October 01, 2011

Football Gameday V & other balls, including ticket info on Wade, LeBron, Bosh game

The first part of this is a rerun from Friday afternoon's blog post. If you saw that, feel free to skip past this to the football, volleyball, futbol or whatever ball-type thing gets you groovin'.

 PSEUDO-NBA BASKETBALL

The NBA put an All-Star Game in Miami in the second year of the Heat and Miami Arena, a building that was outdated about 15 minutes after it opened. Why the NBA hasn't brought it's winter showcase back to Miami, despite American Airlines Arena downtown on the bay and South Beach nearby (maybe that's the reason), is a mystery. Which makes it all the more ironic that the next time a near all-star game gets played in Miami, it's at a small college arena in the suburbs.

Tickets for that game, "LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh present the South Florida All-Star Classic" at FIU's U.S. Century Bank Arena, 7 p.m., Oct. 8 will go on sale Monday at noon at the University Credit Union Box Office on the first floor of the Fieldhouse adjacent to at FIU Stadium. No phone or online orders will be taken. Tickets will cost $50 for upper bowl general admission, $100 for lower bowl reserved. Fans can buy two tickets per person until 3 p.m., four tickets per person after that.

The game, which Wade billed on Twitter as DWade vs. King James, will include the Heat's Big Three, the Knicks Carmelo Anthony and A'mare Stoudemire, Oklahoma City's Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, New Orleans' Chris Paul, and many other stars.

Proceeds will go to Mary's Court Foundation, a foundation established by FIU coach Isiah Thomas in honor of his strong-willed mother, the late Mary Thomas

FOOTBALL

This is going to look like a Reader’s Digest Condensed Book version of my usual pregame posts. I’m tired, have a stuffy nose, a Long Island waiting and a dissatisfaction with how much I’ve seen of Duke.

This is the kind of wacked team that drives fans and coaches crazy, makes prognosticators look stupid and keeps bettors away from like the team came Chernobyl-dipped. Losing to Richmond (what?), drilled by Stanford (expected), then punking Boston College (everybody’s doing it) in a comeback win, then blowing Tulane off the field.

Take that BC game. Duke allowed BC only three first downs on the ground, but trailed BC 19-7 in the third quarter. They came back to win 20-19 after a last second BC field goal attempt went awry.

When a line finally came up for this game after FIU coach Mario Cristobal said quarterback Wesley Carroll would play, it was FIU by 3. That’s moved to 3.5 to 4, depending on where you look. Translation: some money on FIU, probably not much, and even less on Duke. Bettors are staying away from this one.

Duke lost defensive end Kenny Anuike, their best pass rusher, to injury early against Tulane. FIU will be without free safety Chuck Grace (right knee) and wide receiver Glenn Coleman (shoulder).

Duke undoubtedly saw the trouble Louisiana-Lafayette caused FIU with the quick wide receiver screen. FIU’s defensive backs couldn’t get off the Lou-La wide receivers’ blocks, thus allowing at least 5 to 7 yards before ball carrier contact. Eventually, they’ll draw FIU up, fake a hitch and throw the go. Until you prove you're not a fool, you'll get played for one.

FIU failed in both ends of its pass defense last week, but the pass rush gets the bigger they pass/you fail grade because that grew into a given after three weeks. When it didn’t get there last week, even by blitz, the secondary couldn’t maintain coverage. FIU coach Mario Cristobal uses “big” to describe every offensive line the Panthers face. But for Duke’s, he also used “long.” Long arms…that’s what scouts look for when searching for linemen that’ll keep the quarterback from being treated like a piñata at Westchester triplets birthday party. Cristobal’s worried about the pass rush getting erased for a second consecutive week.

One thing Lou-La did to loosen up FIU that the Dukies will do just because it’s their wont is throw on first down.

Duke allowed only eight rushing first downs against Tulane and BC. Take away the sacks and they allowed a combined 161 rushing yards on 43 carries, 3.7 per carry. Not overly permissive, but not The Great Wall of Durham, either. Richmond ran for 95 on 31 carries (no sacks). Duke coach David Cutliffe felt Tulane and BC were more straight ahead, physical teams. Cristobal called defensive tackle Charlie Hatcher “as good as we’ve faced” and, remember, Duke lost defensive end Anuike.

Add it up and I see another game where the shifty Kedrick Rhodes gets the bulk of the carries for FIU.  

Wesley Carroll’s back at quarterback for FIU. Despite an ankle that might still be bothering him, he needs to be a better passer than the Wesley Carroll who played against Central Florida and Louisiana-Lafayette. Against UCF, he was just a bit scattershot. Though the play calling got stale against Louisiana-Lafayette after the opening drive, Carroll’s decision-making wasn’t exactly Manning-esque before his injury. Carroll takes too many Ken O’Brien sacks/hits, where he holds onto the ball too long. By contrast, one play last week, he threw a panicky pass with the nearest upright Lou-La player pondering Kierkegaard on the sideline.

As well as Jake Medlock – the name just sounds like it should be followed by “A Quinn Martin production” – played against Lou-La, there were moments when Carroll would’ve made better reads. Against Duke, FIU needs to put more of the game in Carroll’s hands and he needs to be the senior leader in performance he can be. The plays -- small, medium, large and T.Y. Hilton – were there against Louisville and should be there against Duke.

Richmond’s Tre Grey got Duke for eight catches and 129 yards. That’s a secondary that should fear Hilton, even at 80 percent Hilton, or Wayne Times.

Let’s say both teams move the ball well. There’s been a defensive score in every FIU game so far, so figure on one here by FIU – a jumped route, a post-reception fumble, something along those lines. That score could wind up being the difference in a game where the punters should be able to spend the game arguing with the cheerleaders over who's the better athlete.

FIU 38, Duke 35.

But that’s just one black man’s opinion. I could be wrong (and have been the last two weeks).

VOLLEYBALL

In less time than it took my daughter to finish two bowls of matzoh ball soup, Western Kentucky swept FIU out of U.S. Century Bank Arena 3-0 (25-17, 25-22, 25-19). Jovana Bjelica had 13 kills and Chanel Araujo had 14 digs as Western left the former Sunblazer Arena with a win for the second consecutive season.

Defending Sun Belt champion Middle Tennessee State visits Sunday at noon.

WOMEN’S SOCCER

Since the humiliation by Oregon State two weeks ago, the women footballers have run off four in a row, the latest a 3-0 spanking of Troy Friday that gets them to 3-0 in the conference. They’re also 6-5 overall, their first time above .500 this season.

Chelsea Leiva and April Perry, striking early and late, each got her second goal of the season. In the middle, sub Deana Rossi sent FIU into halftime with a 2-0 lead off an assist from Kelly Ann Hutchinson. Hutchinson and Nicole DiPerna, who set up Leiva’s goal, are tied for the team lead with three assists.

South Alabama’s up next, at 2 p.m., Sunday.

September 26, 2011

Carroll & Hilton practice; Bjelica, Sun Belt POW (again); women's hoop sked highlights

Not sure why the first injury I asked Mario Cristobal about after Monday’s practice was safety Chuck Grace. Maybe because Grace still has a brace eating up his right leg while quarterback Wesley Carroll and wide receiver T.Y. Hilton can be seen around campus walking normally. And Grace’s side of the ball reached a far deeper level of failure Saturday than Carroll and Hilton’s, turning Lou-La quarterback Blaine Gauthier into the Sun Belt Offensive Player of the Week.

As for Carroll and Hilton, Cristobal said, “He’s going to be fine. He practiced today. T.Y. continues to get better.”

Asked straight up if Carroll would start against Duke, Cristobal said, “I expect him to be fine, I do. If he had to go back in this past Saturday and just sit there, he would’ve been OK. It just wasn’t that type of game.”

Grace will be out for another two weeks with a knee injury. Wide receiver Glenn Coleman has a right shoulder injury.

The Zeppo?: A blog reader asked if running back Darian Mallary was injured. Among FIU's returning quartet of backs, none have carried the ball less than Mallary. It would be hard to -- Mallary has one carry for 1 yard.

Mallary hasn't looked hurt to me, but I asked El Jefe de Futbol FIU about it.

"He's OK. He's a good football player. He's helped us win a lot of games. He's going to help us win a lot of games," Cristobal said. "We're a litlte thick at that position right now. Shane Coleman's also a good player we'd love to play this year and not redshirt." 

Opening line vs. Duke: Not on the boards yet, according to vegasinsider.com. Quarterback injuries tend to do that. The sports books probably hate FIU after taking a beating on the Louisville game and probably taking a minor smack on Saturday’s loss to Louisiana-Lafayette.

TV thoughts: This game, which got upgraded from ESPN3 to ESPNU, suffered a couple of inches of shrinkage with Saturday’s loss. I was surprised, knowing how he can be, that Cristobal didn’t believe the increased media attention or talk of undefeated seasons caused any focus problems that manifested themselves Saturday. I tended to agree with Kedrick Rhodes, that the team lost something after the opening drive.

"I don't think it did at all. If we came out flat, i would've said so," Cristobal said. "We come out and score in five plays. And we come out and force three-and-outs right away. I don't think we responded well enough when the momentum slowly, slowly started to go back their way."

One of the ESPNU color commentators on the Duke game will be Danny Kannell, who went from Fort Lauderdale Westminister Academy to Florida State to the Giants for several years.

Blood: I did finally get one question answered about cornerback Jose Cheeseborough. As a lifelong track fan, seeing a Cheeseborough from Jacksonville caused me to wonder if he was any relation to Jacksonville native Chandra Cheeseborough, a track sprinter who began racking up medals in international meets when she was 16 and became one of the most decorated sprinters in U.S. history.

“Distant cousin,” Jose said. “I’ve never met her.”

Committment: Nick England, a running back from Suwanee (Ga.) Collins Hill, verbally committed to FIU. England might play wide receiver at FIU. He allegedly runs a 10.5 100 meters.

 

VOLLEYBALL

The football team's three-week streak of having a Sun Belt Player of the Week ended (no, making Blaine Gauthier Offensive Player of the Week doesn't count). But Jovana Bjelica took up the slack, taking her second volleyball POW award in the last three weeks.

As FIU dispatched North Texas and Denver over the weekend, Bjelica rolled up 36 kills in eight sets. She had 12 digs against Denver to go with 19 kills for her sixth double double of the season.

WOMEN'S BASKETBALL

FIU hosts Maryland and Cal State-Bakersfield in its Thanksgiving Classic, Nov. 25 and 27, and Auburn, Charlotte and Albany in its Fun & Sun Classic, Dec. 29 and 30, on the schedule announced Monday.

