Five home games, seven road games, no bye weeks. The athletics department bean counters ought to be happy, however -- of the seven road games, the Panthers can get on the bus, Gus, for two.
The demise of Alabama-Birmingham leaves Conference USA with another 13-team football season.
Sept. 5 -- at Central Florida. FIU did UCF a solid by agreeing to move this game from 2014 to 2015, giving the Knights a bye week after their overseas game with Penn State. Good measuring stick right out of the gate.
Sept. 12 -- at Indiana. Let's make this clear: I grew up in Indianapolis caring almost as much about IU football as IU basketball (it's against state law to care equally as much). My four years in Bloomington described the kind of college experience many people hope to have. They included covering the two best seasons of IU football in my cognizant lifetime.
And I will laugh from Kilroy's all the way back to the 305 if FIU takes down Indiana. It would be a win against a Big Ten school, mediocre as the Hoosiers football tradition is, but also Indiana thinks it bought a win. IU paid to get out of a game with South Florida to enter into a home-and-home with FIU that nets $800,000 to the Panthers.
Sept. 19 -- North Carolina Central. This year's FCS supplement for bulking up wins and statistics.
Sept. 26 -- at Louisiana Tech. FIU brings back its defense. West Division champion Louisiana Tech brings back running back Kenneth Dixon (1,299 rushing yards, 5.1 per carry). I'm tingly already.
Oct. 3 -- at UMass. You've got to come home with the bacon (or chowdah) from this game.
Oct. 10 -- UTEP. If Bill Clark wasn't Conference USA Coach of the Year for what he did at UAB (RIP for now), then it's Sean Kugler for turning UTEP from stink bomb to bowl team.
Oct. 17 -- at Middle Tennessee State. My preliminary pick for the East Division.
Oct. 24 -- Old Dominion. Now, it's ODU coming to FIU with an inexperienced quarterback after four years of Taylor Heinicke.
Oct. 31 -- at FAU. On Halloween. With both teams still entertaining bowl hopes.
Nov. 7 -- Charlotte. FIU gets a home cupcake on the same weekend the women's soccer team hosts the Conference USA tournament.
Nov. 14 -- at Marshall. Let's see if they go from Thundering Herd to annoying Green Hornets without Cato.
Nov. 21 -- Western Kentucky. Remember the Sun Belt version of the Hilltoppers? Defense, severely limited quarterback while running a running back up the statistic charts and into the ground. Yeah, now they're Air Brohm with Drew Doughty. Unless the Over/Under exceeds 70, jump on the high side to get your Christmas and Hanukkah gift money.
FIU's softball team enters this season as the Conference USA co-favorite with Alabama-Birmingham. Why that's to be expected is detailed in an earlier post. But that got me thinking...
When Jake Schumann left the softball coach last summer with an obvious potential conference champion and NCAA tournament team coming back, he insisted it was because of salary. Living the coaching life with wife and kids in the Broward suburbs, Schumann insisted he needed more than the just-under $60,000 per year FIU paid. He took an associate coach job at Ole Miss for more money in a cheaper area.
So, FIU's last team to be a preseason conference favorite: softball, 2015. Head coach Gator Rebhan's salary: $59,700.
FIU's last team conference title: women's golf, 2013 Sun Belt tournament. Head coach Joe Vogel's current salary: $58,590.
FIU's last team conference title in a completely team sport: women's soccer, 2011 Sun Belt tournament or 2012 Sun Belt regular season, if you count that. Head coach Thomas Chestnutt's current salary: $63,024.
FIU's highest ranked team nationally: sand volleyball, 2014. Head coach Rita Buck-Crockett's current salary: $60,000 (for being in charge of sand and indoor volleyball).
FIU's best team over the last four years when combining athletics and academics: swimming & diving. Head coach Randy Horner's current salary: $57,590.
FIU athletic director Pete Garcia's bonuses during the 2013-14 academic year: approximately $99,550.
Numbers according to either contracts in possession of The Herald or Florida Has a Right to Know website.
Redshirt junior Sara Stewart's been a starter on FIU's backline since early in her freshman season. The 5-9 Canadian plays more physically than some of her countrymen do on the ice -- she led the team with four yellow cards this season and got the only red card. But just like the enforcers on the rink often have the biggest hearts off of it, there's no questioning Stewart's status as an all-conference do-gooder.
That's because she's just been named of Conference USA's Spirit of Service Honorees for the fall athletic season for the second consecutive year.
Stewart tutors at a Miami elementary school during the school year, feeds the homeless, is a Special Olympics volunteer and works in a veternarian's office back home. And she's got a 3.72 grade point average as a bio sciences major.
