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The State of the Football Union of the Snake River Canyon Ranch Spa (Part I)

I sat down with FIU football coach Ron Turner for the Third Annual Football Season Q&A Eulogy Tuesday. If you're here, you probably already know that the Panthers began the season with an upset at Central Florida, ended it with losses to Marshall and Western Kentucky by a combined 115-7 and finished the season 5-7. If you didn't know that, you do now.

Turner's answers are presented here with commentary limited to the expository.

Q: One more win than last year. But the teams you beat this season had a total of eight FBS wins. Just with Middle Tennessee and UAB last year (five FBS wins each), you beat that in 2014. Overall, was this a moving forward year?

A: I think so. This was was just a very disappointing year and very frustrating year. Disappointing just because we had such high expectations coming in. I'm not disappointed in the players, I'm disappointed in the results just in the fact of I don't think we were able to do what we wanted to do. We weren't the same team halfway through the season that we were coming into it. Just because of the injury situation and the youth we had to play.

Everybody has injuries, I understand that. I've never been through anything like this. With five games to go, I’m watching the (practice) tape with the coaches and I said, ‘This feels like spring ball because we’re running new plays with new people doing them. The difference is we’ve got three days to get them ready to go.’ 

That part was really frustrating for me, personally, and us because of that. I knew coming in -- I don't know if you remember my comments -- but I said I think we have a chance to have a really good team and be really competitive in this conference if we stay healthy because we don't have a ton of depth. Obviously, we didn't. It hurt.

And it was certain positions. Offensive line got hit hard, starting with (junior guard) Jordan Budwig in the summer before camp even started. Two-year starter, preseason all-conference first team and Trenton Saunders getting hurt in the third or fourth game, missing eight and a half to nine games. All of sudden, we've got (redshirt freshmen) Kai Absheer and Chris Miller in there who are going to be really good players. They're going to be really good players, but they weren't ready to play this year. Then, they got hurt. One missed three and a half weeks, one missed four and a half. But that's four weeks of practice time they miss and all of a sudden, they're thrown back in. (Redshirt freshman) Daquane Wilkie started at right tackle (12 games) who is going to be a really good player as well, but he's not there yet. He shouldn't have been playing. That part of it got hit hard, especially at the guard position. Our tackles were fine.

And then the safety position, four guys, three of them basically for the season. Jordan Davis played one game, (missed) two because of academic suspension, then got hurt. Shemarke Spence (broken arm) didn't play any. Wilkenson Myrtil missed nine games. Niko (Gonzalez) missed four. Not only did he miss four, he had a shoulder, he couldn't work out, so then he comes back and he's...the development part of it. That really hurt. Then, obviously, our tight ends (Ya'Keem Griner and Jonnu Smith). Tight end, linebacker -- two of our starting three linebackers basically missed the season. Treyvon missed (eight). Davison (Colimon) missed 11/2.

Our two best playmakers on offense. One missed seven games and the other one, Jonnu, missed four. That made it frustrating. All the stuff we planned to do on both sides of the ball, we had to limit what we did, minimize what we did and try to play to their strengths.

Q: (Graduate senior transfer) Jephete Matilus came in and clearly did the best he could. But, realistically, his actual game experience was almost at a freshman level. What kind of dropoff was that from (junior middle linebacker) Treyvon Williams?

A: Jephete came in and gave us everything he had. I'm glad he was here. I don't know what we'd have done without him. He stepped in and did as well as he could in a tough situation. He didn't have a lot of game experience. A lot of our guys, even though they might've been juniors or seniors, in some cases, they didn't have much experience. (Offensive lineman) Edens Sineace, first year starter, he played left tackle. Then, we had to put him at guard and all that stuff.

But, getting back to (Jephete)...first time in the system. Didn't go through Spring Ball. Limited playing time -- most of his playing time was on special teams at Minnesota. And he's thrown in as a starter for eight games. Give him credit, he did as sell as he could do. But, it hurts your depth. Now, if something happens to him, you're going down (indicates with his hand moving to a lower level).

"That's the thing -- we had too many guys playing too many plays because of the injury situation. Playing more plays than they should and, by the end of the year, you're worn down. It affects your practice time. By the end of the year, we couldn't practice as much as we wanted. We couldn't wear pads as much as we wanted, even (just) shoulder pads. We had to cut the time down in practice because we had nobody. Guys were just so worn down, we had to try to get them fresh on game day.

No bye didn't help. (FIU's open week is this week.) Not that we would've gotten a lot of guys back because most of them were season-ending (injuries), but at least we could've rested some people and healed up a bit.

Q: How does that happen? Where does that fall through the cracks?

A: That's the conference scheduling. I called immediately when I saw it. Called (Senior Associate Commissioner) Alfred White immeidately and said, "Alfred, we don't have a bye." He said, "Yeah, you have one the last week." I said, "We're playing 12 straight weeks. So, we have no bye." There's two teams that didn't. Somebody else had a bye the first week and they played 12 straight. (North Texas, which started 0-7 and is now 1-10).

If you stay healthy and you get on a roll, you don't mind, you go. But even then you have to be smart, you have to be careful how you practice and everything else.

Q: What did you have to change in the offense and defense to accommodate your situation?