The other highlights of the schedule for head coach Cindy Russo's 33rd season at FIU: Season opener and home opener, Nov. 11 vs. Jacksonville; first Sun Belt conference game, at Western Kentucky, Dec. 11; first home Sun Belt game, Jan. 7 vs. Louisiana-Monroe; regular season closer, Feb. 25 vs. South Alabama; Sun Belt tournament, Mar. 3-6, in lovely Hot Springs, Arkansas.

September 25, 2011

A few thoughts from UL-Lafayette 36, FIU 31...

“Offensively, we’re trying to b a little more consistent. We’re still trying to find who our quarterback is, so that affects consistency.”

“Thing with Blaine, he can really throw the football. We probably haven’t given him enough of a chance to throw the football.” – Louisiana-Lafayette coach Mark Hudspeth on Monday’s Sun Belt Teleconference Call.

Good call.

Losing doesn’t expose weaknesses any more than winning obscures them. It’s just a matter of lighting.

As long as the pass rush made quarterbacks multi-task with their feet and throwing arm, the problem of open receivers running free downfield remained in shadow. North Texas suffered the dropsies, Louisville and Central Florida’s quarterbacks just wanted to get the heck out of the pocket like Countrywalk residents running from a room crashing down during Andrew.

But Louisiana-Lafayette Blaine Gauthier hung in there, sometimes making good throws while being hit. As I thought they might, the Ragin’ Cajuns worked Gauthier’s arm. He’d thrown the ball 32 times in three games coming into Saturday. He threw 14 times (completing seven) in the first half. His closing numbers, 14 of 26 for 221 yards, for the game almost match his season numbers before Saturday, 18 of 32 for 212 yards.

I loved not just the call on Lou-La's 44-yard touchdown to Ladarius Green, but the execution. Most teams, going play action deep out of an I-formation, double-tight end set on third or fourth and 1near midfield would go to the wide receiver if the safeties bite up and leave one-on-one coverage. Or, they do the old Lombardi Packers play -- fake to the back, hit him running up the seam. Instead, they snuck the right tight end deep. Well, they did't exactly sneak Green, seeing as how he's the size of Secretariat, and neither of two defensive backs saw a problem with a big No. 89 moseying past them into the secondary. Or, the space behind the secondary. 

Junior Mertile got worked several plays, two big ones on the first drive of the second half, and Jose Cheeseborough got it, too. The secondary was without Chuck Grace, who has a right leg injury. FIU hoped for a rerun of the Central Florida game when the score in the first half’s final minute sent the Panthers into the second half with a Red Bull rambunctiousness. Instead, Darryl Surgent’s 22-yard touchdown catch put Lou-La back up 22-14 on the first second half drive.

Also, there’s no reason for FIU’s kickoff coverage to be so permissive, although Jack Griffin’s kickoffs don’t help matters much. Off kickoffs, Lou-La started on its own 38; 49; 32; 40; and 31. A first down or two and they’re in position for Brett Baer to either attempt a field goal or pin FIU deep with punts that should have their own video being sold on a 3 a.m. infomercial, they were so perfect. FIU started drives at the 1 (gave up a safety, then a field goal), the 2 (three-and-out, gained 2 yards, led to Lou-La's second field goal and 8-7 lead), the 4 (drove 93 yards...and didn't get into the end zone) and the 5 (95 yards from the touchdown needed, 1:44 left). 

Some thoughts on Carroll’s injury:

FIU came into the game having allowed four sacks this season. At least the first three should’ve been throwaways. Saturday, on third and 15 during FIU’s second possession, Carroll made a play you’d expect to see out of redshirt freshman Jake Medlock. He escaped Lou-La defensive lineman Tyrell Gaddies and, with Gaddies on the ground and no other Lou-La lineman close enough to play charades, threw a panicky high pass to the nearest sideline over Willis Wright’s head instead of setting himself and looking downfield.

Then, on the injury play, first play of a drive starting from the 50, Carroll managed to let Bernard Smith snag him 17 yards behind the line, held the ball, tried to pull his foot away, held the ball, tugged some more, held the ball some more, then finally went down. Inexcusable to let himself get caught like that, especially with Smith working alone, unlike, say, Bob Lilly getting some support from Larry Cole on his 29-yard Super Bowl VI sack of Bob Griese. Also inexcusable to not throw the ball away and save the field position, a rare gift for FIU this night. The later consequences of that play count as adding injury to insult.

You can’t fault Jake Medlock. He finished 17 of 27 for 216 yards with an interception on his last desperation pass. In his first college game, running an offense without its most dynamic player (Lou-La wasn't buying T.Y. Hilton as decoy), he quarterbacked FIU to 24 points in three quarters of play. That's enough if defense and special teams also come to the party.

Medlock made some rookie mistakes and doesn't see the field as well as Carroll, a fifth-year senior, does. On one play, rolling right, he somehow didn't see Greg Coleman, a tall black man in a navy uniform standing in front of the white-jerseyed Lou-La bench, standing alone and waving his arms for several seconds on the sideline toward which Medlock was rolling. Medlock admitted he should’ve tucked it under and run for the first down on the fourth and 3 late in the game instead of thrown to Wayne Times (by the time he finished with his follow through, he actually was past the first down marker). He ran for 39 yards and his willingness to take on defenders roused the crowd and his teammates. When he bounced off LeMarcus Gibson and left Gibson needing special attention from the trainers, it reminded me of Minnesota quarterback Joe Kapp running over Cleveland’s Jim Houston in the 1969 NFL title game (at 2:10 below). Minnesota romped after that play and I thought FIU got a lift from Medlock’s physical style.

 

 

They needed it. Kedrick Rhodes said after the game he felt the intensity leave the team for a while after the opening drive. That sounds like a team that got bored, overconfident. After all, FIU came out ready to run on Lou-La and run they did – with ease. Perhaps too much ease. FIU ran only one or two plays that got Rhodes in space. Early on, they didn't really do anything off play action, just to keep the defensive backs loose.

Here's something else that drives me batty: last week, when Rhodes broke off four runs of 10 yards or more on a drive to the UCF 14, they suddenly shifted to Darriet Perry to finish off the drive. I didn't like getting away from the hot back when you really weren't in a short yardage situation yet. But Saturday, once they got to the Lou-La 5 at the end of a long drive, when it was time to go with power, they didn't deploy Perry. Two Rhodes runs and a tipped third down pass led to a field goal. Big points lost there.

Rhodes also said he didn’t feel the crowd was with them. Well, at kickoff, a good chunk of the crowd seemed to be arriving on Miami time, parking or pounding their last pregame alcohol. By the time they got into the stadium, FIU was up 7-0 and the offense defined “meh.” The defense, too. Not much to get the crowd going. As Mario Cristobal noted after the game, in run defense, they didn't get much penetration and they couldn't shed blocks, as they did so well the first three games.

If this were hockey and I had to hand out the three stars of the game – originally, that was a promotion for an oil company with three stars in its logo or name – Lou-La punter/kicker Brett Baer would get one. Average start position for FIU in the game: their own 26. For Lou-La? Their own 39. Baer’s second punt, which was downed at the FIU 1, led to the safety, which led to a field goal.

Five points. There’s your margin of defeat. Pretty good punter.

 

September 24, 2011

Women Win, Men Lose, Football Gameday IV

Not to be confused with The Carter IV, referenced in today’s game advance now up at http://www.miamiherald.com/sports.

Bad enough for FIU that Sun Belt teams don’t win out of conference. Friday night, Central Florida failed against BYU. That little bit of BCS-ing out of the way, let’s get to FIU vs. Louisiana-Lafayette.

All week, this game reminded me of the gag at 3:06 in Stop, Look and Hasten (1954), the best of the early Roadrunner cartoons. (Gee Whiz-z-z (1956) is the best of them all, although Chuck Jones himself showed a special affinity for Zoom and Bored (1957).)

  

FIU’s shown excellent resiliency at key points each of the last two weeks. This game will test their focus.  

After getting the kid to bed each night this week, I’d settle into a long-ago present from the wife, a sleek German-designed recliner, and watch Louisiana-Lafayette Square against Oklahoma State in the season opener.

That was Lou-La’s first game under head coach Mark Hudspeth and against a program now ranked in the top 10.  Actually, what impressed me factored in all that.

Even as T. Boone Pickens State took the switch to Lou-La, 61-34, you could see the talent on the losing side, such as wide receiver/kick returner Darryl Surgent easing up field on a 31-yard punt return. On a per capita basis, Louisiana’s about as good as it gets for producing football talent. There’s more NFL players from Florida, California and Texas, but also a whole lot more electoral votes.

Louisiana-Lafayette’s offensive line gets bigger as you go left to right: 296, 300, 305, 324, 330. That’s a 311 average Both Louisville and Central Florida, got some push early before those big bodies wore down as the games wore on in the late summer swelter. September heat and humidity, particularly the South Florida brand, turned those offensive lines into a Deuce-and-a-Quarter getting started on a 15-degree morning by late in the second quarter. Will Louisiana-Lafayette Jeff, from a pretty dehydrating part of the U.S. itself, wilt the same way?

Despite size and talent, Lou-La can’t get it together on offense. In their other game against a Division I opponent thus far, Kent State, they managed only 159 total yards. That’s an acceptable showing only if the Kent defense lined up 11 Jack Lamberts coordinated by Nick Saban. Against Division I-AA Nicholls State, they moved only 280 yards.

Hudspeth blamed some of their offensive problems on an inability to settle on a starting quarterback between Blaine Gauthier and Chris Masson. He also said he’d like to let Blaine Gauthier throw the ball a little more. That would seem logical, especially on first or second down. FIU’s been beating up quarterbacks on third and long after beating up running backs on first and second down. 

I see no reason for FIU to play T.Y. Hilton and his strained right hamstring more than 15 snaps. If Hilton does play – and he’s expected to -- I’m not sure FIU will use him often in much more than a decoy capacity. Besides, Wesley Carroll’s been erratic the last two weeks and Louisiana-Lafayette Road Drive-In sustains itself on interceptions and pick sixes. Lionel Stokes should’ve had two more interceptions early against Oklahoma State.

From what I saw, the kind of runner who succeeds against this defense possesses vision and quickness, more a Kedrick Rhodes-type runner. Lou-La’s cornerbacks come down very low to help in run support. Expect FIU to try to back off the cornerbacks early with some stuff downfield, then move the ball with an implacable running game.

