first two drives, McGough got lucky again. Either a miscommunication, misread by he or the receiver or something led to a throw that smacked linebacker Jovan Santos-Knox in the torso with nothing but teammates, green and glory in front him. Dropped it.

FIU pushed the ball downfield once all day, a sprint out to the left that hit fifth-year Clinton Taylor on his "5" before plopping to the ground. That was the sixth offensive play. Other than that metaphor for the South Florida wide receivers left from the previous regime, FIU let themselves be compacted for the second consecutive week.

Turner said La Tech set up last week to take away the bomb every time FIU had one called and complimented McGough for not throwing into the defense. I agree -- to a point. Using the defensive coverage as an excuse for the complete abandonment of the long ball is too Beta male for football. Sometimes, you've got to be gangster about it. Say "We don't care what you're giving us, we're taking what we want on this play." Maybe you get a pass interference call. Maybe you get a great play. Maybe you just keep it in the defenses mind that they can't dictate to you.

FIU inserted 6-4 Shawn Abrams in the third quarter. Abrams' initial target in college football was a quick slant on third down to keep the drive alive. They couldn't put him in earlier and ask him to run deep, jump high and see what happens?

Of course, maybe "protection issues" weighed on FIU play-calling minds. To the Minutemen, the Mass Turnpike ran through FIU's line with the right side being the fast lane. McGough got sacked three times. While there were no official "hurries," that's more on the stat crew. McGough got pressured. He wound up with 11 runs, a number that includes the three sacks and his scrambles.

I'm wondering if Anthon Samuel's OK. Gardner's the better all-around back, but there's never a change of pace or philosophy. Not to mention, he never gets a rest. (Yeah, I know, FIU doesn't stay on the field long enough for him to need a rest. Stop..).

For all the grumbling about the officiating, it was a Conference USA crew that delivered an inscrutable afternoon of calls and non-calls. Harrumphing about poor officiating after Saturday epitomizes noting the speck in someone else's eye while ignoring the log in yours.

The last two weeks demonstrated whole team failure. FIU's favored by 14 next Saturday against UTEP. They still have Old Dominion and Charlotte at home. There's still so much out there for the Panthers. Do they have the coaching, maturity and leadership to go get it?

October 03, 2015

Gameday V: Trying to Prevent UMass Quantities of Points


FIU defensive coordinator Matt House's game face Saturday better be Brainiac 5 minus the green. Because the guy doing the thinking for the offense on the UMass side, Mark Whipple? He'll be looking to be a chunky Lex Luthor against the Panthers defense.

Or, I should say Princess Projectra with a whistle. Whipple's offense can give opponents a lot to look at, but little to see that they can fully trust. An illusion here, a truth there. "Believe half of what you see, son and none of what you hear..."

Coaches love to talk about "eye discipline" on defense. Young players usually have trouble with anything associated with discipline. FIU's got young (in game experience) safeties if Jordan Davis misses another week. Graduate senior transfer Jephete Matilus will replace junior Treyvon Williams at middle linebacker, but Matilus is young in college football terms, too. He's played less college-affiliated football, 17 games, than Williams and most of that was entirely on special teams. There's no question Matilus knows what he's supposed to do if asked. At game speed, will he know fast enough to do what he's supposed to do?

And as House simplifies the defense to accommodate his newbies, how much simpler does that make it for UMass quarterback Blake Frohnapfel, wide receiver Tajae Sharpe, running back Marquis Young and their offensive line?

These aren't light questions. FIU's from the better conference and a better recruiting area, although UMass does have enough Florida kids to run a decent Ponzi scheme. But Conference USA's not that much better than the Mid-America Conference and the Panthers aren't that much more talented that they can pooh-pooh any such concerns.

On the other side of the ball, I see FIU being able to attack between the tackles, thus setting up play action passes. Whether off play action or straight drop, FIU's got to vary their passes better in the third and fourth quarters. Defensive backs have been get-a-room close on FIU's wide receivers when they're not trying to jump the route later in the game.

Funny enough, when I ran McGough's numbers from FIU's three games against FBS opponents through the ratings calculator and took out the garbage time touchdown drive from last week that just let FIU beat the spread. I came out with 130.7 for the first half and 121.5 for the second.

Saturday morning in New England looks like every afternoon in the original England. Whether or not today's in the wet, FIU should stick the ball into a running back's gut -- I've got no problem with how Alex Gardner's playing, but I'm not sure why they're not giving Samuel some more time -- as long as they can. The Minutemen come in MinuteBoy size in the defensive front seven. UMass brings little mass.

Holding Temple to 67 yards in 37 carries looks great on UMass' resume. Temple running backs ran for 76 yards on 27 carries, usually given the ball as an afterthought. Those Owls traveled by air that day -- 48 passes and did so often as a primary option from looking at the play-by-play. I haven't seen the game film, so I don't know if UMass schemed to take away the Temple running game, which averages 159.3 yards per game. If so, good job by them. La Tech schemed to take away FIU's deep game and make the Panthers work for points. It worked because La Tech got the better of it up front and on the edges in the one-on-one blocking battles.

Usually you anticipate turnovers with rain and I'm sure some New England media as well as the TV folks will make a point of the Florida team playing in 50-degree weather. But last year's rainy night win over FAU produced turnovers by FAU. The Panthers lost only one. The Old Dominion loss occurred in a late afternoon-early evening November chill and the Panthers lost a fumble and an interception, neither of which were related to the weather. And they scored 35 points. Unless this game finds itself in one of Hurricane Joaquin's outer bands, don't expect a great weather effect.

Opponents average 10.2 yards per punt return on UMass. FIU's problem could be getting UMass to punt.

I see UMass scoring. I don't see them sucking up clock, however, or sitting on the ball well. So FIU's going to have every chance to win a game with a lot of points. I have no idea what's going on with the lines and the totals. That six-point swing in the first 24 hours, from FIU by 3 to UMass by 3, caught attention up here, too. A 56-point Over/Under looks low. 

Just like FIU's last two games against FBS opponents, I'd stay away from this if I was in a sportsbook or just make a fun bet with drink money. I'll stay with my preseason pick: FIU 38, UMass 31.

That's just one black man's opinion. I could be wrong.




September 29, 2015

The Big Hurts (UPDATED)

Junior starting middle linebacker Treyvon Williams limped off the field on crutches with right knee raised. Redshirt junior guard Trenton Saunders came off on crutches, also. Redshirt junior safety Jordan Davis sported the Home Depot-colored injury jersey.

Yet, FIU coach Ron Turner called Williams and Saunders "day-to-day" with the possibility of playing at UMass Saturday and said of Davis "I think he's got a good chance."

Williams left the fourth quarter of Saturday's loss at Louisiana Tech moving gingerly. Of the starting linebackers for the opener, the Panthers already FIU lost senior outside linebacker Davison Colimon for the season to a torn pectoral muscle. Fifth-year graduate transfer from the University of Minnesota, Jephete Matilus, would move to Williams' spot. According to the participation pages of the official gamebooks, Matilus hasn't played a snap yet this year. 

Junior tight end Jonnu Smith also sported injury orange, but with uniform pants. Smith suffered a thigh contusion. I was wondering if a couple of days off would give that time to heal or if it would get worse before it got better.

Wide receiver Juwan Caesar definitely should be ready to go. Shawn Abrams is a possibility. 

I wonder who else knew about Williams injury and when they knew it.

The betting line for Saturday's game at 0-4 UMass opened with FIU a 3.5-point favorite, dropped to Pick 'Em about as quickly as I just typed that and was at UMass by 3 to 3.5 by Monday morning. That's a huge swing for a week. For 24 hours, that's SkyLab. That means beaucoup bucks got dropped on UMass. The folks who get down on the mid-major games tend to be the serious handicappers who keep the feelers out everywhere.




September 27, 2015

A few thoughts on LA Tech 27, FIU 17

The first time I watched "The Dukes of Hazzard" was the first time I heard the saying "You ever have one of those days when you feel like you couldn't hit the ground with your hat?"

