April 20, 2012

Volleyball assistant gets a bump; Karaoke in the afternoon; Mayock loves T.Y.; Tennis pulls a Panthers

Trevor Theroulde, an FIU assistant coach for four seasons, has been promoted to head volleyball coach, the school announced Friday. Theroulde was head coach of Trinidad and Tobago's national team from 1995-2002. He's also been an assistant at Central Florida and Marshall.

BASEBALL TIMES

Saturday's baseball home game will start at 1 p.m. Presumably, Arkansas-Little Rock also has been informed. As fan karaoke -- with prizes -- will be on the non-game entertainment bill, UALR might wish they'd showed up at the originally scheduled time. 

T.Y. TALK

NFL Network's Mike Mayock, their scouting ace, spoke kindly of T.Y. Hilton when I brought up the wide receiver on a conference call Thursday:

"He's really an exciting player because he's one of those guys that's not just quick, but fast. He ran in the 4.30s on his pro day and very quick with the ball in hand and added value in the return game.

So, when you add all those things up, I think he's going to be a late two to a mid three. He's going to be a return specialist. He's dangerous with the ball in his hand. Some teams will look at him as a slot receiver because he's so darned quick but I don't think you can lump him in there and say he's just a slot and return specialist, because he also has long speed.

But give him a chance to earn a spot outside, because there's some value there, but ultimately, he's going to be, I think, one of the better inside receivers in the game along with a return specialist."

 WOMEN'S TENNIS

Over in the Panthers-Devils NHL playoff series, a 3-0 lead has been taken in each game. In Tuesday's Game 3, the Panthers came back with four unanswered goals for a 4-3 win. Friday, FIU's tennis team, getting whipped 3-0 by Troy, stormed back for a 4-3 match win that gets them a 9 a.m. Saturday court time with Middle Tennessee State.

Stormed might be appropraite, as the rains came Friday after Troy took the 3-0 lead. After a rain delay long enough to play What's Goin' On a few times ended, FIU's Sarah McLean routed Lyubov Dorofeeya 6-2, 6-2. Giuletta Boha then beat Rosaura Ramirez-Vega 6-3, 7-6. Christine Serendi tied the match with a 6-4, 6-4 win against Samya El-Hsissen.

Karyn Guttormsen and Candela Munoz decided the whole affair with, fittingly, a three-setter. Munoz took the first set 6-1, but Guttormsen answered by taking the final two sets 6-3, 6-4.

 

March 21, 2012

Hilton Pro Day Video (belatedly) & groundbreaking stuff

Sorry I've been away in Dolphinland since returning from Tampa, where I thought the FIU-South Florida Women's NIT game at the Campus Recreation Center would be preceded by a gym class playing Dodge Ball, Pinball or Prisoner's All. Much anger and dysfunction up in Davie.

I also just regained my camera, thus allowing me to post the video of T.Y. Hilton's Pro Day, albeit 12 days after I intended. 

 

  

  

 

This Friday at 3:15, the school will be holding a groundbreaking ceremony for the new north side of Alonso Field at FIU Stadium. Knowing how construction projects often go in Dade County, if they get this thing done on time, I think they should hold a serious party with hours of Afro-Cuban bongos, booty shaking and enough pork to beach the Steelers.

 

March 09, 2012

Hilton runs 4.36 at Friday's Pro Day

T.Y. Hilton began FIU's Pro Day this morning, attended by scouts or personnel men from all 32 NFL teams, by running an unofficial 4.4 (media timed) and a second 40 that FIU folks got at 4.36. Hilton didn't run at the NFL Scouting Combine because of a quad injury. More than the speed in shorts -- NFL teams have his football speed on tape -- he needed to show recovery from another minor injury.

Of the spring practice scrimmage that preceded the Pro Day, head coach Mario Cristobal said, ""The offense, at least the No. 2 offense, came out strong. The first team defense played especially well. They put a lot of pressure on the offense to perform and perform on third down. Not too many friendly third down sitatuions.

"The offseason as it should, has paid off a bunch. It's the smallest injury report we've ever had and we played hard. We played 100 plus plays today, not including special teams. I believe we had four penalties, which is still four too many, but in terms of a game, it's a little bit of an improvement."

"(Quarterback) Jake (Medlock) came out and did some good things. I thought (freshman quarterback E.J. Hilliard) really flashed today, made some big throws. Both (wide receivers) Glenn Coleman and Wayne Times took a couple of routine plays, made a guy miss and made the defense pay for it. That was against the (No. 2 defense). We had success against the ones as an offense as well, but not the same amount of success. We didn't bust that big play against that No. 1 defense. A little bit of that, too, is when you have guys like Richard Leonard and Jonathan Cyprien who can hunt down a guy after a tackle is missed. It makes a difference."

February 23, 2012

Beaupre, oui (again); rain dances; Taylor plays; spring flings

Going into this year's Sun Belt Swimming & Diving Championships, FIU sophomore Sabrina Beaupre counted as the most sure thing out of Quebec province since Mario Lemieux.

Favorite pays: on Wednesday's first day, Beaupre won her second consecutive 3-meter diving championship by breaking her own Sun Belt record of 304.8 points with 328.85 points. Had Beaupre merely tied her own record, she still would've won by 31.8 points. As it was, she won by 55.85, her score exceeding that of runner up, North Texas' Catherine Johnson, by over 20 percent. That's a blowout on the level of Secretariat (which was trained by a French-Canadian, Lucien Laurin, and ridden by a Canadian, Ron Turcotte.)

FIU's fourth in the team rankings after the first day with 90 points. North Texas' 110 points has them nine up on soon-to-be-WAC Denver and 12 up on Western Kentucky.

FIU's 800 freestyle relay (junior Kayla Derr, sophomore Sonia Perez Arau, senior Vicnan Torres, freshman Johanna Gustafsdottir) finished third in a school redor 7:18.62, and Derr's leadoff of 1:49.24 broke her own school record for the 200 free. Gustafsdottir also was part of a school-record 200 Medley Relay, with freshman Klara Anderson, senior Kariann Stevens and junior Kelly Grace. Their 1:43.38 got them fifth place.

Thursday will be the 500 free, 200 IM, 50 free and 200 free relay.

BASEBALL

Though the baseball team went 0-3 at Rice, their rain delay dance from last Friday's season opener drew admiration from Sports Illustrated.

 

And, somewhere, Don Cornelius smiles...

 

BASKETBALL

FIU appealed what would've been a one-game suspension for point guard Phil Taylor, who got tossed from Saturday's loss at Arkansas State after a pair of technical fouls, and the Sun Belt said, OK, let him play, Thursday.

FOOTBALL

Walk-on tryouts are Friday and the spring insanity known as spring football begins the next Friday (no video). The spring game is March 30.

This weekend, T.Y. Hilton will be at the NFL Scouting Combine, probably answering more questions about whether or not he's injury prone than anything else. A Hilton with dependable health would get taken in the second round by a team willing to roll the dice on someone so slight, yet so fast as a big play threat in a big play league. If adjudged a health risk -- and with wide receivers, NFL teams can be more risk averse than an insurance company -- he's a third or fourth-rounder.

January 04, 2012

OC Satterfield Out; Willis In; some others enrolled early

Some football updates while exiled in Dolphinland on coaching search watch:

FIU will be looking for a new offensive coordinator now that Scott Satterfield is heading back to Appalacian State as offensive coordinator. What's your feeling on this move? Good? Bad?

I thought while FIU's offense's scheme played to its strengths, the Panthers did tend to get repetitive and into a pattern (not always the same thing) on play calls. They didn't use their tight ends enough, either, in the red zone and, yes, that did gnaw at me the whole season, especially when you see the matchup problems Jonathan Faucher and Colt Anderson could cause. FIU's offense was both explosive and inconsistent.

THIS IS WHAT I'M TALKIN' ABOUT...WILLIS

Source at Camp Mitch confirmed a verbal commitment by Fort Meade High outside linebacker Jamie Willis. Here's some highlights.

 


HEAD START (IN THE) PROGRAM

On the recruit front, the word out of Camp Mitch is offensive lineman Delmar Taylor, defensive lineman Fadol Brown and running back Lemarq Caldwell will begin classes Monday. Miami Northwestern quarterback E.J. Hilliard told other Herald reporters months ago he wants to enroll after graduating high school early.

So, that takes a little of the angst from the coaches' coffees about National Signing Day.

ANOTHER SIGN T.Y. HAS GONE GOODBYE

Hilton signed with agent Drew Rosenhaus.

December 20, 2011

Football Gameday XIII; baseball gets some preseason props

One nice thing about the bowl game has been running into some of you blog regulars, such as the couple I just spent two hours yammering with in the lobby of our hotel. So what if I don’t get to sleep until infomercials dominate every channel outside the ESPN family? Bob Evans always serves breakfast – if I don’t get breakfast food, unpleasantness ensues -- and that day spa around the corner can deep tissue my back and shoulders in the afternoon.

Trivia question: Anybody else recognize the tune the band on the ESPN 3D bowl game commercial is playing after they march into the living room of the two guys in sunglasses watching a college football game?

The line: FIU opened a 5-point favorite for the Beef O' Brady's Bowl. It’s now down to 4 points with a 48 ½ to 49 over/under. Bettors see FIU winning, but by a late field goal or come from behind touchdown. The over/under number’s a tough one in this game, as there could be a special teams play or two that boosts the point totals.

The game: One team is in its second bowl game, the other is a young team with many players in a bowl for the first time. Scrape yourself on the rust, you could get lockjaw. Players sometimes take time to break mentally from holiday break and get into the game. Expect some blown blitz pick ups, coverages in the secondary, some shoddy tackling early in the game. The wacky could be the norm before things settle down late in the first quarter or early in the second.

I don't think all the "Will Mario Cristobal head for Pitt?" talk will affect FIU's performance. Cristobal's there on the sideline and been there at practices, doing his normal job. When Brian Kelly left Cincinnati for Notre Dame before Cincy played Florida in the Sugar Bowl -- or, currently, Todd Graham leaving Pitt for Arizona State before the BBVA Compass Bowl -- that's the kind of thing that can gut a team.

It’ll be Wesley Carroll at quarterback for FIU. The pinched nerve in Medlock’s shoulder hasn’t healed enough.

Freshman Rakeem Cato starts for Marshall. His net of 28 yards rushing on 54 carries over a season in which he started eight games tells you he shouldn’t give cause Ryan Aplin or Blaine Gauthier flashbacks for FIU. Cato needs good pocket feet against FIU’s rush (14th in the nation at 2.83 sacks per game), and such Bojangles Robinson deftness often isn’t developed yet in a freshman quarterback.

