February 04, 2016

What Have We Here?

Yeah, like anybody really knows for sure.

Longtime readers of this blog know much as I love the hectic pace of Signing Day and will report analysis of recruiting gurus/websites, I stick by the theory that nobody knows nothin' at the mid-major level. Look how often the big boys whiff on recruits and they're taking guys my daughter (great run after catch, hates watching football) can pick out as good players. Down in Group of 5 Land, it's truly like television programming (Family Guy's in its 11th consecutive season on the same network that twice before canceled it).

Who knows which young man finds greater joy in Proust, pipe or Paula than in post patterns or pass protection? Who knows which young man finds the work ethic that another loses? Who knows who reacts to the challenge of the next level with elan and who suffers shrinkage? Who knows which kid truly responds to a particular coach or which position coach fails the players under him? Or does that coach or coaches stay? Staffs change like the time at G5 schools.

What does it mean that Rivals.com, as of this moment, puts FIU at 99th nationally and No. 8 in Conference USA? Or that 247Sports.com puts FIU at 107th and 10th? About as much as it meant in 2013. Remember that FIU class? Only the defensive backs kept that from being the consensus worst rated class in FBS that year. Here's the top rated recruits from that class, according to ESPN:

(What follows isn't to make fun of or throw shade on the young men, who came into a calamitous situation at FIU and I hope are having good college experiences. But, rather, I'm making fun of and throwing shade on analyst projections.)

1. Vontarius West, defensive back -- Saw his first significant playing time this season as a backup linebacker.

2. Travis Wright, quarterback -- Spent the late summer bounce passing throws like the quarterback of a basketball offense. Then, there were questions about his eligibility. Then, he was gone. Never played a down at FIU.

3. Chris Flaig, offensive lineman -- Non-football related health issues sidelined him for the 2013 and 2014 seasons.

4. Jordan Budwig, offensive lineman -- Started all 24 games his first two seasons before a shoulder injury ended his junior year before it began.

5. Willie Smith, defensive back -- Never enrolled. Now playing at Division II Ferris State.

Hmmm...maybe Rivals.com knew better. Let's look at their top five from that year:

1. West -- Oh, OK.

2. Xavier Hines, defensive back -- Redshirted, didn't play a game as a redshirt freshman, got into 11 games in 2015, started one.

3. Silas Spearman, running back -- Ran for 130 yards in FIU's only 2013 win, then suffered a knee injury that wiped out 2014. Played four games in 2015.

4. Smith -- Well...

5. Wilkenson Myrtil, defensive back -- Started two games in 2013 and 2014 each, at cornerback. Started three games at safety before suffering a season-ending concussion.

Now, let's look at 247Sports.com. They tend to have the best take on this recruiting thing:

West -- Huh.

Hines -- Huh (again).

Jordan Gibbs, linebacker/defensive end -- Redshirted in 2013. Moved to fullback in 2014. Jettisoned by 2015.

Budwig -- OK.

Jeremy Derrick, linebacker -- Redshirted in 2013. Didn't get into a game in 2014 or 2015.

Anybody see tight end Jonnu Smith, FIU's best offensive player since T.Y. Hilton, on any of the lists? Or linebacker Treyvon Williams? What you do see: injuries, players re-cast in different roles, players just not working out for whatever reason.

Whether or not you like Ron Turner overall as a coach, you have to like that he insists on FIU doing its own homework on players such as talking to custodians -- the eyes and ears of educational institutions -- to discern a player's character (oh, future recruits take note that they really do watch your Twitter account). And FIU does its own player evaluations. You'd be surprised how many times coaches can be lemmings, although you shouldn't be considering how every sports league is a copycat league. The same coaches who bellow about leadership turn into lockstep followers all too often.

Quarterback Maurice Alexander's lack of ideal size limited his offers despite showing some moxie the few times Booker T. got in a tight situation his senior year. Turner loves Alexander's leadership charisma. Running back D'Angelo Ware averaged 12.9 yards per carry in Florida, where speed in the secondary can turn 50-yard average-boosting runs into 20 or 25 yarders. He was offered by Troy, FAU, Georgia Southern and New Hampshire (FCS).

John Madden recalls that during his Raiders coaching days (yes, kids, the guy with his name on the video game used to coach) NFL player personnel ace Ron Wolf would say about a player something like, "He'll be a good player in the league, but he won't be a good player for us."  Few players FIU's got a shot to get come one size fits all.

Long-winded way of saying maybe 247Sports.com and Rivals.com are right. And, even if they are, it might not matter one bit.


February 02, 2016

Turner Talk on The Day Before The Day

Unless you're Nick Saban, Jim Harbaugh or whoever's at Texas or Notre Dame, a college-affiliated football coach nearing Signing Day better behave like a man with many high maintenance girlfriends on Valentine's Day. Recruits must be basted with attention lest some last minute love from a place with a sexier tradition/conference/campus/student body flips the recruit into another's dorm.

FIU's experienced that Sunday, apparently losing linebacker Donavan Thompson to Utah. And it might happen again Wednesday. It's why FIU coach Ron Turner was happy he got running back/wide receiver Anthony Jones, quarterback Christian Alexander and defensive end Fermin Silva enrolled early last year. Turner's not confident FIU would've been able to hold onto them had they waited another five weeks to Signing Day.

Turner looked rather sanguine Tuesday morning. There would be a round of phone calls later in the day to go with the round of phone calls made Monday to retain FIU's commits as well as trying to be some flippin' Panthers themselves. The climax of year No. 4 in this modern era of recruiting was less than 24 hours away (speaking of modern era, recruits, watch your Twitter feeds...)

Turner referred to no recruits, other than early enrollments, by name.  

What positions had you wanted to focus on this year?

RT: Several. Corners, we needed to get some help there losing our two starters. We've got some good young guys, but we needed to get some more depth there, we did. Both lines, offensive and defensive. Always need to get numbers up there. We've done that. We've got five offensive linemen committed and four defensive linemen, plus an offensive lineman who gray-shirted last year (Jacksonville Fletcher's Andrew Burgess), so six coming in new, three this spring (Burgess, Jacksonville First Coast twins Douglas and Dallas Connell) and a DB, who'll be here this spring. More of a safety, but he could play corner (Isaiah Hill). We've got two defensive ends, two defensive inside guys, although a couple are interchangeable. Four receivers, which we needed. I like the guys we got, too. They've got a chance to help us right away, all four of them (Booker T. Washington's Darrius Hill, Westminster Christian's Elbre Gaiter, North Port's Stantley Thomas, Orlando Lake Nona's Ulice Gillard).

Why can they help you next year? Are they all of a type? What are they bringing?

RT: Speed. This group has good size and speed. We've got one smaller type guy in the slot, who I think will help us -- shifty, really good quickness. The other three have good size -- big, physical, long good size receivers that are good after the catch. That's the biggest thing. They're playmakers and can run. We had every one of them in camp. So, we got to work with them and see them as well as see all their film.

What's your philosophy on recruiting quarterbacks? (Bud Martin transferred to Eastern Illinois)

RT: I like to try to take at least one every year. We've got two freshmen (Christian Alexander and Maurice Alexander) that I'm very, very excited about and Alex, a two-year starter with two years left. Those two freshmen, I can't wait to get into spring ball now that they've had a year of learning the system, a year in the weight room. They both have a chance to be really good. It's going to be a very competitive situation, a fun situation.  

Why have you been pretty successful up in the Jacksonville-Tampa axis?

RT: No. 1, the coaches do a good job up there. They know people. People trust them. They identify the kids early. It's not as heavily recruited as down here, so we give them more attention, I think. The coaches do a good job of seeing them early, this time of year. We see them in December and January, then go back and see them in the spring. Then, get them in camp up there. The camps have been invaluable as well. So we get a chance to know them and they get a chance to know us. We've had quite a few kids from there that have had success, so those kids know that as well.

Who does the Jacksonville/Tampa areas?

RT: We've had different people. My son, Cameron, did it the first two years and did a good job up there. Shannon Moore took it over when (Cameron Turner) left. He and Kort Shankweiler do a lot of it. Kort does all the Orlando area and he got into Jacksonville and he does Tallahassee. So he did a really good job in those areas. Steve Shankweiler does a really good job in Tampa and Central Florida. He coached there for a long time, he knows a lot of the coaches. And he did a good job in Atlanta. That's an area we'll probalby go into a little bit more. Steve's recruited there for a lot of years. We'll probably expand into there because the reception there is pretty good. Matt House has done a good job in Tampa, south Tampa, the Bradenton-Sarasota area.

