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. Tedshirt 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

UPCOMING HOME GAMES/MATCHES

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.

AND ANOTHER THING...

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

UPCOMING HOME GAMES/MATCHES

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

UPCOMING HOME GAMES/MATCHES

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.

WOMEN'S SOCCER

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.

July 31, 2015

Big Possibility Pencils in FIU

Look what happens when Ron Turner puts Tim Harris, Jr. on staff at FIU as running backs coach.

Arkansas wanted Central linebacker Donavan Thompson, rated at three stars by Rivals.com, like he was a Waffle House. Offer on the table and everything. But if you play football in that part of town, you know Harris, former coach at Booker T. Washington. So, you give a little more of your ear to the man when he talks to you about FIU. It also doesn't hurt when three very good teammates -- defensive lineman Fermin Silva, cornerback Olin Cushion, wide receiver/running back/offensive nitro Anthony Jones -- head for FIU with the idea of building an annual bowl team.

So, for now, Thompson gave the Heisman pose to Arkansas and the other Power Five schools said to be in pursuit and declared his sort-of commitment to FIU Thursday, as detailed here by David Furones. As Thompson described it, it's more like he and FIU are talking than going steady. As we know, nobody's fully yours until somebody puts a ring on the finger or name on the LOI.

Norland defensive back Bryon Brown pledged FIU earlier in the day. Brown's not rated by any of the recruiting sites yet. 

 

 

July 22, 2015

Quick Hits From CUSA Media Day

FIU cornerback Richard Leonard's working on being faster. And eight Conference USA special teams coaches and offensive coordinators just lost their appetites. Or their lunches.

Leonard's fourth gear already exceeds most players' sixth. But he wants to boost his zoom to any return crease he reaches -- beep! beep! --  six points. All the players at media day talk about getting their team a conference title. There's a sense that runs a little deeper with guys like Leonard, a fifth-year senior, or Western Kentucky quarterback Brandon Doughty ("I know I'm not getting a seventh year."), who know this is it for their college careers and maybe their football careers period. That's your CUSA preseason Defensive and Offensive Player of the YEar, coincidentally.

FIU coach Ron Turner feels he's got 100 guys with a team first mentality. Two years ago, he definitely didn't believe that. He thought pockets of selfishness remained last year. That, more than being in the third year with mostly his recruits, makes him optimistic about what this year could be for FIU.

And, yes, he's happy about that $6,000 Cost of Attendance stipend (see last post) for what it allows FIU's athletes to do with the thin slices of life away from class/sport as well as for the possible recruiting advantage.

FAU (vs. FIU, Oct. 31)

Recruiting geeks love the last two classes brought in by FAU coach Charlie Partridge. We'll start finding out if that class can justify that love soon. Partridge said, "Right now, we've got 50 guys we've recruited over the last two years. You're going to see a good portion of them on the field." That's why I picked them under FIU in the East Division.

WESTERN KENTUCKY (at FIU Nov. 21)

By the way, you want to watch Conference USA coaches shiver, have them imagine Jeff Brohm as FAU's head coach with his offensive system, able to recruit South Florida and North Broward Prep's Doughty somehow still at FAU as his quarterback. Doughty threw for 4,830 yards, 49 touchdowns against only 10 interceptions and completed 67.9 percent of this passes. "I really want to expand my game and show I can do a variety of different things. I'm not just a pocket passer and a good system quarterback."

MARSHALL (vs. FIU Nov. 14)

Similar to Leonard and his speed, opposing defenses tended to find Marshall running truck Devon Johnson already big enough. Johnson left 1,767 yards of defenders in ice baths and training rooms last season and averaged 8.6 yards per carry.

Johnson said he's up five pounds to 245 and thinks he's both quicker and faster -- "I think I can break those long runs without getting caught on the 2-yard line."

No accident that the one game Johnson missed via injury turned into Marshall's only loss last year, the 67-66 overtime pinball game with Western Kentucky. He said missing that game bothers him to this day and "my main goal is to be healthy for my team."