That assumes FIU can get to Cato. Marshall’s done a good job of keeping its quarterbacks upright, giving up only 26. Their size upfront concerns some FIU coaches, but the Thundering Herd isn’t a pound-it-out team and FIU’s had success slowing the solid rushing attacks of teams more multi-dimensional. The Herd’s team rushing average is 3.6 per carry. Top running backs Tron Martinez  and Travon Van (doesn’t “Martinez & Van” sound like either a road-trip show on The Food Network or a cop team from a late 1970s drama?) average 4.1 and 4.0 respectively. The Thundering Herd moves best through the air.

Downfield, the length and height of Marshall 6-3 junior wide receiver Aaron Dobson, Marshall’s leading receiver in catches (42), yards (587) and touchdowns (10) could leave him reaching for the stars while FIU’s diminutive cornerbacks plot for his landing. The only FIU defensive back with similar build is redshirt freshman strong safety Justin Halley, the team leader in interceptions. FIU's been on an seven-game interception roll, though, and Cato's thrown 10. 

Marshall’s defenders likened FIU’s skill position players to those of Houston and Southern Mississippi, the schools that wound up playing for the Conference USA title. Marshall beat Southern Miss 26-20 in the second game of the season for each, then got strafed 63-28 by Houston on Oct. 22. 

Normally, with a defensive end like Marshall’s All-American Vinny Curry, you’d run some traps and screens to his side early just to contaminate him with hesitation. But Marshall moves Curry around so much that adjustments for that would have to be made on the fly. Still, with the Herd worrying about how well they’ll tackle, perhaps FIU should try to hit regular screens to Kedrick Rhodes, bubble screens and hitches early to get T.Y. Hilton and Wayne Times on the edge.

Despite Curry’s 11 sacks and 21 tackles for loss, Marshall allowed 4.2 yards per rush and 155.0 rushing yards per game for the season – that’s including sacks -- and came up with only 25 sacks. Curry’s going to get his, but Marshall’s opponents have done a good job of not letting him ruin their attack singlehandedly. FIU’s had three weeks to figure out how to do that. That also sounds like a lot of running room for Rhodes.

Marshall’s special teams worries FIU – three blocked kicks, three blocked punts and an 87-yard punt return by Andre Booker. Booker also averaged 25.2 yards per kickoff return. FIU will be trying some new players on special teams, so don’t be surprised if Marshall’s first couple of returns blow up big.

FIU’s special teams should worry Marshall just as much. Four FIU players – T.Y. Hilton, Wayne Times, Richard Leonard and Colt Anderson – had kickoff returns longer than 30 yards and Anderson’s was on a pooch kick. Jonathan Faucher got his hands on two punts in the last three games and nearly a third. Jack Griffin gives FIU the edge in kicking.

I’m seeing experience making the difference early as FIU grabs a big lead and late as they hang on for the win. I’m seeing a couple of massive plays out of Hilton, maybe a touchdown from Colt Anderson and maybe some type of special teams or defensive touchdown off a youthful mistake to put the game away.

Call it 31-20, FIU. But that’s just one black man’s opinion. I could be wrong.

Trivia answer: It’s the “Theme from SWAT,” which actually went to No. 1 on the charts in 1976 during the show’s year and a half run.

 BASEBALL

In Collegiate Baseball's Fabulous 40 preseason poll, FIU comes in at No. 39.

December 07, 2011

A sampler of football stuff...and a big-headed Byron Leftwich

A few things while listening to "A Charlie Brown Christmas" soundtrack and watching the wife make turkey marsala...

VEGAS SAYS...

The opening line of FIU by 5 has held only at the Wynn. The rest of the Vegas books and offshore sites have dropped it to 4.5 or 4. Means little other than Marshall was a little better against the spread than FIU was. The over/under across the board is 49.

FUTURES

Riviera Beach Suncoast defensive back Davison Colimon, a verbal commit in November, apparently had a good in-home visit Wednesday night. He's a hurdles champion, speaking to his speed and athleticism, but he also has the size FIU could stand to add on the back end.

Prattville (Ala.) High's quarterback/wide receiver/athlete Jalen Whitlow says FIU, Minnesota, Arkansas State, FSU and Auburn are recruiting him, but only FIU, Arkansas State, South Alabama, Minnesota and Samford have offered him so far.

ALL ABOUT THE HYPE

Both FIU and Marshall did some preseason Heisman campaigning to get exposure for their stars and, by extension, their program and school. FIU used Facebook and Twitter for its Hilton4Heisman push. Back in 2002, Marshall went a different, slightly goofier (creepier?) route...

Miami-20111207-00078

 

Hilton, Griffin All-Sun Belt First Team; Rhodes, defense put on Second Team; practice report

Wide receiver T.Y. Hilton and kicker Jack Griffin were FIU's only two players on the All-Sun Belt First Team, announced Wednesday morning.

Hilton, a First Team wide receiver, kick returner and all-purpose runner, caught 64 passes for 950 yards and seven touchdowns; ran 16 times for 101 yards; returned averaged 32.0 yards on 16 kickoff returns; averaged 23.25 yards per return on his eight returns, boosted by his 97-yard touchdown return against FAU, the second longest in Sun Belt history.

Griffin went 21 of 25 on field goals and was perfect on 35 extra point attempts.

Despite getting 1,121 yards and averaging 5.0 yards per carry, running back Kedrick Rhodes lost out on First Team honors to Western Kentucky's Bobby Rainey and North Texas' Lance Dunbar. Rainey, who won the Offensive Player of the Year award, was an obvious call. Voting closed Monday and going into Saturday's season finale against Middle Tennessee State, Dunbar was under 900 yards rushing and averaging 3.5 per carry for the season. Then, he marched over Tennessee for a Sun Belt-record 313 yards on 40 carries. Garbage time yards clearly didn't hurt for a guy with over 4,200 yards rushing in his career.

FIU's defense finished in the Sun Belt's top three in every category, and really sat on teams late in the season -- one touchdown each allowed to Troy, Western Kentucky, FAU and Louisiana-Monroe -- but didn't have a defender voted to the First Team. Junior defensive end Tourek Williams, redshirt junior middle linebacker Winston Fraser and junior safety Jonathan Cyprien were giving Second Team honors.

"It's disappointing," FIU coach Mario Cristobal said.

Left tackle Caylin Hauptmann received a Second Team nod.

Arkansas State quarterback Ryan Aplin received the Sun Belt Player of the Year. Rainey was the Offensive Player of the Year. Arkansas State defensive lineman Brandon Joiner was the Defensive Player of the Year.

At practice, Cristobal said Rhodes, who sprained an ankle in the season finale, took some reps and should be fine for the bowl game. Jake Medlock threw the ball some, but the coach said he and Wesley Carroll would battle it out next week for the bowl game start.

November 28, 2011

A few (belated) thoughts from FIU 31, Middle Tennessee State 18...and some recruiting

Sorry about the lateness of this. I once again chose sleep over wee hours postgame blog filing. Actually, the bigger mistake was choosing some Mexican place in Murfreesboro for postgame dinner over an IHOP or Waffle House, where I could’ve had room to work while killing some breakfast food.

Then, I got home, got busy with other work, took the kid out and did anybody else think Chef Alex was deep fried when her potatoes went into the water? And she had that bag of burnt stuff on the table just for the aroma?

Anyway, FIU finishes 8-4. It’s the best record ever for FIU and ties Florida State for the best record in Florida. Before anyone starts to high horse about FIU's schedule and the Sun Belt not being the ACC, let’s throw some water on that to melt it just a little. The University of Miami lost a home game to the same Boston College that got punked by FIU victim UCF. FSU lost to Wake Forest, which got stomped by Vanderbilt Saturday in a game that didn’t help FIU’s bowl hopes.

Ah, the bowl situation. UM’s out, so there’s 72 bowl eligible teams for 70 slots as of right now. The SEC, Conference USA, the Pac-12 and the WAC won’t be able to fill all their bowl commitments. Good news for FIU. All that could create at-large needs in the Dec. 20 Beef O’Brady’s Bowl in St. Petersburg; the Dec. 24 Hawaii Bowl; the Dec. 17 Famous Idaho Potato Bowl on the blue in Boise; the Dec. 21 San Diego County Poinsetta Bowl; and the Jan. 7 BBVA Compass Bank Bowl.

The bad news for FIU? The Big Ten, as in the 10 teams from that conference that can go bowling. Unlike the Coral Gables school under NCAA investigation, Ohio State has said if invited somewhere, it’ll go. That doesn’t just keep a school in the mix. It keeps a name school that travels well in the mix. Those Big Ten schools bring beef on the field and bodies to the hotels and restaurants. Midwestern winters and traditional fandom make desired bowl guests. Except for, this year, Penn State. Any bowl would love the money, as Penn State would still bring a good chunk of Pennsylvania, but the stories that would follow in the run-up to the game might be enough to propel bowl reps through the hospitality lounge alcohol supply 72 hours before kickoff.

Still, Penn State insists if called, it’ll come.

The St. Pete game looks like the most logical location that would have a space and some love for FIU. If the Compass Bowl’s going to go Sun Belt, Western Kentucky’s the obvious choice. Nobody says Western packs the house, but neither does FIU and Western’s only 250 miles away from the Compass Bowl. Same reason I think Beef O’Brady’s makes sense for FIU.

As for stuff from Saturday…

For the second consecutive game, Wesley Carroll played about as well as he has all season. Carroll deserves a chunk of the credit for the offense getting the job done in the red zone, four touchdowns in five red zone trips. Hate to harp on a point and I’m no coach, but it doesn’t seem an accident that over the last two weeks, FIU’s had five touchdowns in seven red zone trips and three of those trips featured passes to tight ends, two for touchdowns.

“(Tight ends) Coach (Greg) Laffere told me all week that was going to be there,” senior tight end Jonathan Faucher said after being so wide open catching a 5-yard touchdown pass off a play action fake, he could’ve counted bumps on the ball.

“They’ve been so instrumental in our running game,” Cristobal said. “People really start packing the box and they really start running by and ignoring them. Great call from the box. They’re in man coverage, their eyes are coming off the tight end, we went to a check to it at the line of scrimmage.”

Faucher also recovered an onside kick and, for the second time in three weeks, got his hands on a punt. The punt wobbled 28 yards, leaving FIU 51 yards away from a 21-6 lead. They took the lead on a lob to T.Y. Hilton that featured enough people in that back corner of the end zone for a robust game of tunk or euchre. Hilton said wide receiver Jacob Younger didn’t receive the right call, but it all worked out.