We're going to really make sure we hit this South Florida area. We've got guys who have, but we're going to make sure every coach on the staff is going to have some schools in Miami-Dade or Broward. Each guy might have four schools. We've done a good job of getting a lot of coaches out. Tim Harris, Jr. might have Booker T. (Washington High). We'll make sure other coaches go in there. If we've got a receiver, we'll make sure (receivers coach) Kort Shankweiler goes in there, Steve Shankweiler as an (offensive) coordinator went in there. We get more people going to all the schools. We'll continue to do the same thing. We'll just have more assigned schools and they'll cross over. I think it's important we have a lot of our guys visible in the area.

Tim being in the area, been a huge name, he and his dad. Greg Moss being a local guy is a big name that's been good and it'll continue to get better when they have a full season to recruit the area. (Defensive line coach) Paul Valero coming on board, he's got a lot of ties, a lot of local connections in Miami. He's already made a little impact here with the guys he knows.

Locally, this year, it's looking thin. Had you expected to do a little bit better?

RT: No, I think it's pretty good, for the guys we targeted and the ones we went after, we didn't get all of them. Obviously, we lost some. We lost some late. But, for the most part, I'm pleased with what we did here and the reception from the coaches. The kids we realistically felt we had a chance to get and went after, I think we did pretty well (four players from Dade). It's an area we'll keep grinding on.

(DJN digression: to be fair, most observers see this as a down year for Miami-Dade talent as compared to past year or Broward County. So, if there's any year to be light on Dade, it's this one).

Do you find locally that some kids just want to leave town?

RT: No question about it. Every kid is different. Some, it's really important to stay home so mother, father and whatever can see them play. Other kids say, "I've been in Miami my whole life. I want something different. I want to get out. There's no question that comes up. You've got to try to identify that early.

January 22, 2016

Longevity & Originality (With Marvin Gaye, Robin Thicke & Pharrell)

Life changes fast in FBS. So fast that FIU head football coach Ron Turner's now in the middle of the FBS head coach pack as far as longevity at his school.

That's according to FootballScoop.com's annual list of FBS coaches by longevity. Turner ranks 67th out of 128 on the list, which lines up the coaches by hiring day.

According to the list, Conference USA coaches hired after Turner: FAU's Charlie Partridge, Dec. 17, 2013; Western Kentucky's Jeff Brohm, Jan. 10, 2014; North Texas' Sean Littrell, Dec. 5; and UTSA's Frank Wilson, last Friday. Louisiana Tech's Skip Holtz and UTEP's Sean Kugler were hired the December before Turner. So was Southern Mississippi's Todd Monken, who just resigned to be Tampa Bay's offensive coordinator.


You'll notice in the above item, I didn't just use the information from FootballScoop's list. I told you it was their list and provided a link to it. You'll also notice early in the FootballScoop.com story, the writer pokes fun at himself while giving credit to the former colleague who began doing the list three years ago.

This is what you do when you want to use information or quotes gathered by another media entity or if you want to localize a national story. You don't just lift quotes and copy entire blocs of prose, then use them as if you'd done the interviewing and writing.

Which is what The Beacon's Cayla Bush did for her The Shade Locker column that ran Wednesday in print and online. The story she ripped off was my Miami Herald story that ran online Jan. 14 and in print Jan. 15. The Beacon was made aware of this Wednesday when I called them. Bush's column remains online unchanged. 

Perhaps Ms. Bush and I share a Vulcan mindmeld of which I haven't been previously aware. As you can see here in screen grabs from the start of my Herald story and the early part of her Beacon column from six days later:


And, from The Beacon...


Nice of her to add in a little of her own prose between the Horner and Calabrese portions and take out the earlier paragraph she stole that appears in the print version of The Beacon.

She didn't do that for the next chunk of prose she stole from The Herald story. The next two screen shots come from The Herald:



Completely unaccredited, this is what appeared in Bush's column. She made a token -- if lazy -- attempt to change the time element in referencing the FIU-Kansas swim meet by adding the date, but left "last Friday," which it no longer was by the time her column ran.



Hint to plagiarists -- when you want to steal copy, at least change the less-pedestrian word usage, such as "Promethean" from earlier in the story and "omnipresent" in the following screen grabs:


And, from The Beacon...



Some Beacon writers and reporters approach their task with great professionalism and gusto. Others don't. It's the nature of a college student newspaper. But plagiarism's a big no-no in middle school. You'd think college students would know better.

Or at least show a smidgen of shame when busted on it.




December 08, 2015

Four Panthers Make Conference USA's Football All-Teams

The 13 Conference USA coaches select the All-Conference USA teams. Address all complaints to them.

FIU put two, seniors defensive end Michael Wakefield and cornerback Richard Leonard, on the All-CUSA First Team. I was surprised senior cornerback Jeremiah McKinnon only received Honorable Mention all-conference after leading FIU in interceptions, passes broken up and being fourth in tackles. Leonard also made it as punt returner after his 10.7 yards per return led the league. Wakefield's .33 fumbles forced per game were third in the conference. His .62 sacks per game placed him fourth, the same place his 1.21 tackles for loss per game did in that category.

Second Team members from Camp Mitch were redshirt junior center Michael Montero and sophomore linebacker Anthony Wint. If you go back to FIU coach Ron Turner's year-end Q&A, you'll see he thought Montero graded out well almost every game. Wint led FIU in tackles (Leonard was second) and led defensive players in fumble recoveries with two.

Now, let's mention the Honorably Mentioned: McKinnon, junior tight end Jonnu Smith, senior defensive end Denzell Perine, Leonard (as kick returner), long snapper Sam Medlock.

No Panthers made the All-Freshmen team.



November 25, 2015

The State of the FIU Football Union of the Snake River Canyon Ranch Spa (Part II)

Q: Which players stepped forward this year that maybe you didn't expect?

A: I think T.O., not that I didn't expect it, but probably quicker than we thought. (Redshirt junior center) Mike Montero played really well. He started every game and graded out really well. He graded out a winning grade in almost every game, I'm not sure every one, but he palyed really well. I'm very pleased with how he stepped up. (Sophomore running back) Alex Gardner, we expected it, but I didn't expect him to play sixtysomething plays a game and hold up as well as he did. We were playing him too many plays, but we really didn't have a choice.

When Napoleon Maxwell went down -- that's one we didn't mention -- that hurt because he's our biggest and fastest back. He would've really spelled (Gardner). (Fifth-year senior) Anthon (Samuel) and (freshman) Anthony (Jones)...Anthony wasn't quite ready to play early. When he got ready, we were really trying to get him in the game. He hurt his hamstring and missed two and a half weeks. When he came back, he still wasn't 100 percent. I thought A1 really stepped up with his durability.

Defensively, the defensive line guys were guys we anticipated playing well. Jephete stepped in and did all he could do.

Q: Where did you grow as a coach this year?

A: Learning to deal with frustration and staying focused. (Turner said this with a laugh.) Probably that and handling the adversity, having to make the adjustments with everything you worked on in the preseason not being able to do. Mentally, the emotional part was keeping everyone positive, keeping everyone focused. For the most part, we did. The guys worked hard and prepared hard. There was a game or two, it wasn't where it should be. For the most part, they came in and competed every day in practice hard and maintained a tremendous attitude.

Q: You mention "a game or two where it shouldn't be." In retrospect, how disappointing is the loss to FAU? I know you want to win every game and think you should win every game. But as far as games that look like...

A: ...on paper.

Q: Yeah.

A: The UMass game (24-14 loss) was worse. I think FAU is a very good team. They're not a 2-9 team. I have no idea how they're 2-9. I know they lost to Tulsa (47-44) and they lost some of those games where they had a lead and somehow didn't win them. But you look at them up front on both sides of the ball. They're a physical team, got a good quarterback and good running backs. Defensively, they're physical up front. They're much, much better than 2-9.

Of course that one hurt because it's FAU. We just didn't play as well as we're capable of playing. The UMass one was the one that you look at and say, "That one we let get away." For whatever reason, we didn't play well. We had (10) penalties, (five) of them 15-yard variety. And several personal fouls, late hits, stuff like that. And we had 10 dropped passes. That's the one I look at and say the focus wasn't where it needed to be and we did not play nearly as well as we're capable.

Q: Where do you think you failed or needed to be better as a coach this year?

A: A lot of areas, I guess. (Laughs) I don't know, tough question. Not adjusting as well to the injuries and probably trying to do too much. Not hide my frustration, but not get as frustrated and not try to do too much. I didn't do it a lot, but I did it at times. Like I said earlier, tried to do things we weren't capable of doing. Same thing talked about Alex and some of the players did. Not so much game planning, but calling he game sometimes. I knew we probably couldn't protect this, but I'd call it anyway. Or, I knew we didn't have the receivers or whatever, call it anyway. That's probably the biggest thing. On the offensive side of it. You've can't let the frustration get to you. Stay in the moment -- this is what we can do.

Q: What did you think of Alex McGough's development this year?

