After two weeks splashing around in the FCS pool, FIU gets back to big boy ball. Literally.
Pennsylvania's a long state. The east end, where Philadelphia grumbles next to South Jersey, accurately considers itself East Coast. Western Pennsylvania, where Pittsburgh quaffs beer and football players stream out at the rate of neighboring Ohio, is the easternmost point of the Midwest. Pitt coach Paul Chryst grew to manhood in Wisconsin during the Big Two, Little Eight "Three Yards and a Cloud of Dust" era. He spent two years as a graduate assistant at West Virginia, There's no doubt what he wants his team to look and play like.
Pitt's offensive line starters go, left to right, 305, 300, 305, 335 and 315 pounds. The experience is weighted to the right, too -- fifth-year seniors Matt Rotherham and T.J. Clemmings at guard and tackle. (Starting center Artie Rowell is out, so look for problems on the exchange). H-back Jaymar Parrish goes 270. Sophomore running back James Conner stops the scale at 250, ouweighing all but one of last week's FIU defensive front seven starters.
That's a lot of weight firing off into you, pushing on you, laying on you for four quarters in midday Miami, muggier-than-an-underarm heat. Size matters. But it matters for both teams.
FIU's greater depth along the defensive line and among the linebackers will be needed, especially if the offense can't give the defense a rest with some first downs. FIU's running game has been good enough for government work against Bethune-Cookman and Wagner. That won't get it done here. But the offensive line, facing Pitt's also robust front seven, must get a better push than they've gotten the first two games.
I asked Ron Turner if FIU's problem on third down (seven of 31) started with problems on first down creating bad third down situations.
"Most of it has been third and mangageable," the FIU head coach said. "The whole problem has been us -- dropping passes, missed assignments in the running game, missed assignments protection-wise."
FIU can't afford three-and-outs. Two or three in a row will leave the home defense gassed by the time the visitors start cramping. When FIU punts, there's concern over the punt (distance this-a-way) and the return (distance that-a-way). In last year's Little Caesar's Pizza Bowl, Pitt wide receiver Tyler Boyd, a worry when he lines up on offense, pulled off the first punt return touchdown for Pitt since Darrelle Revis did it back in 2006.
Also, on offense, FIU must make Pitt defend the whole field. Play wide. Use the deep ball. Run some counters, traps and screens early to get Pitt thinking instead of just stampeding. Bring the ball handling skills of each quarterback, Alex McGough and EJ Hilliard, into play with a couple of medium play action passes maybe before trying to establish the run. Unless Pitt got lost in South Beach or at a couple of FIU parties Friday night, I have a tough time seeing FIU's offense moving the ball just on execution. T.Y.'s Panthers are going to have to fool Hugh Green's Panthers.
Even if they do, there's still that downhill tonnage problem when Pitt's got the ball. Plus, quarterback Chad Voytik can skitter about for yards. He's not a great passer, but a muscular running game can help him summon some Marino for a play or two.
And that's how I see this going. Pound, pound, pound, option quarterback keep as FIU's young linebackers bite hard, pound, pound, pound. Seemingly ceaseless body blows. Offense can't punch back enough. Finally...
Pitt 31, FIU 10.
But that's the opinion of one descendant from a former slave and the slave's Irish wife who was disowned for marrying him. I could be wrong.
Women's soccer beat Oregon State 1-0 on a header in the 71st minute by Chelsea Leiva. Fiu's now won three of its last four, all three wins coming by the score of 1-0.