Back to Faucher and Colt Anderson, the two senior tight ends. Replacing two big (6-3, 233, 6-4, 220) and athletic (Anderson’s the consensus best basketball player on the team, Faucher used to play soccer) won’t be easy. It’s not just their run blocking or that they catch the ball on the rare occasions they’re targeted. Both play on special teams, where each has recovered an onside kick this year. Faucher’s made nine tackles on special teams, four solo.

“(Redshirt junior) Joey Harris will be a senior,” Cristobal said. “(Freshman) Ya’Keem Griner, I think has a chance to be a special talent. Paul Lundgren is a big guy who played defensive line befre. That’s kind of in vogue, taking those big defensive lineman, getting a bigger body out there.”

Speaking of defensive linemen, FIU’s found Middle Tennessee’s quarterbacks like the doorway at the end of the hall in the funhouse that keeps getting farther away the more you run toward it. By the middle of the third quarter, they were getting more consistent pressure, leading to Greg Hickman’s interception and a couple of near misses.

“They do that almost like waterfall protection,” Cristobal said. “Literally on the snap, they start backpedaling right away. The quarterback’s launch point is very deep. It takes a while to adjust to. I think they’re top 10 in the country in least sacks allowed (they had allowed only eight in 10 games). We stayed with it. We started putting some guys in the game that had some fresh legs.”

Shame Kedrick Rhodes sprained an ankle just 12 yards from the single season rushing record. Also a shame safety Justin Halley, who ended the year with a team-high four interceptions, wasn't credited with more than one pass breakup aside from his interception. He had his hands on at least two other passes.

Hilton’s kickoff return epitomized darkest-before-dawn. Nobody bothered to field the pooched kickoff or, at least, field it on the fly. When it bounced, that screamed trouble. Wayne Times jumped to bat it out of trouble, but this was a job for an outside hitter like Jovana Bjelica, not a wide receiver. The ball got swatted back toward the FIU goal line. Around the 15, it began doing that tantalizing “can-you-grab-me?” bouncing footballs do when Hilton happened by. He scooped up the ball, turned the corner on the opposite side of the field and got to the Middle 7. I’ll bet even Middle Tennessee fans groaned when Hilton got brought down. It seemed to much a wild, wonderful play to not end in a score.

Besides, that would’ve guaranteed the play a spot on SportsCenter.

Before the season, I predicted FIU would go 9-3 with losses to UCF, Arkansas State and Louisiana-Monroe. In my weekly pregame blog predictions, I went 7-5. Quarterback injuries got me against the Louisianas – I didn’t expect three quarters of Medlock against Lafayette and I figured Medlock, out of inexperience, for the killing error against Monroe. Instead, Wesley Carroll came in and performed admirably.

I’m out. Hopefully, I’ll be back with a bowl matchup and bettling lines (maybe even some sides!).

RECRUITING

Haines City linebacker Josh Glanton, who verbally committed to FIU earlier this month, had an in-home visit from FIU Sunday according to his Twitter account and will be entertaining Michigan on Wednesday. An in-home from Michigan might test that verbal committment.

Pensacola High defensive back Damarius Travis will be making his official visit to FIU in December. Travis is also visiting Minnesota and Western Michigan. Visits in December for a kid from Pensacola? Advantage: FIU.

Also, reportedly, FIU's offered junior college wideout 6-5, 196-pound Corey Washington from Georgia Military College.

  

November 20, 2011

A few thoughts from FIU 28, Louisiana-Monroe 17; hoop teams looking for consolation

 

Back to the Not Future for FIU Saturday to win a game that had to leave FIU asking “What if?” even as they celebrated the program’s first seven-win regular season.

What if the defense consistently brought home fourth quarter leads once handed the baton, as they did Saturday, though surely exhausted by time on the field and sheer number of plays? The 58 plays Louisiana-Monroe ran in the second half amounted to only seven points. What if they came up with plays such as Richard Leonard’s diving fourth quarter, end zone interception with greater regularity?

Let it be noted that FIU’s led in every game this season and held fourth quarter leads in three of its four losses.

What if Wesley Carroll, who FIU had to turn to like a wayward husband returns to a recently separated wife, had got the ball from the red zone into the end zone (by using the tight end, please note), thrown the ball away when in trouble (no sacks taken) while still igniting just enough explosive plays to get the job done?

Give it up for Carroll, losing his starting job with only three regular season games left in his senior year, not just auto-piloting through practice and staying ready. He recalled his college career, at Mississippi State, began similarly.

“Auburn, my freshman year,” he said. “Our quarterback hurt his hand on our first drive. That’s when I took over. He got hurt the first drive and I started every game since. My first really big action was at Jordan Hare Stadium at Auburn. A little different circumstance.”

Caroll came out hitting running back Kedrick Rhodes in the right flat, a pattern ULM had trouble stopping in the first half and FIU had problems defending in the third quarter when ULM ran it. Carroll’s first touchdown pass went to tight end Colt Anderson on a short pass to the right sideline that let Anderson use his athleticism to muscle inside the pylon.

Later in the game, Carroll missed Rhodes up the right sideline on what looked like a wheel route and overthrew Ariel Martinez, who was shockingly a stride and a half clear of double coverage deep. They had a hint they’d be able to hit some big stuff on Monroe, as they were able to do last season. They had to be satisfied with the catch-and-run touchdowns by T.Y. Hilton and Glenn Coleman, both gorgeous athletic plays,

“We had shots, we took shots,” Cristobal said. “I’d say it was executed OK, not as good as we wanted.”

By the way, Carroll and Monroe’s Kolton Browning showed the admirable quality of knowing when to say, “Chuck it” and give up on a play instead of taking a damaging sack. I’ve never seen more passes thrown to the training tables and cheerleaders. Browning’s 59 passes ended one short of the record by an FIU opponent, set by Florida A&M.

I wrote after last week’s quarterback change I believed it was Carroll’s tendency to hold onto the ball manifesting itself on the 13-yard sack against Western Kentucky that finally cost him the starting job. No belief this week – we know it was Medlock’s fatal tendency to take on tacklers that got him injured on the second play. Much as a physical runner tromping a defender gets everyone excited on the sideline and in the stands, especially when the runner’s a quarterback, it is a dangerous way to live.

T.Y. Hilton said he told Medlock he’s got to learn to slide and pointed to other Sun Belt quarterbacks. Browning slid like Jackie Robinson coming home sometimes, like a kid playing on a Slip ‘N’ Slide other times. But he lasted the game. That’s no small feat considering some of the shots he took otherwise, usually just after throwing the ball. Or, way after throwing the ball (holding and late hits seemed to be the only penalty not called by this officiating crew).The play before Leonard’s interception, Browning must have thought he got blasted by both generations of Sam Miller. Surely, all that affected his accuracy, especially as only a few second half plays weren’t passes or Browning runs.

“He got loose on us in the second half,” FIU coach Mario Cristobal admitted. “There’s a feast or famine approach to taking on a quarterback like that when you bring pressure. Sometimes, we were bringing four, trying to play man and keep two safeties high. He got away sometimes. We had our moments when we got him on the ground, but he’s a really good football player.”

In the first half, though, FIU bullied ULM badly – only 10:16 time of possessions, six first downs and 32 yards rushing allowed.

“The first thing we did was we stopped the run,” Cristobal said. “When we were albe to stop the run, we were able to put some more nickel guys in there, put more speed on the field and defend their quick guys. Their “10 personnel” looks, their four-wide looks and had some success with that.”

The only thing FIU allowed in the first half was the first kickoff return touchdown ever by an FIU opponent. When Cristobal mentioned Ambrose this week, I mentioned the streak of 125 games and he gave a little grin-grimace as if leery of mentioning it and making fun of himself for being so superstitious.

 “We got pinned,” he said. “We set up towards the left. Our No. 5, 6, 7, they got pinned inside while they were trying to cross and Ambrose came out the other way. Our safety got blocked and our kicker also who lost force. He got caught up in all that wash. Not a really good job by us, and a really good job by Ambrose. If he finds a seam, he’s going to hit you.”

Between that and suffering some injuries to kickoff coverage guys – redshirt freshman Brandon Bennett was on crutches with a walking boot on his right foot after the game – FIU joined ULM in the pooch kick party. ULM, with the worst kickoff return coverage in the Sun Belt, wasn’t about to try Hilton. They popped up pooches to Leonard’s side.

MEN'S BASKETBALL

The consolation bracket of the Dick's Sporting Goods NIT Season Tip-Off sends FIU to Oral Roberts Monday to play Arkansas-Pine Bluff Monday at 6 p.m. and Oral Roberts Tuesday. For those who like to watch, try  http://www.orugoldeneagles.com for live video streaming.

One plus already this season -- FIU's hitting 82.9 percent of their free throws as opposed to 68.9 percent last season.

WOMEN'S BASKETBALL

Meanwhile, FIU's women's team tries to even its record at U.S. Century Bank Arena aganst Florida A&M. FAMU defeated Jacksonville in its opener, as did FIU, then lost to Central Florida. FIU is coming off a 61-54 Friday loss at Texas-San Antonio.

 

November 19, 2011

Football Gameday XI with beef and Duck

Miami Book Fair. NPC Nationals bodybuilding in South Beach. NASCAR winding up its season with a duel in Homestead between the track’s ace (Carl Edwards) and one of the most aggressive, yet smartest and most talented drivers of this generation (Tony Stewart).

And I’m in Monroe, Louisiana, where the airport’s transitioning from 1964 to 2011 and, in the process, the baggage claim is outside. No belt, just a bunch of guys putting your stuff on a sidewalk. Long Beach or Maui, this ain’t.

The FIU football folks have beef with me. In the story that appeared in Friday’s Herald, I wrote that Winston Fraser and Jordan Hunt were singled out by Cristobal for Arkansas State quarterback Ryan Aplin running for 164 yards in that Panthers loss. After the game, when we asked Cristobal how that happened, he said, “There were several occasions where we do have him bottled up and he kind of gets out of there in pressure situations or assignment situations. He got loose, sometimes, he read it well and sometimes we busted at the linebacker position.”

Fraser and Hunt play the vast majority of snaps at linebacker for FIU. Kenneth Dillard and Chris Edwards were the backups that night. By the official play-by-play and my game notes, Fraser and Hunt were on the field for Aplin’s biggest, most significant runs as he ran for 131 yards in the first three quarters. Hunt disappears from the play-by-play in the fourth quarter, when Edwards picked up his two solo tackles and four of his five assisted tackles.

FIU says Hunt and Fraser weren’t being singled out because Cristobal didn’t say them by name. I said you point to a position where you have two guys who play an overabundance of snaps, those two guys are singled out by logical inference. What say you folks about this?

Anyway, on to Louisiana-Monroe. The line on this game opened with FIU favored by one and has moved to Monroe favored by 1 to 1.5 most places and 2 at one offshore book. The over/under is 49.5-50. Looks like what money’s come in on this game has been on Monroe.