Senior forward Ashleigh Shim, Third Team All-Conference USA on the field, was named to Second Team Conference USA All-Academic women's soccer player Wednesday. Joining Shim on the team for the second consecutive year was senior midfielder Johanna Volz.
Both Shim and Volz majored in Sports and Fitness Studies. Volz pulled a 3.77 grade point average while Shim pulled a 3.56.
Three FIU seniors -- forwards Chelsea Leiva and Ashleigh Shim and defender Marie Egan -- made the All-Conference USA teams announced Tuesday afternoon while Nevena Stojakovic was the conference's All-Freshman team goalkeeper.
Leiva, the No. 7 scorer in the conference with eight goals (five game winners, tying for the conference lead) and three assists, and Egan were on the second team. Shim, two goals and four assists, made the third team. Stojakovic had a 1.08 goals against average and six shutouts.
Since my post a week ago on the postseason chances for the fall sports teams...
Men's Soccer: Beat FAU 2-0 Wednesday to stay alive for the Conference USA tournament then lost 1-0 to Kentucky to get eliminated. A win in the regular season closer against Old Dominion can only tie New Mexico and South Carolina, each of which beat FIU head-to-head.
Women's Soccer: Tied Marshall 1-1 Thursday and were shut out of the conference tournament when Louisiana Tech beat FAU in overtime. The remaining match, Sunday's makeup with Alabama-Birmingham, was cancelled as neither team would qualify for the tournament. Unless football pulls off a natural hat trick, this 8-8-2 record will be fall's Best of FIU.
Volleyball: Lost 3-1 to Rice and 3-1 to Charlotte to fall to 3-10 in conference, 6-20 overall...but they...are...ALIVE, in a pack with UTEP, UAB, Middle Tennessee and Charlotte, all of which have three conference wins and one of which will get the eighth and final conference tournament spot. Three conference matches remain for FIU: at UTEP (tossup), at Texas-San Antonio (12-0 in conference), home season closer against Louisiana Tech (1-11 in conference).
Football: Lost Saturday 31-17 to Rice and need to win three straight after losing three straight to even get a bowl to give up its phone number. The Former Sunblazers are three-point underdogs at Old Dominion this Saturday.
The swim team, a winter team that warms up in the fall, moved to 3-0 by beating Indian River Saturday 174-126 as last week's Conference USA Swimmer of the Week, freshman Silvia Scalia, won the 100 backstroke and 200 back. Freshman Brittney Fant won the 500 freestyle and 200 butterfly (my shoulders and lats hurt just typing "200 butterfly").
With FIU and Marshall tied 1-1 and the clock ticking down in overtime Thursday, the Panthers got the ball to senior forward Chelsea Leiva.
"Both teams, we didn't really play the way we wanted to, but we both fought really, really hard," said Leiva. "I know we did. Our legs are shot."
FIU coach Thomas Chestnutt admitted, "It was a fair result, I'd probably say," in the voice of a man who knows if you leave too many loose ends, they eventually snake together into a noose.
The 1-1 tie was a loose end, just like late game losses at home to North Texas and Charlotte. FIU's best hope for a fall Conference USA team title sat at 8-8-2 overall, 3-4-2 in conference and needing help just to get into the conference tournament. Specifically, FIU needed FAU to tie or win at Louisiana Tech in a game that was entering overtime as FIU's Senior Night ceremony ended. Then, a Panthers win Sunday in the weather-postponed game at Alabama-Birmingham would get FIU into the tournament.
Senior Johanna Volz, who scored FIU's goal, said part of her reaction in the above video was at the final score, but most was "a little bit of sadness. Coming to realize this is all over. It feels like yesterday we were freshmen."
"This class, we have a bond that I think is tighter than other classes," Volz said. "We came in with eight. We're leaving with seven. That's rare. I know in five years, 10 years, 50 years down the road, the people I'm going to check on are my teammates. I couldn't have spent four years with a better group."
When Volz's class were freshmen, their sheer fitness level became a challenge to the juniors and seniors. FIU won the Sun Belt tournament that season, 2011. Ashleigh Shim won the Sun Belt Freshman of the Year award. Volz figured each year they would get better, so she thought she would leave in four years with four conference championship rings. They won the regular season title in 2012 before getting upset in the Sun Belt final by North Texas. The 2013 season got derailed early with Leiva and defender Nikki Rios, arguably FIU's best offensive and defensive players, going down with season-ending injuries before the season started. Ineligibility took out forward Scarlet Montoya.
And, now, this year.