It broke me out of a Daisy Duke stupor (at 11, I was lucky I didn't faint) and cracked me up through the commercial break. Of course you've had that day. We all have. You forget to do basic tasks. Things at which you're expert you bungle. Everything you say leads either the wrong way or to a fight. At some point in the afternoon, we feel like whipping out the sign The Coyote (Eatius Birdius) does as he falls off a cliff at the end of "Gee Whiz-z-z-z-z-z-z:" How About Ending This Cartoon Before I Hit?

FIU had such a day Saturday.

FIU looked ready to play. Well, if Louisiana Tech were Florida Tech. You’re not properly ready to work when you follow a false start penalty with a delay of game on the first snap of a possession, as FIU did down 17-10 after a missed La Tech field goal. The pre-snap penalties and all the “darn, I missed that” post-play single claps from FIU players reminded me of covering the 4-12 2004 Dolphins, the bus that drove Dave Wannstedt out of town fueled by a steady flow of false starts and running backs getting overrun a second after the handoff.

When NFL players aren’t ready to play, almost all of that is on them. They’re grown men earning the money that’ll support themselves, their money (and, too often, too many others).  Young college men, some closer to prom than life without Spring Break? The coaching staff bears significant responsibility. Spread blame for Saturday’s failure like Nutella.

Also, keep it in perspective. Louisiana Tech’s a very good football team, possibly Conference USA’s most complete team, and should be. They’re a well-established mid-major program that long ago carved out its place in one of the country’s most talent thick areas. For all the swagger South Florida residents like to have about the region’s football talent – and Miami and Fort Lauderdale are Nos. 1 and 2 among municipalities in NFL player native cities -- Louisiana’s No. 2 behind Alabama in per capita NFL player production. Skip Holtz and Ron Turner are each in his third seasons at La Tech and FIU. Holtz got hired a month earlier than Turner did, took over less of a mess and had greater connection to that region.

Anyway, all La Tech needed coming into this season was a quarterback and Florida graduate transfer Jeff Driskel dropped into Holtz’s lap. Driskel’s no Terry Bradshaw (a Shreveport native who actually committed elsewhere before getting bullied by local sentiment into attending La Tech), but he’s got a senior’s sense of how to run an offense and where to go with the ball. He didn’t always pick on FIU’s green defensive backs – the third and 10 conversion before Dixon’s 63-yard touchdown run came against senior cornerback Jeremiah McKinnon – and he picked the proper times to run.

Driskel and La Tech won first down all day. Let me restate: Driskel, wide receivers Trent Taylor, Carlos Henderson and Kam McKnight won first down all day. The wide receivers blocking made the bubble screens work and turned nice runs into big ones.The inability to hold blocks on the bubble screen has turned several potential big FIU plays this season into next-down-and-long.

Tech's Kenneth Dixon ran for 169, but Jarred Craft ran for 43 on only seven carries. Tech's Real Rushing totals, taking out the sack and the kneeldowns, were 259 yards on 38 carries, 6.8 a pop. 

FIU just got manhandled up the middle, ruining so much of what the Panthers wanted to do in the running game. Tech Defensive tackle Aaron Brown made four solo tackles, six total, one for a loss. Tech defensive tackle Vernon Butler, two solo tackles, four total, a shared tackle for loss. When D-tackles have those kinds of numbers against you, you’re not running the ball well because that doesn’t take into account the plays they’re going their job by taking up blockers. Does any Panther other than the ball carriers he tackled recognize Bulldog linebacker Beau Fitte? Not many with the job of blocking somebody made his acquaintance on the field.

In contrast, check out FIU’s defensive tackles. FIU’s Lars Koht had five total tackles, four solo and a sack, but was invisible until the second half. When Ron Turner talked about undisciplined play, getting involved in foolishness instead of doing your job, I thought of defensive tackle Darrian Dyson – one assisted tackle, one blocked pass, one unsportsmanlike conduct penalty. And Imarjaye Albury’s statistics bring to mind the voice of Dean Wormer…”Mr. Albury…zero…point…zero.”

That doesn’t mean there weren’t plays where they did their jobs. Just showing a contrast of up the middle dominance vs. middle meh (at best).

Until I look at the game replay and see otherwise, I’m going to assume sophomore quarterback Alex McGough made the correct option reads. He never kept the ball on any of the options. There just wasn’t anything there for FIU – 53 Real Rushing yards in 22 runs, 2.41 per carry.

For the first time this season, FIU didn’t commit any turnovers. Before anybody gets a cookie for that, consider that La Tech dropped at least two interceptions they could’ve run to the nearest Popeye’s. Both were on throws as easily anticipated as the pass that North Carolina Central turned into a Pick Six last week. Coaches want to drill concrete keys into players. But on an intuitive level, you watch enough of a team, live, on television, on film, and you can get in tune with its offensive rhythms. And FIU’s rhythms run true to form. You can feel that three-step slant or stop-and-turn coming the way your ear knows the last three notes of Linus and Lucy's riff.

Pump-and-go? Sluggo (slant-and-go) route? Without some occasional changeup, teams will start jumping those routes even more and McGough will get A.J. Feeley-ed fast (speaking of the 2004 Dolphins).

For it all, FIU didn't get totally blown off the field on a day they didn't play well and were without tight end Jonnu Smith for almost half the game. What happens on your bad days says as much about your quality as what happens on your good days.

And the Panthers had a very bad day Saturday. On to Amherst, Mass.




September 26, 2015

Gameday IV: Shootout or Shutdown?

Sitting in a Shreveport hotel, heavily caffeinated by a double espresso and well chocolated by a Kit-Kat and genes, racing the sugar crash that'll take me to tomorrow morning, my mind's eye keeps giving the up-and-down to this idea slinking to and from:

There might not be a lot of points scored today.

I know what the headline says over the advance story I wrote on today's FIU's Conference USA opener, at Louisiana Tech (by the way, leaving Jonesboro, Arkansas behind in the Sun Belt and getting this part of Louisiana in Conference USA is pretty much a Waffle House-for-Waffle House trade.). I also know the second paragraph and the last two paragraphs of the story broach the idea that while both offenses no longer need to bear "Instant Narcolepsy" warnings, each might not be as good as the numbers built on situation and opponent.

For example, of the 64 points scored against FIU, the opposing defense accounted for 14 and turnovers gifting very short fields counted for another 20. And when I saw Louisiana Tech running back Kenneth Dixon doing a Cab Calloway, scatting and scooting for 168 yards and 7.6 per carry on Western Kentucky, I was reminded, "So good, so cool to watch...but not the kind of back who usually does it to death on FIU." The Panthers usually get done in by the truck, not the Trans-Am, The Snowman, not The Bandit.

Also, that's a relatively young offensive line for the Bulldogs. 

FIU gets a net gain in experience at safety with both Wilkenson Myrtil (congratulate him on his pending fatherhood -- more on that in another post) and Niko Gonzalez out but former starter Jordan Davis in with either freshman Tyree Johnson and redshirt sophomore Xavier Hines. That adds difficulty to the task when Bulldogs quarterback Jeff Driskel wants to attack FIU's youth (in playing time) at safety. With or without wide receiver Paul Turner to draw attention, expect Driskel-to-slot receiver Trent Taylor to do some damage. But enough and without an interception or two?

When the Panthers get the ball, they'd be happy with starting drives east of Dallas. The implied punter competition between freshman Stone Wilson and redshirt junior Chris Ayers added length and consistency to Ayers boots. The field gets flipped back in punt returns on which Richard Leonard gets little help and teams clearly have practiced disciplined pursuit of him.

LA Tech's secondary got strafed by Western Kentucky. So what? That's like one of those Geico commercials -- it's what Western does. FIU should like the matchup of 6-1 wide receiver Thomas Owens against a secondary that says Skip Holtz has overturned every toadstool in a search for talent -- only one player 6-feet or over. Let's see how many jump balls quarterback Alex McGough throws up deep to see if Owens can pull down the offensive rebound.