A: I thought Alex played really well, especially through the first 10 games. His development -- his decision-making, his accuracy, his ball placement, especially down the field, his touch. When he came in here, he was a fastball thrower every play. And he wasn't very accurate down the field. He really improved his downfield accuracy, he improved his touch. He improved his eyes. His eye discipline for the most part through the first 10 games was good. The last two games, it was not. It goes back to trying to do too much. I think he made huge progress from last year to this year in just being a quarterback. That's probably the best way to put it -- being an overall quarterback, not just a thrower.

Q: You used Anthony Jones at running back a lot this season. Obviously, that's a place where you can get him the ball easily. Is he a guy you'd rather place more on the edges?

A: His main position is going to be running back. But he's a guy we can put in there with A1 or with Napoleon and now get him out in the slot. Those are the things we wanted to do with him, but it was hard. First, we had him playing receiver, then running back, then trying to do both. We weren't getting him in as much as we wanted to because of that -- where does he fit in? So we put him in at running back and said, "OK, he's going to go in every other or every third series." Then, he got hurt. That game he got hurt (vs. Old Dominion) on the opening kickoff blocking for Richard (Leonard), that was the game we said "He's going in every other series. And we're going to give him the ball and do the things he knows and we can do." He got hurt on the opening kickoff and he went into the game early. He starte dthe game. We threw him a little screen pass. He caught it and was jogging. I said, "What is wrong?" and he was out (hamstring). I think he played three plays. He was out the next week, came back and still wasn't 100 percent. But he's a guy who'll be a huge part of what we do starting as a running back. We wanted to do some of the so-called "Wildcat," which we call "Rocket Package," but we couldn't. He's a guy we've got to make a big push to get him playing and involved.

Q: With all the injuries, did you have to burn any redshirts you hadn't planned to burn?

A: Oh, yeah, definitely. And we almost did a couple of others. (Offensive lineman) Neal Mars, for sure on the offensive line. We played him week (eight). He ended up playing mostly on field goal, but we had to get him in there. What other true freshmen played? We almost did with (running back) Collin Olsen. One game, he was the backup. He came this close to going in to putting him in and we didn't. The next week, he would've played, but he got a concussion in practice. (Cornerback) Kenyatta Anderson was one who wouldn't have played. He got a blocked punt for a touchdown, but...(Emmanuel) Lubin would've played, regardless. Kenyatta would not have. (Defensive end) Fermin (Silva) played, but he would've played anyway. Anthony (Jones) played, but he would've played. (Tight end) Mac Carey, for sure, would not have played...Milord Juste would not have played. Came that close to playing (linebacker) Sage Lewis. When I say close, I'm talking about on the sidelines asking "Should we put him in?" We did that one game with Neal Mars, "No, let's not put him in" and the next week, he went in anyway.

Those guys were great. Even with one or two games to go, they said, "If you need to put me in, I'm ready to go." (Wide receiver) Austin Maloney came close in one stretch.

Q: Will (safety) Wilkenson Myrtil be back? (Myrtil suffered a scary concussion in the third game of the season).

A: I don't know. He's made good progress the last two weeks. Right now, to be honest, that's the least of our concerns. Our concern is just getting him right. And it's going to be a little while. He's made really good progress and the last week or so or two weeks, he's looked like the Wilkenson of old.

Q: Has he been able to go to classes?

A: He has not. He went home for about 10 days. He's come back and not gone to class. He's getting a medical (withdrawal). He was doing a little better for while, then he wasn't doing very well. I've never seen one take this long, but it was pretty severe.

Q: Do you anticipate any coaching staff changes?

A: I hope not. I feel good about the guys. There's some things we have to do better, but nothing major. The staff gets along really well. They work hard. I think they do a good job. On my part, no. Hopefully, there won't be too many other parts, but you know how that goes. People come in and double their salary, it's hard to argue. I'd anticipate a couple. There usually are. Hopefully, it's just a couple.

Q: Anybody on the roster you've told not to come back?

A: No. I feel good about the roster. I like the guys coming back. I like this team. Whether or not some guys decide, on their part, they want to move, I don't know. As far as what we have, no, I feel good about the guys we have.

The positive to look forward to is we've got a lot of good young players on this team. I mean, really good. And, I guess the positive is they got experience this year. (Laughs) More than they wanted, more than they bargained for, which, in the long run, is going to help them. We've got a very good recruiting class coming in. In fact, we've got more guys who want to come than we have scholarships. It's going very well.

Q: In recruiting, any positions you want to focus on?

A: Overall, you hit every position. As the season goes, it changes a bit. Defensive line and offensive line, we've got commitments in both those spots. We should be in good shape there. We are going to look at a junior college or possible senior graduate in the defensive line and possibly offensive tackle just to get a little more experience in there if we can find the right guy. Cornerback, we might do the same thing. See if there's a JC corner out there who can come in and help us. Continue to fill the depth at all positions. Take one quarterback, at least one running back, maybe two. Get some receivers. Got to get a tight end. Defensive line, got to get two or three linebackers, already got two committed. Probably one more linebacker. Just got to find where we're going to get the spots for him.


The State of the Football Union of the Snake River Canyon Ranch Spa (Part I)

I sat down with FIU football coach Ron Turner for the Third Annual Football Season Q&A Eulogy Tuesday. If you're here, you probably already know that the Panthers began the season with an upset at Central Florida, ended it with losses to Marshall and Western Kentucky by a combined 115-7 and finished the season 5-7. If you didn't know that, you do now.

Turner's answers are presented here with commentary limited to the expository.

Q: One more win than last year. But the teams you beat this season had a total of eight FBS wins. Just with Middle Tennessee and UAB last year (five FBS wins each), you beat that in 2014. Overall, was this a moving forward year?

A: I think so. This was was just a very disappointing year and very frustrating year. Disappointing just because we had such high expectations coming in. I'm not disappointed in the players, I'm disappointed in the results just in the fact of I don't think we were able to do what we wanted to do. We weren't the same team halfway through the season that we were coming into it. Just because of the injury situation and the youth we had to play.

Everybody has injuries, I understand that. I've never been through anything like this. With five games to go, I’m watching the (practice) tape with the coaches and I said, ‘This feels like spring ball because we’re running new plays with new people doing them. The difference is we’ve got three days to get them ready to go.’ 

That part was really frustrating for me, personally, and us because of that. I knew coming in -- I don't know if you remember my comments -- but I said I think we have a chance to have a really good team and be really competitive in this conference if we stay healthy because we don't have a ton of depth. Obviously, we didn't. It hurt.

And it was certain positions. Offensive line got hit hard, starting with (junior guard) Jordan Budwig in the summer before camp even started. Two-year starter, preseason all-conference first team and Trenton Saunders getting hurt in the third or fourth game, missing eight and a half to nine games. All of sudden, we've got (redshirt freshmen) Kai Absheer and Chris Miller in there who are going to be really good players. They're going to be really good players, but they weren't ready to play this year. Then, they got hurt. One missed three and a half weeks, one missed four and a half. But that's four weeks of practice time they miss and all of a sudden, they're thrown back in. (Redshirt freshman) Daquane Wilkie started at right tackle (12 games) who is going to be a really good player as well, but he's not there yet. He shouldn't have been playing. That part of it got hit hard, especially at the guard position. Our tackles were fine.

And then the safety position, four guys, three of them basically for the season. Jordan Davis played one game, (missed) two because of academic suspension, then got hurt. Shemarke Spence (broken arm) didn't play any. Wilkenson Myrtil missed nine games. Niko (Gonzalez) missed four. Not only did he miss four, he had a shoulder, he couldn't work out, so then he comes back and he's...the development part of it. That really hurt. Then, obviously, our tight ends (Ya'Keem Griner and Jonnu Smith). Tight end, linebacker -- two of our starting three linebackers basically missed the season. Treyvon missed (eight). Davison (Colimon) missed 11/2.

Our two best playmakers on offense. One missed seven games and the other one, Jonnu, missed four. That made it frustrating. All the stuff we planned to do on both sides of the ball, we had to limit what we did, minimize what we did and try to play to their strengths.

Q: (Graduate senior transfer) Jephete Matilus came in and clearly did the best he could. But, realistically, his actual game experience was almost at a freshman level. What kind of dropoff was that from (junior middle linebacker) Treyvon Williams?

A: Jephete came in and gave us everything he had. I'm glad he was here. I don't know what we'd have done without him. He stepped in and did as well as he could in a tough situation. He didn't have a lot of game experience. A lot of our guys, even though they might've been juniors or seniors, in some cases, they didn't have much experience. (Offensive lineman) Edens Sineace, first year starter, he played left tackle. Then, we had to put him at guard and all that stuff.

But, getting back to (Jephete)...first time in the system. Didn't go through Spring Ball. Limited playing time -- most of his playing time was on special teams at Minnesota. And he's thrown in as a starter for eight games. Give him credit, he did as sell as he could do. But, it hurts your depth. Now, if something happens to him, you're going down (indicates with his hand moving to a lower level).