LOUISIANA TECH (vs. FIU, Sept. 26)

One reason La Tech's the West Division favorite: quarterback Jeff Driskel, a one-and-done transfer from the University of Florida, to go with a tough defense and running back Kenneth Dixon. 

"I think I came into a really good situation," Driskel said. "The guys have always cared about each other, always been a close knit unit. I think I came in and didn't mess anything up. I came in, shut my mouth for a while and showed the guys I was there to work hard. I earned their respect. Everything's been often. No complaints."

Not having to surf the swarming media waves of SEC Media Days left Driskel loose enough to ask a veteran columnist to take a selfie with him (the columnist, an earthbound, AARP-eligible guy who has never taken a selfie in his life, declined).

"Coming out of high school, when you're being recruited heavily, you look at the stuff that has flash," Driskel said. "You look at the facilities, you look at how much money a school has, what they can provide for you. The second time around, when I announced I was going to transfer, I didn't look for that. I looked for, first of all, a place I could play because I've got only one year. I looked for a situation where I thought I could put up some big numbers. Cody Sokol did that last year (3,436 passing yards, 30 touchdowns) and there's a lot of guys coming back on offense. Also, I looked for a place full of good people -- a place where guys worked hard and enjoyed working hard together." 

CHARLOTTE (at FIU, Nov. 7)

Charlotte put up a 5-6 2014 record against a schedule of 11 FCS opponents. Now, they've got 11 FBS opponents on their 12-game schedule. A bit of a jump. Charlotte coach Brad Lambert said, "It'll be a jolt to them, I'm sure, in the beginning of the year. But we feel like we've prepared. It's not something that got dropped on us. We knew it." 

When I asked Lambert if he would've preferred an easing in to FBS, he said, "In the recruiting process, it's all about the brand that's behind your brand. Conference USA is a really realy good brand. So it enabled us to get in on some kids recruiting-wise the last two years that we might not have been able to get in on. We didn't have a team full of guys we'd recruited to an FCS team. Guys knew where we were and what we were doing."

OLD DOMINION (at FIU, Oct. 24)

Lambert says he expects Charlotte to be stronger on offense next year. I wonder how similar the collegiate East Coast 49ers will be to Old Dominion, shootout specialists during a 6-6, 4-4 in Conference USA, 2014 season. ODU put up 51 in regulation on Western Kentucky and lost 66-51. Quarterback Taylor Heinicke ran that offense the panache of a veteran joystick jockey playing Madden.

Redshirt freshman Shuler Bentley, a two-to-three-star recruit, now handles the Heinicke job.

"When we first started football, we had a brand new quarterback, Thomas DeMarco, and we played to his strengths and went 9-2 in his first year," Monarchs head coach Bobby Wilder said. "Taylor's first year, 2011, we changed the offense to fit around his strengths, we went 10-3 and the second round of the (FCS) playoffs. Shuler, the same thing, we're going to change the offense to fit his strengths.

"The good thing is we've got the conference rookie of the year back at running back (Ray Lawry). We return four starters in the o-line and we got an injured player back, Troy Butler, who was a starter for us two years ago. We've got eight wide receivers back who have started or played and been successful. So, there's a lot around Shuler. It's not as if he's stepping in and the cupboard is bare. He's stepping into a full cupboard."

 

 

July 01, 2015

Whistle Blowers

When Cindy Russo retired after seemingly a century as FIU women's basketball head coach, she already counted as something of a dinosaur -- a female head coach at FIU. The hiring of Marlin Chinn as her replacement cemented Russo's brontosaurus status.

This article puts FIU's dearth of female head coaches in perspective. Only 29 of the 138 schools with FBS football or Big East basketball have a lower percentage of women coaching women than FIU's 30 percent. Of the 10 women's sports at FIU, only three have female head coaches and the school's getting three sports for two women -- Rita Buck-Crockett is the head coach for volleyball and sand volleyball. Katarina Petrovic coaches the tennis team.