I don’t see many points for Louisiana-Lafayette unless FIU scores at such warp speed, Lou-La gets as many possessions as it could ever want.  I’m not sure about FIU. Overall, that is. Here, I’m sure they’re better than Louisiana-Lafayette and they’ll slowly pull away as the game huffs and puff toward its finish.

FIU 27, Louisiana-Lafayette 10.

Then again, that’s just one black man’s opinion. I could be very much in the wrong.

WOMEN'S SOCCER

This is a reversal  for the start of the conference season -- FIU got outshot by Arkansas-Little Rock 15-9, yet won 2-1 on goals by freshman Ashleigh Shim and Crystal McNamara.

It's the second consecutive game with a goal for Shim, who was set up by sophomore Nicole DiPerna. It's also the second consecutive win for FIU (4-5, 1-0).

MEN'S SOCCER

A male freshman, Arnthor Kristinsson, also has a two-game goal scoring streak working for FIU. Unfortunately, the team has a two-match losing streak after falling 2-1 in double overtime to Marshall at FIU Soccer Stadium. Marshall's Anthony Vigara struck both in regulation and in the 102nd minute. The men are now 3-4 and 0-1 in Conference USA.

VOLLEYBALL

In Denton, Texas, FIU took four sets to defeat North Texas 3-1 (25-15, 21-25, 25-18, 25-19). Renele Forde piled up 36 assists and 19 digs, both team highs. Jovana Bjelica had 17 kills and Marija Prsa had 12. FIU (9-3, 1-0) now heads for the University of Denver for a match Sunday.

 

September 22, 2011

Hilton, volleyball, soccer hitting the Belt

The Heisman Trophy goes to the best player in college football. Or, the best player with some preseason hype who makes highlight film plays while putting up numbers you can’t ignore while playing a skill position on a nationally prominent team.

That couldn’t have been made clearer when T.Y. Hilton moved up six spots, from 24th to 18th, on StiffArmTrophy.com’s list this week. Hilton picked up only 36 all-purpose yards -- his total after the opening kickoff against Louisville – against Central Florida. He played, essentially, one half. But FIU beat UCF 17-10 to move to 3-0. So up the list went Hilton. The poll contacts 49 Heisman voters in 29 states.

It’s a shame if this strained hamstring hampers Hilton beyond this week, if it does this week. I say that not because I’m rooting for FIU. I cover FIU but I’ve been in this business too long to confuse the fortunes of the team or school I cover with how well I do my own job. I say that as someone who hates to see injuries cut away the limited time for college athletes. That always makes me think of Kelvin Bryant. The North Carolina running back racked up 15 touchdowns in the first three games of his senior season, then suffered a knee injury. Bryant came back that season, but not with the same form. A season that could’ve rivaled Marcus Allen breaking the 2,000-yard rushing barrier for the Heisman Trophy and could’ve given North Carolina an outside shot at the national title got kneecapped.

Besides, Hilton at speed reminds me of a well-made Long Island iced tea – smooth and cool while it’s knocking you out.

TIME TO BELT THE BELT

Thursday afternoon, the women’s soccer team had landed in Memphis and was bouncing toward its weekend in Arkansas, against Arkansas-Little Rock Friday and their first Sun Belt match, Arkansas State, Sunday. They’re coming off a 2-1 win against Oregon in last week’s Nike Invitational.

Meanwhile, the 8-3 volleyball team gets its first piece of Sun Belt action from 9-6 North Texas Friday and 3-9 Denver Sunday. FIU goes into the weekend with four-match winning streaks against each.

That leaves the men’s soccer team to be the Friday night home appetizer on the home athletic weekend, facing Marshall at 7 p.m. The Sunday brunch I like to fix – eggs, pound or more of bacon, several sausages, biscuits – will be destroyed by the time men’s soccer puts the Sunday brunch finisher on the weekend when they host Howard at 1 p.m.

September 19, 2011

Cristobal "very optimistic" about Hilton; Faciane Sun Belt Defensive POW

Operating on 10 hours sleep over the last three days (lots of writing, late blogging, kid with cough). Please forgive any latke flat writing. I'll try to limit the errors...

Mario Cristobal said after Monday's practice he was "very optimistic" T.Y. Hilton's right hamstring would allow Hilton to play Saturday against Louisiana-Lafayette. He said Hilton suffered a "mild strain" and would be re-evaluated midweek.

"The stuff he did yesterday, today and tomorrow is going to be game plan-oriented, just about full speed," Cristobal said. "Very optimistic. He came back and played the latter part of the game."

Well, Hilton played a few plays, was thrown to once and didn't exactly dig out his patterns on the other plays. It still wouldn't surprise me if Hilton saw limited snaps Saturday just to make sure a mild strain doesn't become a full blown hammy.

In TV news, FIU's Oct. 1 game with Duke is now a 7 p.m. game on ESPNU. It had been an ESPN3 game at 6 p.m.

The line on this game opened with FIU as 19-point favorites. It's already down to 17 with an over/under of 51.5. 

OK, it's not 56 consecutive games of hitting or 47 straight games with a touchdown pass, but...

For the third consecutive week, an FIU player gets one of the Sun Belt Player of the Week awards.

Sophomore defensive tackle Isame Faciane's 51-yard fumble return touchdown, the biggest play in FIU's upset of Central Florida, got him this week's Defensive Player of the Week nod. Faciane had only one tackle otherwise, but the play of he and the other defensive tackles occupied enough blockers inside for linebackers Winston Fraser and Jordan Hunt to combine for 21 tackles as FIU sat on UCF's running game.

Faciane said the team wouldn't have any trouble focusing on Sun Belt foe Louisiana-Lafayette after the last two weeks: "Louisville and UCF were games to get us more out there. The only thing that really matters is the conference."

Fraser won last week's Defensive Player of the Week and Hilton won the first two Offensive Player of the Week awards.

FIU ranks No. 2 in the nation in sacks at 5.00 per game. Not saying FIU blitzes a little bit, but their sacks leader is cornerback Sam Miller with three. Fraser, Tourek Williams and Greg Hickman have two each. Williams and Hickman each have a team-high 4.5 tackles for loss. Fraser leads in solo tackles with 18 and total tackles with 29 and has the only interception.

They're doing a good job of getting their hands on players like UCF quarterback Jeff Godfrey and other slippery people...

 

September 18, 2011

FIU gets Top 25 votes...and a few thoughts from FIU 17, UCF 10...and a little volleyball

FIU received votes in the AP and the USA Today Coaches polls for the first time in program history Sunday. The Golden Panthers picked up four votes in the AP poll and 11 votes in the coaches poll.

Fall2011 008 

Last week, as I sat on the cement steps outside the visitors' locker room in Louisville, frantically writing an already late game story, a gleeful Mario Cristobal appeared over my shoulder. He said a few things then as he bounced away, I said something like this creates the possibility for something huge in the bigger picture. He threw a smile and "now, now" gesture, thinking I was talking about his future coaching picture. "No," I said shaking my head. "13."

As in 13-0. I thought it was possible then. Now, the only thing that keeps at least 12-0 from being probable is most college teams lose a game or two each season that they shouldn't. We're talking about great athletes, but great young athletes. They have a bad day or the other guys have a great day or the ball just doesn't bounce their way. That's the only reason I picked FIU to lose three games this season. When I went through the season game by game for our special section, this was the only game where I felt sure FIU wasn't the better team. And I didn't pick them there or here in my pregame blog.

Wrong twice.

Central Florida's a good team, still the best team on FIU's schedule. And FIU beat them, not just with a monster defensive play and a short drive after a flat out dumb attempt at fielding a bouncing punt by UCF's Josh Robinson. The Golden Panthers outdefensed a team that shaped its identity around its defense. That's strong.

What happens if FIU goes undefeated? It depends on the way they do it and what happens elsewhere. The Sun Belt does have an automatic bid to a BCS bowl. It just doesn't kick in until a Sun Belt team gets ranked 12th or higher in the final BCS standings or if that team is ranked 16th or higher and is above the conference champion of one of the six automatic qualifier conferences.

Yeah, it's a longshot. At least that's the way it seems now. Something to think about as this season continues...

 

As I talked to FIU athletic director Pete Garcia about FIU's Cheshire Radio situation from Friday and Saturday, he looked out across a packed southeast parking lot with pride. I had just snapped a picture of that and put it on Twitter when another longtime South Florida media member came up to me and said pretty much the reason I took the picture: look at that lot and you see what FIU dreamed about when they decided to get into the college-affiliated football business. Never mind that it took a strong Central Florida travel crowd to almost fill up FIU Stadium. This energy center draws students. Look, I still believe your best schools remain your best schools for reasons independent of the athletic program, i.e, The University of Chicago, which had the first Heisman Trophy winner, dropped football soon after and has been an elite university for longer than anyone can remember. But I also belive in Bear Bryant's line, "It's kind of hard to rally around a math class." 

South Westside-20110917-00114 
The game that followed is the kind that coaches and players envision when they think, "football."

One big play for a score, Faciane's fumble return. Two long drives, Central Florida's to the game's first touchdown, FIU's to their field goal. Mostly, it was about speed and hitting and who could keep their heads while it was being knocked off.

Speaking of injuries, FIU's being -- surprise! -- a little coy about Hilton's injury. It's obviously a hamstring problem. The question is, how bad? When he came back into the game for a couple of plays, you could tell he was trying to give something that wasn't close to being there. More cereal for the Irony Bowl -- the play on which Hilton went down might've been Carroll's best pass of an erratic night and should've been a gorgeous 35-yard touchdown.

Still, without their dynamite, FIU moved the ball against a defense nobody's moved much against since November. Nobody else on FIU's offense requires you play consistently good team defense the way Hilton does. Subtract Hilton and what remains are enough players you have to respect that when FIU really spread things out with formations, then went between the tackles, they got room to run against UCF.

"I thought the rest of the recievers (aside from Wayne Times), even though they didn't catch that many balls, they blocked well, which was just as important the way they play their outside linebackers," Cristobal said. "If it is a run, they're involved in the box and our receivers did a good job of digging some of those guys out."

UCF's touchdown drive shows how psychologically tough FIU is. That's the kind of drive that crushes wills -- over 10 minutes, 94 yards, 18 plays, extended by a 23-yard scramble by quarterback Jeff Godfrey on third-and-11 and a qeustionable pass interference call on Richard Leonard that wiped out a third-and-goal stop (I like offense, especially pass offense, but let men play a man's game.). Just as with the Louisville score right before the half last week, the next series FIU unplugged the momentum machine with a three-and-out.