Statistically, we could be looking at another field position-kicking game battle: the Sun Belt’s Nos. 2 and 3 in yards allowed, Nos. 1 and 3 in rush defense with Monroe holding the higher ranking in both cases. FIU’s No. 1 in scoring defense, No. 2 in pass efficiency defense, and No. 3 in pass defense.

Strategically, Cristobal worries about Monroe’s defensive ability to make run reads and pass coverages difficult, a good talent to have when facing a spread option, especially one run by a redshirt freshman quarterback. This game might force us to see more of Medlock’s arm than FIU would like, although, what’s to lose? FIU’s already bowl eligible, can’t win the Sun Belt and won’t get one of the Sun Belt’s two bowl tie-in spots. They’re in the position Tony Stewart’s been telling everybody he’s in this week – can’t lose a spot in the standings, so no pressure. Hopefully, this means players playing loosely and coaches coaching loosely.

(But not too loosely – FIU has a tendency to let their Duck Dodgers-Dr. Doofenshmirtz come out when their base stuff is working just fine.)

  

In the kicking game, FIU’s got the paper advantage. FIU kicker Jack Griffin could probably kick with his left foot wearing Ferragamos and make five of 12, which is what Monroe’s field goal kicking has been this season. In kick and punt returns, FIU’s second and first in the Sun Belt, respectively, while Monroe’s third in kickoff returns, but next to last in kickoff coverage and last in punting (gross and net). Expect to see some avoidance of T.Y. Hilton and Luther Ambrose today, especially if it starts to look like one or two big plays could decide the game. That could lead to some shanked punts and field position swings over a few possessions.

“The two most dangerous returners (in the Sun Belt) will be on the field Saturday,” Cristobal said.

I like FIU’s defense lately and in this matchup. Overall, this season, running backs haven’t damaged them badly – Louisiana-Lafayette’s guys ran on them and Western Kentucky’s Bobby Rainey got his yards, but yards to nowhere – and sophomore Kolton Browning’s not the kind of running quarterback that FIU’s had problems containing. Then again, Browning hasn’t faced FIU, which gave up 31.0 percent of Aplin’s rushing yards this season and 19.4 percent of Lou-La’s Blaine Gauthier’s rushing yards for the season. One thing Browning hasn’t done is throw interceptions and FIU’s been gobbling those up the last few games.

Tough call. FIU’s more likely to get a special teams score and to get points out of good field position. But Jake Medlock’s more likely to make le grand boo-boo. And, it’s a road game…

I picked Monroe to upset FIU in the preseason and I’ll stay with that here, although without conviction. La-Mon 19, FIU 16.

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

Now, off to kill some breakfast…

 

November 14, 2011

Men's ball opens vs. George Mason tonight at 9:30; T.Y. Hilton Special Teams POW; Medlock starting (we think)

 

FIU men’s basketball needs an ignition victory like the gatekeeper needs the keymaster. Chance No. 1 for that comes Monday night against George Mason at Virginia Tech, the start of the Dick’s Sporting Goods NIT Tip-Off (9:30 p.m., ESPN3).

George Mason opened a 15-poit favorite, now down to 14 or 13.5 most places. Their point guard, Andre Cornelius, has been suspended for the first 10 games of the season after pleading guilty to misdemeanor credit card fraud. The Patriots finished 27-7, 16-2 in Colonial Athletic Association last season  George Mason threw up some major league masonry, two of 14 from three-point range, while beating Rhode Island 92-90 Friday night in overtime. That’s one more game in which to start working out the kinks and getting to know themselves under new coach Paul Hewitt, who spent 11 years at Georgia Tech.

“A big opportunity for us,” senior Jeremy Allen said. “Not many people get the chance to play on that big stage. It comes with a lot of responsibility. We need to be mature about it.”

Fellow senior DeJuan Wright said of his younger bretheren, “They’re mature young guys, so they should be able to handle it.”

The young player from which the most will be expected is 6-7 sophomore Dominique Ferguson, who joined FIU midseason. Ferguson said he felt apart from everything all season because he wasn’t allowed to join the team, even in conditioning workouts, until December. Still, he blocked 30 shots in 20 games.

 “That’s just instinct,” he said. “I’ve always blocked shots.”

Nobody’s worried about FIU’s offense…

“We move the ball around,” Ferguson said. “We don’t have any selfish people. We don’t have anybody that’s going for their own thing. If anything, we’ve got people who are passing up shots. That’s the only negative.”

…it’s the defense that’ll make the difference between set the pace and create an identity, if this team is to find one. And they’ll start finding out who they are and where they are tonight in Blacksburg, Virginia.

FOOTBALL

T.Y. Hilton's 97-yard punt return Saturday night earned him Sun Belt Special Teams Player of the Week, his third player of the week award for the season and the seventh of his career. The record is nine, held by current Buffalo Bills cornerback and former Troy defensive back Leodis McKelvin.

FIU will look for a medical redshirt for senior safety Chuck Grace. Also out for the rest of the season with a sprained knee is long snapper Mitch McCluggage.

As for who'll start at quarterback between Wesley Carroll and Jake Medlock Saturday at Louisiana-Monroe, Mario Cristobal insisted it was still an open competition. But Medlock goes into this week with the edge.

"To keep it fair, yeah, they'll both get plenty of reps in practice," Cristobal said. "Jake will  go in as the starter."

By the way, I'm not much for playing Bowl Bingo, but we can play that later today if you folks want. The one bowl that was a possibility that's definitely out now is The New Orleans Bowl, which will have Sun Belt champion Arkansas State.

VOLLEYBALL

FIU, host of this week's Sun Belt Conference Volleyball Championship, will start as the No. 4 seed and face No. 5 seed Denver at 7:30 Thursday at U.S. Century Bank Arena.The winner will face Western Kentucky. Technically, the winner will face the winner of No. 1 seed Western Kentucky, 15-1 in the Sun Belt, vs. No. 8 Troy.

 

November 13, 2011

A few thoughts from FIU 41, FAU 7...

Ahhh, something new has been added.

Or, as a later generation might say, And now for something completely different.

 

Watching redshirt freshman quarterback Jake Medlock (I can’t help but think, “A Quinn Martin Production”) in camp scrimmages and earlier in the year against Louisiana-Lafayette, his advantages on fifth-year senior Wesley Carroll couldn’t be more apparent: bigger, stronger, better runner. As a passer, Carroll’s still better but with the gap closing. Carroll carries his real advantage on his shoulders. He’s played more, takes more practice reps, knows the offense better. When running the spread option, which relies so much on rapid quarterback reads, that’s like being a near-equal martial artist to your opponent, but having the Iron Fist.

Cristobal said the decision to go with Medlock got made early in the week. I’m going to bet it got made last Sunday or even late Saturday night as coaches went over film from the Western Kentucky loss.

Early in the week, when I talked to Cristobal about the offense over the last three games, his first answers seemed very confined to the Western Kentucky game. Carroll threw a bad interception in the end zone right after a fumble recovery in Western territory with FIU up 3-0. Cristobal lamented that a touchdown there really changes the game, especially with Western’s one-note, ground-bound offense.

But I’m thinking the 13-yard sack on FIU’s last possession clinched it. You can’t take that sack late in the game, deep in your own territory, up by only two, doubly so against a team with a flabby passing attack that they trust more than their dicey kicker. A senior with Carroll’s experience shouldn’t take that sack. I can see some coach sitting around a table and saying, “Hell, if we’re going to get decisions like that, let’s get them from the more physically talented guy.”

So, enter Jake Medlock...

 

Cristobal admitted they threw some thought into the timing, that they’d be making the change on Senior Night. As to be expected, that didn’t override the consideration that the offense needed something.

Going back to the Lou-La game, when Medlock took over in the second quarter, FIU scored 56 points in the next five quarters. Now, there was a 97-yard T.Y. Hilton punt return and a one-play, 9-yard drive after Jonathan Faucher smothered a punt. Take those out and that’s still 42 points in five quarters or 33.6 per four quarters.

Allegedly, the job remains an open competition. Medlock, coached postgame as well as he was for the game, said all the right things in his postgame press conference about Carroll, who worked with Medlock during the week and during the game. Medlock also made sure to thank the offensive line, which managed to limit its penalties again and cleared the way for a zero-sack, 220-rushing yard night.

“When Jake puts his head down, it’s pretty effective," Cristobal said. "It keeps defenses from stacking the box. I think we’ve experienced the last couple of weeks being outnumbered in the box and being tough to get push and tough to run the football. Today, we broke out with over 200 yards and some of it was him. Some of it was just the threat of him running the football opening it up.”

Medlock did throw two balls that should’ve been picked off, just bad decisions. But that’s to be expected. It’s probably why he got kept in to the end. He needs playing time.

As Hilton settled under the punt, I thought not “What the hell is he doing fielding a punt on the 3?” but rather, “It’s 24-0, why not?”

Hilton blew through a gaping hole, yet stayed just far enough from the sideline to keep it from being used as another defender until he passed almost everyone but punter Mickey Groody. Hilton tried to signal up ahead for Wayne Times to take care of Groody. Instead, Times peeled back on FAU’s Damian Parms and, well…I don’t know what Parms spiritual beliefs were before, but he’s a Christian now because he got BAPTIZED by Times. FIU coaches came off the sideline to check on Parms while Hilton decelerated over the goal line. Parms stayed down for a bit, then made it back across the field.

I thought it was cool that Hilton owned up to crying four times Saturday. Nothing wrong with that. One of the most macho men in sports history, hockey Hall of Famer Mark Messier, surpasses former NFL coach Dick Vermeil as a weeper.

While discussing the emergence of safety Justin Halley (two interceptions), Cristobal reminded everyone that FIU still is working without a full complement of scholarships.

Honoring Kendall Berry during the pregame Senior Night ceremony counts as a class move. That almost caused me to weep.

Two fun lines of the night: fan next to the press box, not 10 feet from where Mike Biamonte sits behind me, saying, “We’ve got the Heat announcer. He’s not working right now.”

Member of the stat crew in the press box during the flag-filled third quarter: “That referee is going to need Tommy John surgery.”

I know this is a blog concerned with FIU, but I’m sorry, the longer that game went on and hearing FAU coach Howard Schnellenberger postgame, the more I felt this had to be said to some FAU players: someday, if you have any more sense than God gave my cats, age will grant you a greater idea of what longevity, stature and history means. And you will feel great sorrow at your performance Saturday.