A case-by-case look at FIU's women's teams coaches reminded me of the 1980s Boston Celtics, which often included three white guys among five starters. The bombastic declarations that this melanin split demonstrated racism in the Celtics organization were countered with, "OK, who do you not want to start? Perennial All-Star Larry Bird, perennial All-Star Kevin McHale or Danny Ainge, for whom every NBA coach would find a spot?"

Similar situation among FIU's women's teams. Randy Horner's turned FIU's swimming and diving team from what one former swimmer called "a glorified high school team" into one of the best mid-major programs in the nation. Before the last two disappointing seasons, FIU's most consistent winners played soccer under the direction of Thomas Chestnutt. Joe Vogel coaches golf. That covers FIU's last three conference championship programs before the baseball team battered Conference USA into submission in May.

Softball coach Gator Rebhan came recommended by some of his current players. Track & field and cross country's Ryan Heberling ascended to head coach of both programs off convenience and his work with FIU's women's throwers, the strongest part of the track program in recent years. As has been noted here often, the women's teams consistently perform well academically despite so many FIU female athletes growing up with English as a second or third language.

In the overall athletic department, coaches who have shown progress but yet to prove definitively they can get it done consistently -- football's Ron Turner, men's basketball's Anthony Evans, men's soccer's Scott Calabrese -- occupy jobs women's coaches won't get as things stand now.

And that's the legitimate beef women's coaches and their advocates have with the steady stream of men into jobs coaching women's teams. Nobody's truly an equal opportunity employer.

Pat Summitt racked up 1,098 wins over 38 years as Tennessee's women's basketball coach. If you sat on a pile of her credentials and honors, you do your best Mongo Santamaria on Shaq's head. Handling the Tennessee program from the days when she had to drive the van and wash the uniforms herself, Summitt's knowledge of running a successful college basketball program is oceanic. Tennessee reportedly twice approached Summitt about coaching the men's team.

Yet, you never heard of, say, Louisiana Tech, nosing around Pat Summitt about coaching its men's hoop team. But Tyler Summitt with two years as an assistant at Marquette and 23 chromosomes from his mother gets the women's basketball job at La Tech, where all the coaches of women's teams have a Y chromosome.

Can you imagine one of Mike Krzyzewski's daughters doing two years as an assistant men's coach at Butler then applying to be the head coach at FIU? Can you imagine one of Mike Krzyzewski's daughters getting the chance even to be an assistant at Butler?

Though I'm a black man with a daughter, I don't get crazy about the gender/race role model thing. It's too limiting. There's too much to be learned from too many people of all skin tones and genitalia. And if nobody who looks like you has achieved something before, I say to that person what my mother used to say to me: "Guess you'll have to be the first."

But what about when you don't even get the chance to be the first? Because there's too much to be learned from diverse voices, the reduced volume of female coach voices matters at FIU and elsewhere.

 

June 14, 2015

Phillicia & Phil

Long jumper Phillicia Fluellen officially finished FIU's 2014-15 athletic year when she sailed to 14th in this week's NCAA Championships.

Fluellen's leap of 20 feet, 4 1/2 inches was her third best this season and second best among the mid-majors at the meet behind 10th place Texas State's Allie Saunders (I'm not counting 11th place Tennessee State's Clairwin Dameus as being from a mid-major -- that track program's been good longer than half the coaches at that meet have been alive.)

FOOTBALL

The premier college football preview publication, by information tonnage and accuracy, Phil Steele's College Football 2015, is now online if not newsstands.

Steele ranks FIU 103rd overall and fourth in Conference USA East. One of the common problems when turnovers become the manna you turn into victory, as in FIU's five wins over the last two seasons, is that's not consistent sustenance. Steele lists the Panthers as one of the teams with a positive double-digit turnover margin, a statistic that precedes a dropoff in wins the following year for 65 percent of such cases since 1991.

But, Steele points out FIU was four plays from being 8-4 last year instead of 4-8 and expects this year's model to be the best of the three Ron Turner FIU teams.