"That's the thing -- we had too many guys playing too many plays because of the injury situation. Playing more plays than they should and, by the end of the year, you're worn down. It affects your practice time. By the end of the year, we couldn't practice as much as we wanted. We couldn't wear pads as much as we wanted, even (just) shoulder pads. We had to cut the time down in practice because we had nobody. Guys were just so worn down, we had to try to get them fresh on game day.

No bye didn't help. (FIU's open week is this week.) Not that we would've gotten a lot of guys back because most of them were season-ending (injuries), but at least we could've rested some people and healed up a bit.

Q: How does that happen? Where does that fall through the cracks?

A: That's the conference scheduling. I called immediately when I saw it. Called (Senior Associate Commissioner) Alfred White immeidately and said, "Alfred, we don't have a bye." He said, "Yeah, you have one the last week." I said, "We're playing 12 straight weeks. So, we have no bye." There's two teams that didn't. Somebody else had a bye the first week and they played 12 straight. (North Texas, which started 0-7 and is now 1-10).

If you stay healthy and you get on a roll, you don't mind, you go. But even then you have to be smart, you have to be careful how you practice and everything else.

Q: What did you have to change in the offense and defense to accommodate your situation?

A: Everything, honestly. Offensively, when you lose guards and you've got young guys in there, you limit your protections, you limit some of the run schemes you do. We had a lot of stuff we wanted to do that we did in training camp and spring ball and we just said, "It's too much. We can't do it. With all the adjustments you have to make and different fronts that you see, it's just too much for these guys." So, we really had to simplify what we're doing.

When Griner went out, that had an effect. We're such a two-tight end-oriented offense. We were that 70 percent of the time when those two guys were healthy, especially on first or second down. If we weren't that, we were one tight end. We always had at least one. We even had a three-tight end package that we did earlier in the year, that we worked hard on in training camp. That went out the window quickly.

When Jonnu went down and we've got Akil Dan-Fodio...he did a tremendous job for us. He did the best he could. But, he was out of his element. He's more a F motion guy, put him in the slot, block backside, that sort of stuff. All of a sudden, he's at the point of attack trying to block and that's not his strength. So we had to limit what we could call -- "we like this, but we don't have the tight end to do this. It's not his strength." It's unfair to ask people to do something they're not capable of doing. It really affected what we had in the game plan and, on game day, what we called.

Same thing defensively. With our safety situation, our linebacker situation. We've got Jephete in there, like you said, new in the system. Davison (Colimon) out, who had great experience. We could make a lot of adjustments and do some things with him. He was our best blitzer probably. Missed the whole year, basically (hurt in the first game).

Then, it has a trickle down effect to special teams. All of a sudden, you've got guys playing and somebody else has to take their place on special teams. You've got to watch their reps. It's the culmination of everything. It takes its toll.

Everybody has injuries. But I've never seen anything like this. Going into the last game, we had 27 guys that were either starters or were going to play a lot miss games. Sixteen of them missed four games or more. Several of them were season-ending. If you total those games up, it was 138 games by guys who are going to play a lot. Budwig, 12. Shemarke Spence, 12. Davison Colimon, whatever the number. I don't know anybody that can lose four guards, four safeties, two linebackers and two tight ends and go play. Nobody. I don't care what school. I don't care if you're Alabama, to lose that many and not have a huge dropoff.

For us to be playing game No. 12, to get win No. 6, to me, it's a credit to those guys. I told them that (Tuesday). I was disappointed in the season, in teh results, in the finish, but not disapointed in you guys. Alex McGough was in here. We talked for 45 minutes. He didn't play very well the last two games as he admitted. He goes, "To be honest with you, the frustration built up and I was trying to do too much."

I told him, "you know what Alex, I found myself trying to do some things we weren't capable of doing. Trying to make some calls we probably weren't capable of doing because I'm trying to make a play." I'd love to have some of those calls back. With our normal team in there? Yes, it would've been great. I said it minimized what we did, but there were times I tried to do it anyway. And, it didn't work because we weren't capable of doing it. It's not fair to the players to ask them to do something they can't.

Eventually, I think it took its toll on everybody. But I never heard one guy complain about it. I was sitting here talking to (redshirt junior defensive tackle) Imarjaye Albury today and I was telling him about some of the injuries. He said, "Wow, I didn't realize that." I said, "You didn't realize our top four guards were out, top two out for the year, basically?" He said, "No. I knew Jonnu (was out)." I said, "You didn't realize our top four safeties were out? Three of them for the entire season?" He said, "No, not really."

(Freshman safety) Tyree Johnson goes in and, again, he's going to be a really good player. But he shouldn't have been playing. But those guys didn't know. I guess that's why they didn't complain about it!

Q: Why did the run defense just fall apart?

A: As the season went on, I think we got worn down. We didn't have our main linebackers in there. I think it took its toll. We didn't have our top safeties in there. In our defense, safeties are huge in run support.

Like most people, you play quarters coverage, they're the run support guys. The corners play outside, we had two good corners. It affected how we played. We couldn't get the safeties down involved as much as we wanted because they just weren't ready for it. So we couldn't press the corners and challenge out there as much as we wanted. Our safeties were inexperienced. When they did feel for the run, it wasn't always exactly where they should be. And they were young. They weren't as physical. No fault to them, they gave everything they had. So, we had to watch what our calls were and couldn't get them as involved as we wanted to.

And I think we got worn down. Too many reps, guys playing too many plays. And the last two weeks, we played the two best teams in the conference (Marshall and Western Kentucky). Very physical offensive lines that were senior dominated. Last week, that was the most physical line in the conference. We played two really good teams.

Q: What happened to (sophomore wide receiver) Thomas Owens the second half of the year?

A: Teams started to press him more, play him a little differently, get a safety over the top at times. Protection-wise, we got against better teams, we had to get the ball out quicker. I think Alex got frustrated, a combination of things. We just weren't able to get the plays to him. We tried. We tried going to him and making plays. We just struggled sometimes beating press man coverage. That takes a little longer to get open. His strength is not his speed, his strength is being physical, going up and battling for the ball and yards after the catch. He's a strong runner afterwards.

You catch a touchdown pass in six straight games, they're going to realize that, too. They're going to put a safety over the top and do some things that make you look to the other side. Especially when Jonnu went down. Once Jonnu and Griner went down, we didn't have that inside threat. When Jonnu wasn't as productive earlier in the year and people were saying, "Why isn't he as productive as he was last year?" I said, "Well, they're playing him. They're doing things to take him away." All of a sudden, T.O. starts making plays and Griner starts making plays and we're running the ball, it opens up Jonnu. Well, when Jonnu's not in there and Griner's not in there, they can do things to take away T.O."

(Part II in transcription)


November 22, 2015

A few thoughts on Western Kentucky 63, FIU 7



Westminster Christian wide receiver Elbre "Tony" Gaiter IV, son of former Killian All-Dade player and Hurricanes player Tony Gaiter, has committed to FIU, according to 247sports.com and Scout.com. The former didn't have him rated. The latter had him rated at three stars. Gaiter caught 28 passes for 479 yards (17.1 per catch) and nine touchdowns this season. He ran seven times for 78 yards and three touchdowns.

Let's take care of two things that aren't happening...

1. FIU dropping football or dropping to FCS. Anybody suggesting this should happen based on the results of the last few seasons or attendance reveals himself or herself to be a whiny baby who needs the Entitlement Pacifier taken away. FIU's had some truly awful years, a couple of good years and a bunch of losing seasons that run together. Your actual in-house attendance fluctuates congruently before applying other factors (noon start, lousy weather, etc.). Welcome to life as an FBS college football program that's not a traditional power.

In case you haven't noticed, schools don't tend to move from FB0 to FCS. You went 5-7 by beating some weak sisters. Again, welcome to life as an FBS college football program that's not a traditional power.

2. FIU coach Ron Turner's not going anywhere. Look at athletic director Pete Garcia's situation. He doesn't have a new contract yet (but does have an attendance bonus of $8,393 coming from FIU's 15,381 average, 117th in the nation). Firing Turner after three seasons says "That guy I fired in December 2012? Big mistake." And that might as well be asking FIU to move on to a new athletic director. 

Has a 5-7 season ever had a more depressing end than Saturday without involving an ambulance? Lightning delays alternating with rain. Barely enough people to fill the Graham Center food court, much less La Cage. Western Kentucky scored on the second play from scrimmage and what turned out to be the last play from scrimmage (and a whole lot of plays in between).

There really isn't much to say when a team ends its season getting outscored 115-7 over its last two games. I'm not going to say the team quit. That's too harsh an insult. I will say they seemed to become disheartened and locked into bad patterns (and I'm not even talking about the 4-yard bubble screens).