Godfrey's slippery, skittering, but FIU adjusted to him, started obeying pass rush lanes and at least getting him off balance on first contact. Like everyone else, FIU was impressed with the way UCF punked Boston College with their downhill running game, but they came out with a good scheme and "expressed it well," as former Colorado and Indiana coach Bill Mallory used to say.

"They have big backs, coaches were telling us every day wrap up, swarm," Isame Faciane said. "As long as you swarm, one person might miss, the next person will make the tackle."

"We had to mix it up. They're powerful up front. Either plus one in the box or you bring pressure," Cristobal said. "We had an eighth guy in (the box) versus their two-back stuff. Whenever they did their "22" personnel -- two backs, two tight ends -- we found a ninth guy to put in there as well. Against the one back stuff, "11" personnel, we found a seventh. We were always trying to put one extra. We were trying to bring pressure. We were trying to give Jeff Godfrey some different looks."

Kedrick Rhodes and Darriet Perry each missed practice early in the week going back home to deal with deaths in or close to the family. With Rhodes, it was a relative. For Perry, it was the mother of his son. I can't imagine as a young man dealing with that kind of tragedy for a few days, then going back to school and football.

While Perry banged in his team-record tying 24th career rushing touchdown to give FIU a 14-7 lead, I thought it was a mistake to take Rhodes out of the game once he ran FIU to a first down on the Central Florida 14 on FIU's next possession. Rhodes was hot with four carries for 46 yards on that drive alone. I'm a big believer when a shifty back like Rhodes gets hot, scrap the game plan and run him like water.

Faciane's 51-yard fumble return touchdown is exactly the kind of play I thought FIU needed to have to win this game, exactly the kind of play I had in mind when I wrote the momentum story for Friday's paper and exactly the kind of play FIU got in each of its first two games. That's a huge play any time of the game. But six seconds before halftime to tie the game, while your home crowd's already sighing wistfully about the injured best player they saw helped into the locker room? That's almost action movie script perfect on the timing.

As a football fan, I loved everything about that play. I like it when the big guys score. I like how Faciane ran, with perfect form and amazing speed. That is the fastest you will see a 290-pound man run without a meal at the other end. I cracked up watching UCF tackle Torrian Wilson start to chase, then peel off looking like he suddenly realized that he'd be expending a lot of big man energy for no fruit.

Just as I was filing the pregame blog at 3:15 a.m. Saturday, I saw Faciane tweeting, "So I went to sleep at 8 and now I can't go back to sleep thinking about this game."

Saturday night, he said, "I slept a lot actually. I went to sleep early, woke up, went back to sleep and kept waking up thinking about it."

Funny how things work -- if officials hadn't blown a third-down reception dead while UCF's Adam Wessley was still fighting for yardage, FIU would've had a fumble there and recovered on about their own 30. Nice close to the half, but not the transformative spell that Faciane's fumble return score would be.

FIU kept giving both Louisville and UCF long fields with nice punting by Josh Brisk -- guest appearance for a pooch punt by Carroll Saturday -- and hustling coverage. That's always been important in football, but more so in the current era, statistically the most offensive in college football history, when it's so hard to get three-and-outs in anything close to an evenly matched game. Field position gives defenses a greater margin for error.

 

 

 VOLLEYBALL

While the football team dumped UCF, the volleyball team truly broke UCF volleyball's heart. At the TownPlace Suites/UCF Challenge, FIU came back from two sets down to beat UCF 3-2 Saturday, 23-25, 25-27, 26-24, 25-21, 17-15, and win the tournament. Jovana Bjelica won the tournament MVP award, senior Sabrina Gonzalez and junior Marija Prsa were named to the all tournament team.

FIU trailed 19-17 in the third set, but came back to take a 20-19 lead. Bjelica, challenged by head coach Daniela Tomjic to be the go-to hitter, nailed the close out kill for that set. Prsa had that kill in the second set. Each had a double double, Bjelica with 21 kills and 16 digs and Prsa 14 kills and 18 digs. Gonzalez had 15 kills. Andrea Lakovic had 14. Renele Forde's 40 assists were a team high as were Chanel Araujo's 24 digs.

September 17, 2011

T.Y. Hilton injured, returns; FIU tied 7-7 with Central Florida at halftime

Wide receiver T.Y. Hilton was helped to the locker room with 5:47 left in the first half of FIU’s game with Central Florida, unable to put weight on his right leg. He returned on FIU's third offensive play of the third quarter.

Hilton had just juggled, bobbled and dropped what would’ve been a 35-yard touchdown pass from Wesley Carroll when he crumpled to the ground and grabbed his right hamstring. He lay on the ground for several minutes before being helped to the locker room.

Hiltonlimping 

FIU trailed 7-0 at the time. With their big play man out, the Golden Panthers got a big play from a big man, 290-pound Isame Faciane returning a Tevin Blanchard-caused fumble 51 yards with six seconds left in the half to send the game into halftime tied 7-7.

Football GameDay III; Futbol Friday.

Three is a magic number. Yes, it is.

 

We'll discuss three teams in this blog post. It’s in Game 3 of this FIU season that we get a Saturday game in a sold out stadium, tailgaters of all ages free of job or class tethers, alumni in school-toned dorkwear, a classic college-affiliated football scene whether at The Big House or a shotgun shack stadium in Iowa.

Unfortunately missing from the overall atmosphere will be FIU's radio broadcast. There's a conflict with 1080 WHIM, which will be broadcasting another game tonight. So, no FIU radio for the biggest home game in the program's 10 seasons. That's not big time. Very tiny, in fact. UPDATE: after about an hour of uproar over this from FIU fans, the scheduling overlap is no more and the game will be on 1080 with FIU's radio team. Chips lay all over the table in this battle of state schools with enrollments that soon will make them the Seoul and Sao Paulo of American universities. There’s neighborhood rivalries, friend rivalries betwen the players. Both teams claim they’re taking it one game at a time, especially FIU under the pre-interview coaching of Mario Cristobal. Yeah, yeah, but the ultimate goal is to take it one game at a time until you win them all, just like FIU left tackle Caylin Hauptmann said at media day. If Central Florida takes out FIU and BYU, they’ve got a shot as well as an outside shot at getting into a major BCS bowl game. If FIU gets past Central Florida, they’ll have beaten what looks like the best, most talented team on their schedule to get to 3-0.

Then, there’s recruiting. Can one game make a huge recruiting difference? Coaches try to get away from that idea publicly because they privately often hope it isn’t true. That’s too much on riding on one game. Ever notice how fast most coaches in the macho-preaching sports, football and hockey, turn tail to skedaddle away from risky situations if they can? Alas, they can’t run from this idea here. If…

UCF goes UWC on FIU: this result says whatever level to which FIU’s risen, it’s still a step or two below football involving those with chest hair. Recruiting advantage: UCF.

UCF wins solidly, but not in a rout: says UCF’s a better team now, and FIU’s still trailing, which is the consensus opinion. No change in current status.

UCF wins close: You can almost hear  “How many other (my position) are you recruiting?” Recruiting advantage: whichever school is closer to the prospect

FIU wins, by decision or Liston-over-Patterson first round KO: they’re on UCF’s level, they’re rising faster than UCF and might soon be beyond them. Recruiting advantage: FIU.  

Preseason predictions: It’s the third game of the season. We’ve got an actual small sample size. Who gives two clucks to a duck what a bunch of scribes thought in the spring when the preseason publications were actually written? 

The game: I didn’t like this matchup for FIU in the preseason. After watching two FIU wins and UCF beating the stew, as my late grandmother used to say, out of Boston College, I still don’t like it.

What you heard all week from FIU about UCF’s defense were variations on “disciplined. They play assignment football.”

Translation: they don’t put themselves out of position, this increasing their vulnerability to the okeydokes – counters, misdirections, end arounds, reverses. You get an athletic, fast defense that doesn’t let its strength become its weakness, that’s when you get a defense that gives up one touchdown in the last 16 quarters.

UCF got pressure on Boston College’s quarterback rushing only four, blitzing only to break up the boredom. A repeat here means FIU quarterback Wesley Carroll better be Peyton Manning on his reads against a seven-man drop off on obvious passing downs. But a plus for FIU: only two sacks allowed in two games, both of which should’ve been Carroll throwaways. One was that strange play against Louisville when three players moved before the snap, the play continued and everybody hesitated for a beat while Carroll took a sack.

T.Y. Hilton doesn’t think there’s a secondary that can cover FIU’s wide receivers man-to-man. He better be right tonight, for FIU’s sake. If he isn’t, it’s going to be a long night of short possessions for the FIU offense. I don’t see them running on UCF, which is more talented up front than Louisville.

FIU kept trying to work the run last week even as Louisville’s defensive front did to the interior line what Interstate 95 did to Overtown. The called play breakdown, 24 runs and 22 passes, certainly didn’t reflect that the Cardinals’ defensive problems clearly were greater in pass defense against FIU than run defense. FIU likes offensive balance, albeit with more official snaps than 46. I’m more a guy who likes teams that go with what’s working, ditch what’s not.

Darriet Perry spent the early part of the week dealing with a family tragedy back in Valdosta, Ga. Perry’s FIU’s best power runner for yards after contact. There might be a lot of early contact here.

As good as UCF’s defense looked against BC, there were plays to be made against the Knights. They gave up a couple of 8-to-10-yard runs that a Kedrick Rhodes or Jeremiah Harden or Darian Mallary would turn into 15-to-25 yarders. They blew some coverages in the flat, too. BC just didn’t have the skill people to take advantage of it. FIU will if they can create the same chances.

When UCF has the ball, they’re body punchers. A line whose starters average exactly 299 pounds across the front moved Boston College around like patio furniture, especially in the second half. I’ve got a glider that puts up more of a fight when I bring it in off the north balcony for hurricanes than some of those battered, drained BC guys did in the fourth quarter.  

Battered, FIU might be, but they won’t be drained. Or, rather, they shouldn’t be. As with Louisville, I can see UCF having ground success early, but as the game goes on, those big men start to flag a bit and FIU’s quickness again comes into play.

Maintaining rush lanes and solid pursuit lines never again will be so important. If they don’t, UCF quarterback Jeffrey Godfrey will squirt through for first down after heartbreaking first down. FIU needs to keep him in the pocket – Godfrey’s accurate on the move. FIU’s secondary didn’t have the massive blown coverages of Week 1 last week against Louisville, but still gave up some plays it seemed they shouldn't.