FIU coach Ron Turner worried about LA Tech's massive interior line. He should. Last week, North Carolina Central sold out to stop the run and it did for a half. Tech doesn't need to do that with 5-11, 354-pound fifth-year senior Tyler Porter, 6-4, 316-pound Vernon Butler and Courtney Wallace, 6-2, 336, whom they can rotate as necessary. Also, the Bulldogs occasionally get the luck of all-conference defensive end Vontarrius Dora going against redshirt freshman right tackle DaQuane Wilkie.

I can see them overwhelming the Panthers just as I can see the Panthers running a lot of trap-like stuff on them to get them flummoxed. Or running some plays together to see if those man mountains need more than a mustard seed of faith to keep a-going.

Long game in the middle of a steamy Saturday afternoon. Let's see who cramps first.

Maybe I'm overthinking this and both teams will run so many plays, they can't help but put up points. Eventually, somebody jukes a defender, a defender slips, somebody snags a remarkable catch that would be an all-time college football highlight if it occurred in a Power 5 conference game. The last time I changed analysis, I also changed the pick and took FIU over Indiana.

No change on the pick. I'll still take the home team with the more experienced quarterback with those elements being the difference in a defensive struggle that includes some score-producing turnovers.

LA Tech 27, FIU 20.s

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




September 23, 2015

Hump Day Humpin' to Please


Women's soccer -- Friday vs. Texas-San Antonio, 7 p.m.

Men's soccer -- Saturday vs. Marshall, 7 p.m.

Women's soccer -- Sunday vs. UTEP 1 p.m.

Sophomore safety Niko Gonzalez suffered a stinger against North Carolina-Central. He's officially day-to-day. With Wilkenson Myrtil's concussion, that moves Jordan Davis, freshman Tyree Johnson and redshirt sophomore Xavier Hines into the safety spots.

Louisiana Tech's going for a Red Out at Joe Aillet Stadium, so they'll be wearing red pants with red tops (Suge Knight would be so proud...). FIU will wear all white with gold numbers, gold facemasks and gold cleats. The gold facemasks won't be permanent, according to Ron Turner. The gold cleats will stay.

The start of FIU's Conference USA play means the start of our weekly CUSA Top 6. Why a Top 6? Because I didn't want to do a Top 7. Why not a Top 5? Too mundane.


1. Western Kentucky (2-1, 1-0 in Conference USA): CUSA's rock stars -- fun to watch, score like it's prom night and know how to live on the edge (combined margin of victory/defeat last five games: 10 points.).

2. Louisiana Tech (1-2, 0-1): Lost to Western by three, took Kansas State to triple overtime and look more balanced offensively than when their attack listed totally toward running back Kenneth Dixon.

3. Marshall (2-1, 0-0): They still have Big Boy (running back Devon Johnson) but haven't replaced The Man (Rakeem Cato). 

4. Rice (2-1, 1-0): David Bailiff doesn't get enough credit for making this program respectable again.

5. FIU (2-1, 0-0): Now that Central Florida's gone retro -- as in back to FCS level of play -- we still don't know how good the Panthers are. This week's a mark on the wall for how tall they stand in CUSA

6. Middle Tennessee State (2-1, 1-0): I almost put Southern Miss here. Middle put up 70 each on the two non-Alabama schools among its first three opponents. Take the Over in two weeks when Middle plays Western.




September 15, 2015

McGough A-Go-Go for Saturday & Other Returns

After practice, FIU coach Ron Turner confirmed the sighting I posted earlier: sophomore quarterback Alex McGough handled the first team reps throughout practice Tuesday and should start Saturday in the home opener against North Carolina-Central.

"By the time we landed (from Bloomington), he was back to the normal Alex," Turner said. "He had a little headache. He went through the concussion protocol, concussion impact and everything was normal."

Returning to the lineup after two games of academic ineligibility will be safety Jordan Davis, adding length, physicality and experience to that position. The last two assets can't be understated. Indiana plowed the row against FIU, North Carolina-Central likes to run the ball and FIU's lack of experience at safety has been exploited each of the first two games.

By the way, last man on the Juggs machine after practice? Junior safety Wilkenson Myrtil.


September 13, 2015

A few thoughts on Indiana 36, FIU 22

Sophomore quarterback Alex McGough shouldn’t play Saturday against North Carolina-Central.

A strong, gutsy young man took a shot to the head hard enough that he needed to be helped up off the faux Indiana grass and could manage only a few yards to the sideline before going down again for a KO count. I’m not a doctor. I’ve just seen enough concussions over almost three decades of covering collision sports that I don’t always need a three-knockdown rule to believe a guy’s head could use some rest and reset time.

Besides, McGough’s got too much of both blue collar competitiveness and swashbuckler in him to have a seat on his own. If backup Trey Anderson can’t handle North Carolina-Central, that speaks to other problems.

As to the play that ended with McGough’s injury and Jameel Cook's 96-yard touchdown that clinched the game for Indiana similar to the way Indiana product Tracy Porter’s 74-yard interception return clinched New Orleans’ 14-point Super Bowl XLIV win over Indianapolis down here in Miami Gardens…bad concept, bad execution.

“We didn’t execute very well,” FIU coach Ron Turner said. “We had two plays called. He went to the second one. I think they checked after when we checked. We still had a chance on it…(Indiana) got some penetration, (McGough) couldn’t get the ball off and just tried to make a play.”

McGough checked off, and dutifully rearranged the backfield.

(Digression: McGough was probably making double sure everyone was in the right place when he indicated where the H-back and sophomore running back Alex Gardner should replace themselves. But is it just me or anybody else notice that when the quarterback has to tell a guy where to lineup to start a play, that player rarely seems to get the ball? I’ve always theorized that’s because when guys know they’re among the top options on a play, they keep deep focus on their position relative to the ball at all times.).  

FIU crossed up Indiana on the two-point conversion try after Dennis Turner’s touchdown – essentially a do-or-don’t 3-yard play -- with an inside quick opener to Alex Gardner that was ridiculously open. Maybe going back to that well wouldn’t have been smart, but the cliché rollout pass/run option to the off-hand side when FIU’s pass protection had begun resembling my 33-year-old Flannerhouse 5K road race t-shirt didn’t place anybody in the best position to succeed.

Predictably, McGough got pressured, sacked, tried a desperation throw as he went down and Cook ran it back.

For the three turnovers that handed Indiana 20 points, getting moved aside for 228 yards of what I call Real Rushing (rushing stats with sacks subtracted), here’s how close FIU came to winning Saturday: Wilkenson Myrtil extended to get his hand to break up a post pattern and gave himself a chance at an end zone interception. He couldn’t hold it. Indiana quarterback Nate Sudfeld scrambled for a touchdown the next play when FIU lost containment in the pass rush, one of the few times they did all night against an active quarterback.

On second down before the Pick Six-Concussion, Indiana Dawson Fletcher did an Elongated Man act to get his fingers on McGough’s flick to a wide open Jonnu Smith in the back of the end zone. Fletcher’s alteration caught Smith off guard and the ball glanced off his normally dependable hands. Hey, NHL goalies get beaten by deflections all the time.

Two tough plays. If FIU makes them both, they win. Make one, maybe the game goes to overtime. They made neither and lost.

This isn’t to put the loss on Myrtil and Smith. It’s to show how close victory and defeat live in a game such as Saturday’s.

Had FIU won, the highlights might've on the website might've been a bit thin. Video coordinator Brian Duval, who already has upgraded so much of FIU's in-house production, wasn't brought on the trip. Maybe there wasn't enough room on the charter. If that was the case, they could've left behind a couple of the boosters who clearly don't give enough to keep FIU's athletic department staff from working on a shoestring budget, but act inappropriately enough to be one outburst from getting tossed from the press box Saturday night.

As it turns out, I had a better grasp on this game in our preseason section, when I saw this game as similar to last year’s Pitt game – some big plays out of FIU’s offense, but the Panthers getting pounded down. I was four points off on the score, two too few for Indiana, two too many for FIU.