Injuries hurt the defense, especially the safety positions. The loss of middle linebacker Treyvon Williams, one of the defense's two batteries along with outside linebacker Anthony Wint, unplugged the defense. But so did flat play by some from whom more was expected and a soft concept.

When you like to run a lot of double tight end sets and two of the most productive tight ends in the country go down for the last four games, it hurts. Period. That's not a position of depth at many Power 5 conference teams, much less G5 teams. The inexperienced, banged up offensive line never got together. Also damaging was cautious play calling and inscrutable personnel deployment.

I'll have more later and expect to talk to Turner this week at length about the season.

November 08, 2015

A few thoughts on FIU 48, Charlotte 31 (and other observations)


Volleyball -- Sunday vs. North Texas, 1 p.m. (Senior Day)

Women's Basketball -- Friday vs. Florida A&M, 5 p.m.

Men's Basketball -- Friday vs. Trinity Baptist, 7 p.m. (probably more like 7:20).

Newsy day at Worlds Ahead.

I know it's a beautiful day as well as an NFL Sunday. But it's also Senior Day for volleyball, which could go a long way to wrapping up a spot in the Conference USA tournament by beating North Texas today. Seniors Lucia Castro, Gloria Levorin, Jovanna Santamaria, Adrianna McLamb will get some final love on the FIU Arena court.

Men's soccer lost to CUSA regular season champion Kentucky 1-0 to finish the regular season. That's not the news. That's everybody's score against Kentucky. The blue-clad Wildcats apparently not only dress like the Azzurri, but also employ the same brand of negative soccer that makes the Italian national team every World Cup's least favorite side. No, the real news is FIU opens the Conference USA tournament as the No. 5 seed, Wednesday, against Old Dominion. If the Panthers repeat their regular season win against ODU, they'll get a second shot at Kentucky in the second round.

I'll just lay this here and let it go: the Conference USA All-Academic team member from last year's basketball team who got popped last night on a felony charge of strong arm robbery and marijuana possession (is that still a crime?), Kris Gulley, was working on his masters at FIU in criminal justice. Gulley's out on a $500 bond.

 And I'm going to pour out a little in remembrance of swimming & diving's dual meet streak. Their streak of 13 straight dual meets ended Saturday when Illinois came back to take out FIU 197-174. Illinois took first and second in 100 freestyle, 100 breaststroke, 100 butterfly and swept the podium in the 400 individual medley. FIU sophomore diver Rebecca Quesnel took both springboards, 1-meter and 3-meter.

So the swim meet cost FIU it's streak and the football team half the student section at Saturday's game.

To recap, for those of you doing something else Saturday...There were approximately 300 people in the stands for the noon kickoff demanded by American Sports Network and, yes, I counted. Less than five minutes into the game, ASN's generator, apparently purchased from the same ACME company that provided equipment to Wile E. Coyote, blew up thus putting the truck out of action. Truck down, broadcast down. Replays down until the replay booth got access to the coaches cameras.

(After the broadcast came back up, there was another problem when a replay booth-ASN feed reunion was attempted.)

For the rest of the first half until about halfway through the third quarter, the nation -- or the nation's bettors who lowered the line from FIU by 19 to FIU by 17 -- might as well have been back in 1935 when it came to Charlotte-FIU. Strictly radio. And, well, Twitter. Meanwhile, a few other people wandered by FIU Stadium. They didn't come from the dorms. Take out the band and the student section wouldn't fill one of the FIU Arena classrooms.

On the field, what happened was what should've been expected. Well, aside from freshman Kenyatta Anderson making FIU's first blocked punt touchdown since 2008. Otherwise, FIU scored a third quarter KO with sophomore safety Niko Gonzalez's interception return. Nice to see Gonzalez enjoy a big play after an often tough season of stingers, burns and a kind-of-concussion.

Linebacker Vontarius West went out with an injury early in the game. Freshman defensive end Fermin Silva returned from injury. He'll probably get more snaps next week with Michael Wakefield probably out for the first half against Marshall after he bopped Charlotte quarterback Matt Johnson.

Let's talk about that play. Start with why the first stringers remained in the game with seven minutes left, a 24-point lead, a banged up team and a huge game next week at Marshall. Jonnu Smith's missed the last two games after getting hurt against Old Dominion, probably late in the game considering his season-high production that night. The starters stayed in far longer than they should have against UTEP. That's supposed to be the beauty of college blowouts. Get your key players out of there, and get backups some reps to build depth.

The play happened in front of the press box. At regular speed, I thought, borderline late hit back in the day, it'll get a flag these days. Unnecessary at this point in the game. A hard hit that Johnson sold a bit. He didn't move until the flag fell, then rocked, rose and seemed to exchange pleasant words with Wakefield. All the replays on the broadcast didn't convince me either way on the quality of the call.

Running back Devon Johnson didn't play Saturday against Middle Tennessee State. Marshall's lost two Conference USA games the last two years. Johnson, who crushed FIU last season, didn't play in either one of them. There's a direct correlation. And the Huntington Herald-Dispatch reports Johnson might be out for the season with a back injury.

November 04, 2015

Questions & Trujillo & Veksler


Volleyball -- Friday vs. Western Kentucky, 1 p.m.

Swimming & Diving -- Friday vs. Illinois, 5 p.m.

Swimming & Diving -- Saturday vs. Illinois, 11 a.m.

Football -- Saturday vs. Charlotte, noon

Volleyball -- Sunday vs. North Texas, 1 p.m.

Q: What's up with junior tight end Jonnu Smith?

A: FIU coach Ron Turner called Smith day-to-day. Smith was padless with a brace around the left knee. Didn't look day-to-day unless those days were today and a week from Saturday.

Q: Any other injury updates?

A: Freshman running back/wide receiver Anthony Jones will be back, and maybe fifth-year senior running back Anthon Samuel. Turner hated having to overuse Alex Gardner, who played every offensive snap Saturday then faced the media, visibly hurt by the loss

Q: Is Juwan Caesar ever going to see the field?

A: He's got three games left before his college career finishes without taking the field. He seems to want to play on whatever's wrong with his knee. Why not try him, especially when they're unhappy with Thomas Owens as they were last Saturday?

FIU played "Ask Rosenberg" on Twitter Tuesday night. As this is a sports blog, we'll stick to the sports questions I saw. Quoting the questions and answers without commentary on either.

Q: When will our football team get a better coaching staff? Our football program is not getting any better.

A: We appreciate fan support. Our coaches are hard working and committed.

Q: Are there any plans to expand athletic facilities? For example, a future natural grass practice field.

A: Facilities improvement is an ongoing imperative.

Q: Are there any plans to expand and improve FIU Stadium? Better concessions and perhaps an upper bowl for the stadium?

A: (No answer)

Q: FIU football disaster. So r other FIU Athletics teams. Facilities & fan support are a joke. Why is Pete Garcia still employed?

A: (No answer)

Q: When is Cheerleading at FIU going to receive the same benefits as other athletes on campus?

A: I appreciate what our cheerleaders do to build the school and want the best possible conditions for them.

Q: 1st -- I'm a huge fan! 2nd -- why is Pete Garcia still at FIU. As an alum, it hurts to support when he is in charge.

A: (No answer)

Q: Hope to see you at the game Saturday afternoon

A: Absolutely, go FIU.

Q: let me know when and where :)

A: Give me your contact info and I will get you that information.


Junior goalkeeper Sophia Trujillo and her 4.0 in sports and fitness studies made the Conference USA All-Academic team.


Freshman Maryna Veksler went 10-2 in singles matches during October and won the ITA Southeast Regional Consolation Bracket.

For this, Veksler was named Conference USA Women's Tennis Athlete of the Month.




November 01, 2015

A few thoughts on FAU 31, FIU 17

When you get emotionally overwhelmed in your rivalry game, do you deserve to go to a bowl?

Not blown out, understand. Although, really, FIU was in Saturday's loss only as long as it took FAU to answer the Panthers' second half epic journey to a field goal with epic journey to a touchdown and 24-10 lead. Other than that 8:04 drive, the Panthers were a prop in FAU's Saturday afternoon movie.

Blowouts happen in rivalries. And I don't default to "desire" and "want-to" when a team takes a butt kicking. Sometimes, the other team brings more talent, is better coached and have their own "desire" and "want-to." But Saturday, I saw FIU get overwhelmed not by talent, which the Panthers have more of in developed form; not by coaching in the strategic or fundamentals sense; but by the Owls being ready to make a high emotional and mental investment in beating the stew out of FIU.

That FIU wasn't able to match that falls on players and coaches. Afterwards, FIU coach Ron Turner said he could see it coming in warmups. Turner didn't say what he did to address it. What I wrote in this space after the Louisiana Tech game holds: if a college team isn't ready to play, the biggest finger gets pointed at the coaching staff. That said, that's not a much bigger finger than the one to point at players who couldn't get amped or focused for perhaps the most pivotal game of the year.

