I'm not a big fan of Single Shooter Theories. Fans always want the Single Shooter. They want an Oswald. They want the simple reason for failure. A simple reason for failure means a simple, therefore easy and possibly quick, fix. So, prosecuting observers often convict the quarterback or coach alone when losses tend to be conspiracies of failure and achievement.
Several things happened over the last two and a half quarters to turn a crackling 14-7 game into yet another Victim of the Week TV movie starring Marshall. But I'd put at the top of the list FIU's inability to get anything going downfield to the wide receivers.
Look, Marshall's a better team on both sides of the ball. And if Marshall's the Death Star, quarterback Rakeem Cato's Darth Vader, a Jedi master even on a night completing only 55.6 percent of his passes. FIU didn't have a single tackle for loss or sack. One play, FIU junior defensive end Michael Wakefield broke through and, with Cato dead, froze as Cato wiggled in the pocket then got off the pass. Jedi mind trick? Hypnotic dance?
To have a shot, FIU needed to play very well and hope Marshall had something of an off night. As well as the Panthers played early in the game, they still suffered key boo-boos. The third and 6 call from the Marshall 25, a run to Lamarq Caldwell, demonstrated either somebody making The Big Tall Wish or spectactular ignorance of the personnel on the field. The blocked field goal followed.
(The first play of that drive was perhaps the funniest, definitely FIU's longest, play of the night. Tight end Cory White shrugged off a tackle after a reception, then ran looking repeatedly over his shoulder as if he'd just dropped dime on the Cocaine Cowboys. Jermaine Holmes caught White from behind and tackled him after a 46-yard gain.)
Later, a block-in-the-back penalty on Richard Leonard's interception return took FIU from a first and goal, down only 14-7 all the way back to the FIU 7. Just those two instances saw six points, maybe a halftime lead left on the field by FIU. Get that and without the problem we'll now get back to, this could've been an interesting game late for people other than the over/under bettors and families of the backups.
On the issues downfield, I'm not just parroting what FIU coach Ron Turner fingered as the reasosn FIU ran for 75 yards on 13 carries (5.7 a pop) in the first quarter and 37 for 125 (3.4 per carry, not counting sacks) after that. Take a look at this second quarter Tweet. Or this one.
By the end of the second quarter, Marshall started squatting on the run. By the third quarter, with FIU down 24-7, Marshall sat on those slants, hitches and bubble screens like Big Mama sits on her bleacher spot for four quarters.
Last week, a Texas-San Antonio defensive lineman got the timing down on one of FIU's 3-step drops and deflected the pass into an interception. Saturday, the same thing happened in the fourth quarter with defensive lineman Arnold Blackmon playing L.C. Greenwood and fellow trench worker Jarquez Samuel getting the interception. Samuel returned the ball to the 27. Rakeem Cato to Devon Johnson and it was 31-7. Before you could say "Game Over," from the FIU 26, Marshall's Corey Tindal jumped a short route for a 30-yard pick six.
Before Clinton Taylor's three catches for 27 yards and a touchdown on the garbage time drive to FIU's second touchdown, the summary of the wide receivers production would be "T.J. Lowder, one catch, 19 cards" and "DeAndre Jasper, one catch, 5 yards." Each had at least one drop and another medium-tough catch not made. Not putting them alone. You could go find plays where receivers didn't compete for balls or ran soft routes. Or quarterback Alex McGough simply blew the throw. Or, McGough didn't have enough time.
The FIU downfield play all night might've been when freshman Thomas Owens, seeing an end zone throw for him into double coverage was about to be intercepted by Marshall's fifth-year senior cornerback Darryl Roberts, stripped Roberts as well as Roberts has any receiver this year.
"You can only run so much. You've got make plays in the passing game," Turner said. "We had a lot of opportunityes to make them. We either didn't protect well enough -- we had one protection where we had exactly what we wanted, but we turned the Sam linebacker loose when he should've been blocked -- things like that hurt us. It's hard to keep running the ball effectively if you can't make plays in the passing game."
All FIU's big pass plays were tight ends breaking tackles. White's 46-yarder was his only catch. Sophomore Jonnu Smith (8 catches, 74 yards) broke free for a 24-yarder on FIU's first touchdown drive. Akil Dan-Fodio's 27-yard gain actually was something of a deep cross.
"We've got to start making those plays in the passing game with our wide receivers. It can't keep being 'Jonnu, Jonnu, Jonnu,'" Turner said.
Marshall's wide receivers didn't make many plays, actually. Only eight catches for 109 yards and a touchdown, a quarter's work some games for that bunch. They drew enough penalty flags, however.
It was interesting watching Cato work. The first drive, he went at fifth-year senior safety Justin Halley. Later, he wanted some Wilkenson Myrtil and threw at him for a couple of plays. He tried Jeremiah McKinnon often. McKinnon made a nice breakup of a deep post to Angelo Jean-Louis early. You could almost see him thinking, "Richard Leonard's over there, so I'll hold off on Door No. 3 unless absolutely necessary. Let's check over here..."
The first time Cato threw at Leonard, he did so out of desperation, off a scramble. Cato found Tommy Shuler for 16 yards along the left sideline to the FIU 8. Two plays later, he stepped up in the pocket and his Jean-Louis for a touchdown. The second time Cato threw at Leonard, McKinnon intercepted, but Leonard got flagged for pass interference on Shuler. Leonard disagreed with the call. It was at the press box end, and it looked like a good call from my angle. But, then, things tend to have a way of working out -- the next play, Leonard got his interception.
"I thought I was going to get a lot of work today, but they proved me wrong," Leonard said.
Stop the game at 38-7 and you see what a good job the FIU defense actually did on Marshall, aside from massive running back Devon Johnson (117 yards rushing, 79 and two touchdowns receiving). Big backs -- Johnson, Pitt's James Conner -- seem to be FIU's yellow kryptonite. One touchdown was defensive, another touchdown on a short drive after a turnover. They beat the Panthers on special teams with the blocked field goal and Shuler's 34-yard punt return being the night's only huge return.
Good teams expose your deficiencies. Marshall exposed FIU's. The Herd exposed FIU's youth and inconsistency.
The lack of big plays from the wide receivers grows into a second level concern if they lose running back Alex Gardner, who can explode out of the backfield, for any of the remaining four games with a shoulder injury. Anthon Samuel's a good back who's as good on the 3-to-6-yard grind, but Gardner's got more niftiness.
There's much to work before the next game, Nov. 1, noon, against Rice, and much time to work. There's no Oswald. It's a Conspiracy of Deficiencies the Panthers must unravel.