A: Everything, honestly. Offensively, when you lose guards and you've got young guys in there, you limit your protections, you limit some of the run schemes you do. We had a lot of stuff we wanted to do that we did in training camp and spring ball and we just said, "It's too much. We can't do it. With all the adjustments you have to make and different fronts that you see, it's just too much for these guys." So, we really had to simplify what we're doing.

When Griner went out, that had an effect. We're such a two-tight end-oriented offense. We were that 70 percent of the time when those two guys were healthy, especially on first or second down. If we weren't that, we were one tight end. We always had at least one. We even had a three-tight end package that we did earlier in the year, that we worked hard on in training camp. That went out the window quickly.

When Jonnu went down and we've got Akil Dan-Fodio...he did a tremendous job for us. He did the best he could. But, he was out of his element. He's more a F motion guy, put him in the slot, block backside, that sort of stuff. All of a sudden, he's at the point of attack trying to block and that's not his strength. So we had to limit what we could call -- "we like this, but we don't have the tight end to do this. It's not his strength." It's unfair to ask people to do something they're not capable of doing. It really affected what we had in the game plan and, on game day, what we called.

Same thing defensively. With our safety situation, our linebacker situation. We've got Jephete in there, like you said, new in the system. Davison (Colimon) out, who had great experience. We could make a lot of adjustments and do some things with him. He was our best blitzer probably. Missed the whole year, basically (hurt in the first game).

Then, it has a trickle down effect to special teams. All of a sudden, you've got guys playing and somebody else has to take their place on special teams. You've got to watch their reps. It's the culmination of everything. It takes its toll.

Everybody has injuries. But I've never seen anything like this. Going into the last game, we had 27 guys that were either starters or were going to play a lot miss games. Sixteen of them missed four games or more. Several of them were season-ending. If you total those games up, it was 138 games by guys who are going to play a lot. Budwig, 12. Shemarke Spence, 12. Davison Colimon, whatever the number. I don't know anybody that can lose four guards, four safeties, two linebackers and two tight ends and go play. Nobody. I don't care what school. I don't care if you're Alabama, to lose that many and not have a huge dropoff.

For us to be playing game No. 12, to get win No. 6, to me, it's a credit to those guys. I told them that (Tuesday). I was disappointed in the season, in teh results, in the finish, but not disapointed in you guys. Alex McGough was in here. We talked for 45 minutes. He didn't play very well the last two games as he admitted. He goes, "To be honest with you, the frustration built up and I was trying to do too much."

I told him, "you know what Alex, I found myself trying to do some things we weren't capable of doing. Trying to make some calls we probably weren't capable of doing because I'm trying to make a play." I'd love to have some of those calls back. With our normal team in there? Yes, it would've been great. I said it minimized what we did, but there were times I tried to do it anyway. And, it didn't work because we weren't capable of doing it. It's not fair to the players to ask them to do something they can't.

Eventually, I think it took its toll on everybody. But I never heard one guy complain about it. I was sitting here talking to (redshirt junior defensive tackle) Imarjaye Albury today and I was telling him about some of the injuries. He said, "Wow, I didn't realize that." I said, "You didn't realize our top four guards were out, top two out for the year, basically?" He said, "No. I knew Jonnu (was out)." I said, "You didn't realize our top four safeties were out? Three of them for the entire season?" He said, "No, not really."

(Freshman safety) Tyree Johnson goes in and, again, he's going to be a really good player. But he shouldn't have been playing. But those guys didn't know. I guess that's why they didn't complain about it!

Q: Why did the run defense just fall apart?

A: As the season went on, I think we got worn down. We didn't have our main linebackers in there. I think it took its toll. We didn't have our top safeties in there. In our defense, safeties are huge in run support.

Like most people, you play quarters coverage, they're the run support guys. The corners play outside, we had two good corners. It affected how we played. We couldn't get the safeties down involved as much as we wanted because they just weren't ready for it. So we couldn't press the corners and challenge out there as much as we wanted. Our safeties were inexperienced. When they did feel for the run, it wasn't always exactly where they should be. And they were young. They weren't as physical. No fault to them, they gave everything they had. So, we had to watch what our calls were and couldn't get them as involved as we wanted to.

And I think we got worn down. Too many reps, guys playing too many plays. And the last two weeks, we played the two best teams in the conference (Marshall and Western Kentucky). Very physical offensive lines that were senior dominated. Last week, that was the most physical line in the conference. We played two really good teams.

Q: What happened to (sophomore wide receiver) Thomas Owens the second half of the year?

A: Teams started to press him more, play him a little differently, get a safety over the top at times. Protection-wise, we got against better teams, we had to get the ball out quicker. I think Alex got frustrated, a combination of things. We just weren't able to get the plays to him. We tried. We tried going to him and making plays. We just struggled sometimes beating press man coverage. That takes a little longer to get open. His strength is not his speed, his strength is being physical, going up and battling for the ball and yards after the catch. He's a strong runner afterwards.

You catch a touchdown pass in six straight games, they're going to realize that, too. They're going to put a safety over the top and do some things that make you look to the other side. Especially when Jonnu went down. Once Jonnu and Griner went down, we didn't have that inside threat. When Jonnu wasn't as productive earlier in the year and people were saying, "Why isn't he as productive as he was last year?" I said, "Well, they're playing him. They're doing things to take him away." All of a sudden, T.O. starts making plays and Griner starts making plays and we're running the ball, it opens up Jonnu. Well, when Jonnu's not in there and Griner's not in there, they can do things to take away T.O."

(Part II in transcription)

 

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