So how does this all play out?

Nobody’s ever hurt themselves by coming out screaming like James Brown opening “Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag.” And it would do FIU some good.

 

FIU needs a couple of big plays early – a long run or catch, maybe a huge kickoff return or interception return – to keep the party going in the stands, create an atmosphere that says the fates have decreed an FIU victory.  Everyone has nights like that.

What’s more likely to happen? UCF muscles its way to an early 10-point lead. FIU gets used to UCF’s size, just as it did Louisville’s, in the second quarter. From there, the two slug it out with punts and field goals until Wesley Carroll finds someone doing a Russian kick dance through the UCF secondary for a score. Three possessions later, UCF’s Godfrey hits on two third down throws and leads them to the first of two late touchdowns. The second comes on a fumble return by UCF.

UCF 31, FIU 16.

To paraphrase an ex, that’s just one black man’s opinion. I could very well be wrong.

MEN'S SOCCER

Senior Lucas Di Croce's two first half goals stood up for a 2-1 win against North Florida Friday night at FIU Soccer Stadium, getting the team over .500 at 3-2-2 overall and keeping them unbeaten at home: 3-0-2.

The 7th Annual Alumni Golf Tournament will be held at The Country Club at Coral Springs Sept. 30. Registration's at 7 a.m. and there will be an 8 a.m. shotgun start. In addition to raffle and a live auction of licensed, autographed memorabilia, there will be a closest-to-the-pin contest and hole-in-one contest that could give the winner at 2012 Dodge Ram truck. Registration is $175. For more information, call David Lister (954_594-5763).

WOMEN'S SOCCER

The women's soccer season began with Stetson burying a last minute scoring chance (skill) off a deflected pass (luck) for the win after FIU dominated statistically. In some ways, that set the tone for the season. When a team has several games like that, as FIU has, then suffers a 7-0 loss, as FIU (2-5) did to Oregon State in the Nike Invitational Friday night, the concern usually is preventing the psychological collapse.

"I don't think we're in danger of that," head coach Thomas Chestnutt said around 1 a.m. Eastern time Saturday. "Our team has self belief."

Chestnutt believes FIU just ran into a good team on a night when it was terribly hot, realized it and rode that feeling for all it was worth. FIU has a day off before facing Oregon Sunday.

"Since I've been here, I've not seen a team that played with that level of aggression and committment on the field," head coach Thomas Chestnutt said. "Still, it's embarrassing to be beaten 7-0."

This season, senior Kelly Ann Hutchinson has been FIU's only semi-consistent finisher, potting a team high three goals on 11 shots.

"Kelly and Vicky (Miliucci) have played strong game in, game out," Chestnutt said. "They've been the cornerstones of our team. Even tonight, they played well. Sara Stewart as a freshman has done a great job, very consistent. Usually, freshman are up and down."

Next week starts the conference portion of the schedule, with a road trip to Arkansas State for a Sunday afternoon game.

"We're not where we want to be as a team, but we're certainly capable of beating anyone on our schedule for the rest of the season," Chestnutt said.

September 16, 2011

A little T.Y., lot of volleyball, XY soccer up, XX soccer down

Busy day here -- day before FIU-UCF, volleyball and the soccers in action and daughter underfoot because it's a half day at Cushman (what? Didn't the school year just start?). I'll be writing a bunch for print and the blog. I plan to update the blog often tonight with results and pregame stuff. Let's see how that goes.

AS OF MIDNIGHT, STILL WRITING THE PREGAME FOOTBALL BLOG. IT'LL INCLUDE RESULTS FROM BOTH SOCCERS, THE MEN WHO BEAT NORTH FLORIDA 2-1 AND THE WOMEN WHO TOOK A DRILLING FROM OREGON STATE.

As I Tweeted (http://twitter.com/DavidJNeal) a few hours ago, the folks at StiffArmTrophy.com now have T.Y. Hilton on their list. Stiff Arm's a site that polls a small, spread out number of Heisman voters each week. This is Hilton's first appearance on the list, sticking his nose in at No. 24.

VOLLEYBALL

While the football coaches try to temper and guide their team’s emotions as Central Florida comes to town, the volleyball coaches wanted their team to unleash some emotion as they headed to Orlando for the TownePlace Suites/UCF Challenge, which began Friday afternoon for FIU with a 3-0 win (25-16, 25-21, 25-15) over Jacksonville. Senior Sabrina Gonzalez had nine kills and Andrea Lakovic had eight. Renele Forde had 31 of FIU's 37 assists.

After Thursday’s practice, the team exchanged high fives in the end-of-match manner.

“We are working on bringing more energy to the team,” head coach Danijela Tomic said. “Becoming a more enthusiastic team, celebrating when we do things right, when we get a nice kill, get a nice block, get a dig. We need to be more enthusiastic and bring that energy. I challenged our players to start doing that.”

“It’s something for some of them that doesn’t come natural. They come from a background where they don’t talk a lot on the court and it’s a different style of play.”

Ironic that such a command comes from a European born-and-trained coach.

“There’s a lot of internationals, Europeans, who don’t talk too much because that’s the way we’re taught,” Belgrade-born outside hitter Jovana Bjelica explained.

Bjelica definitely heard another challenge from Tomic: be the hitter FIU could count on when they needed a kill to kill an opponent or opponent’s run. She also told Bjelica, a preseason all-conference pick, the unforced errors she was making were beneath her.

“I think that she was right,” Bjelica said of the mistakes. “She felt I was trying to do too much – like when the ball is out of bounds, I was still trying to get the kill. She felt that I need to concentrate on getting the ball into the court to keep the play going.”

Bjelica ranks 29th in the nation with 4.28 kills per set and has eight double-digit kill matches this year, four of which she also turned in double digit digs. Renele Forde has FIU’s other double-double so far this season.

Tomic says with Bjelica, Andrea Lakovic (“She’s gotten very good in doing something with every set she gets. Even when the set isn’t perfect, she betters the ball”) and Sunset High graduate Sabrina Gonzalez (“she’s been playing consistently well for us”) the offense has been fine. To move up to very good, she wants to see more from outside hitters Marija Prsa and Una Trkulja.

As for the team defense, improvement of which was a preseason goal, FIU’s at 2.28 blocks per set, a 36.5 percent improvement on last season. Gonzalez’s 1.19 blocks per set is third in the Sun Belt.

“I thought our defense was really good in California the first weekend,” Tomic said. “We had a relentless pursuit of defense. It was fun watching the team play like that. Even though we lost to California, I thought we competed really well. The last couple of weekends, I thought our defense took a step back. Our blocking has been right there. I think we’ve been outblocking most of the teams we’ve played against, which is new for us.”

“After the first two weekends, I had to talk to the team about having a process-oriented mindset instead of a results-oriented mindset. We went back to focusing on fundamentals on the things we need to do every time in every rally to make us successful.”

Sunday against Florida A&M, freshman Carolyn Fouts made her first start. Tomic said Hialeah native and Miami Christian graduate Nicole Beckelheimer, a 6-0 outside hitter, might be “the hardest working freshman in the nation” but probably would be redshirted this year.

September 14, 2011

The IT Staff Complete With Adubato Hiring

Men's basketball coach Isiah Thomas will hire Scott Adubato to complete his staff of assistant coaches. The paperwork should be completed officially this week. Adubato, whose recruiting ties are strongest in the New York/New Jersey area was most recently an assistant at Manhattan for one season. He's also been an assistant in the NBA with Memphis and spent three seasons as a Seton Hall assistant under Bobby Gonzalez. Look for Adubato, son of former Orlando Magic assistant Richie Adubato, to boost FIU's quality of recruiting.

Yes, A'mare Stoudemire's been working out at FIU in Sunblazer/Golden Panther/Pharmed/US Century Bank Arena. No, Thomas hasn't been there. Not yesterday, not today. Today, while Amare worked out, Thomas listened to me talk to the basketball team about media, social media, the impression you can give through each and how that impression can follow you...forever.


FOOTBALL
As they used to say way back in the day, T.Y. Hilton's been getting more phone calls this week than a girl with a bad reputation. The FIU media relations staff has fielded not only the normal media requests (me, FIU Student Media), but electronic South Florida media. Sports Illustrated, USA Today and other national media.

September 12, 2011

2 out of 3 Ain't Bad: Sun Belt Football POW Awards

The touchdown makers of FIU's 24-17 win against Louisville, wide receiver T.Y. Hilton and linebacker Winston Fraser, will be named the Sun Belt Offensive and Defensive Players of the Week this morning.

For Hilton, the repeat of an opening week honor came via a school record 201 receiving yards and two touchdowns. A few more times and Hilton will retire the award. Or they'll rename it "The Goodbye."

Fraser had eight tackles, the biggest being a no gain stop on Jeremy Wright on 3rd and 1 from the FIU 7 in the fourth quarter. His most important play, arguably the most important one of the game, was the 71-yard interception return that gave FIU a 7-0 lead after Loiusville's opening drive.

FIU left the Special Teams part of the award for its Sun Belt bretheren.

Both Hilton and Fraser, after the not-unusual pre-interview private chat with head coach Mario Cristobal, humbly complimented their teammates and coaches. Hilton dismissed the idea that the offense relied too much on him, with the understatement
"The plays that I make help us out."
He did say later he didn't think there was a secondary that could cover FIU's receivers one-on-one.

I know football and basketball drive the traffic to this blog, but I hate that I haven't had much on volleyball (two home wins over the weekend) or soccer (tough weekend) in the blog the last few days. We'll try to rectify that soon, even with FIU vs. UCF nigh.

September 11, 2011

What Would Camp Say? What Does Vegas Say?

 Walter Camp coached at Yale and Stanford as American football took form in the late 1800s. Camp helped give it that form, creating many of the basic rules still used.

Camp would've looked at Friday's FIU win against Louisville and wondered why the young man taking hte snap from center was called the quarterback. And what the heck was the quarterback occasionally doing throwing the ball forward? And who is that No. 4 in white and can we get him to transfer to Yale before Harvard finds out about him?

T.Y. Hilton's school record 201 yards receiving, two touchdown catches and 268 all-purpose yards got him named The Walter Camp Foundation's National Player of the Week Sunday. 