As FIU linebacker Anthony Wint said, Indiana’s offensive line was stronger overall at the point of attack. FIU’s front four or front seven didn’t play prohibitively worse than against UCF. Their production was worse because this week’s competition, the other side of the equation, possessed more game and physical maturity than last week’s. The Hoosiers go senior, freshman, senior, junior, junior across the front. Not all returning starters and not the best of the Big Ten but four of the five played regularly. That means four guys used to playing big boy Big Ten football.

Also, it didn't help that junior starting middle linebacker Treyvon Williams got benched for the first quarter after missing a meeting.

The Panthers defense hung in there. Excepting the bumping and pawing on the 16-yard bubble screen touchdown, they tackled well and kept giving themselves chances to come up with a drive-stopping play. Indiana’s four longest drives resulted in three field goals and a touchdowns. Most college defensive coaches these days will take that before two donuts.

It helped FIU that Indiana made some strange reads on third and long. FIU’s offense, did, too. As a matter of fact. I’ve never seen a game with so many third and long runs that weren’t draws or option pitches or run out of some ground bound formation such as the Wing-T, single wing or wishbone. And unsuccessful on top of that.

Like UCF, Indiana attacked FIU’s safeties, but they also twice got guys behind cornerback Richard Leonard for big gains. That can’t happen to your best cornerback. That said, it’s far more likely to happen when he needs to move his run support duties up the priority list. Cornerback Jeremiah McKinnon nearly opened the scoring with a pick six and got an interception later. Still, I’m envisioning Western Kentucky’s Brandon Doughty watching both pass defenses in this game with the smiles you see on Tiny and Junior when Big Mama/Abuela starts putting the pork on the table.

Offensively, sophomore wide receiver Thomas Owens showed that he picked up speed, at least football speed, in the offseason. Not even counting his 75-yard touchdown, on which he did a Moses Malone box out on Andre Brown, then dissed not-strong-enough safety Tony Fields with a stiff arm, Owens got behind the secondary a few times. After his 166 yards receiving, fourth most for a single game in FIU history, he said I’d have to ask his teammates how much faster he is. But when you’ve got a big target who can both fight for first downs after the catch and get behind the safety, all kinds of options should flower.

Now, FIU’s got to pick one. FIU opened the game nibbling away at the Hoosiers with three-step drop throws and slant patterns under 10 yards. When the Hoosiers started sitting on the short routes in the second half, the Panthers never seemed to take advantage with pump-and-gos or sluggos. Or, maybe they had them called and the Indiana pass rush flooded the Panthers out of business. They did manage to get a couple of downfield pass interference calls on Indiana cornerback Rashard Fant, who isn’t terribly subtle with the little tugs and holds that are a part of a good corner’s repertoire.

Also, the Panthers wide receivers need to do a better job blocking on those bubble screens. Too many times, a big play got aborted by a block too quickly shed.

I didn’t know what to expect from FIU’s running game because I wasn’t sure what Indiana’s defense would bring. The Panthers didn’t run the ball as well this week, 145 Real Rushing yards on 30 carries, but 38 of that came from Andersen scrambles as he tried to create a Miracle at Memorial.

FIU got too cute in trying to get the ball into freshman Anthony Jones hands. Two inside handoffs? It’s not just about size. Jones is roughly the same size as Alex Gardner. Gardner’s got a running back’s wiggle. Jones brings open field wiggle.

Overall, FIU lost a winnable game. They committed untimely penalties. The quarterback committed three turnovers that led directly to touchdowns (yeah, the blind side sack should also go on tackle Dieugot Joseph’s account, but Joseph did push Nick Mangieri halfway to Bedford before getting falling). They also did several things well, especially considering the caliber of opposition.

They played on even terms with a Big Ten team that might sneak into a bowl game this year. No shame in that. Similar to the Pitt loss last year that got away from them in the fourth quarter, the Panthers just missed an opportunity.

But they’re closer to not missing it.


Cocoa High tight end/quarterback Zach Armour, 6-4, 200, reportedly committed to FIU Sunday.

Here's what he does.


September 12, 2015

Gameday II, 2015: The More You Know...

...the more you know we don't really know anything about the Panthers or the Hoosiers today other than FIU will be wearing white with gold numbers again.

Well, that and if FIU beats IU today in the first of a four-game series, the first two of which will net $800,000 for FIU, the IU athletic department better try to get a refund for the butt-kicking it thought it was buying.


Breaking down FIU vs. Indiana into analyzed pieces feels akin to answering "What's a Hoosier?" Answers abound, all of which seem feasible.

Shootout? Sure. Blowout? Could be, either way. A defensive tug-o-war? Makes sense, although Indiana rarely gets into those with defenses that often reminds me of France -- laissez-faire when not in full retreat.

The only certainty is Indiana home games belong at noon or 1 p.m. Uncomplicated beauty, which the campus and stadium possess, looks best in direct natural afternoon light. By 8 p.m., tonight's kickoff time, the sultry manipulate the shadows to best visual effect and postgame libations should be at full flow.  

As for this Dungeons & Dragons dice roll of a game, the small sample size for each team avails us of just enough knowledge to get into trouble. How much do we make of what we saw last week from the Panthers and Hoosiers?

Excepting pass defense, FIU played so well in so many phases against Central Florida, it's reasonable to wonder if the Panthers can excel that way across the board again, especially the younger players. Young players usually wear inconsistency more consistently than deodorant.

That really points to the offense more so than the defense. Last year, after then-freshman quarterback Alex McGough's heady, efficient turnover-free game against FAU, I picked the Panthers to lose to Texas-San Antonio. Young quarterbacks don't tend to do that two weeks in a row and McGough didn't -- he threw two interceptions, fumbled twice, lost one. Now comes the follow up to another brainy, efficient, turnover-free game. Has he reached the stage where he can do that a second consecutive week?

Sophomore wide receiver Thomas Owens, in his first significant action, caught 10 passes in the first half and showed a fierce competitive streak once he got the ball. Freshman punter Stone Wilson blasted FIU out of trouble. Last week, offensive line coach Steve Shankweiler told me he thought tackle might be the toughest offensive line position to learn now, mentally. Well, FIU started redshirt freshman right Daquan Wilkie at right tackle, and got rewarded when Wilkie did nothing to tarnish an excellent game out of the offensive line overall. This week, he'll likely be spelled by Fort Lauderdale St. Thomas Aquinas redshirt freshman Kai Absheer. College Game No. 2 and Game No. 1, respectively.

Speaking of first games, this is Start Me Up Saturday for eight Hoosiers suspended for last week's drama after violating team rules during the offseason. What impact does that have on a defense that got flattened and fried like a state fair pork tenderloin by unranked FCS resident Southern Illinois? Starters or not, that just shouldn't happen.

There's only upside to FIU sophomore running back Alex Gardner, sophomore wide receiver Dennis Turner or freshman Anthony Jones getting the ball in the open field. I can see FIU doing that more this week as McGough expertly spreads the ball around again.

Can FIU's defensive front replicate the muscular domination of UCF against a line that's more mature? Defensive line depth helped keep strong bodies in the game against UCF. Saturday, it'll be about keeping fresh legs in the game.

"They try to beat you with speed, get the D-linemen tired," FIU senior defensive end Michael Wakefield said after post-practice sprints designed to prepare for an up-tempo offense. "They try to run bubbles to the outside, stretches to the outside to get everybody tired so they can run simple plays and win." 

FIU coach Ron Turner said his Indiana counterpart Kevin Wilson has "always done a good job of mixing, having balance between the run and the pass. They're not one-dimensional. They can do both very well. They do a great job of mixing up tempo. They can go hurry up. They can slow it down a bit."

Playing the width of the field would seem to favor FIU, although loosening the defense up for 220-pound running back Jordan Howard up the middle The Panthers certainly don't want to let Howard get his shoulders squared and certainly have the speed to string him out. When Howard ran for UAB last year, the Panthers upset the Blazers, yet he still ran for 102 yards on 21 carries. 