While FAU's pass rush has been a strength of its defense, No. 1 in Conference USA now, there's good and there's the-last-day-of-school look that accompanied almost every FIU dropback Saturday. FIU's pass protection got overrun. Give the Owls credit for doing their homework -- they smelled out every FIU screen, ignored the fake handoff on every play action pass. So little that slows a pass rush helped FIU deal with the stampede.

Sophomore quarterback Alex McGeough took a beating. He walked out stiffly with a modified Frankenstein's monster gait. In addition to the seven sacks, he caught some heavy shots after throwing. He turned tentative Saturday and held the ball too long on a few occasions, something he hasn't done much this season. Junior tight end Jonnu Smith's sprained left knee took his familiarity and ability to draw attention away from McGeough. And McGeough didn't seem to have the confidence in other receivers to try to throw them open or give them a chance to make a play. 

On other side of the ball, FAU clearly saw how much trouble the Panthers had against Old Dominion covering the check down guy. That's when the Owls weren't plowing FIU under in a similar manner to the way Middle Tennessee did. FIU's allowed 225.4 yards rushing per game and 5.3 per carry in its five conference games. Do you know how many CUSA teams give up more in each category? One -- North Texas, which got its first win Saturday.

Linked to that statistic is FIU also being next to last in sacks. If you get run on, teams don't have to pass as often and the play action game slows down your pass rush. So, you get fewer sacks, which produces no drag on your rushing defense numbers. FIU got little push Saturday, even in obvious passing situations. Starting defensive tackle Imarjaye Albury being out didn't help, but that's life.

Oh, and when FIU had a prime chance for a drive-ending sack, blitzing cornerback Jeremiah McKinnon jumped to rodeo ride FAU quarterback Jason Driskel. Driskel proved too smart a bronco, ducking his torso to send McKinnon slipping off before completing an 18-yard pass. The play came back on an FAU penalty, but a third down sack would've meant declining the penalty (if FIU had any sense) and forcing a punt. Instead, FAU hit a third and 17 bubble screen to Henry Bussey for 21 yards. Instead of a punt, FAU continued on its second touchdown drive.

(Hint to young players: when you blindside a quarterback, go for the mid-torso to lower back. A surer tackle and often jerks the body forward, causing a fumble).

Back to the run defense's failures in conference play...is it the erratic play of the defensive line? Is it FIU being down two linebackers most of the season? That's where FIU's losses to Middle Tennessee State and FAU began. 

You can't accuse these Conference USA officials of calling the game with an eye on the bowls. FIU got five penalties, FAU got six. The third quarter Trey Rodriguez fumble recovered by FIU that went to review looked like a fumble to everyone in the press box from both schools who saw the video during the review. FIU would've gotten the ball near midfield down 17-10. Instead, the zebras deemed the call on the field confirmed. Later that drive, the press box murmured in surprise again as an egregious hold at the point of attack allowed FAU quarterback Jaquez Johnson to rumble around the left side on fourth down. 

Shrug your shoulders at it. It all added up to a fair result. FAU deserved at least a two-touchdown win. And get used to some of those FAU names. You'll be worrying about them for a while. 

October 28, 2015

Hump Day at The Cage

Newsy Nugget Wednesday out at Camp Mitch, specifically FIU Stadium.

The folks at the John Mackey Award, the award for the nation's best tight end, named after the baddest tight end of the 1960s and 1970s, named junior Jonnu Smith their National Tight End of the Week after 10 catches for 183 yards and two touchdowns against Old Dominion. FIU coach Ron Turner said Smith's numbers jumped once defenses had to deal with sophomore wide receiver Thomas Owens or sophomore running back Alex Gardner or senior tight end Ya"Keem Griner in addition to Smith. 

FIU coach Ron Turner insisted backup running back Anthon Samuel would be ready to go Saturday, though Samuel still wore a walking boot on his left foot. Running back Silas Spearman III continued to work as a safety with the defense. After practice, backup quarterback Trey Anderson runs patterns as a wide receiver in 7-on-7s while the freshmen Alexanders, Christian and Maurice, take reps at quarterback.

Meanwhile, inside The Stadium Club, Miami FC officially announced it would join the revived North American Soccer League and begin play in 2016 at FIU Stadium.

At a presser attended by FIU president Mark Rosenberg and athletic director Pete Garcia, Garcia announced Miami FC owner Ricardo Silva ponied up a $450,000 gift to FIU's athletic department. My first thought after "whoa!" was "I want to see that lease."

Which Garcia put in my nail-picked fingers less than two minutes after I asked.

Length: Three years with a two-year Miami FC option. That three years coincides with the possible debut of David Beckham's MLS team. Miami FC's folks say they think this can be a two-team county. Maybe they're right, if they market themselves as the cheaper, more family-friendly option to MLS (and more accessible to family-heavy suburbia). Or, maybe there's a part of them that's betting Miami politics does what Miami politics does and the MLS team never achieves birth. If they're wrong and things don't look good, they don't have to exercise the option.

Rent: $10,000 per game, FIU's standard rate, plus $2,500 if visiting teams want to use the field for practice. Miami FC will pay the operational costs for each game. Despite the preference of grass over artificial turf, the fake stuff stays down for soccer.

Tickets: FIU gets $2 per ticket. Miami FC hopes for 10,000 per game. Let's say they get 4,000, which I think would be a tremendous number. That's $8,000 per game for FIU.

Concessions: What FIU would normally get from the concessionaires goes to Miami FC.

Parking: Miami FC gets it.

Miami FC will set aside some internships for FIU students.

So, FIU's walking out of this with a $450,000 one time chunk, about $150,000 per year in rent for three years and $2 per ticket for three years. Could do worse.





October 25, 2015

A few thoughts on FIU 41, Old Dominion 12

Before we get started with Saturday night, let us say the biggest, season-turning football game in town Sunday at 1 p.m. is at FIU.

I didn't say American football.

Women's soccer went into last weekend with a chance to clinch a berth in the Conference USA tournament FIU will host in just over a week. A pair of 1-0 losses to Western Kentucky and Marshall leave the 8-9 Panthers at 4-4 in conference play and in danger of missing the tournament again. There's 10 teams still in realistic contention for eight spots.

FIU needs a result, as the soccer folks like to say, today against FAU on Senior Day. That's where I'd be if I wasn't part of The Herald's army at the other 1 p.m. game in town, the site of the first college-affiliated football rout in town Saturday.

As for the second...some electronic dap to football coach Ron Turner.

Football coaches can be downright dogmatic about following game plans and flat out scared kittens when faced with the possibility of risk. They tend to shy from the instinctive move, partially because there's rarely an easy explanation of it. Taking chances and following instincts guarantees you'll be second guessed if the concept fails. They don't like to be second-guessed and when, faced with the second guess, they want a Serena Williams second serve return -- a swift, powerful answer that gives them the point. 

There's no way FIU went into Saturday's game against Old Dominion planning to run the ball only 33 times with three of those being sacks. There's no way the Panthers didn't anticipate having more than 94 yards rushing (119 yards Real Rushing, subtracting sacks). This is a team with a defense treated like a possum on I-95 by most of its opponents this year, a defense FIU moved out of the way for 256 yards on the ground last year.

Turner said they went into the game seeking balance. But, early on, sophomore quarterback Alex McGough's Accuracy Pills kicked in (even aside from the interminable bubble screens), while FIU's running game apparently got stuck in traffic near an quinceanera hall. So, Turner put the offense on McGough's shoulders even more than normal and he responded with 31 of 39 (with a few drops) for 390 yards and three touchdowns. 

Should it be disconcerting that FIU, for the second straight week, twice failed badly in red zone short yardage situations and had to work way too hard to get the last yards on two drives that ended with 1-yard touchdowns? Unquestionably. Against a team better than Old Dominion (say, Middle Tennessee State) that can cost you the game.

On both those failures and the touchdown that put FIU up 14-0, Turner eschewed the field goal out of instinct:

 "It was a feel thing. The reason we went for it on both those fourth downs in the red zone -- and I told the defense this -- is I had a lot of confidence we could stop them. The first one, I said 'If we stop them here, we get great field position. They've got to punt it to Richard. We'll have great field position. We'll take it in and score.' We didn't make it, they punted to Richard and we went down and scored. It was faith I had in our offense to make it, No. 1, and then our defense to get us a stop and give us good field position." 

Let's be clear, I disagreed with both decisions, though the first worked exactly as Turner hoped. On the second drive of the game, after you've already scored a touchdown on the first, especially if you're up 7-0, I believe in taking the points as a psychological punch to your opponent. They don't know yet that they can stop you from scoring on any given drive. Also, coaches tend to get more nervous than a Bob in a biker bar down 10-0.