Last week, the bettors knew what they were doing. Sportsbooks place the opening line on how they think the game will play out and how they think bettors think the game will play out. They move the line based on how the bettors actually lay money, not on whether or not they change the sportsbook heads change their analysis. So, when Louisville opened as nine-point favorites and steadily dropped to 3.5 by game time, it said serious college football gamblers -- neither school has enough of a national following to draw any other wagerers early in the week -- were loving them some FIU all week. On that game, the books took a hit.

This week, Central Florida opened a five-point favorite, according to Vegasinsider.com. It's already down to 3.5 at the Wynn. The offshore boys, Sportsbook.com, The Greek and BetOnline, have UCF as four-point faves.

September 10, 2011

A few thoughts from FIU 24, Louisville 17

 

 

Just because they expected to beat Louisville doesn’t mean they didn’t enjoy it.

Especially head coach Mario Cristobal, who I thought would break something on someone with his ferocious hugs, high fives, chest bumps after the game. Yet he was the physical manifestation of the roar out of the locker room from the players. That sound comes for a deep hunger for something. On this evening, that something was “respect.”

They beat a team from outside the Sun Belt, a team from a conference with an automatic BCS bowl bid.

“We knew it was going to happen one day,” defensive end Tourek Williams said. “We had to keep working and working and pushing. I came into this program knowing I would help push it to the next level.”

(Williams came back from one of the scarier plays of the night, going helmet to helmet with James Jones as they combined on a sack. After Williams head snapped back like he took an Ali right cross, he tried to run off the field, but staggered and fell. He had to be helped to the sideline after a few minutes on his back.

“Just a little head butt,” Williams laughed. “Everything’s good. I’m straightened out.”)

Every player or coach who had a choice has been told he made a mistake going to FIU. Hilton recalled winding up at FIU because his son chose FIU’s hat eight consecutive times when placed on the bed next to a West Virginia hat. Think he hasn’t been told at some point how big he’d be if he were blowing up the bigger stage in the Big East, Louisville’s conference?

They might not publicly talk trash or speak the modern version of “in your face,” but they longed for that game to point to and say “told you.” Coaches long for a game to point at while recruiting and say, “we can do this again and again with you. We’re just getting better.”

The challenge now, of course, is doing it again against Central Florida, which, to me, is the most talented team on FIU's schedule. It’s hard sometimes for grown men to ground themselves again after such a win. These are young men capable of the pre-adulthood grand emotional swings that draw fans to college sports. This week will test their maturity, as well as their mettle and their mantra: “1-0, every week.”

Football’s a funny game.

FIU got moved around in the first half, on both sides of the ball. Yet with three big blows, the Golden Panthers took a 21-3 lead. Winston Fraser’s 71-yard interception return for a touchdown in the first quarter might’ve been the biggest play of the game. That was a 10-point, possibly 14-point swing the way Louisville was moving the ball.

And unless some Sun Belter turns in a Ronnie Lott, Lawrence Taylor or Bob Lilly performance Saturday, Fraser will get my vote this week for conference Defensive Player of the Week.

In the second half, which they lost 7-3, they took over defensively, although they still found going through Louisville’s defensive middle akin to swimming through boulders.

Louisville exposed some FIU weaknesses. Towering tight end Josh Chichester, six catches for 111 yards, proved an impossible matchup for FIU, too big for defensive backs and too much maneuverability for linebackers. FIU's better at attacking the flanks with the run, something that would seem obvious with their team speed even if they didn't get destroyed inside by Louisville. Jeremiah Harden, Kedrick Rhodes and Darriet Perry contributed only 53 yards on 23 carries.

That said, a game that retained some drama better than it did the crowd that headed for the exits at 24-10 with 6:00 left could’ve been a true spanking by FIU.

Remember the Comedy Central game show that got Jimmy Kimmel’s career rolling, Win Ben Stein’s Money? By midway through Friday night, FIU could’ve played Take Will Stein’s Lunch Money at will. When Louisville got into passing situations and FIU brought the company, Stein looked like a rabbit on the run. A couple of times, he turned into a resourceful Bugs Bunny to create a play out of nothing. Most of the time, he just got boiled. Fraser's interception came on a blitz on third and long. FIU also rolled up 6 sacks, two by blitzing cornerback Sam Miller, two by Williams, one by Isame Faciane and one by Joshua Forney.

Yet for extended stretches, FIU locked into or got locked onto a four-man rush. That happened on Louisville’s touchdown drive to end the first half and Stein jitterbugged the Cardinals downfield for what could’ve been a momentum-turning touchdown.

Instead, a holding penalty on the kickoff cost Louisville about 33 yards of field position, FIU got Louisville into a third and 8 and blitzed Stein into a sack by Sam Miller. FIU took the ball and drove 39 yards to a field goal that put a two-touchdown deficit, 24-10, in Louisville’s back. You could almost feel Louisville sag.

“I always tell them the first five minutes of the second half are so critical,” Louisville coach Charlie Strong said. “We didn’t get established. We returned the ball out to the 15. If we don’t get that penalty, it’s to the 50. We still would’ve had a chance.”

Aside from the flambé job Hilton and Wesley Carroll did, FIU let Louisville’s cornerbacks off the hook much of the night. Had they attacked more, we could’ve been in garbage time by the fourth quarter.

Friday’s advance story on the game in The Courier-Journal focused on Louisville’s efforts to stop Hilton with the biggest picture of Hilton that’s run outside of South Florida. The anticipation and curiosity could be heard in snatches of the parking lot conversation as I walked toward and around Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium (in the Howard Schnellenberger Football Complex). How good is this guy?

The answer came on the opening kickoff, which Hilton returned 36 yards. It wasn’t that it was such a great return. It was that it was a very good return, but done without much special – pretty good blocking that could’ve been better and Hilton seemed to be almost in rapid stroll, instead of full run. It was like shaking hands with an immensely strong person who doesn’t feel the need to show off – you can still sense all that you don’t see and instantly know how dangerous that can be.

Here’s Hilton on his first touchdown, a slant that he turned up for 74 yards like Hot Wheels blowing through Matchbox: “They blitzed my man. I told Wes, ‘Here he comes, here he comes.’ And he looked at me like, ‘I got him.’ They rolled a safety down and I gave him a quick move, used my quickness to my advantage. Once I caught it, I just shot past him.”

Louisville coach Charlie Strong said, “That first slant he caught, we were in man coverage. We actually had double coverage. He split the guys and ended up taking it the distance.”

Hilton on the 83-yarder: “On the second, they rolled the linebacker (Dexter Heyman) on me. I looked at Wes again, like, ‘it’s a linebacker.’ He looked the safety off and came to me across the middle.”

 Strong said, “The third down play, we blitzed. Our safety got caught in a little hole and he just ran by.”

Carroll said, “That’s the thing about this defense. You take gambles by playing man-to-man. If you want to play man-to-man against T.Y., and he catches the ball, it’s going to be a touchdown because (the cornerback has) got no help. There might be a safety that’s deep. But with TY’s speed, if that guy doesn’t get him down initially, it’s going to be a big play.”

In the next 30 minutes, T.Y. Hilton went from a name for college football cognescenti to a name trending worldwide on Twitter. Heisman? Slow down. But if he's not on your watch list -- and he wasn't on the ones I get updated on each week -- then your list has a credibility gap about the size of the one in the Louisville secondary that Hilton ran through.

The zebras had an interesting night.

Hilton making a sort-of fair catch wave, then taking off with a punt last week brought half the North Texas coaching staff off the bench screaming for a penalty. This week, he got flagged. Good call from my vantage point.

Caddyshack’s Al Czervik claiming a ricocheting golf ball broke his forearm was more convincing than Greg Hickman’s calf “cramp” as Louisville rushed to the line in a hurry up offense. When Hickman was asked after the game if he was OK, Tourek Williams, standing off Hickman’s left shoulder, didn’t even bother trying to hold in his laughter.

You can’t say this kept FIU from putting the game away because offensive consistency proved more elusive than T.Y. Hilton on this night. Still, FIU was driving with a third and 6 on the Louisville 28 up 21-3 when an officiating gaffe helped kill the drive. Before the snap, Louisville’s defensive end flinched, FIU left tackle Caylin Hauptmann moved and left guard Kevin Van Kirk fidgeted also. Somewhere in that mess, there was a penalty, probably two that should’ve halted the play.

It looked to me like Wesley Carroll saw it, too. Carroll didn’t exactly skedaddle from Dexter Heyman, who recorded a 12-yard sack. Instead of third and 11 or a third and 1, FIU faced fourth and 18 from the Cardinals’ 40.

 

September 09, 2011

Football Game Day II, 2011; soccer(s), volleyball, cross country

To no one's surprise, the Sun Belt Conference will suspend free safety Chuck Grace for his hit to the head on North Texas' Andrew Power. A Sun Belt spokesman said Grace will miss "a quarter" of Friday night's game against Louisville. So, it's less "suspension" than "punishment." He got sent to his room, but not grounded.

Preseason projections: The Sporting News actually had FIU and Louisville meeting twice this season -- here and in the BBVA Compass Bowl. Nobody else is drinking the Cardinals' bourbon: Sports Illustrated's got Louisville at 4-8, Athlon's at 5-7, but both have them 3-2 in non-conference games.

The game: Your name is Charlie Strong. You like to move the ball by land. FIU knows you want to move the ball by land. FIU also knows your quarterback is gimpy but the most big plays in a big play game could come from your receivers. So, what do you do early, Charlie? Muscle up against a defense that stonewalled a North Texas line of similar size and identical experience or freeze the macho and come out flinging?

I say Louisville comes out with a series of plays that'll use FIU's defensive quickness and speed against them: screens to quick backs, misdirection runs, play action passes. If that works and FIU's defense starts moving a half-second late, then the Cardinals will switch to the straight ahead stuff. But Strong knows Louisville needs points, so even if the Cardinals jump FIU, don't look for them to totally refrigerate the ball.

Because while FIU doesn't get the run push as consistently as it wants, the pass plays are there for Wesley Carroll and he's feeling it early again. Young Cardinal cornerbacks get taken to school by FIU's wide receivers. It's not so much the speed, it's the diversity of the attack. Once safeties Shenard Holton and Hakeem Smith have to give more than drop-in help to the corners, FIU starts running counters.

As Dan Jenkins wrote in his Sports Illustrated game story on the 1971 Nebraska-Oklahoma classic -- still tops my list of best college game ever -- you can't take everything away in modern football. At least, not in the middle of the field. Neither team finishes drives as it likes. Ameliorating those failures is a Louisville kickoff return for a touchdown and FIU getting great field position from returners, T.Y. Hilton and Richard Leonard. Quarterback Will Stein, trying to do too much, throws a late interception. FIU scores on the ensuing drive and escapes with a 27-20 win.