Playing Southern Illinois provided Indiana quarterback Nate Sudfeld a nice tune-up as he comes back from the shoulder injury that ended his 2014 season after six games. The broad gaps downfield Sudfeld exploited for 349 yards passing shouldn't be there, however. His mobility, though lumbering more than sprinting, will cause FIU problems. He'll hit some bootleg passes that take advantage of how fast FIU's linebackers react to directional flow.

The unknowns and variables jump out as if a trigonometry textbook got caught in a books-come-to-life cartoon (i.e. "Book Revue").  I called FIU in my weekly contest with professional handicapper Lee Sterling, but Indiana in the Herald's college football preview. I don't see Indiana working FIU on the ground as heavily as I did when I wrote the latter.

FIU 34, IU 31.

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



September 06, 2015

Opening Line & Other Footy Things


Men's soccer -- Thursday vs. Penn, 7 p.m.

Women's soccer -- Friday vs. North Florida, 7 p.m.

Men's soccer -- Saturday vs. Princeton, 7 p.m.

The opening lines, out of Vegas and the offshore sites, installed FIU as a 7.5-point underdog to Indiana. The Hoosiers struggled to beat FCS foe Southern Illinois at home after game-time suspensions of nine players, most of them on defense.

Still, that seems a strangely large line for favoring IU or putting FIU as an underdog.

As I watched the replay of Thursday's game, I realize forgot to address the two-point conversions in the postgame blog.

The second two-point conversion try, well, yeah -- 15-14 to 16-14, so what? You still lose on a field goal and you're a touchdown behind if you give up a touchdown. Might as well go for 17-14.

As for the first, during the game, I thought, "Oooo, just take the point." Later, though, the logic came clear. It wasn't about momentum, but math and cold-eyed reality.

After Alex Gardner's 7-yard run pulled FIU to 14-9, each team had allowed one real touchdown drive in two-plus quarters. UCF got a quick, 26-yard touchdown drive off the Alex Gardner fumble. You should hope you'll reach the end zone again. You can believe you'll reach the end zone again. But you have to know there's a decent probability you won't reach the end zone again.

A customary conversion still leaves FIU needing a touchdown to avoid defeat. Getting two would've left FIU just a field goal short of tying the game. The two teams allowed only one more score, as it turned out (that it was an FIU touchdown is immaterial -- we're talking about what the coaching staff knows at that moment in the third quarter).

Going for two at 14-9 describes greedy if you're in the first half of a game where points flow at a normal pace. But in the situation facing FIU, the Panthers made a smart move.

Alex Lamars, a National Weather Service meteorologist, updated his College Football Climatology for 2015.  

The two FBS schools in Miami-Dade County tie for second in Average Rainfall from September to November and fifth in Most Rainy Days from September to November. To find the leader in both those categories you have to go all the way north...to FAU.



After two almosts in ACC country last weekend, the men's soccer team rebounded with two wins this weekend. Sunday, FIU went over to Deland and put DeFoot into Stetson's DeBooty 3-0. Brad Fountain, Santiago Patino, who assisted on Fountain's goal, and Jamar Campion-Hinds scored for the 2-2 Panthers

The women (2-3) got it done late again. Madlen Weinhardt, who assisted on the overtime game-winner in the season opener, struck in the 81st minute to give FIU a 1-0 win against Miami of Ohio.


September 04, 2015

A few thoughts on FIU 15, UCF 14

A nod to the FIU male futbol bunch, 2-1 winners over Fairfield in almost as dramatic fashion as the pigskin guys won in up in Orlando. Speaking of which...

About a half hour after sophomore quarterback Alex McGough kidded teammate Thomas Owens that he owed him $5 for leaving Owens one reception short of T.Y. Hilton's single game FIU record and the Instagram timelines filled with selfies and Herald's Al Diaz shots of celebration, it struck me ironic:

What the Panthers celebrated like boys was maturity.

As much as two teams can in Week 1 college-affiliated football, FIU and UCF played a grown man football game.

There was a good atmosphere. Despite a steamy, sunny early evening, UCF's students grabbed their church-style hand fans, filled the student section and fulfilled their nickname for Bright House Networks Stadium ("The Bounce House"). The stadium wasn't packed, but rocked (literally) -- the normal-size press box swayed like the press box at Hialeah's Milander Park used to during rivalry games there.

Down on the field, the two teams crashed their way through the kind of game expected. This wasn't Gwen Cherry Park 7-on-7 with thigh pads, fat scoring summaries and backups putting up 100 yards rushing or receiving. UCF had four significant offensive possessions: a short-field touchdown drive, a regular-length touchdown drive, a failed fourth down at the FIU 20 and a blocked field goal off a two-minute drill. FIU had four significant offensive possessions: touchdown drives of 80 and 82 yards, a 76-yard drive to a field goal and a badly missed field goal off a two-minute drill before halftime.

(By the way, dumb call by George O'Leary on that fourth and 1 from the FIU 20 with the Knights up 14-9 in the third quarter. A low-scoring game, FIU's punked your run all night and you don't go for a 37-yard field goal to go up a touchdown and two-point conversion? Now, I think any UCF fan screaming for O'Leary's head after where that program was before he got there and what they've done the last five seasons can be considered too childish to live independently. But that decision seemed stupid macho, football's version of thinking with the lower head instead of the upper one.)

People hit. Most got up. A few got hurt. FIU senior linebacker Davison Colimon suffered a shoulder injury of undetermined seriousness. Senior cornerback Jeremiah McKinnon suffered a hamstring injury that has over a week to heal before FIU takes the Memorial Stadium field at Indiana.

But where FIU showed maturity not in the winning, but in the how.

The Panthers won without getting turnovers by the peck. Longtime readers here can probably say the next two sentences by heart after an Amsterdam afternoon. In the five wins under Ron Turner, here's the turnover numbers: four, six, six, four, five. And all four wins last year included a defensive touchdown. Exciting though that is, that's like living off Pick 4 and Cash 3 winnings instead of having a regular job. Thursday? No turnovers. The closest they came to getting one might've been the first drive of the game, when junior safety Wilkenson Myrtil jumped a route to the wide side of the field after UCF quarterback Justin Holman's pass took too long at launch. Myrtil dropped a pick six. UCF linemen recovered the strip sacks by senior defensive ends Michael Wakefield and Denzell Perine.

FIU just played sound defense, especially against the run and eventually against the pass. So many UCF runs seemed to get disrupted before they started. Wakefield, senior defensive tackle Darrian Dyson and sophomore linebacker Anthony Wint seemed to mess things up consistently. Junior linebacker Treyvon Williams made a game-high 11 tackles. As O'Leary admitted afterwards, the Panthers front seven got tremendous penetration in the gaps and really didn't get moved. No push, no lane, no go. Take out the two sacks and UCF ran for 60 yards on 28 carries, a picayune 2.14 yards per carry.

FIU stopped UCF three times on third or fourth down runs when UCF needed two yards or less. When UCF called what looked like a delayed quarterback draw on third and 2 in the third quarter, it was an acknowledgement to FIU from UCF: your line of scrimmage. We'll do something else.

The first of those stops might've been the most important in the game. Down 14-3 after consecutive UCF touchdown drives, FIU went three and out. UCF got the ball at its own 35 and FIU needed a stop like Miami needs coladas at 4 p.m. On third and 2, 5-10, 217-pound Dontravious Wilson tried the middle. Williams led the stuffing. Bupkiss. UCF punted.

Once McKinnon went out, UCF put the T-Buck Target on his replacements. Earlier, the Knights attacked the only starters lacking significant collegiate game experience at their position, FIU's safeties. UCF's enormous 6-3, 237-pound Jordan Akins beat Myrtil, who slipped for his first touchdown. Akins beat sophomore Niko Gonzalez for a 20-yard gain the next drive, setting up a 33-yard touchdown catch over the middle and behind the linebackers. Akins ended with nine catches for 109 yards, but only three for 41 in the second half.