So, there's that.

 

 

June 01, 2015

Preseason Projections

Edwin Rios' ground out that ended the baseball season began the scollege-affiliated football preseason. The preseason magazines drew us to the Coral Gables Barnes & Noble on the way to Saturday's baseball action.

Athlon's, Lindy's and The Sporting News sit on the stands. Phil Steele, producer of the most accurate and (not coincidentally) exhaustively researched preseason guide, just shipped his guide off to the printer for July 1 store release.

Steele released his four-deep preseason All-Conference USA teams Monday and it reflects the general perception of FIU going into the season. 

On offense, he cites only junior tight end Jonnu Smith on the First Team (duh) and junior guard Jordan Budwig on the Fourth Team. The other side, however, includes senior defensive ends Michael Wakefield and Denzell Perine on the First Team, sophomore linebacker Anthony Wint and senior cornerback Richard Leonard on the Second Team (Second Team for Leonard?) and senior linebacker Davison Colimon on the Fourth Team. He puts Leonard as his First Team punt returner and senior Clinton Taylor as the Fourth Team punt returner.

Athlon Sports ranks FIU 112th nationally out of 128, fifth in the C-USA East and projects the Panthers to run in place -- second consecutive 4-8 overall and 3-5 conference records. I think they went with chalk in figuring FIU to beat FCS team North Carolina Central, Old Dominion and No. 128 Charlotte at La Cage and a conference upsets somewhere in there.

Their all-conference Panthers were Smith, Wakefield and Leonard on the first First Team, with Leonard at punt returner and cornerback and Colimon on the Second Team.

This year's quote from a conference opponent's assistant coach -- "They were much better last year than two years ago, but their passing game was almost nonexistent" -- might not come off well, but it's an encouraging butt-slap compared to last year's slap-in-the-face quote.

Lindy's likes FIU at No. 98 nationally and fourth in the East. While not throwing out a record, the magazine states becoming bowl eligible (six wins) would be a stretch for FIU. Lindy's two-deep preseason all-conference teams look similar to Phil Steele's, but put Colimon and Budwig on the Second Team and Leonard on the First Team. Lindy's ranked Smith as the nation's No. 1 tight end for college fantasy football.

The Sporting News says fifth in the East with Smith, Leonard and Wakefield as their preseason all-conference players (TSN made only one team).

April 19, 2015

Sunset of Spring

This blog's coming at you much later than anticipated. Sorry about that. Exhaustion, birthday parties and a Venetian Causeway bridge refusing to go down pushed back production here at the home office in South Beach.

Then, I did a "DOH!" by hitting Save Saturday night instead of Publish.

So, there wasn't a "Yay!" blog post for the tennis team's dramatic 4-3 win Friday against Middle Tennessee State at the Conference USA tournament before this "Yep, yep, yep...sigh" post for the 4-1 loss to No. 1 seed Rice, the host and two-time defending conference champion. 

Baseball heads into Sunday with a chance for a big series win against Western Kentucky. Middle's done FIU a Sun Belt Mafia favor by breaking Charlotte's heart twice by one run. Meanwhile, Marshall's won two from Old Dominion and move past Charlotte in pursuit of FIU.

As baseball continued backstroking in place Friday, football's Spring Game got going in front of a crowd that wasn't too far off FIU's regular season games that didn't include Bethune-Cookman. Grading on the Sofia Vergara curve, pretty good for a spring game, especially a Friday night, lightning-delayed spring game.

Raise your hand if you figured walk-on wide receiver Shawn Abrams would leave the night with seven catches and tight end Jonnu Smith would have zero. Hands? Hands? Now, everybody with hands up...

...you a lie. Put your hand down and go into local politics, where somebody will buy your weak stuff.