Not the losing by 34. That happens. As they said in GoodFellas, everybody takes a beating sometime. You’re a young team playing a team with more talent and more mature talent. But to do so with 7 personal fouls or unsportsmanlike conduct penalties and an ejection, to embarrass your coach so badly, he apologized to coaches who molded him both living and dead, is an abomination. It goes to character. It doesn’t matter if some of you think Howard Schnellenberger should’ve retired a year ago, two years ago, whenever. You chose to play at FAU in a program of which he is head coach. And while, to you, “Shula Bowl” might be some appellation meaning no more than “GoDaddy.com Bowl” because “Shula” means steak house chain, expressway or some guy who used to coach the Dolphins when they used to really ball, it still means something to your coach. To him, Don Shula’s a great football coach who influenced his career. And putting Schnellenberger’s career in parenting terms, he took one program in South Florida off the streets, saved it and got it going to success, did the same for another program in Louisville. Later, he birthed and has been raising the program you’re in now. If not for him, the University of Miami program might be in the childhood of its rebirth, assuming there was a rebirth. FAU? FIU? Please. You owe it to him to play hard and come correct. According to Howard, you’d done that before Saturday. Behaving so shamefully in a game and stadium that wouldn’t probably wouldn’t exist but for your coach reflects poorly on you, your parents and your school.

November 07, 2011

Women's soccer opens NCAA's against UCF; TY to Senior Bowl; Water Women

FIU's first match in the NCAA women's soccer tournament will be at Central Florida (11-4-5) Friday at 7 p.m. The winner faces the winner of Florida Gulf Coast (14-4-2) vs. Florida (16-7), both teams FIU lost to at home early this season. FIU lost to Florida 2-0 on Aug. 21, and Gulf Coast 3-2 on Sept. 9, the latter after holding a 2-0 lead.

FIU coach Thomas Chestnutt said UCF was perhaps the one team in Florida he didn't know much about, but "I'm not concerned about that. They're always a good team."

Besides, Chestnutt feels his team is "in a good place" mentally and physically. Certainly, since beating Western Kentucky on penalty kicks for the Sun Belt championship, they've been bathing in joy.

"It's been crazy," sophomore Nicole DiPerna said. "We've all been on such an emotional high for a while. We were at dinner (Saturday night at Toots) and were like, 'We actually won!' Coach told us to order anything we want and we kind of went crazy. Right know, walking in to see who we'd play, we felt like we were going to another game, we were all so excited and hyped."

FOOTBALL

Wide receiver T.Y. Hilton has been invited to the 2012 Senior Bowl, Jan. 28 in Mobile, Alabama. Hilton's the first FIU player to be invited to the event, attended by almost every NFL scout, coach and agent.

Though it seems the jelly's out of the donut on the football season after Saturday's touchdown-free loss at Western Kentucky, there's still, somehow, a shot at a bowl for FIU. Although, frankly, I don't think there's a better argument that there are too many bowls than a fourth place Sun Belt team getting in one.

Over the weekend, Tampa Alonso safety Jordan Davis verbally committed to FIU as did Titusville Astronaut quarterback Favian Upshaw.

Long snapper Mitch McCluggage sprained his knee Saturday. If he can't go Saturday, expect freshman Brandon Taylor to take that job so underrated by most fans...until their team suffers an ill-timed bad snap. Mario Cristobal said defensive tackle Joshua Forney was "ready to go this week" despite not playing Saturday but free safety Chuck Grace wasn't as close as they thought.

Defensive lineman James Jones did some extra drills after practice, a punitive measure for his unnecessary roughness penalty during Saturday's game. The penalty, after a third down stop, extended a Western Kentucky drive that eventually amounted to nothing, but in a defensive struggle, giving up 15 yards of field position is like giving up a 30-yard play in a normal game. On the game's most important call, the unnecessary roughness call on Isame Faciane that turned a Bobby Rainey 12-yard reception into a 27-yard play on the drive to the game-winning field goal.

"I just think that's playing hard football. At the end, it's a discretionary call. I'm not taking a shot at an official, they've got to call it as they see it," Cristobal said. "You're looking at two teams trying to find a way to win, trying to get their best player out of bounds. It wasn't like he took a shot at the young man or tried to hit him. He's trying to make sure he gets out of bounds and save us a few yards, whatever it may be, as they're trying to get into field goal range, that they're pushed back as far as they can be. That one's easy to talk about unless you're on the field and trying to hunt down that kid as fast as he is...that's a tough call." 

Larry Milian, The Amigo on 640AM's "Armando and The Amigo" morning show (or, as this caffeine mainliner thinks it should be called since the addition of Chris Perkins, "Morning Sports Colada and Black Coffee"), will be doing the radio color on this week's FAU-FIU game. Rick Sanchez has a prior committment. 

SWIMMING AND DIVING

Saturday: Drama Queens and Kings Day. The football team's loss in the late afternoon. The women's soccer team outlasting Western Kentucky on penalty kicks for the Sun Belt title earlier in the afternoon. And somewhere between all that, the swim team's meet with FAU and Florida Southern coming down to the 400 Free Relay.

Or, at least, that's how it seemed at the time.

Behind Stanley Cup playoff sudden death overtime, NFL playoff sudden death overtime and the last laps of a close auto race, I'll put a track or swim meet coming down to a final relay as the most exciting setup in sports. The speed and co-dependence involved might as well be an adrenaline IV to me. FIU trailed FAU by 12 and needed a 1-2 finish by their 400 Free Relay teams. So take the normal quality and depth involved in winning the relay and double it.

FIU's No. 1 team Vicnan Torres, Nadai Farrugia, Colleen Quinn and Johanna Gustafsdottir came home first in 3:35.89 and the No. 2 team of Kayla Derr, Kariann Stevens, Chelsie Kidd and Kelly Grace powered home in 3:37.05 to give FIU a 119-118 win over FAU (Florida Southern was drowned, 194.5-35.5).

FIU also won the 200 Medley Relay with Stevens, Sonia Perez Arau, Klara Andersson and Mariangela Macchiavello in 1:49.73; the 200 Back with Perez Arau in 2:02.66; and diving with Sabrina Beaupre rolling up 275.7 points.

But FAU protested the 200 Back result, claiming the electronic timing system showed Ivana Lefanowicz had outtouchced Perez Arau. Officials agreed and the reversal of the event meant FAU won the meet 123-114.

 

November 05, 2011

GAMEDAY UPDATES: Western Kentucky 10, FIU 9 FINAL

Hey there, FIU fans.

Andre Fernandez here live at Houchens Industries - L.T. Smith Stadium at Western Kentucky Univrsity. I'll be filling in for David J. Neal for today's pivotal game between FIU and the Hilltoppers.

I'll be posting some scoring updates and key plays here. Feel free to comment if you wish. But I will mainly be tweeting so if you wanna follow me @AndreMHSports, that's where I'll be posting most of my updates.

FIU (5-3, 2-2 SBC) needs this one to stay near the top of the Sun Belt Standings and in realistic contention for a bowl berth. Western Kentucky (4-4, 4-1) comes in riding a 4-game winning streak.

Louisiana-Lafayette and Arkansas State, the other two Sun Belt teams FIU is chasing are also in action this afternoon. I'll keep you posted on those games.

Enjoy!

FIRST QUARTER

FIU drives into WKU territory, but settles for a Jack Griffin 40-yard FG. 3-0 FIU 11:36 left. Drive: 9 plays, 72 yards, 3:12.

FIU's Sam Miller recovers a fumble, but Panthers turn it back when Wesley Carecroll throws an INT. His fourth consecutive game with an INT.

WKU Kadeem Jones 2 yard run for TD. WKU 7-3. 5:08 left.

 FIU Jack Griffin 34 yard FG. 7-6 WKU 0:38 left.

Teams have gone scoreless through second and third quarters.

WKU missed a field goal and FIU saw a promising drive come up short.

FIU driving as third quarter ends.

FOURTH QUARTER

Jack Griffin 43 yard FG. 9-7 FIU 14:56 left.

Casey Tinius wins it for WKU with a 34-yard Field goal 10-9 WKU

October 26, 2011

A few thoughts from FIU 23, Troy 20 (OT)....

What we’ve seen from FIU over the last month:

Slopping about and losing prompts anger. Slopping about, but winning with some difficulty against a lousy opponent prompts annoyance. Slopping about, but winning against an opponent with some talent prompts giddiness – especially if you’ve saved your season.

That’s what we’ve seen from FIU over the last month, most recently in the Tuesday night-early Wednesday a.m. moments after a fun, flawed, augmented, drama-drenched 23-20 overtime win against Troy. Wesley Carroll, usually coolly happy or frustrated into rote cliché, didn’t just laugh, he seemed on the verge of giggling. Mario Cristobal chuckled, joked about his demeanor after a first half of flags, fumbles and assorted foibles ("Oh, there was some talk in the locker room. Good thing we had the doors closed.")

Maybe it’s that, acknowledging media deadlines or just the lateness of the hour, Cristobal and the players entered the postgame media conferences much sooner than usual. I don’t think so, though. Wins against Louisville and Central Florida prompted fist pumps, flying chest and hip bumps. This was more the “phew, that was close. You OK?” after your tire blows at 80 on I-95, but you keep it out of the ditch and the semi misses you.

Or, the other side’s kicker misses to the left – twice.

“He pulled them,” Troy coach Larry Blakeney said of kicker Michael Taylor’s second extra point attempt and the 43-yard overtime field goal attempt. “He flat out pulled them. That’s the one little problem he has.”

Actually, when Taylor clanked his second extra point off the left upright, it didn’t keep Troy from winning in regulation. It just opened the door to overtime. If FIU trailed 21-17 with 3:31 left and fourth and 2 at the Troy 3-yard line, they’d have gone for it. That opens another of possibilities, most of which end at a winner decided after 60 minutes. But at 20-17, FIU took the safe route and we got overtime.

Tuesday’s imperfections kept the game as entertaining even while being exasperating. Somebody on Twitter said during the fourth quarter that I must be falling asleep in the press box from the bad football. No, that would’ve been Sunday’s first 55 minutes of the Dolphins game – awful and excruciating to watch. Tuesday could’ve kept me riveted even if I had been at home with pizza, Long Islands and the DirectTV universe at my command. So many moments of “Ooo, nice play!” “C’mon, man!” “Oh, my goodness!” “Whoa!” “That’s some ridiculous stuff there!”

Dealing with Troy’s go-go offensive pace concerned FIU. As Cristobal pointed out, they also substitute late before the snap, making defensive adjustments difficult. Tourek Willams said, “We had a package where we added two defensive ends and took two defensive tackles out. We wanted more speed on the field.”

Also, give the FIU defense credit for not getting spastic in the face of Troy’s pace. No offside penalties. Williams, matched against redshirt freshman right tackle Terrence Jones, had two sacks and several pressures. The right side of Troy’s line needed a kiddie menu, with Jones and freshman guard Zach Johnson. Most of Troy’s big runs came around the left side, where 6-4, 312-pound left tackle James Brown can make a running back look like Jim Brown.