On offense, nobody showed more maturity than McGough. The numbers -- 29 of 38 for 260 yards, one touchdown, no interceptions, four runs for 12 yards -- don't tell all that he showed.

UCF's line got pressure on him consistently. Only once did McGough possibly hold on to the ball too long. Few throws, maybe two, looked as if he disobeyed the "if it don't fit, don't force it" maxim that applies to many life situations. He smartly threw the ball away at least three times. No interceptions, as mentioned, and no sacks taken.

The two big completions on FIU's second touchdown drive, 47 yards to Ya'Keem Griner and 23 yards to running back Alex Gardner, were adjustments. McGough said his first read on the Griner completion was wide receiver Dennis Turner, but as he stepped up on the rollout, he saw Griner come open downfield. The Gardner play was a check down dump off to a favorable matchup, Gardner on a linebacker.

 Throughout the first half, McGough saw UCF's corners playing softly against Owens. He took what the defense gave to the tune of 10 completions to Owens for 70 yards. Maturity. 

In his first game since the season-ending shoulder injury, Gardner looked like he'd been waiting to burst for 10 months. His 27-yard running essay with a first quarter screen pass, on which he broke lienbacker Chequan Burkett's tackle and put a Michael Jackson spin move on safety Drico Johnson, will be a film room favorite. Had Gardner not getting slightly tripped going through the hole on the next possession, he'd have had an 89-yard touchdown run. Instead, a frantically recovering Burkett had time to punch the ball out. FIU will take Gardner's 149 yards receiving and rushing out of its lead running back any day.

In this grown up game, the Panthers got contributions from kids. Redshirt freshman right tackle Daquane Willkie started. Freshman Anthony Jones showed why some other schools made belated attempts to recruit him. Jones zoomed to a 26-yard run off a pitch and his almost Sanders-esque bobbing elusiveness got 15 yards out of a hitch pass. Freshman punter Stone Wilson averaged 47.7 yards per punt to redshirt junior Chris Ayers' 42.0.

FIU spent the first half getting the ball a DisneyWorld monorail ride from the UCF end zone. Turner said when they went in at halftime, nobody freaked. They figured things could be worse than 14-3 after a half with no field position and down one turnover on the road. What did they do with the second half opening kickoff? Moved 82 yards to a touchdown in a drive that included the two Jones' touches. Maturity.

Nobody plays a perfect game. FIU didn't just fail to close out the game with proper execution of the four-minute offense, the Panthers did the worst thing possible, three-and-out. On the unsuccessful third and 1, they gave the ball to Gardner instead of the more bullish Anthon Samuel. Turner said Samuel was fine, he was just going with the hot back. The timeout usage at the end as UCF moved into field goal range, especially after Jordan Guest's personal foul for a late helmet-to-helmet spear on a sliding Justin Holman? Late. Like, Miami time late. By the time FIU started to call timeouts, too little clock remained to give FIU any decent possession time had UCF scored.

So what? FIU played a good game on the road in a season opener against a talented, young UCF team (rather see the Knights now than in November). The Panthers justified the confidence they've had in themselves by doing things well they previously did poorly or erratically.

The next part of maturity? Consistency.


September 03, 2015

GameDay I, 2015: Relatively New Schools Going Old School


Men's soccer -- Thursday vs. Fairfield, 7 p.m.

The best part about the premiere of the 2015 FIU football season up near Wally World East (other than it's, you know, football with meaning): fast game. Football efficiently delivered.

Your Thursday night won't be obliterated by a game bloating into a miniseries, like many college-affiliated football contests these days. The expected strength of each offense lies in the running game. Each defense seems to have the matchup advantage. That translates into few clock-pausing incompletions or first downs.

That also means the total points might be as few as the schools' enrollments are many. The low score should fence the tension in this game and elevate the worth of each snap. I realize that thumbs the nose at the conventional assumption that offense=excitement. Too often in modern college-affiliated football, games turn into Frat Field Trip on Okeechobee Road. Everybody scores, cheap. 

Back in 1980, as NFL teams responded to the 1978 rules changes about downfield contact by flowing toward the pass the way current newspaper readers flow to mobile devices, Sports Illustrated's Paul Zimmerman testified for the beauty in defensive tug-of-wars. In writing about the regular season game between Philadelphia and Oakland and advancing the Super Bowl between the same teams, he criticized the 42-35 shootouts as containing so many big plays none truly were big. He hailed the low-scoring duels in which an 86-yard touchdown pass counted as a crushing overhand right, not just a quick hook in the middle of a flurry. Teenage me understood Dr. Z's reasoning. I couldn't let myself agree with it. I'm with him now. I wish he could still be with us in full.

That reminds me, what'll come together first? FIU's ability to push the ball downfield or UCF's ability to cover it? FIU's breaking in a group of wideouts with little experience and less production. UCF's breaking in a new secondary.

At first, I liked FIU to hit an Alley Oop or two to 6-1 Thomas Owens -- big, good body position, leaping ability and hands. But six of the eight Knights defensive backs on their two-deep list at 6-foot or over and the other two list at 5-11. So maybe as likely as Owens outjumping guys of similar height and athletic ability, is flyguy wide receiver Dennis Turner racing free through some miscommunication or getting single coverage when a safety blows his help responsibilities.

FIU coach Ron Turner says UCF makes you earn everything. But that's past UCF, not this UCF. As a longtime offensive coach, Turner should have enough funky arrows in his quiver to confuse the young ones. Then, it's a matter of McGough throwing with Green Arrow accuracy.

In retrospect, not redshirting Turner last year was a mistake. Nobody argues FIU needed what the coaches hoped Turner could inject. Unfortunately, you combine a nice true freshman deep threat wide receiver with a nice true freshman quarterback and you get results that don't look so nice. One or both make physical mistakes or mistakes of inexperience on called long balls. And that's when the quarterback's not getting bounced off the turf. It's no accident McGough's longest connections downfield -- I'm not talking about catch-and-runs -- went to then-senior Glenn Coleman. Having frogs at both ends of the bomb begs for dud.

Junior tight end Jonnu Smith will give his usual. five to eight catches for 60-100 yards, maybe a touchdown. 

I don't feel great that FIU didn't get its offensive line really figured out. That's not a criticism -- what can you do when injuries turn line composition into playing with a Rubik's Cube? Thursday, it could turn into Rubik's Grenade. Even with UCF losing senior defensive tackle Demetris Anderson to a season-ending injury, that's a line with the defensive ends returning and some depth. No. 69, senior defensive end Thomas Niles, will be a problem for FIU. Now, if FIU can get its blockers and runners to the second level, UCF's callow at linebacker. 

UCF coach George O'Leary can talk about how much he likes his young receivers' physical abilities. Does he like them vs. FIU's secondary, corners Richard Leonard and Jeremiah McKinnon, safeties Wilkenson Myrtil and Niko Gonzalez? Gonzalez is the only player among the defensive starters who didn't start at least two games last year. Does O'Leary like his new tackles against FIU defensive ends Michael Wakefield and Denzell Perine? Scout team to Perine or Wakefield is a medium-building-in-a-single-bound leap for redshirt freshman right tackle Luke Palmer.

Those matchups and having a former offensive line coach, Brent Key, as offensive coordinator say UCF's going to challenge FIU to put its man pants on as the Knights try to buffalo their way down the field on the hump of running back William Stanback (no relation to Haskel). A Florida humid night in the 80s says try to wear down the smaller, faster defense.

(Back to FIU with the ball for a moment...I'd run some hurry up stuff, just to watch that secondary scramble to figure out what's what.)

Also, I'm sure UCF knows this number almost as well as Panthers fans. FIU's five wins under Ron Turner featured 25 turnovers gained, spread rather equitably: four, six, six, four, five. Junior UCF quarterback Justin Holman threw 14 interceptions last year with a veteran receiving corps. Now, he's throwing to newbies with FIU's ball vultures circling in wait of a mistake they can take to the house. Where's that off tackle play? 