FIU head coach Ron Turner showed tremendous trust in Smith, quarterback Alex McGough, cornerback Richard Leonard, linebacker Treyvon Williams, linebacker Anthony Wint, running back Anthon Samuel and (to a lesser extent) running backs Alex Gardner and Napoleon Maxwell. None played much.They're not penciled into the lineup, they're engraved. Turner's comfortable that he knows what he can get from them and that they'll deliver. He's trusting they won't get complacent.

I know he's hoping Abrams won't. Two years ago, quarterback Jake Medlock casually talked about a wide receiver out of his high school, Neptune Beach Fletcher, who would really help FIU. That was on the verge of the 2013 offensive disaster with Willis Wright and Glenn Coleman's ineligibility putting the Panthers deep ball game into deep doo-doo.

Then, we heard wisps of information -- the young man got in trouble, was at FIU, but not playing -- and Abrams became another maybe that seemed destined to be a not.

(Quick aside: Medlock, a Division II All-America punter, apparently has drawn interest from some NFL teams and should be in a training camp this summer.)

Turner made it sound as if Abrams pestered his way into a tryout this spring. Abrams clearly possesses height, body control and speed, although he was a middle distance guy, not a sprinter, on Fletcher's track team. I still wouldn't expect much from him early in the season. By the time the opener at Central Florida rolls around, it'll have been almost three years since the last time Abrams ran through an angry secondary. That's a long time in a young man's life, especially making the high school to college jump in speed and physicality.

Friday was the first long look we've had at Class of 2013 running backs Alfonso Randolph and Silas Spearman in almost two years. Injuries set both back after their freshman year. Then Samuel, Gardner and Maxwell came in with more health and polish, pushing Randolph and Spearman down the depth chart. Both brought some boost to the party Friday.

Turner said, "I think Alfonso (Randolph) and Silas (Spearman) made the running back position very competitive."

Putting on my Turner Translation headphones, I hear: I want at least two good healthy running backs and, in my top three, I've got one guy coming off a season-ending shoulder injury and another guy with a concussion history.

The third guy is Maxwell. On the funniest play of the night, a pack of defenders stopped Maxwell on a right side run. The pack pushed him back, then linebacker Treyvon Williams finished the job by treating Maxwell like a cross between a shot put and a hammer you throw. Maxwell went sailing backwards and took out offensive coordinator/offensive line coach Steve Shankweiler. Williams got flagged, Shankweiler got up, Maxwell briefly got to fly.

The offensive line surprised me. There didn't give up a recylables pile of sacks as you'd expect with a new guys facing a good defense used to playing in concert.

"It's still a work in progress," Turner said. "Obviously, the left side we feel good about with our veterans, (junior guard Jordan) Budwig and (junior tackle) Dieugot (Joseph). We have two guys there who have played a lot of football for us. Aaron (Nielsen) hopefully he can keep progressing at center. He was solid, did a nice job. We've just got to get the right side solidified. Edens Sineace is starting (at tackle) now and really made good progress. (Guard) Trenton Saunders got more consistent this spring."

Of the three early enrollees, quarterback Christian Alexander completed 11 of 18 for 45 yards with an interception. He made a couple of WHOA throws, particularly one on a short out to fellow early enrollee Anthony Jones. That throw fit the "threaded needle" description. With some encouragement from the defender, Jones lost the ball into an imcompletion, however.

Jones caught four passes for 12 yards, most of the quick bubble screen variety. The end around they ran him on early got strung out. He showed a lottery ball's evasiveness on one bubble that wound up being a thrilling minimal gain. In other words, he looked like a talented freshman in his first spring game in a new offense.

Jones' Central High classmate Fermin Silva lined up at defensive end and had a nondescript night. His play didn't command I look up his number -- he's wearing No. 90 worn last year by Imarjaye Albury, who is now wearing No. 93 -- one way or the other.

Among Team Home Depot, the injured guys in the orange jerseys, all spring was wide receiver Juwan Caesar. The Coral Park graduate-Michigan State transfer looks like a prototypical big, physical possession receiver at 6-4, 219. Certainly he'd be useful on a receiving corps that, as of now, starts smallish Clinton Taylor and Dennis Turner and has 6-1 sophomore Thomas Owens as the chain mover in a three-wide lineup. By the way, Owens made a nice fade pattern touchdown catch over listed 5-11 Xavier Hines. 