Troy, whose running game previously just let quarterback Corey Robinson rest his arm, actually ran well, with backs Shawn Southward and D.J. Taylor picking up 95 yards and two touchdowns on only 13 carries. But they couldn’t protect Robinson and their receivers kept running the four-yards-short-of-the-marker third down patterns that the Dolphins run so well. FIU squatted on those routes and tackled better than they have in a month. Troy made no adjustments after a first half with only four first downs and zero third down conversions. Overall the last two weeks, FIU’s downfield coverage has improved. Troy threw for only 215 yards on 20 of 34 passing. They ran only 59 plays, 18 below their average.

FIU’s offensive line was the Panthers’ game in microcosm. Their first half penalties -- two holds on left tackle Caylin Hauptmann, a hold on Rupert Bryan, two false starts on Bryan in the same series – interrupted more drives than Dolphin Expressway wrecks. But Hauptmann, Bryan, left guard Shae Smith, center Giancarlo Revilla and right guard Curtis Bryant moved Troy well enough for Kedrick Rhodes’ 172 yards on 30 carries and Darriet Perry’s 60 yards on 12 carries. By the end, they were just buffaloing Troy to the side most plays and it wasn’t like the Trojans didn’t know what was coming.

Such as on the fourth quarter fourth and 1 from the FIU 39. If that ball’s snapped, everyone, his mama and his unborn grandkids know Perry’s getting it. And he did for 6 yards over the left side. In overtime, nobody thought FIU would risk an interception. Six Rhodes runs, 21 yards, chip shot Jack Griffin field goal.

Rhodes, who said they knew they’d have success on some zone blocking inside runs, has 762 rushing yards for the season. Unless the coaches really see something in the defense that says a brute force back or a pure speed back works better, they should ride Rhodes the rest of the season like Seattle Slew and use the other backs as just a change of pace or to give him a rest. Perry’s now second in FIU history with 1,703 career rushing yards.

Griffin’s kickoffs were much better than in previous weeks. His average kickoff length was 65.8 yards and FIU’s net yards were 46.2.

Josh Brisk averaged 37.6 yards per punt, an average dragged down by his last punt, a 14-yarder in the final seconds of regulation. That left Troy a chance to Fredo the Panthers with a Hail Mary from the 50. Justin Halley picked that one off, giving FIU four interceptions in the last three games.

Carroll’s got three interceptions in the last three games and admitted Tuesday’s was something “that shouldn’t have happened.” He threw downfield for an open tight end Jonathan Faucher not just off his back foot, but hopping backwards in the face of pressure.

That throw aside, Carroll ran FIU’s offense expertly. Here’s FIU’s offense: in the second half, Carroll completed only five of 15, but for 144 yards and two touchdowns. This is a slugger’s offense. I love that Carroll, with T.Y. Hilton taking regular snaps most of the night, hit other guys deep as he did in finding Wayne Times for the 76-yard score and stepping up almost beyond the pocket to hit Jacob Younger for a 43-yarder on third and 21. Hilton’s FIU’s Ferrari, but he’s not the only potential playmaker in the Panthers garage. Several times this season, under a modicum of duress, Carroll has tried to make a tougher throw to a multi-covered Hilton rather than an easier downfield throw to a single covered receiver.

“It worked out exactly like we drew it up,” Carroll said. “Jacob Younger did a great job on his. Wayne Times beat man coverage. Great pre-snap read by everybody.”

Speaking of Hilton, the groan familiar to Dolphins fans late last season when they saw the increasingly ineffective Wildcat came from my throat each of the three times FIU lined up Hilton in the Wildcat Tuesday. With the base offense walking downfield in rhythm, the Hilton Wildcat couldn’t get in step.

The first time, a second and 1 from the Troy 20, they had moved the ball 50 yards in four plays, plus gotten a Troy offside. Perry got called for a false start (the only thing early in this town Tuesday – players on both sides of the ball moving before an FIU snap). Next time, first and 10 from the Troy 43 with a 47-yard drive working: Hilton carries left for a 2-yard loss. A punt ensued two plays later. The final time, FIU had driven 39 yards to the Troy 32 when Troy read the reverse to Coleman, who slipped for a 6-yard loss. That’s the series and drive that ended with the Younger touchdown, but you don’t get many 43-yard bombs on third and 21.

Hilton wound up with four catches for 62 yards and 161 all-purpose yards. He seemed a little ouchy late, although he looked roused after jawing with Troy's Xavier Lamb in the fourth quarter. Rhodes had 194 all-purpose yards.

Against Louisville and Central Florida, FIU demonstrated mental toughness at pivotal points that could’ve seen them collapse. Tuesday saw many such moments, most glaringly after a first half the Panthers owned everything but the scoreboard and, in the third quarter, Troy’s two touchdowns in 44 seconds to turn 17-7 into 20-17. A collapse at either time would’ve meant a collapse of the season.

Instead, they showed the maturity and strength from September that they didn’t show in Jonesboro last week. The Panthers sit 5-3, 2-2 in the Sun Belt. All they desire remains possible.

October 19, 2011

A few thoughts from Arkansas State 34, FIU 16

Started this in a Waffle House in Jonesboro, postgame. There’s another one an exit up Highway 63. At this one, a woman tries to pick up more waitress shifts, a guy tells how his wife cheated on him with his brother during the few months the brother was out of prison and a few guys come tottering in squiring young women with ridiculous heels, animal print leggings and overdone makeup. Some Arkansas State football players get postgame grub.

Somewhere, there’s a metaphor for how FIU played this game, this worse-than-it-sounds 34-16 loss that sprayed seltzer in the face of every logical expectation.

Let’s stop searching for a metaphor and hear the summation. Or, two. Take the opening drive. T.Y. Hilton climbed air stairs to bring down a Wesley Carroll pass for 32 yards to the ASU 34. Next snap, left tackle Caylin Hauptmann false starts. Carroll runs for 1, then Kedrick Rhodes for 14 and another first down. This series of downs, center Giancarlo Revilla is called for being an ineligible man downfield on an incompletion off a Carroll scramble. FIU doesn’t recover from this, a third and 13 pass to Willis Wright on a short cross getting only 7 yards. Field goal attempt from 37 yards, just wide left.

Should Griffin have made it? Yep. Would it have gone through had it been 5 yards closer? Yep. Would the point be moot because, without either penalty, the drive would still be going? Possibly.

“It was (disappointing),” FIU coach Mario Cristobal said. “Penalties that are very easily avoidable. That stuff hurts us. We worked on it the last 10 days or so. Felt that we got a little better. We let the crowd effect us a little bit. It ended up hurting us. Put us in bad down and distance situations.”

The drive to FIU’s first field goal rolled along until a chop block by Revila on an incompletion meant, instead of a difficult third and 10 from the ASU 18, the Panthers faced second and 25 from the 33. A Rhodes run left third and 21. Again, maybe Griffin would’ve been called upon anyway, but as the saying goes, nobody’s got a third and 21 play in the playbook.

I’m of two minds on this. Some of this comes down to coaching. Cristobal has at times taken blame for some of the penalties of overaggression. Chop block penalties blow up drives the way chop blocks blow out knees. Then again, perhaps as I’ve mentioned before, if New England didn’t lead the league in false starts over its last two Super Bowl-winning seasons, it was among the top five and nobody would say the Patriots are poorly coached. But it also comes down to players just deciding to bear down and do what they’re supposed to do. This is basic stuff. Pre-snap penalties are undisciplined penalties. People think of unsportsmanlike conduct and late hit penalties as comprising the term “undisciplined penalties.” Not entirely. There’s self-discipline in doing the right thing, too. As I did last week, I reference John Madden from the era when he was still in touch with the coaching mindset and the game. He said people look at a team in suits, saying “sir” and “ma’am” and think, “What a well-disciplined team.” But, to Madden, if one of those guys jumped offside on third and short, that guy’s an undisciplined player, no matter what he wears or how well he speaks. If he doesn’t, he’s a disciplined player, no matter how late he partied the night before.

 

That brings us to summation No. 2, from Cristobal:

“The most important thing to do is to face reality. We’re not where we want to be as a football team. We’re not where we expect to be at this time of year. That’s the reality of it. As we talked about in the locker room, you face that. You confront that.”

And, “When I say play, I mean as an entire program. We’re not playing well enough, we’re not coaching well enough.”

Obviously. They’re making simple mistakes they weren’t earlier in the season. They haven’t improved. Good teams get better as the season moves along.

Though they knew Ryan Aplin could run, they seemed stunned by the repeated development. Cristobal seemed to blame the linebackers most of all:

“He’s tough as can be. There were several occasions where we do have him bottled up and he kind of gets out of there in pressure situations or assignment situations. He got loose, sometimes, he read it well and sometimes we busted at the linebacker position.”

A request to speak to linebacker Winston Fraser, made before I heard that, was nixed by Cristobal (in contrast to the last two college coaches I dealt with on anything resembling a regular basis, Dennis Erickson at UM and Bill Mallory at Indiana, Cristobal wants the media relations folks to run all interview requests, even postgame, by him first. Apparently, that’s become the norm in many programs. That’s not, however, a good way to prepare a young man for NFL life, one of the program’s stated goals.)

Coverage in the secondary improved, although, again, when Arkansas State wanted a big chunk, they got it more often than not or got a pass interference call. And speaking of those flags, if you’re going to interfere, interfere – Sam Miller twice got flagged on important completions, the 40-yard bomb off the end of quarter okeydoke when Arkansas State faked letting the quarter clock run out before running it out by running a play, and the ensuing touchdown. That’s the definition of fruitless. No fruit for Sam.

Both coaches and Carroll himself have criticized him for taking a sack instead of just throwing the ball away. I call those “Ken O’Brien sacks” after the 1980s Jets quarterback who would lead the league in sacks taken because he’d hang onto the ball until he found an open receiver or found himself under 550 pounds of pass rushers. Tuesday, Carroll made at least three smart throwaways to avoid taking a Ken O’Brien sack. One of them turned into a 15-yard roughing the passer penalty.

The pass interference penalty he drew late in the second quarter after getting behind the defense – three officials at the game and several from as far away as Texarkana threw flags on that one -- and the third quarter 46-yard touchdown bomb showed that T.Y. Hilton’s knee problem after his 33-yard second quarter kickoff return wasn’t serious.

“My knee kind of gave out on me,” Hilton said. “But that’s kind of my fault. I had no business playing with the kicker. Just give him one move and go with it or just run past him so that’s all me.”