UCF's got a redshirt freshman kicker and a new starting long snapper. FIU's got Richard Leonard. Give that round to FIU, 10-8 (we score on the 10-point-must system here). I'm feeling some cheap points from field position there.

In the preseason section, I went with UCF 21-10. I still see them getting off to a better start than FIU, maybe 10-0. The Panthers break a big play or two to get back in it. I don't see consistent movement from either team. The bettors don't either -- the line's dropped from UCF by 17 to UCF by 13 with an over-under of 45 to 46. Good hitting, though. 

I'll say UCF 21, FIU 17.

That's one melanin-heavy man's opinion. I could be wrong.


As I Tweeted earlier today, I meant to put this on the previous In/Out post and even thought about flippantly including the participants with the players, but...the FIU radio broadcast team will be Mike Levine going play-by-play and FIU's only bowl game starting quarterback, Wesley Carroll, on color.

Pete Pelegrin, who did the radio job solo in 2013 and was Levine's color man last year, will be handling other media relations duties during the game. Pelegrin's knowledge of the breadth of FIU's football history will be missed on the broadcast.


August 31, 2015

Back That Alex Up (And Other News Hits)

Sounds like Bud Martin got Fredo-ed.

Asked about his backup quarterback situation today, FIU coach Ron Turner said "We have two No. 2s. It'll be Christian or Trey."

That's true freshman Christian Alexander and fifth-year graduate senior transfer Trey Anderson. Much of camp, redshirt freshman Martin got second team reps. No surprise that Anderson's in the running. He's the only guy besides McGough who has seen a college defense from behind center. Alexander's ascension surprises a bit after Martin had a good camp (so I heard) and a good semi-public scrimmage. But Turner loves Alexander's maturity. Being 6-3 with an arm doesn't hurt, either.

The offensive line's still a Jumble in progress, which will be the subject of the story that'll be going online later today and in print tomorrow.

Turner said the secondary's down pat with rotation possibly only with the safeties. I'm wondering if something's up with senior cornerback Jeremiah McKinnon. Don't be surprised if junior Deonte Wilson sees a lot of time opposite Richard Leonard this week. Turner said there would be some rotation among the safeties. I'm betting we'll see freshman Tyree Johnson out of Miami Gardens Carol City if that happens.

The line is down to UCF by 14 from 17. Many somebodies thinking UCF won't score enough to cover.


August 24, 2015

Monday Hurts


Women's soccer -- Friday vs. UCF, 7 p.m.
Volleyball -- Friday, Panther Challenge vs. North Florida, 7 p.m.
Volleyball -- Saturday, Panther Challenge vs. Alabama A&M, noon
Volleyball -- Saturday, Panther Challenge vs. South Florida, 6 p.m.

It's Emancipation Day for parents and No Parking On The Dance Floor or Anywhere Else Day for FIU students: the first day of school.

Looking around after the football class at FIU Stadium, the Orange Crush injury jerseys draped the frames of redshirt freshman right tackle Kai Absheer, who had worked his way to the top of the depth chart; sophomore wide receiver Shawn Abrams, one of FIU's potential threats for bombs and red zone fades; and redshirt sophomore linebacker Jordan Guest.

FIU coach Ron Turner said Guest would be ready for the opener at Central Florida next Thursday. Of Absheer, he said if he wasn't ready for the opener, then by the next week at Indiana. Abrams, like Absheer, got a "we'll see..."

August 17, 2015

60 Minutes (or so) on Sunday


Friday: Women's Soccer vs. Dayton, 7 p.m.

Sunday's practice and scrimmage looked about how you'd expect -- Manwich early, meatier later. Afterwards, FIU coach Ron Turner pressed more flesh than Jeb Bush between current players' parents, high school coaches and recruits (you might have to go back to the high school playoffs to find the last time that much Central green was at FIU Stadium).  

Let's get the injury report out of the way before we get to whatever analysis you can make of a training camp scrimmage.

The Home Depot team roster looked too good for comfort, but as of now only sophomore running back Napoleon Maxwell's a long term issue. Maxwell will have season-ending surgery to repair a torn ACL in his left knee and will redshirt this season. When I saw him limp off after practice the day he injured the knee, I thought it didn't look good, but figured only an outside chance it would be that bad. Light sprain, probably.

You hope the injury that put senior outside linebacker Davison Colimon's in orange isn't long term because it's his head. Colimon got a concussion Tuesday. Junior middle linebacker Treyvon Williams sat out with an ankle injury. Both could be back Tuesday when FIU resumes practice. Everybody speaks cautiously these days about concussions, as they should.

Also in orange was senior defensive end Denzell Perine. Unlike Colimon and Williams, Perine could do some of the non-contact running around, so he's in the Small-to-No Problem column.

Seeing all the Central heads reminded me to ask about incoming freshman cornerback Olin Cushion. Cushion had shoulder surgery in the spring. He'll be grayshirted this year and enroll in January. Same with Neptune Beach Fletcher offensive tackle Andrew Burgess, another 2015 signee.

On to the scrimmage.

The Skill Position Player of the Night: sophomore wide receiver Thomas Owens made the best catch of warmups, a one-handed grab of a knee-high 10-to-15-yard throw while he kept stride. Both the first and second string offenses resembled the blah attacks of the last two seasons when quarterback Alex McGough fired a right sideline throw that cornerback Richard Leonard looked positioned to pick off. Somehow, the ball materialized on the other side of Leonard into Owens hands as he tapped in a 13-yard third down conversion. Leonard appeared to applaud the throw and/or the catch. It would've been worthy praise. Owens later caught a lovely 26-yard pass over the middle from redshirt freshman quarterback Bud Martin. Turner said the difference in Martin this year is decision-making.

Lineman of the Night: Any of the ones who didn't get flagged for false starts or offsides. A defensive end being offside, especially on a passing down, is expected once in a while. Defensive tackles? If the ball that's a foot from your face doesn't move, red light. The defensive tackles blew through that hint and a half the way South Florida drivers blow through Stop signs (do drivers these days think Stop signs are sponsored by Publix's BOGO bargains, thus are two for one?). A helpful offensive lineman would give the 5 yards back by flinching or fidgeting.

The first team offensive line had redshirt freshman Chris Miller at Jordan Budwig's left guard spot. Mike Montero took center. Aaron Nielsen got moved back to right tackle. Before that, however, redshirt freshman Kai Absheer worked at right tackle. Junior Edens Sineace did second team duty at right tackle.

Out in the middle of the field, FIU's three first team receivers were Owens and Clinton Taylor with sophomore Dennis Turner moving Taylor to the slot in three-receiver sets. On the goal line, they went with Clinton Taylor, freshman Anthony Jones and Owens. Jones flared right to catch Alex McGough's rollout 1-yard touchdown pass on third and goal after Silas Spearman's two shots from the 2 gained 1-yard, then no yards into defensive tackle Darrian Dyson's bulk. Alex Gardner opened the scrimmage at running back, then Anthon Samuel got some carries before Spearman, senior Lamarq Caldwell and freshman Collin Olsen took the rest of the scrimmage.

The next drive ended with a Men II Boyz How Not to Tackle lesson from senior tight end Akil Dan-Fodio, 6-4, 225, to freshman Jestin Green, 6-0, 175. Green tried to bring Dan-Fodio down by the shoulders as Dan-Fodio collected a Bud Martin pass. Dan-Fodio shrugged like a babysitting older brother and dumped Green over the sidelines, then rumbled into the end zone.

Colimon and Williams on the sideline meant the first unit linebackers were redshirt sophomore Vontarius West, graduated senior Jephete Matilus and sophomore Anthony Wint. Matilus came out of Delray Beach Atlantic as a linebacker, got switched to fullback while at Minnesota, now is a graduate with a year of eligibility left. At least one site ranked West as FIU's best recruit in 2013 when he came out of Bartow as a safety.