There was a nice coffin corner punt by Honors College member Jose Laphitzondo. Redshirt junior Chris Ayers led off the night punting with Luke Medlock getting a turn also. Turner said Sergio Sroka has looked improved this spring as he challenges Austin Taylor for the kicking job.

My own view on the spring is what it is with almost all spring football: check back in the fall.

April 13, 2015

Monday Droppings

I'll be all over the place here.

FIU Arena's being prepared for its new seats and beach floor.

IMG_1808

The athletic department caught a big break when that CrossFit-like (but not CrossFit, CrossFit wants to make sure you know) competition broke the beach floor. Players and past coaches complained about how unforgiving the old floor could be on knees and ankles. Now, FIU gets a new floor and somebody else pays for it.

Looking at head coach Marlin Chinn's contract, the first thing that struck me was the five-year deal gets extended a year each time FIU wins 20 games and makes the NCAA tournament. His base pay is $161,000. He gets a $10,000 bonus for a single season team Academic Progress Rate of at least 970 (the team's been a perfect 1000 each of the last three reported years) and another $10,000 for team GPA over 3.1. He gets an extra $7,500 for each of these achievements: getting into the NCAA tournament, Conference USA Coach of the Year, sole possession of a regular season C-USA title. 

I heard the whole women's basketball coaching staff got sacked Monday by new coach Marlin Chinn. That's high on the expectation list when a new coach comes in after the disaster of 3-26, 0-18. I'd be willing to bet longtime assistant coach Inge Nissen winds up somewhere else in the department or university.

I wasn't at Sunday's Athletic Academic Awards Banquet (also known as "Dress Up for Food & Instagram Shots"), which would've been a great time for a sayonara ceremony to Nissen and former head coach Cindy Russo. Considering how long and well they coached at FIU, that would've been nice. I'm not sure Russo was even invited. In her last three full seasons, FIU went to two Women's NITs and got farther than Jerica Coley's superpowers should have taken the Panthers in last year's Conference USA tournament (the program was rewarded with being told the run took the team over its travel budget for the season). 

Men's basketball guard Dennis Mavin and multi-titled swimmer Johanna Gustafsdottir won the Athlete of the Year awards of the appropriate genders. The entire golf team made the conference's academic honor roll, so no surprise it won the addidas Athletic Director's Award for best GPA of the year, 3.67. Women's soccer took the Paul Gallagher Community Service Award. The Michael Felsberg Spirit Award went to swimming & diving, which shared the Champs/Life Skills Challenge Cup Award with baseball.

Speaking of baseball, senior shortstop Julius Gaines gave the invocation for the entire event and received the team's Leadership Award. That capped a good Sunday individually for Gaines. Earlier in FIU's 5-4 11-inning loss to FAU, he cracked three singles to break out of an 0-for-18 plunge that also prompted a plunge down the batting order Sunday. Coach Turtle Thomas moved Gaines from leadoff to eighth.

"I definitely don't need to send a message to Julius Gaines. He's been with us for four years. He's a good baseball player," Thomas said. "He made some really good defensive plays today. (Moving down to eighth) gets you down there where you maybe see a few more fastballs, they're not killing you working you over in the top five of the batting order. It's just to give him a different look."

Gaines said at the plate, "I got out of my head. I just went up there and said I was going to put a swing on it and whatever happened, happened." As far as hitting eighth, he admitted, "There's not as much pressure. You worry about your at-bat at that time and whatever situation comes. Leading off, it's your job to get on base. It can weigh on you a little bit."

While Gaines shrugged off his defensive day as, "I did my job. It wasn't anything out of the ordinary," FAU coach John McCormack said, "Some plays that the shortstop made in this game? Wow. Julius played really well. Thank God he's leaving this year."