Blood ran colder on the FIU sideline for those minutes Hilton was down and not from the 50-degree chill in the air. If the Panthers were scared, so were the Red Wolves for a different reason – they kicked away from Hilton the rest of the night. Hilton ended with 130 all-purpose yards.

Kicking and punting duties fell on the desk – or foot – of Jack Griffin. Cristobal wasn’t happy with Josh Brisk. He didn’t sound any happier about Griffin’s 34.8 yards per punt with a long of 43.

The conference title’s probably gone, what with both Louisiana-Lafayette (4-0 in the Sun Belt) and Arkansas State (3-0) with two fewer conference losses than 1-2 FIU. A bowl bid possibility fades unless FIU can run the table and, even then, they don’t travel particularly well.

October 09, 2011

A few thoughts from FIU 27, Akron 17...

While Akron product LeBron James dunked at FIU, FIU turned a dunk into a 15-foot jumper in Akron.

At halftime of "LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh present The South Florida All-Star Classic at FIU," Isiah Thomas presented a $50,000 check from the Mary's Court Foundation, the beneficiary of the game's proceeds, to the First Generation Scholarship Fund.

Saturday in Akron's old school, new design stadium was drier in every way than at FIU's U.S. Century Bank Arena.

Love that Akron dresses across the street at the field house and walks across Akron-20111008-00157
to the stadium.

 

Nobody bounced or skipped out of the FIU locker room late Saturday afternoon. For the most part, the addidas clad players and coaches emerged with faces set from grim to resigned. You can see the same looks on 6 p.m. weekday shuttle flights between LaGuardia and National worn by business folk returning from getting the job done without distinction.

Even the ever enthusiastic Mario Cristobal couldn’t put much rah-rah into FIU’s fourth win of the season. Oh, he pointed out 4-2 was FIU’s best record ever at this point in the season and they finished their non-conference schedule at 3-1, the best FIU ever has. Cristobal did so not exuding the testosterone and adrenaline of great victory nor while controlling his plastique temper, as he seemed to be at times after the loss to Duke. Instead, with a result that inspired neither of those energizing emotions, he seemed drained by the game.

Akron hadn’t held a lead on a Division I (FBS) opponent this season. The Zips are a running team with a depleted offensive line. They have a bend-but-don’t-break-too-easily defense. FIU ran for over 200 yards, passed for over 300 yards, yet still won only 27-17.

Defensively, they did the job. FIU stuffed Akron’s base running game – 55 yards on 19 rushes for running backs Jawon Chisholm, Karl Bostick – and often met Chishold or Bostick shortly after the handoff, like a bunch of angry closetalkers. The defense came up with its first turnover and first sacks in three games.

Individually, defensive end Tourek Williams abused his blockers, whether on the run or the pass, and at least three times blasted quarterback Clayton Moore as he threw. Williams and Jordan Hunt were ubiquitous early and throughout, although the official statistics might not show it for Hunt, who made a few tackles for which he didn’t get credit.

Wesley Carroll threw the bubble screens and short crosses to his 308 yards. T.Y. Hilton, who was limping on his ankle but figured he’d be fine in 10 days, caught a school-record 12 passes despite playing on a gimpy ankle through the second half. He ran out of the Wildcat set once for 8 yards. Kedrick Rhodes ran for 126 yards on 22 carries. Darriet Perry picked up 85 on 20 carries.

Still, you felt some truth when Rhodes said after the game he thought FIU played down to its opposition too often so far this season.

There were the penalties, 10 for 80 yards, most of them pre-snap penalties on the offensive line…the missed touchdown opportunities inside the Akron 20…the dropped passes and general sloppiness…against most other teams on their schedule, had FIU played this way, they’d have been the recipients of an underwear-nightmare humiliation.

FIU outgained Akron 265 to 101 in the first half, 120 to 18 in the second quarter. The scoreboard read 13-10 as Akron came out for the last seconds of the first half with a kneel down clearly in mind. One Ohio-based reporter quipped, “Going into the ‘Victory Formation.’” Another reporter in the press box quipped, “Yeah -- Moral Victory Formation.”

FIU seemed to be right on pace to duplicate the Duke loss. The red zone problems that dogged them at Duke followed them to Akron, slightly adjusted.

“Similar situation,” quarterback Wesley Carroll said. “We were able to move the ball, but we need more points. It’s evident. Wev’e got to score better in the red zone and we’ve got to make more plays. I’ve got to put the ball on the money. Receivers got to catch it. Line’s got to block.”

Cristobal said, “Against Duke, I though execution (in the red zone) was the problem. Here, it was penalties, although I guess you could say that’s part of execution, too.”

Out of the 20 drives directed by Carroll on which FIU got to the 15 or closer, they have touchdowns on 11, field goals on five and got bupkiss on four. That’s not good enough, especially when you play in the points-by-the-peck Sun Belt. Not picking on Carroll, but if it’s the quarterback’s job to get the team into the end zone and it’s a spread option offense, a chunk of the problem gets put on his desk. Then again, he can’t make everyone’s block or catch his own passes.

Nor, can he put a starting gate on the line of scrimmage to keep linemen from jumping the count. Six illegal procedure penalties by my count Saturday.

It got to the point when I wondered aloud, “Are they telling the line the snap count?”

Cristobal was referring to the pre-snap penalties when he mentioned, “a lot of penalties that are unacceptable some have to deal with focus and concentration.”

No penalties to blame for the first red zone failure. FIU marched smartly to the Akron 8 on its first possession. A pair of Kedrick Rhodes runs moved all of 2 yards. On third down, Carroll didn’t see wide receiver Willie Wright alone over the middle, instead underthew running back Darriet Perry on a checkdown. Jack Griffin hit the right upright on his chip shot field goal.

The next possession, a third and 2 from the 15 became third and 7 from the 17 after an illegal procedure call on FIU. So a layup first down against a terrible run defense became a passing down. Carroll threw incomplete FIU had to call on Griffin again.

Griffin’s next field goal followed Carroll not seeing a very open Jonathan Faucher at the goal line in the middle of the field and threw it away not far from that direction. I find it strange FIU doesn’t look for the tight ends more in the red zone. They did last week and got a touchdown catch from Faucher. When the small spaces around the goal line limit FIU’s speed, it’s time to bring the size and athleticism of your tight ends into play.

One play that won’t show up anywhere, but nearly turned the game – and got referenced in the postgame by Cristobal – was Dominique Rhymes drop on third and 5 from the FIU 23 in the third quarter. FIU began the drive on their 8, up 20-10. A touchdown puts Akron away, a field goal on the ropes, but a three-and-out gives Akron life. A defensive hold drawn by Hilton gave FIU a first down at the 18. Carroll split Rhymes numbers in the tummy, in stride on a post about 15 yards downfield. Drop.

I thought of Pierre Garcon’s second quarter drop in the Colts-Saints Super Bowl that proved a major turning point of that game. Similar pattern, although Garcon’s was deeper and more of a cross. But, the plays were alike in that both had running room and came on third down with their team driving to make a nice lead fat. Sure, enough Akron took the punt and drove 62 yards in four plays to cut the lead to 20-17.

 The roughing the passer calls, while goosing two Akron drives, seemed more forgivable if only because they were so questionable.

“Until you see those on tape, it’s hard to tell,” Cristobal said. “They said on one we hit him in the head (Tourek Williams) and the other we hit him late (Andre Pound). On the last one, I thought (Denzell Perine) came in low and it was a shoulder to shoulder type tackle, but it wasn’t.”

The call on Williams nullified an incomplete third down pass caused by Williams two plays after he caused another incompletion by brutalizing Moore in the mid-motion.

“I wasn’t expecting that because when I hit him, I hit him with my hands in the chest,” Williams said. “but the play before when I hit him, I kind of hit him a little high. And they just wanted to come back with something the next play. It is what it is. I let the refs ref and I just play the game.”

This week, while FIU could harrumph about the roughing the passer calls, they also got two big breaks of their own from the zebras. The third-and-6 that immediately preceded Akron’s field goal saw Clayton Moore overthrow Antoine Russell deep behind Sam Miller. Officials fortunately for FIU, didn’t see Miller hold Russell’s near arm for half the time the ball was in the air.

In the third quarter, as Kedrick Rhodes turned a safety valve into a drive-saving 14-yard gain to the Akron 4, officials somehow missed Caylin Hauptmann committing an egregious hold. The entire press box saw it, gave varying exclamations and waited for Rhodes nifty play to come back. But no call came.

No gritting teeth over the officials this week. This week, the team that frustrated FIU was FIU.

Afterwards, the Boy Scouts and Cub Scouts took over the field for a camp out.

Akron-20111008-00161 

 

October 08, 2011

Football Gameday VI; volleyball; soccers; Hong Kong Phooey

The question for many of you in General Seating for today's NBA all-star charity event at U.S. Century Bank Arena is, “When do I get in line to be sure I claim a good seat?”

My answer would be, “Now.”

FOOTBALL

Like most of the Midwest, Ohio’s filled with pleasant people who chase you down over several floors when they don’t give you back your credit card promptly and who upgrade you automatically to a gargantuan SUV then drop you to a Dodge Charger when you remind them you’re driving around Akron, not the Eastern front. As I was buying an Akron Beacon-Journal, a late 40s guy with scruffy face, jeans, work shirt and baseball cap stopped to tell me a juvenile joke he tells his grandkids. Just because he saw me buying a newspaper and wanted to make me laugh. And this is in an area even more abused by the economy than South Florida.

Ohio’s favorite son, Archie Griffin, is the original subject of the line, “he’s a better young man than he is a football player and he’s the best football player I’ve seen.” That’s Woody Hayes on Archie. Aside from Mister Only Two-Time Stiff Arm Winner (who really is a tremendous person), Ohioans at stadiums on football game days more often resemble Woody’s famed bursts of temper -- angry, gravely-voiced, rude, belligerent, often drunk. Some of these people I count as shirt-off-my-back friends.

As much of a homecoming crowd as you can get for a 1-4 team will be in Akron’s house (I’m not writing that full name until I have to), some riding their first beer buzz of the day. So this tilt should have atmosphere if not fans, about 14,000 actual attendance. It might have a fair amount of scoring, too.

Akron does what teams used to do – pound the ball and, when either you couldn’t do that anymore, or you were doing it so well they feared you, go up top with a play action pass downfield. That’s important – downfield. That’s where FIU’s looked discombobulated lately. Receivers are coming open quickly, then staying open, giving little time for a pass rush. There's been communication issues there not helped by Chuck Grace's absence. If Akron bangs away, I think FIU eventually takes away the run, forces Akron to become one-dimensional while playing from behind, then hunts down the quarterback.