But, that's just one black man's opinion.

Some video from a guy with connections to Louisville and Miami.

 

SOCCER

The pitch wasn't kind to FIU last weekend, the genders combining for to go 0-3 both at home (the women) and up at the Bert & Iris Wolstein Classic (the men). Tonight's double-header, the women against Florida Gulf Coast and the men against Stetson, could be an early turning point in the season for each team.

Florida Gulf Coast is only in its fifth year as a program but makes up for that in the coaching experience of Jimmy Blankenship, an FIU alumnus who was an ace college women's soccer coach back when the oldest of tonight's players were still trying to conquer crawling. Also, Gulf Coast is 2-1-1 against FIU. This will be the last home game for FIU's women's soccer until Sept. 30.

Stetson beat Penn State last week, which edged FIU 1-0 at the Wolstein Classic. Jacksonville follows for the men on Sunday. Gonzalo de Mujica from Weston leads Stetson in assists this season with three. In fact, eight Stetson players could consider this game a homecoming of sorts, as they're from Broward or Miami-Dade. FIU has 14 such players.

VOLLEYBALL

Starting to wonder if the volleyball team's next home matches would be the Sun Belt Conference Tournament. It would've gone a long way toward the team going undefeated at home, one of their season goals, although a 56-9 home record since 2005 says they don't need such shortcuts. They'll get Tulane Friday night and Florida A&M Sunday. A shame they have to open at home against a soccer doubleheader and a major football game, then play their second home match on the season's first NFL Sunday.

Another of FIU's season goals was improving defensively. They're averaging 2.21 blocks per set, up from 1.67 blocks per set last year. Andrea Lakovic is closing on the rally scoring era FIU career records of Jennifer Owens for solo blocks, block assists and total blocks.

CROSS COUNTRY

The cross country teams are at the USF Invitational today after each finshed third in the Florida Gulf Coast Invitational last week. Senior Daniela Espino won the individual title, coming home in 18:43.

 

September 05, 2011

Enclosed (Not Domed) Stadium in 2012, T.Y., Bjelica POWs, Grace Under Fire

Time for FIU to get its house in order. Texas A&M's waiting to join the SEC harem, the Pac 12's talking with other schools and holes will be created that conferences will want to fill.

FIU athletic director Pete Garcia said today after this football season, FIU Stadium's north side bleachers will be demolished and replaced by seating that fully encloses the stadium. The project will begin No. 13, the day after FIU's final regular season game, against FAU, and will be finished in time for the 2012 season. There will be north side suites and second Stadium Club.

The full expansion to 45,000 seats with a second deck is a few years down the road.

"This is needed right now," Garcia said. "We need to finish out our stadium."

"A huge step. The parallels of the program, the facilities, our university are remarkable," head football coach Mario Cristobal said. "Everything is continually going forward at 100 mph. It's a very strong statement by our administration, one that we're very thankful and privileged to have, that football and this university, building that camaraderie, that tradition are very very important to this university community. As a football coach, I'm as fired up as you can imagine. That was the final piece of the stadium for now."

Garcia said of making the stands ring the field completely, "This will be an important recruiting tool for Coach Cristobal," but what he didn't mention was the bigger picture recruiting tool -- making FIU a more attractive school to recruit to a conference as the puzzle squares shift with conference realignment. The actual number of seats won't change much, but the aesthetic and feel will. It'll look like a college stadium instead of a Texas-sized high school stadium.

Though rain ruined the season opener crowd, FIU's got over 11,000 season ticket holders now and the Central Florida game is nearly sold out. That game's expected to be FIU's largest home crowd in the program's 10-season history.

T.Y. Hilton won the Sun Belt Offensive Player of the Week award after rolling up a national best 283 yards of all-purpose yards against North Texas. Middle Tennessee State's Eric Russell got the Defensive Player of the Week nod after 13 tackles, 11 solo, a sack and an intercetion that he returned 34 yards in MTSU's choke againt (ugh) Purdue. Western Kentucky punter Hendrix Brakefield was the Special Teams Player of the Week. He averaged 44.6 yards per punt on eight punts against Kentucky and had two downed inside Kentucky's 10. FIU's nominees were Hilton, linebacker Winston Fraser (11 tackles) and kicker Jack Griffin. I voted for Hilton, Russell and Brakefield, although I almost went for Fraser over Russell. 

The situation with free safety Chuck Grace lingers, as of right now. Some resolution might come in the next two days. Expect Terrance Taylor, who had four tackles Thursday, to play for Grace when Grace's fourth quarter head shot against North Texas costs him game time against Louisville this Friday. Grace will get some punishment from the Sun Belt. They can't give him a pass, not with the pressure on the authorities at all levels of football to address hits to the head and the ever increasing knowlege of the damage those hits can do.

FIU came through Thursday healthy. Louisville quarterback Will Stein's left ankle had him in a walking boot, but he should play Friday. Center Mario Benavides and defensive end B.J. Butler are out. Defensive tackle Brandon Dunn didn't dress in Louisville's 21-9 win against Murray State and is questionable for Friday.

Up in that part of the country, they think of Florida International as one of those schools you see advertising on Judge Judy or Judge Joe Brown. So Eric Crawford of The Courier-Journal, Louisville's newspaper of record since the days when jockeys in The Kentucky Derby were black, is taking some guff for picking FIU by 7. He's being accused of being a Kentucky homer. Loyalties are so divided between Louisville, Kentucky and Indiana in the C-J's coverage area -- The Hoosier State is across the Ohio River from downtown -- and so emotional that the paper actually used to make sure each school received the same number of inches of coverage to insulate itself against favoritism charges.

VOLLEYBALL

The volleyball team went 2-2 over the weekend at The Blue Raider Bash at Middle Tennessee State, beating Austin Peay and East Tennessee State and losing to Auburn and Missouri. Individually, Jovana Bjelica racked up 76 kills in 15 sets, 35 digs and nine blocks, good enough to be named to the All-Tournament Team and the Sun Belt's Player of the Week.

 

September 02, 2011

Few thoughts from FIU 41, North Texas 16.

Sorry this postgame blog didn’t get up last night. It was post-midnight by the time I left Camp Mitch, I still had to drive back to South Beach, the kid’s first day of this school year is today and I’m the Morning Mussolini in getting her ready. For Saturday night games and road games, I expect to have this up late night.

So this is coming to you live from Cushman School Primary School Parent Orientation on three hours sleep.

The game story is at http://www.miamiherald.com/sports.

After Thursday’s 41-16 win, FIU players recalled the similarity to the season’s first official practice. That afternoon, the weather horn ran the team off the field and under the bleachers, then summoned them back. Several times. Back then, I talked to players who said this would help keep whatever minor problems that cropped up during the season from derailing what they wanted to do.

Well, the horn took charge late Thursday afternoon again. Requests to clear the stands and the field came soon after. And FIU players who had been through all of this several times over the last month changed gears, reset their emotional peaks and just dealt with it. OK, there was some head-banging in the locker room according to T.Y. Hilton.

Meanwhile, North Texas couldn’t have been happy. New coaching staff, inexperienced quarterback, young team playing a talented, more established team on the road…give that team boring routine. They’ve got enough gears to shift. The dampening of the crowd, literally and in size, counted as the only bright spot for North Texas in the pregame stop-start. 

Pete Garcia looked at the wet and what could've been a nice crowd with the same look I had two days after we put our Hemingway, Caruso, asleep (his ashes sit on my side of the desk). The FIU athletic director grew up here. He knows what rain does to the best of sporting events down here, exponentially so for a weeknight sporting event at the on-campus facility of a commuter school in a circle of suburbia traffic hell. Garcia also knows what rain does to South Florida traffic. I heard some horrifying drive times from colleagues. I wonder how many people got part of the way there in the crawling traffic and said, “Forget this.”

The student sections got packed, but the rest of the crowd could’ve carpooled in a West Kendall mom van.

As for the game…

FIU’s quickness inside on defense just destroyed North Texas’ line. That gave running back Lance Dunbar no chance. Dunbar bounced outside for a couple of gains, but spent most of the night carrying some member of the front seven, usually linebacker Winston Fraser. North Texas quarterback Derek Thompson isn’t ready to be the I-beam upside the head of a team like FIU, especially down 28-0 early. At least four times, he floated throws a breath late that nearly became pick sixes.

Brelan Chancellor averaged 28.0 per kickoff return last year for North Texas. That said, the kickoff coverage needed to be more consistent. When kicker Jack Griffin makes two tackles or was the most dependable special teams tackler, as was the case last night, few gold stars get handed out for coverage.

Not much more can be said about T.Y. Hilton. He's an opposing coaches' nightmare because of what he can do but also because of what's around him -- a grinding running game, other receivers who can make tough catches or turn a little into a lot. On his 60-yard touchdown catch, the safety meandered toward Wayne Times, taking away the corner's help on Hilton. Later.

  

FIU head coach Mario Cristobal listed Darriet Perry as the starter at running back. I suspected that was out of respect for Perry as a leader and a senior. If you listened closely to Cristobal, you could hear his love for Rhodes’ runner’s instincts and vision. Sure enough, Rhodes got the bulk of the work early before they used Perry to batter a North Texas defense that got used to Rhodes’ shiftiness.

The best runs aren’t always the longest. NFL Hall of Famer Tony Dorsett broke the only 99-yard run in NFL history, but he’s often said if there was one play that would be next to his Hall bust, it was a 4-yard touchdown run against the then-St. Louis Cardinals (at 30 seconds in the video). Barring injury, Rhodes will make many runs this season longer than his 19-yard touchdown run Thursday. I doubt he’ll make any that demonstrate more running talent.

 

Cristobal hoped to sucker punch North Texas with freshman cornerback/kick returner Richard Leonard. Leonard had a solid game both on defense and special teams. He had the first of the near interceptions that would’ve been returned for scores, in the second quarter of his college career. He broke well on the ball, got to it the same time as the receiver and just couldn’t hold on while outfighting the receiver. The same play a few games from now, he’ll be there a quarter step quicker and he’ll be heading the other way with the ball.

Louisville got up on Murray State early Thursday then came home with the win, although not as eased up as FIU. I didn't DVR it. Hopefully, I'll snag a replay of it so I can do a full tracking of the game and give a decent scouting report.