Gaines made a game-saving (for the moment) play in the eighth on pinch hitter Danny Murray's tough grounder with the bases loaded. McCormack marveled that Gaines operated efficiently enough to get control of the ball, see he'd be too late for the force out at second and still fired a Murray-beating throw to first.

McCormack said two other things I found interesting. He blamed himself for FIU's 6-5 win Friday. He said he should've gone to Seth McGarry immediately in the eighth with a 5-2 lead. Instead, he used lefty Devon Carr, who gave up two hits and a walk in four batters, sparking FIU's four-run eighth inning. 

He also said he didn't believe in any FIU-FAU rivalry.

"I don't believe in rivalries because the players continually change," McCormack said. "I'm not big on, 'Win this one for The Gipper, they're our biggest rivals.'"

Out on the football field, Ron Turner said FIU's lack of experience at wide receiver and abundance of tight ends and running backs wouldn't mean FIU would use double tight end sets more in 2015 because "we did a lot of it last year." But, Turner said, they'll use more sets with varying position numbers and groupings now that FIU's in the third year of running his offense. 

"I've told these guys from Day 1 I really believe in utilizing our personnel and moving them around. If you've got a guy and he's always in the same spot, they can take him away very easily. That's one of the biggest things I learned in the NFL -- get your playmakers involved, put in position to make plays. We've done a little bit of that the first couple of years, but not as much as we'll do this year. In that league, they pay those guys a lot of money. The owners say, 'I'm paying him a lot of money, why isn't he getting the ball? Why isn't he involved?'

"And we have some guys with versatility. Look at our tight ends. We've got three guys (Jonnu Smith, Ya'keem Griner, Akil Dan-Fodio) who can line up at tight end, line up in the slot, line up as a No. 1 receiver outside and, in some cases, line up in the backfield. Look at our running backs, same thing. We've got some guys who are strictly backfield guys or you've got some who can line up in the slot or outside. We've got a couple of wide receivers who can line up in the backfield and play some running back, quarterback or whatever."

After saying he was excited about all the different options for FIU, Turner joked once spring football ends, the coaches will have too much time to come up with too much other offensive stuff to teach. Or, maybe he was only halfway joking as staffs do make that mistake more often than is noticed.

 

 

April 06, 2015

Hold the Trey & other tidbits from practice

Last week, Pitt backup quarterback Trey Anderson announced via social media that he's headed for FIU for his final year of eligibility. Apparently, Anderson defined "premature" in his announcement.

FIU coach Ron Turner said Monday he couldn't comment on Anderson with the kind of look Dad gets when he finds out you told Mom he spent the afternoon before her birthday in Neiman-Marcus' dress section. I guess Anderson's not fully cleared.

"I know one thing, we're very pleased with Alex McGough," Turner said. "And IF we add at that position from the outside, it's really not going to be to challenge him. We feel really, really good. He's had a tremendous spring. Totally different from where he was mentally. He's so much more relaxed. A much better understanding of what we're trying to do and why we're trying to do it."

Speaking of people from Pitt, Turner said new defensive coordinator Matt House not only employs a similar system to Josh Conklin's, but House did the unusual coaching step of changing the terminology to what Conklin used so his new FIU charges had one less adjustment to make. Most coaches insist on using their chosen appellations even if it makes players essentially learn a second language.

Sophmore Linebacker Anthony Wint said he feels almost as good as he did before the knee injury that interrupted his stellar freshman year, but much better than he felt when he came back for the season's final games.

As far as the alleged sexual assault on campus involving a football player, as WSVN Channel 7 reported Saturday night...I've heard a name, but it would be irresponsible to throw it out there now without more confirmation. So, nothing new.

 

March 28, 2015

Sand Spikes; Spring Practice Accessibility

Pepperdine won the American Volleyball Coaches Association sand volleyball national championship in 2012 and 2014, was the runner-up in 2013 and came into Saturday's match with FIU ranked three spots above the No. 6 Panthers in the AVCA Sand Volleyball poll. Pepperdine skunked the Panthers twice, 5-0, during FIU's inaugural sand season two years ago.