But, Akron might decide early on, "to heck with it, these guys have been eating the run like a Bob Evans breakfast, but seriously refunding against the pass the last two weeks and they've lost two shootouts. Forget about that shortening-the-game stuff. Let's look to throw, especially play action on first and second down, and try to get some points." That's what I would do if I were the Zips. What's to lose?

It won’t matter. Akron can’t stop the run – 4.5 per carry, 204.2 yards per game. So FIU will work it until the Panthers get bored or impatient or decide, eh, we could use another couple of T.Y. bomb touchdowns to get us on a highlight show or two. The last two weeks, the Panthers outmuscled Duke and Louisiana-Lafayette with Darriet Perry handling the load against Duke and Kedrick Rhodes doing 30 carries against Lou-La.

Watch for a kickoff return touchdown or near touchdown by FIU. Akron’s opponents return an average of 25.6 yards per kick and FIU’s fifth in the nation in kickoff returns.

Akron’s bad. FIU shouldn’t be a homecoming miracle victim.

FIU 45, Akron 24

To paraphrase an ex, that’s just one black man’s opinion. I could be wrong (as we've seen the last three weeks).

I won't live blog. I will Tweet throughout, http://twitter.com/DavidJNeal as I won't have the deadline pressure of night games.

VOLLEYBALL

After getting shoved toward the back of the bus by Western Kentucky and Middle Tennessee State last weekend, the volleyball team marched up to FAU to redeem themselves. FIU got some of that with a 3-0 (25-22, 25-23, 25-17) victory. Jovana Bjelica ripped 20 kills, Renele Forde and Jessica Egan, a redshirt freshman, each got 15 assists. This is travel partner week, so no Sunday match for FIU.

WOMEN’S SOCCER

A tie is like kissing your roommate. Or, something like that. FIU played Western Kentucky  to a 0-0 tie Friday night that ends FIU’s winning streak at five, but stretches their unbeaten streak to six. They’re 7-5-1 and 4-0-1 in the Sun Belt.

The men’s soccer team, last seen knocking off No. 21 Kentucky, is at Memphis for a 7 p.m. game tonight. Akron, which is ranked No. 4, would have a much better shot at FIU in this futbol than the American version.

Because it's the kind of sunny, 57-degree Saturday that reminds me of my youth...

 

October 02, 2011

Beaupre, soccer and a few thoughts from Duke 31, FIU 27...

I’ve said for 25 years, “My problem with college football isn’t Saturday afternoon. It’s Sunday through Friday.” Walking through the parking lots, past the tailgates while listening to Fleetwood Mac’s “Tusk,” Phil Collins’ “In the Air Tonight,” or James Brown’s “Night Train” on my iPod, I felt buoyant – and it wasn’t just the half a colada I had just downed. Youthful, positive energy rules. It’s why I like to work around campus. Paint splashed onto my pant legs, I felt ready to cover some fun.

 

And games don’t get much more fun than Saturday night in an FIU Stadium fuller than either of the last two weeks (although that official attandance of 22,682...come on, man). FIU lost 31-27 for reasons foreseen, lost after having a 27-17 lead in the fourth, lost their second consecutive home game and a chance to dump the last decent non-conference team on their schedule. But they lost in a game with 954 yards of offense and potential crackling in every play.

Exactly what FIU feared came to pass. Duke quarterback Sean Renfree, wearing No. 19 in Duke’s Colts-lookalike uniforms, had all the time he needed when he needed it most to imitate Johnny Unitas to Conner Vernon or Donovan Varner. Renfree didn’t get rushed in the literal sense until the second quarter and never got sacked. He did get banged around somewhat in the third quarter. Not enough to unsettle him for good, however.

FIU did a much better job extricating themselves from the blocks on the hitches and screens, then actually making the tackle. But on plays downfield, they remained at sea when they had to rely on the secondary.

Mario Cristobal said, “We showed them zone, we showed them man, we brought pressure, we dropped eight sometimes…”

You shouldn’t see Duke safety Mike Daniels or FIU cornerback Sam Miller at breakfast this morning. They’re still chewing on those gluttonous chomps of play action fake they took on T.Y Hilton’s 63-yard touchdown pass (Daniels) or Vernon’s 26-yard touchdown pass (Miller). FIU sat on Duke for the second and third quarters, but when Duke needed a score down 27-17 in the fourth, the Blue Devils went 63 yards in just three plays.

“We just changed up our coverages and we adjusted to the types of routes they were trying to do,” Fraser said.

Duke taketh and Duke giveth. Even more than usual, FIU’s offensive game sat in Wesley Carroll’s hands. And Duke eventually knocked the game out of Carroll’s hands with the late turnover.

“Penetration and I’ve got to get the ball out sooner,” Carroll said.

Hard to complain when a quarterback completes 25 of 39 for 348 yards and three touchdowns and directs a spread offense to 568 yards. Well, it’s hard to complain unless there’s only 27 points on the board and you lose. That’s pretty much what both Carroll and Cristobal said afterwards. Carroll pointed to FIU failing to punch the ball in on three red zone trips, something they’ve been almost automatic on earlier this season.

Hilton dropped two other bombs. FIU scored anyway after he dropped a perfect throw in the first quarter. In the fourth, after Duke made it 27-24, he juggled to the ground what would’ve been about a 50-yarder if he falls after catching it, a 95-yard touchdown if he stays upright. Hilton said the flailing defensive back did get a piece of it, but his mistake actually was in the way he ran the route.

Carroll visibly lamented the third and 1 pass he bounced to Wayne Times later that possession. Cristobal used it as an example of the offensive night – just too imprecise. I found it a curious call, seeing as how Darriet Perry, FIU's power back, was having his best rushing game of the season. Late in the game on a steamy night, if you've got that kind of back going, isn't that when you want to batter the opposition with him? 

“We thought we had a good matchup outside,” Cristobal said. “Even in the third and short in our territory in the fourth quarter. We have a chance to convert that, maybe for a big, big play. We were hairs away in certain parts of execution that I know we’re better than.”

And on the final play of the first half, from the Duke 45, with three seconds left and Duke bringing only a three-man rush, Carroll took off and ran out of bounds. Considering the height and athletic advantage of the FIU receivers streaking downfield for a Hail Mary, that seemed a curious trashing of a play.

On that drive and later, Carroll wasn’t helped by being timeout poor. FIU tossed away timeouts like Tic Tacs Saturday, especially in a game that they knew would come down to late possessions. I agree with the John Madden philosophy – don’t burn a timeout to prevent a delay of game or, on defense, anything short of total calamity. They’re just too valuable late in each half.

FIU burned one on Duke’s first drive of the game, on a third and 1 from the FIU 41. Carroll called one to prevent a delay of game on a second and 3 after a quick screen completion to Willis Wright to the FIU 27 with 9:35 left in the second quarter. No excuse for it to be close to a delay of game nor is second and 3 time to waste a timeout. FIU used their last timeout at the start of Duke’s next possession, first and 10 from the Duke 32 with 4:01 left in the half. That’s either disorganization or panicking.

So, when FIU got the ball back at its own 35 with 44 seconds left in the half, no timeouts in the bag.

In the second half, FIU blew a timeout on Duke’s fourth down attempt 1:08 into the half, one feeling even more wasted because Duke snapped the ball just after FIU called timeout and got stopped. Alas, no play, and Duke succeeded on their fourth down do-over.

Cristobal explained the next timeout, as Duke prepared to punt on fourth and 2 on the FIU 43 with FIU leading 27-24 with 8:18 left.

“We had a player who was dinged up pretty good,” he said. “And he wasn’t aware of the situation and he tried to get back in. we actually had to pull him out and have doctors take a look at him. To avoid an issue there with one extra person on the field, we used the time out to avoid a penalty.”

That left one timeout for when Duke took over on downs after Carroll’s fourth down incompletion with 2:29 left. FIU gave up a first down anyway so they couldn’t have kept Duke from running out the clock even with all their timeouts. Still, of the five timeouts used, at least four could’ve been saved.

I’m not into blaming officials and hate the whole “let the players decide the game" silliness. Players do decide the game. No official makes a player commit a penalty. If a player commits a violation and officials don’t call it, that’s more “deciding the game” than enforcing the rules of the game. Imagine you got mugged in front of a cop and he did nothing while saying, "Hey, times are tough, this is the start of the month when the rent's due. I don't want to decide who has money and who doesn't." Even when officials make a mistake, often so many things done by players lead up to that mistake or that mistake having consequence. The fool will use the wrong fork when the wise man’s not even sitting at the table.

That said, this ACC crew made some interesting calls and non-calls. In a game between teams with offenses that match up well against the opposing defenses, it’s strange that Duke wound up with only two penalties for 25 yards while FIU got zapped eight times for 85 yards.

The pass interference call on FIU’s Junior Mertile I thought was good at regular speed and good upon watching on DVR, but for a different reason. When the play occurred coming toward the press box, I originally believed Mertile didn’t get his head around to even look for the ball. Actually, he did – but he did it while pushing Connor Vernon back with his right arm as they both tried to make a play on the ball. That’s pass interference.  

The holding call that wiped out Wayne Times’ wonderful touchdown catch was one you’ll see every day of the week and particularly on Sunday. Jordan White, who made a nice block to augment Kedrick Rhodes 52-yard screen pass in the third, grabbed Duke defensive end Jordan DeWalt-Ondijo like a five-year-old not wanting Mommy or Daddy to leave him at kindergarten. Carroll drifted to that side, so the hold clearly prevented the prime sack threat.

A pass interference on Jacob Younger eliminated a successful fourth and 4 conversion to the Duke 14 on FIU’s first second half possession. It ignited Cristobal when it was called and had him on fume after the game.

“I was told it was a pick play,” Cristobal said. “We don’t have a pick play in our offense, so I’m looking forward to watching the film to see exactly what was called.”

Younger comes off the line and goes right into contact with safety Walt Canty about 5 yards downfield and maintains contact for a second or two, effectively sealing off Canty from tight end Colt Anderson, who moseyed over to the left sideline. Did Younger obstruct Canty with contact? Yes. Was that the design of the play? Sure looks like it. Was it a judgment call? Yep. But there’s a way to do what Younger was trying to do with greater subtlety.

SWIMMING

Sophmoore diver Sabrina Beaupre qualified for her second NCAA regionals Friday in FIU's season opening meet with Flroida Gulf Coast. Freshman Johanna Gustafsdottir swam the second best 200 IM in FIU history, 2:08.10. Heavy rains and lightning halted the meet after six events with FIU down 68-44.

MEN'S SOCCER

Completing Homecoming weekend celebrations of the past, the 1996 national runner-up team will be honored at halftime of Sunday's noon match with Kentucky. That's the first game of a doubleheader, the second head of which will have the women's team hosting South Alabama.

 


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