My thoughts on the second decision, with FIU up 27-12, were stated on Twitter Saturday night: stupid. Take the points, go up three scores with 4:55 left in the third, force Old Dominion away from the run. Don't stay within two big plays of a team that's blown up on you already for touchdown runs of 57 and 75 yards. When the Monarchs moved the ball Saturday, it wasn't in nibbles and bites. It was in chomps.

(I'm not saying Turner is stupid. I'm saying that was a stupid decision. Among the top three sentences my daughter has heard from me in her 10 years is "Sometimes, smart people do stupid things.")

Alex McGough's 1-yard quarterback sneak, the 14-0 touchdown, was into the end zone in front of the press box. Most of us in the press box and a few people on the field heard a whistle before the snap. Weird.

Turner could rely on a big Richard Leonard return. That's what Leonard's done the last few weeks -- 24.3 yards per punt return the last three games, 49.2 on kickoff returns. The creases not there before still aren't there -- they're gaps, evident early.

"We had some young guys in there," Turner said. "They're starting to understand more angles and where to be. They're giving him an opportunity. You give him an opportunity, the first guy's not going to tackle him. He gets by the first guy, they're doing a good job of giving him seams."

Big ups to the defensive line. They got rolled by Middle. Saturday, they stuffed Old Dominion bowling ball Ray Lawry on a do-it-or-don't play at the end of the first half from the 1. Different game if he scores there, then Pascal opens the second half with his 75 yard run to put the Monarchs in front.

Defensive tackle Leonard Washington would've taken the fumble all the way back 74 yards if one more teammate escorting him had thrown a block instead of started celebrating the Big Man Touchdown early. The last time he had a football in his hand on the field, Washington said, he took a fumble back all the way for New Orleans Carr High.

Like anybody else with a heart, I love to see the big guys grab the ball and run for glory.

October 21, 2015

Cubs Win! Cubs Win! (so predicts Ron Turner)

Football coach Ron Turner, who did two turns as Chicago Bears offensive coordinator and one stretch as University of Illinois head coach, insisted after Tuesday's practice that the Chicago Cubs would win the National League Championship Series. Turner insisted I put it on the blog as he left to go Tweet it out.

So there's the big news out of Wednesday's football practice. That and quarterback Alex McGough being allowed to talk to Pete Pelegrin for some FIU in-house produced content. It's McGough's first chat with the media, aside from home postgame sessions, since the season started.

A relaxed mood predominated. Some of the players got into an argument over which recruiting class was the best. Certainly, it depends on whether you're talking production or star rating.


Just as the men's soccer program joined Conference USA during FIU's Sun Belt era because the Fun Belt didn't sanction men's soccer, beach volleyball (nee sand volleyball) is now part of the Coastal Collegiate Sports Association with Florida State; LSU; South Carolina; Tulane; FAU; UAB; and Georgia State.

October 20, 2015

Tuesday Foot Break (or Sprain) and Other Hits


According to head football coach in charge Ron Turner, senior tight end Ya'Keem Griner is "day-to-day" with a foot injury. I saw Griner getting off the field on crutches and in the boot. I never like seeing the boot.

The boot tends to be bad. Foot injuries tend to be very bad. That's too bad as Griner's having a career year with 21 receptions for 225 yards and two touchdowns.

At least junior linebacker Treyvon Williams appeared to be off his crutches, but not in pads.

The guy throwing to Griner, sophomore quarterback Alex McGough, can claim to be having a pretty good season.

Granted FIU's passing game dines mostly at the Woolworth Five & Dime lunch counter (yards per completion 11th out of 13 Conference USA teams), but McGough's thrown 14 touchdowns and 1,659 yards, but with only three interceptions. And one of the interceptions was a desperation fourth down, game situation heave against Indiana. He's gotten lucky on some near-picks, but every quarterback does. You can tell a quarterback's maturing when he reduces his interceptions and near-interceptions via forced throws. 

Here's a fun discussion. McGough has a sophomore No. 1 running back in Alex Gardner and a sophomore No. 1 wide receiver in Thomas Owens, both of whom are good players at the G5 level. They're better at what they do than most of their competition. But give McGough the advantages over opponents at those positions that Florida State's Everett Golson can call upon or the Hurricanes' Brad Kaaya enjoys and what do McGough's numbers look like? How much better would FIU be -- if at all -- with Golson or Kaaya?

I'd love to do a story on McGough's season. That would require talking to McGough in something other than a postgame situation. Each media request, even by the radio broadcast team, to talk to McGough during the week once the season started has been Dikembe Mutumbo'd by Turner. I guess that's about protection or keeping the young man's head from getting too big or something.

That makes about as much sense as finally joining the rest of Division I/FBS college sports and hiring a dedicated video coordinator, then leaving him at home on two football road trips because there's not enough space on the plane. FIU did that to video coordinator Brian Duval again last weekend.

Then again, maybe actual professional videos focused on sporting events aren't what moves needles around FIU.   


October 18, 2015

A few thoughts on Middle Tennessee 42, FIU 34 (and teams that won)

FIU men's soccer (8-4, 3-2) upset No. 9 Old Dominion tonight, which might move them back into the Top 25. It's also a Conference USA men's soccer win. Considering all the ranked teams, previously ranked teams and almost ranked teams in the conference, that's almost the Willy Wonka gold ticket of Conference USA sports. That's harder to get than a straight answer on why the new softball locker rooms that weren't to be impacted by the money spent on Miss Universe aren't done (or, even started).

Pool problems up at the BBC forced Swim & Dive to summon FAU and the University of Miami down to Gulliver Prep to take their butt-kickings in Saturday's portion of Dual-A-Palooza. The final counts were 138-62 over FAU and 122-83 over the Hurricanes. Bet on sophomore Kyna Periera to be CUSA Swimmer of the Week and possibly to appear in the first College Football Playoff rankings after finishing in nothing but first in the eight events she swam over the two days.

Meanwhile, up here in Murfreesboro, FIU and Middle Tennessee State football did some strange things with each other. Not freaky amateur webcam strange. Buut "Do what?" strange.

I'm too tired and full of Arby's to organize my thoughts and I've got to get up to cover Man Campbell's coaching debut tomorrow. So, I think I'm going to do that Old Man-Don't Give a Ham thing where I just throw down my thoughts randomly as they come. I'll try to keep them in chronological order.

*FIU's second drive shows why you hustle out every play. When Richard Leonard picked off Middle quarterback Brent Stockstill's first throw, everybody watching thought "touchdown." Leonard had picked off a cross field 10-yard pass -- the first and last Middle would ask Stockstill to throw Saturday -- with a clear track to the end zone. Stockstill got on his horse and knocked out Leonard at the 1. FIU got nowhere with two line plunges, then ran a terribly thrown fade to Ya'Keem Griner, one of Alex McGough's few truly bad passes. The throw hit the defender in the back. Griner never had a chance to make a play. Anyway, FIU field goal instead of what seemed a sure touchdown. And you just knew this was going to be the kind of game where both sides would need every point they could muster.

*You won't score every time you reach the 2-yard-line with downs in your pocket. But you can't go two for four as FIU did Saturday.

I heard the late Jim Mandich (a good football player, better person) say one day in that distinctive voice, "A coach of mine once told me in ev-er-y game there will come a time when you have to gain 1 yard." FIU didn't get that yard. Or 2. I know Middle puts a pair of 6-1, 318-pound wide loads, fifth-year senior Patrick McNeil and redshirt junior Shaquille Huff, in the defensive tackle slots and dares you to move them. Maybe you can't. What you really can't do is fail twice and settle for field goals. That's eight points left on the table. What was the final score again?

*Wide receiver Shawn Abrams was on the trip. I couldn't help but think as FIU failed on that first drive then later on first and goal from the 2, uh, how about putting the 6-4 guy with the shelf grabber reach in and throwing him a fade? FIU tried it last week and McGough threw a terrible pass that almost got picked. But that's no reason not to try it this week.

*Speaking of guys whose usage seemed questionable, Ron Turner talked in the preseason about getting freshman Anthony Jones the ball. And, a couple of times a game, you see FIU put Jones in to run a jet sweep or bubble screen to try to get him the ball in space. Then, unless the game's already decided, he gets called back to the sidelines and stored the way Barney Fife stored the one bullet he was allowed to have. Old Person pop culture reference but appropriate because FIU uses Jones in a series of one shots. Saturday, he had three carries, two of them when FIU trailed 35-19 and the offensive line was getting less movement than public records requests get in Rick Scott's office. "Special player" doesn't mean you use him only in special situations. Jones needs to be used more. Throw him the bubble screen on third and long and have the tight end or bigger wide receiver block instead of throwing it to the wide receiver or tight end and hope they can break tackles.

*Or just not drop the ball. McGough threw the ball well Saturday. For 51 passes, there weren't many bad throws or bad decisions. Unfortunately, his receivers fought the ball and the ball won often enough to be a problem. McGough had a lovely, perfect deep ball dropped for the second consecutive week among the many (six? seven?) drops Saturday.