So, Saturday morning's 3-2 win against Pepperdine at the Palmetto Invitational sits as a landmark for the direction of FIU's 12-1 sand volleyballers, who have won all their three matches against other top 10 teams. 

There's 50 Division I sand volleyball teams in the nation now. The NCAA will take over running the championship next spring. 

SPRING FOOTBALL

There's a bit of confusion over whether spring football practices were open or closed to fans. Here's the 411:

Practices are officially closed to fans and media. That was in a release to the media that was mass e-mailed to the media as usual by FIU Athletics media relations, but wasn't also put on the FIU Sports website as such things usually are (such as the previous two spring practice releases saying practice would be open).

BUT if you've been invited into the seats of La Cage, you can check it out. This seems cut and dried.

In practice, however, it's a bit of a clusterkibibble.

For one thing, invitations aren't exactly Willy Wonka gold tickets shining with a blinding glare the moment you pull them from your pocket. Sometimes, it's a Tweet from a coach to select fans or a group of potential fans. It can be a phone call or a verbal "Come on, down!" Also, gates are open for several practices either out of convenience for folks working around the stadium or allowing access to students attending a class in one of the suites.

So, if you happen to walk in one of the open gates, take a seat in the stands and aren't disruptive to anybody, everybody might assume somebody else invited you to be there and you'll get to watch practice. Not that I'm recommending you do this.

I hope this clears everything up on this topic. Back to vacation and my bed or balconies.

March 22, 2015

MacLaren, Golf Rolling Well; Spring Practice, Day 2

After going almost two years between conference team titles in all sports, FIU could get two in three months.

The golf team, which brought home the 2013 Sun Belt Conference title, finished second in the Mountain View Collegiate with junior Meghan MacLaren (7-under 209) getting medalist by three shots. Freshman Katerina Krasnova (2-under 214) tied for 10th.

Finishing ahead of FIU: Ohio State. Among the 18 teams finishing behind FIU: Purdue, Kansas State, Iowa State, Iowa, Nebraska, Missouri and BYU. 

BASEBALL

Junior Edwin Rios went into Saturday's game against Charlotte barely hitting his weight. He came out a chunk closer to C.C. Sabathia's weight, up to .256, after going four for four with three home runs in a 23-1 Saturday mercy rule rout of Charlotte. It was the first homer hat trick in Conference USA since June 5, 2010.

Senior Brian Portelli went four for five with four RBI and a homer as FIU finally stopped making every lefthanded opposing pitcher look like Warren Spahn. The Panthers need to use this weekend against Charlotte and next weekend against Marshall to turn around this 10-13 season that's been the epitome of underachievement.

(I'm sure all the FIU players and coaches had the same thought you just did -- boy, wish they could store some of those runs...)

FOOTBALL

FIU football held its second spring practice Saturday morning. Ron Turner would address the outside media for the first time this spring. Practice was closed.

Not enough of a draw for me to wrestle South Florida/South Beach traffic on a scheduled day off with the NCAA tournament, naps and vacation staring me in the face. If something serious happens while I'm on vaca (i.e., coach firing, notable player transferring in or out, players showing full or just too much monty at the beach), I'll suit up and get back in the game. Otherwise...

IMG_1495

 

March 17, 2015

Spring Football Practices Now Closed

FIU announced today that spring football practices will be closed. Below is the schedule for the practices you won't be able to attend and the spring game for which you'll be invited to come in and sit a spell.

Mar. 19, 21, 24, 28, 31, Apr. 2, 6, 7, 9, 13, 14, 16: 9 a.m. to 11 a.m.

Mar. 26: 10 a.m.

Apr. 3: 7 p.m.

Apr. 17: Spring Game, 7 p.m.

For what it's worth, if this scuttles your football practice viewing plans, the sand volleyball team practices around the same time and they're 7-1 with a No. 7 ranking in the latest American Volleyball Coaches Association poll.

 

 


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