August 31, 2011

Football Game Day I, 2011

As opposed to Football I Game Day, 2011, which would mean you've downloaded the original Mattel Electronics game onto your iPad and you're either playing or waiting for someone else to run across the screen several times to score a touchdown, prompting that electronic tune that seemed to be a TD dance unto itself.

Could see a lot of that tonight.

FIU vs. North Texas on Alfonso Field at FIU Stadium.

Preseason projections: The Sporting News picks FIU as the outright Sun Belt winner. Sports Illustrated says FIU, Troy and Louisiana-Monroe all hit the line 8-4 overall and 7-1 in the conference. Lindy's and Athlon both take Troy with FIU second, Athlon's predicting FIU with a 6-2 conference record and 7-5 record overall. Conversely, North Texas is picked as high as third (Sporting News) and as low as eighth (Lindy's) with SI and Athlon's both putting them sixth at 4-8 overall and 4-4 in conference.

The game: The first 4,000 in the house get a free football schedule magnet to hold those pizza coupons on the door until late the first weekend night after they expire, when you rediscover them because you've got the munchies and Triscuits aren't getting it done.

The significant number for the North Texas offense is 299.6. That's the average poundage of their offensive line starters, a number dragged down by 275-pound center J.J. Johnson and left tackle Matt Tomlinson, 6-5, 298, who might be their best lineman. The Mean Green will keep handing the ball to 5-9, 209-pound Lance Dunbar and try to punk FIU with power and bulk. If this results in long drives that suck the life out of The Cage, well, that's the point, now isn't it? With 6-4 Derek Thompson at quarterback, expect North Texas to make a few plays off the scramble as well as the play action pass. FIU's defensive speed won't be tested as much as the quickness of the front seven. North Texas will put up more than the 10 points of last year's 34-10 FIU win.

But it won't be enough.

North Texas' new defensive coordinator Clint Bowen was the DC at Western Kentucky last year, where an OK Sun Belt defense held FIU to 28 points in a 28-21 FIU win. Tonight, like a stud poker player slowly pulling cards from his sleeve, FIU reveals what they've learned of this expanded version of the offense over the last year. Once the Golden Panthers get the Mean Green going with runs at the defensive ends, look for them to occasionally go back the other way with quick, play action hitches and screens. Don't bet against them, from there, setting up a hitch-and-go bomb.

"21 (North Texas cornerback Royce Hill), I know he's a great cover guy," FIU's T.Y. Hilton said. "He loves bump-and-run. He's got great speed."

So do FIU's receivers. Wesley Carroll completes only 13-to-15 passes, but he averages around 18 yards per completion. A kickoff return touchdown ignites pandemonium late, but an interception return for a touchdown not long after puts North Texas next to Glass Joe. FIU gallops to a 47-24 win that's not as easy as the score makes it look.

 

To paraphrase an ex-girlfriend, that's one black man's opinion. I surely could be wrong.

WAIVERS

The NCAA approved two hardship waivers in two days earlier this week. The second one allowed Salt Lake City native Lewis Walker, who played in 24 games over two seasons with Hawaii, to play this season after transferring to Utah. The first one put tight end Mike McFarland, from the Tampa-St. Petersburg metropolitan area, closer to the field for South Florida after leaving Gainesville. According to the St. Pete Times, McFarland cited a family illness as why he wanted to be closer to home.

Does this mean the NCAA's feeling like Don Corleone on his daughter's wedding day and be willing to let running back Daquan Hargrett and/or wide receiver James Louis do their thing for FIU this year?

 

Don't know, but Hargrett's one more of what FIU already has -- a short, fast back you use as part of a rotation. Louis, on the other hand, is a true talent. That he didn't play at Ohio State -- kind of a good football school with a tradition of tremendous college wide receivers -- as a freshman doesn't dim that he would be a dynamic addition, once he gets into football shape and hold of the offense.

RECRUITING

A few recruits will be floating around The Cage at Camp Mitch on unofficial visits Thursday. Look for the official visits to start with the Saturday night games. No word on any more early commits -- yet.

The Herald's preseason football sections came out today. Please realize the deadlines on those were over a week ago, thus affecting the prognastications and the accuracy of several other details. Writers rarely get excited about what they scribble for the special sections and this is no exception as far as me and what I wrote. OK Apple Jacks reading, not up to Real Reading Room standards.

 

48 Hours

As the lightning horn blew Tuesday afternoon, signalling the end of post-practice on the field, T.Y. Hilton led the receivers in a running cheer to the locker room. Various coaches similarly scurried across the parking lot into one of the stadium meeting rooms for a compliance meeting. Especially these days, no coach wants to take the chance of skipping those.

Around football's house, everybody's pretty much in excited idle in wait for Thursday's run out of the tunnel. Not that practice was flat (the parts we media are allowed to see), but there's been a sense of "let's get it going" for a week. This is one area on which players and media mind meld. We're all sick of no games. Coaches, of course, always would love one more practice. Just one more, just an hour so they can cover some minor detail that'll wind up being subatomic in its significance to winning or losing compared to, say, the fact that they might be athletically inferior/superior in 10 different matchups.

Wesley Carroll, T.Y. Hilton and Mario Cristobal said the predictable things in Tuesday afternoon's last-availability-before-the-game conference. Carroll spoke with a quiet confidence, as he has all preseason. It's much more matter-of-fact confidence than "swagger." Hilton was modest, Cristobal tried to say something without giving away anything. I presume he was the same in Spanish....

 

By the way, if you're an expert on a program with a lower rung football team, you can make enough in legalized betting to keep the tooth fairy for sharks in business. FIU's a 14.5-point favorite on North Texas. Reasonable. The total score over/under is 53.5. Reasonable, but risky. 53.5? Between two running teams...at a level where the clock stops after each first down...in which the better defensive team gave up almost 170 yards per game on the ground last season?

Changes on the most recent roster from the roster through most of training camp: Off are freshman safety Lyndon Edwards from Northwestern High; freshman offensive lineman Richard Reay from Tampa Robinson; senior running back Torrence Seymour from Miami Varela; senior defensive lineman Jeremy Jermin from Brooklyn and Nassau Junior College, where Eddie Murphy went "for two weeks" he cracked in a Saturday Night Live moment. Redshirt senior Kicker/punter Michael Cal now wears No. 47. Redshirt senior linebacker Christopher Edwards wears No. 56; freshman linebacker Kelby Maynor has No. 57; junior offensive lineman Paul Lungren is No. 62; freshman defensive lineman Lars Koht is No. 74. Redshirt freshman offensive lineman Jordan White is now No. 77.

RELATIONSHIP VULTURING

Texas A&M's saying it didn't send a withdrawal letter to the Big 12. Sort of like saying "I haven't called a lawyer yet" after you've asked to see other people and made a very public pass at the hot, rich neighbor. Whatever. The money's still on the Aggies to be the first domino to fall.

The Sun Belt coaches, for the most part, talked around conference realignment and what it means to the Sun Belt on the conference call Monday. Todd Berry of Louisiana-Monroe said, "I don't think we're looking at a dramatic impact on the Sun Belt at all." Troy's Larry Blakeney said, "I don't know where the chips will fall. The only thing any of us in the Sun Belt are looking for is an automatic bid (to a BCS bowl)"  whether by merger with another conference or some other route.

As I've written in one comment and two blog posts, from talking to a few folks, I see FIU in Conference USA in the not-too-distant future. If the big boys decide to steroid up in size, C-USA will look for a similar-sized partner with which to combine school mass.

That's about it for tonight. Be back Wednesday afternoon/evening with the season advance post.

  

August 30, 2011

Depth Chart Blues (and Golds); women's soccer evens record

Seeing Michelle Trachtenberg all grown up on Weeds reminds me that the extra duties of blogging have taken me away from my usual late summer indulgence: getting into the fall writing rhythm by watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer episodes. So let me throw down the first football depth chart of the season then get into proper writing shape for the season with “Lovers Walk” or “Once More, With Feeling.”

QB: Wesley Carroll, Jake Medlock. Really, if it goes beyond that, either the game has been long won or the season has been long lost.

RB: Darriet Perry, Kedrick Rhodes, Jeremiah Harden, Darian Mallary. Rhodes looked the best this August, though.

WR: T.Y. Hilton, Michael Curry.

WR: Wayne Times, Willie Wright. Weewy, weewy, swift wide weceevers.

WR: Glenn Coleman, Jacob Younger. Nobody under 6-2 allowed.

TE: Jonathan Faucher, Colt Anderson.

LT: Caylin Hauptmann, Prince Matt

LG: Kevin Van Kirk, Shae Smith. Both were listed as starters.

C: Giancarlo Revila, Donald Senat

RG: Curtis Bryant, Jordan White

RT: Rupert Bryan, David Delsoin

 

Defense in a 4-3, which makes sense against North Texas. In a nickel, either Junior Mertile or Richard Leonard would get the fifth defensive back spot.

DE: Tourek Williams, James Jones.

DT: Andre Pound, Jerrico Lee.

DT: Isame Faciane, Joshua Forney.

DE: Paul Crawford, Greg Hickman. Both The Long and The Square of it are listed as potential starters.

LB: Jordan Hunt, Markeith Russell

LB: Winston Fraser, Chris Edwards

LB: Kenny Dillard, Luis Rosado

SS: Jonathan Cyprien, Terrance Taylor

FS Chuck Grace, Demarkus Perkins

CB: Sam Miller, Junior Mertile

CB: Jose Cheeseborough, Richard Leonard. Look out for “Leonard” (said with icy James Mason voice from North by Northwest…)

K: Jack Griffin

Kickoffs: Dylan Lynch, Jack Griffin

P: Josh Brisk

LS: Mitch McCluggage

Kickoff returns: T.Y, Times.

Punt returns: T.Y., Times

My peers at CBSSports.com put T.Y. on their preseason All-America team as the all-purpose guy. Nice to see him get the notice.

Former FIU wide receiver Greg Ellingson got cut by Jacksonville Monday. Over on the Gulf Coast, Anthony Gaitor is listed as the third string right cornerback for Tampa Bay.  

WOMEN'S SOCCER

Kelly Hutchinson buried a feed from Chelsea Leiva early (8th minute), then Johanna Volz struck late (71st minute) for a 2-0 win over Florida Tech in a soggy home match Monday night. Hutchinson's goal was her second of the season. Kaitlyn Savage and Melanie Raimo split the shutout, which gave FIU a two-win weekend and a 2-2 record.


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