"We felt we had depth at safety. We felt (West) had the body type and athleticism to help inside," Turner said. "He was a very aggressive safety and seemed pretty instinctive. Smart kid. We figured, let's take a look at him. He looked pretty good. He's a fast linebacker maybe not quite as fast as a safety that you'd want. Not that he couldn't play safety. He could. He's a very athletic linebacker. He's shown some instincts, reading things, deciphering plays."

You can see why Turner's high on freshman cornerback Emmanuel Lubin who was paired with redshirt freshman Mark Bruno out of Pembroke Pines Flanagan as the second cornerback pair behind Richard Leonard and Jeremiah McKinnon. Lubin made some nice breaks on the ball and did something disruptive when he arrived on the scene. You could also see that he's a freshman. The scrimmage ended when freshman Maurice Alexander gave a shoulder fake, Lubin bought it like french fries and freshman Mark Hutchinson raced past Lubin to catch a 37-yard bomb. 

Speaking of sold, backup Trey Anderson scored on a nice bootleg run around left end on which the defense was so suckered, only one block needed to be thrown for Anderson in about 20 yards.

As far as punting, Chris Ayers got off a returnable 56-yarder, a returnable 42-yarder and, from 43 yards away, dropped a punt that Deonte Wilson downed at the 2. Freshman Stone Wilson put a 46-yarder out of bounds and booted a 56-yarder rugby style.


August 15, 2015

Saturday in La Cage

Sophomore running back Napoleon Maxwell, part of FIU's very good trio of running backs, has a left knee injury that had him in the Home Depot orange injury jersey and on crutches Saturday.

“We should have a final answer for the next day or two whether it’s going to be surgery or whether or not it’s going to be a sprain and we’ll get him back,” FIU coach Ron Turner said. “We’re concerned about it.”

Maxwell didn't get hit or get his cleats caught in the turf, Turner said. He just took a bad step.

Turner's high on freshman defensive back Emmanuel Lubin, who certainly has the lineage -- out of North Miami Beach, which produced Lubin's brother, Philadelphia cornerback E.J. Biggers; stepbrother, Dolphins safety Louis Delmas; and, of course, FIU's all-time tackler, Jacksonville safety Johnathan Cyprien.
Turner uses the word "smooth" to describe Lubin as an athlete. There's two safety jobs open. Nothing says a freshman can't get one of them.

Just did my game-by-game analysis for our football special sections. It came out 6-6, which means FIU's most likely records are 5-7 or 7-5.
In 2011, I picked FIU to go 9-3, 6-2 in the Sun Belt, and they came in 8-4, 5-3. I underestimated the 2013 disaster at 3-9, 2-6 in Conference USA instead of the 1-11, 1-7 Irwin Allen movie that it was. Last year's fortune telling came out at 3-9, 2-6 and FIU came out 4-8, 3-5. (We won't discuss 2012).

August 12, 2015

Wednesday Droppings

Pick your Lotto numbers well.

I asked Ron Turner who looked good among the receivers after a week of training camp. He named fifth-year senior Clinton Taylor, who works out of the slot; sophomore Dennis Turner ("he's picked it up"); looks-taller-than-6-1 sophomore Thomas Owens ("he's picked up where he was in the spring"); and Shawn Abrams.   

Freshman Anthony Jones and junior college transfer Julian Williams "are progressing really well," according to Turner.

If I had to guess, on Sept. 3, UCF will see Taylor and Owens as the wideouts in the double-tight end set to open the game.

In talking to redshirt junior defensive lineman Imarjaye Albury for tomorrow's story on the cost of attendance stipend, I asked him what he would do differently if he had to go through his recruiting again.

"I would've taken all my visits, looked at all the schools that offered me a scholarship," Albury said. "I would've held every conversation with every coach. I would've looked at every aspect of a school, not just its name, how it is publicity-wise and TV-wise."

Today, as I went through my old Sports Illustrated's, I ran across the 1986 College and Pro Football Preview Issue. I read a story I somehow hadn't read before -- I used to truly go cover to cover with those SI previews -- written by just departed Pitt player Robert Schilken on life as a college football backup. Schilken, who played four years then entered Pitt's med school, wrote something similar to what Albury said to me about an hour later -- consider everything when you choose a school, not just football.

Football can go sideways on you.


The unofficial opening of the sports season -- FIU hosts the Hurricanes at 7 p.m. Thursday for a little preseason skirmish.

The women footballers also open the official athletic season a week from Friday against Dayton at FIU Soccer Stadium (ahem).


August 05, 2015

No Budwig -- No Bueno -- in 2015 (and other Day 1 stuff)

Junior offensive left guard Jordan Budwig started all 24 games his first two seasons at FIU and was voted First Team preseason Conference USA this year by the conference coaches. He's FIU's most dependable and experienced offensive lineman.

And his next snap will come in 2016. FIU coach Ron Turner said after Monday's practice Budwig would miss the season after offseason shoulder surgery on a shoulder he's had worked on before. Redshirt junior Michael Montero filled the Budwig spot during Monday's practice.

"We knew he would be at risk so it's time to get it fixed," Turner said. "We've got guys we believe can step in. We've got really good class who redshirted last year, so we think those guys can help."

Josh Deyour, 6-9, 310; Chris Miller, 6-4, 345; and Kai Absheer, 6-5, 305 all redshirted their freshman seasons last year.

Without Budwig, the one returning starter in the same position is junior left tackle Dieugot Joseph. Senior Aaron Nielsen's moved his workspace from right tackle to center. At right guard, junior Trenton Saunders is a possible starter, but he played only three games last season. Junior Edens Sineace, a possible Nielsen replacement, took the field in only eight games.

In my breakdown of the quarterbacks during the last post, I forgot senior transfer Trey Anderson from Pitt. If I had to guess the line of quarterback succession as of right now, it would be sophomore Alex McGough; redshirt freshman Bud Martin; freshman Christian Alexander; Anderson; freshman Maurice Alexander.

Punter Jose Laphitzondo's no longer on the roster. So, junior Chris Ayres and freshman Stone Wilson should swing legs for that job.


29 Days

That's not the sequel to a Sandra Bullock flick about addiction. That's how many days until the college-affiliated football addiction for FIU fans gets satiated with the season opener against Central Florida.

Until then, there's training camp, more "training" than "camp." And FIU enters this phase with fewer questions than most teams coming off a 4-8 season.

Quarterback? Barring a positive drug test or arrest, neither of which seems likely, that'll be sophomore Alex McGough. Redshirt freshman Bud Martin will try to break up the Alexander monopoly on the quarterback position led by McGough and supplemented by the freshman Alexanders, Christian Alexander and Maurice Alexander.

Running back? Senior Anthon Samuel, sophomore Alex Gardner and sophomore Napoleon Maxwell stand above the running back pack.

Tight end? Junior Jonnu Smith (duh) and Ya'Keem Griner or senior Akil Dan-Fodio.

Offensive line: "We've got three starters back we feel good about," FIU coach Ron Turner said. Those would be left tackle Dieugot Joseph, left guard Jordan Budwig (24 for 24 on starts)

"Some other guys have to step up. Whether it's (junior) Edens Sineace, (junior) Trenton Saunders, whoever. I think they will. They did some good things in the spring." Senior Aaron Nielsen will be moved from right tackle, where Turner thought he was out of position, to center. 

Defensive line: Seniors Michael Wakefield and Denzell Perine on the ends. Redshirt junior Imarjaye Albury and either senior Lars Koht or senior Darrian Dyson as the tackles.

Linebackers: Senior Davison Colimon and sophomore Anthony Wint flanking junior Treyvon Williams.

Safties: Redshirt junior Jordan Davis and sophomore Shemarke Spence, who got time at safety later in the 2014 season. Expect redshirt juinor Deonte Wilson to challenge both.

Cornerbacks: Fifth-year senior Richard Leonard on one side, senior Jeremiah McKinnon covering the Leonard-Free Zone. 

Kicker: Junior Austin Taylor's the incumbent, but kickers define "fungible."

Punter: Senior Jose Laphitzondo and see "Kicker."

Notice I left wide receiver off this list. That's where the battles for position and playing time truly lay. And they begin today.

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