*Thomas Owens makes nice adjustments when McGough's in trouble.

*And what's up with the timeout before the two-point conversion? FIU trailed 35-19 in the fourth quarter, so you know you're going for two if you get into the end zone. You have (or should have) a set of two-point conversion plays. You've had three quarters to see what's working and what's not. And you waste one of three valuable time stoppers to discuss?

I'm of the John Madden school on timeouts -- timeouts are too valuable to waste just on a little uncertainty or avoiding a delay of game penalty.

*Turner said after the game that Middle had "the best secondary in the conference, by far" and "they've got as good a defense as we'll see in this conference." Middle did allow only 4.3 yards per play, an averaged helped by FIU's troubles getting the ball over once inside the 5-yard line. Otherwise, I'm calling Coachspeak -- the Panthers moved the ball pretty well most of the day and, despite leaving at least nine points on the field, scored 34 points with two turnovers' help. That's the week after Western put up 58 on Middle.

*The Blue Raiders always seem to find running backs. Injuries to their top two running backs meant Jeremiah Bryson started. Bryson was arrested and accused of instigating a fight between his baby mama and his current woman; providing transportation to the brawl for the current female; and participating in that brawl. Oh, and being a deadbeat dad. Down two running backs, Middle coach Rick Stockstill graciously decided to withhold any punitive measures on Bryson.

Bryson went out with a shoulder injury, leaving freshman Desmond Anderson out of Spartanburg Broome High School to carry the load. He went Ed Podolak on FIU, running for 144 and adding 102 yards on kickoff returns. Anderson ran hard, but many plays he didn't make serious contact with anybody until he was 5 to 7 yards downfield.

FIU got shoved aside in the front seven, particularly the defensive left side. And, for the first time since last year's loss to Marshall, FIU went sackless. Yes, most of Stockstill's completions were off quick throws that that get the ball out too fast for even an unblocked rusher. Still, he got protected like a teenage daughter when he really needed time for downfield throws.

*FIU's gotten their return game going the last two weeks. Middle came in allowing 20.96 yards per kickoff return. Saturday, the Panthers averaged 31.7 yards per runback and that includes two short returns by Clinton Taylor off squibs.

*Did Middle safety Quay Watt talk about some official's mama or something? He took three major penalties. The first, a late hit call on Jonnu Smith as Smith strode up the sideline, was even worse than the one at UMass called on Jephete Matilus. Showing the inconsistency, Smith had just left the field of play by maybe a half stride before Watt hit him. But a few drives later, an FIU player gots tackled halfway into the bench...no call. Nice consistency.

Watt also got rung up on a pass interference when Jonnu Smith turned and ran into him as a McGough deep pass sailed over their heads. Now, when it came to the pass interference/holding in the end zone, Watt clearly did all that.

On to next week.  


October 17, 2015

Gameday VII: Stuck in the Middle with Blue; Saturday Swim Dual-a-Palooza moved


Today's last two FIU meets in Dual-A-Palooza, FIU vs. FAU at 10 a.m. and FIU vs. Hurricanes at 3 p.m., have been moved from the Biscayne Bay campus to Gulliver Prep, 6575 Kendall Drive, in the lovely suburb of Pinecrest.

Pool malfunction, says an FIU source. Will it be fixed by the next home meet, Nov. 6 and 7 vs. Illinois? "Hope so."

Anyway, when I talked to FIU swim & dive coach Randy Horner last week, he downplayed the significance of Friday's meet against Conference USA's second best swim team, Rice. Some of the events aren't regulation NCAA events, it's early in the season, etc.

Bet Horner still puts that 133-90 win against Rice, however, with the other feelgood wins on the shelf. On the FIU whole, that almost balances out women's soccer losing 1-0 in double overtime to Western Kentucky and volleyball losing in 3-2 (21-25, 25-21, 11-25, 25-17, 15-8) to Southern Mississippi.

Now, then...

Middle’s first two Conference USA seasons, the Blue Raiders averaged 240.1 rushing yards per conference game. Bunches of running backs coming into the game to steadily move the ball in 4 to 8-yard cracks. Now, with head coach Rick Stockstill's son, Brent, at quarterback, they throw it for over 300 yards per game, 307.2 to be exact over their first six games. The run game's getting only 3.5 yards per crack, 3.9 under my Real Rushing stat, which discounts quarterback sacks.

That's why Middle's thrown 10 more passes than they've run, 21 more subtracting sacks and kneeldowns. That's also why FIU's most worried about wide receivers Ed'Marques Batties, a fifth-year senior, and redshirt freshman Richie James, each of whom has 49 receptions. Expect a bubble screen bath from Middle and the usual Lawrence Welk Show of bubbles and 5-yard Stop-and-Pops from FIU, too. Safe passes, get elusive or strong players in space and see what happens.

If FIU uses 6-5 senior wide receiver Juwan Caesar, it would make sense to use his big body not only as a chain mover, but a people mover. Run the edges to his side, run bubble screens with him making the 3-or-30 block (the block that determines whether the play goes 3 yards or 30 yards). When FIU’s run bubbles using sophomore wide receiver Dennis Turner or sophomore Thomas Owens as the blocker, you can see the play’s potential right before the block gets shed and the receiver upended. 

Middle’s defensive backs didn’t look good against Western. Yeah, I know, Western could make the Seahawks secondary look confused and pregnant. But tackling’s tackling. Or, rather, not tackling is not tackling, in the case of Middle. That's a problem when if you have to deal with El Dorados with acceleration like tight end Jonnu Smith, Ya'Keem Griner, Caesar and Thomas Owens.


As far as the defense Middle runs, FIU coach Ron Turner said, "Very similar to ours -- 4-3, quarters coverage, like a lot of people. They're fairly basic on first and second down, as most people are. But they've got a very good third down package that schematically presents a problem."

Middle's picked off 10 passes this season already. Could be some jumpy defensive backs, especially if they start to think they can time FIU's Stop-and-Pops. With some patience and time, quarterback Alex McGough could find himself with some receivers running relaxed through the secondary like a cigarette ad couple strolling by a country pond.


For what it's worth, this game’s at 11 a.m. Murfreesboro time. Middle looked sleepy for its 11 a.m. start against Western Kentucky last week. FIU had UTEP down for an afternoon nap by noon. Temperatures should be a little nippy for FIU, low 60s, but good football weather.

Both teams, on both sides of the ball, do their job in the red zone partially because both defend the run better than the pass. Both teams also have shown vulnerability to the big play. And I think we'll get several of those. As noted in today's advance story, things tend to get weird when FIU and Middle get together.

Middle's at home. Alabama, Vandy, Illinois and Western in-conference might make the Blue Boy Group a little more competition tempered than FIU. 

Middle Tennessee State 30, FIU 24.

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


October 13, 2015

Swimmer Gets CUSA Love; Tuesday Afternoon Football, Not Moody, No Blues


Swimming & Diving -- Friday vs. Rice, 4 p.m.

Swimming & Diving -- Saturday vs. FAU, 10 a.m.

Swimming & Diving -- Saturday vs. University of Miami, 4 p.m.

Men's Soccer -- Saturday vs. Old Dominion, 7 p.m.

Against North Florida last week, senior Jessica Chadwick won the 100 backstroke in 1:05.91, the 200 breaststorke in 2:22.63 and 200 individual medley in 2:07.85. That earned Chadwick her first Conference USA Swimmer of the Week award.


Not much to report other than the medical.

Of the three players who went down in the second half Saturday, freshman defensive end Fermin Silva looks the worst. He was on crutches Tuesday. FIU coach Ron Turner called him "questionable" for this week. Two redshirt freshmen, offensive lineman Chris Miller and defensive lineman Anthony Johnson, were in the Home Depot-colored injury jerseys, but in pads as were sophomore wide receiver Dennis Turner and senior tight end Ya'Keem Griner.

I wouldn't look for junior middle linebacker Treyvon Williams back any time soon. He still had his crutches. Redshirt junior safety Jordan Davis wasn't in pads. 

One of those sporting coincidences that FIU ran an old-fashioned option like you used to see out of an I-formation Saturday afternoon and Florida State did the same several hours later for the first time this season. FIU's wound up a 2-yard gain by quarterback Alex McGough. FSU's wound up a 72-yard touchdown by running back Dalvin Cook when Hurricanes defender Dion Bush blew his assignment to stay with the pitch man.

I thought it was the first time I saw FIU run that kind of option this season. 

"We've been running some of it off other action. We've had it in game plans before. totally their defense dictated that. And we didn't execute it very well -- Alex should've pitched it," Turner laughed. "It looked like we just put it in that week. We didn't."

Seeing those option runs caused a Fireman's Fund Flashback...


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.




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