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Gameday XI: Respect With a Smack

I know it's late. Long day, short night, Saturday morning walk to the Publix Sabor, Bob Evans on sale, walk back...



Some quick asides/observations before I get to the pack of Panthers dealing with the Thundering Herd...

1. Soccer observers tend to find the FIU men a good watch -- smart defensively, open and skilled offensively. No. 11 Kentucky's more like a futbol Floyd Mayweather: all about defense, good enough offense, regularly getting the soccer version of a unanimous decision. So, don't think there's much crying over FIU taking down the Conference USA tournament's No. 1 seed in the semifinal. Besides, especially if FIU wins Sunday, this means one more CUSA team in the NCAA tournament beyond those in line for at-large bids anyway.

2. Compared to the last few seasons, the women's basketball team looked like each player powerbombed an entire colada, David J-style, before the season opener. The obviousness of the difference in energy and alert proficiency from a largely similar roster drew a broad-based conclusion from several in the house: they just didn't play for the last coaching staff. I don't know why. But that was obvious.

3. Watching the FIU men's exhibition that counted against Trinity Baptist, this team needs every non-conference game it can get. Think of them as like The SImpsons house Lego set -- Adrian Diaz as the large frame piece and a lot of accessories whose proper places need to be found.

Now to Huntington and FIU vs. Marshall.

At first glance, we've seen this movie before (and I'm not talking about We Are Marshall). This is Monday Night Football coming to Indianapolis for the first time ever and on Halloween, 1988 (Colts 55, Denver 24). Or Buffalo, in the midst of their four Super Bowl run, walking into Kansas City's Arrowhead Stadium noise tunnel with MNF for the first time in years (1991, Kansas City 31, Buffalo 6). Or, perhaps most appropriately considering the connection between a community tragedy and the football team, MNF as the Superdome reopens a year after Hurricane Katrina (New Orleans 23, Atlanta 3).

That game's instructive for how FIU can leave today with a win and bowl eligibility.

*DON'T GET OVERWHELMED EARLY -- Atlanta opened that game going three-and-out. Then, Steve Gleason blocked the punt and the Saints recovered for a touchdown, a play that's memorialized by a statue in front of The Superdome. That's when everybody watching knew "The Falcons are probably going to get their Atlanta kicked tonight."

Minutes later, Louisiana son and LSU product Devery Henderson scored on a reverse. You knew the Falcons were done. The Saints knew it. The broadcast team knew it. The crowd knew it. The Falcons probably knew it. Both my grandmothers knew it including the one who'd been dead for five years. And it was only 14-3 in the first quarter!

FIU can't give up big, momentum-building plays early. There's already going to be enough juice in that place with the traditions that go with the yearly anniversary of the 1970 plane crash that changed life on and off the Marshall campus. Add to that being the 45th anniversary and a Senior Day.

There's a time to go all in and there's a time to check up. The first quarter's time for the latter. On offense, FIU's often-infuriating dinking and dunking can suck the life out of a visiting place if they get a few first downs. Defensively, unless there's a stupidly obvious tell, don't gamble for a big play, just play sound defense. Let some electricity drain.

*RIDE THE WAVE -- How often do the Panthers get to play, home or road, in a truly rockin' house? Or be around some truly moving ceremonies? FIU should feed off all that energy, too. And might be able to sustain it more than Marshall.

*TAKE THE POINTS -- Again, don't give a chance for momentum building. Unless the Panthers simply can't stop the Herd offense, on fourth down in field goal range, FIU should take the points. Rolling the dice worked against Old Dominion and Charlotte. This isn't Old Dominion or Charlotte across the line.

*BRING THE COMPANY LATER -- Around the second quarter, start giving Marshall freshman quarterback Chase Litton some pressure hell. He's near the end of the season, but he's still a freshman. Freshmen do funky things under pressure. Also, Litton won't be expecting it. FIU's been Publix vanilla ice cream defense this year. Time to go Ben & Jerry's Red Velvet Cake from the second quarter forward.

This isn't last year's Marshall juggernaut. They've won without coming off as impressively invincible. They lost last week to Middle Tennessee State because their kickers choked.

Still, FIU's been kind of a bully this season -- beating up the weaklings as they should, wilting against equals. The Panthers also are pretty banged up and, as I wrote earlier this week, that matters with a mid-major no matter how much everybody would like to say it shouldn't (with two weeks to heal, UTEP looked eight times better against FAU than it did against FIU).

Strip everything else away, those last two paragraphs remain.

Marshall 34, FIU 20

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







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