"There hasn't been a game this year where we felt like we were dominated by any team," Chestnutt said. "It didn't matter if if whether it was Santa Clara, No. 23 at the time, Long Beach (State) or at the top of our conference, Rice or North Texas. The team largely outplayed almost every opponent. The difference, ironically, was lack of finishing at the proper moments. But the team defensve has been fantastic. There's only been three teams in the whole season that have registered 10 or more shots. That's excellent stuff."
He said of the senior class, "They"ve done a phenomenal job here, raising the level of the program. The things that they've accomplished are second to none in the history of the program. I just hope we can extend our season for one or two more games."
The news came to a few from Ruston, Louisiana via Twitter, app or old fashioned phone call: a golden goal by Tech ended Blue and Gold hopes.
Volz lay on her back with hands over eyes, her captain's armband still dangling. She got to her feet with eyes glistening. The word filtered among those not soaking up every minute of this last 2014 home postgame with parents, friends or the youth soccer players who had manned the sidelines as ball girls. The coaches gathered the team so Chestnutt could deliver the news.
Some soft sobs, then a few not-so-soft sobs burst out of the huddle. Chestnutt spoke in a tone that suggested his own emotion monster threatened to ride a sentence out of his mouth and devour him. The team closed in a mass hug, seeming to become one tight organism for a moment, flexing together then releasing. Scarlet Montoya gave a heartfelt speech to the group, her voice strong, but teetering on breaking every other word. Another player apologized to the seniors.
Leiva walked away by herself toward midfield, using her jersey to cover a face now drenched in emotion. She'd already cried talking with me and The Beacon's James Profetto (who covered this team this season with the devotion of someone who wants a job in journalism) about her time at FIU ending. Profetto asked what she would take away from her time at FIU.
"So much...a lot of life lessons that we learned..." Leiva said through tears. She expanded upon that by crediting Chestnutt, mentioning hard work, perseverance and many of the concepts parents doing the Saturday Morning Schelps hope their children will learn from team sports.
But, now, Leiva stood alone until freshman goalkeeper Ashley Westbury came over to offer an arm and a hug. Others lifted their shirt as crying towels. Teammates shared extended embraces. I've been in a number of locker rooms with the season freshly killed over the last 24 years, but I hadn't seen a team this heartbroken since the Jackson High locker room after the 1990 Soul Bowl loss to Northwestern on a bomb to Stinky Williams in the last minutes at then-Joe Robbie Stadium.
Thursday, one player sat on the field and wouldn't leave. Players friends and family left. Players left. Coaches talked to her. More players left. Still she sat.
She remained there for I don't know how long. No explanation needed.
UPDATE: Saturday's noon football game against Rice will be on WBFS-Channel 33 in Miami/Fort Lauderdale.
Wednesday night, men's soccer got what it needed against FAU. The women try to get theirs tonight against Marshall.
The men's 2-0 win on goals in the 78th minute by Josue Espana and 88th minute by Darren Rios pushed them into eighth in Conference USA or one place behind the conference tournament cutoff. With six points in conference play (6-7-1 overall, 2-4 in conference), they're one point behind Marshall, which has one conference game left, and Old Dominion, which has two as does FIU. They play each other a week from Friday in the season closer. FIU's other remaining game is a Sunday home date against No. 16 Kentucky.
By the way, FIU's 1984 Division II men's national champions will be honored at Saturday's noon football game. I wonder if this will include Broward College coach Munga Eketebi, an FIU soccer fixture as an All-America on that team; an FIU assistant for decades; then FIU head coach.
Eketebi felt his firing unfair after laboring for years under NCAA sanctions and felt athletic director Pete Garcia treated longtime head coach Karl Kremser shabbily. Also, some former athletes feel Athletics treats them as minatory presences. I heard Athletics grumbled over the number of former football players in the FIU radio suite during the Marshall game two weeks ago. As if this was Michigan or Harvard with 100 years of football alumni, so you've got to limit how many have the run of the Pay Extra areas.
Tonight at FIU Soccer Stadium is about need. Well, seven seniors, but mostly basic need.
FIU (3-4-1, 8-8-1) needs at least four points in its final two games to assure themselves of a conference tournament place. The Panthers need a win tonight if Louisiana Tech, Charlotte and Old Dominion win tonight. Marshall, with this being The Herd's last conference game, needs a win to feel good, a tie to stay at lightly queasy because a loss means Kaopectate, especially if the aforementioned trifecta comes through.
It's Senior Night. Chelsea Leiva, Ashleigh Shim, Johanna Volz, Marie Egan, Caroline Hernandez, Marlena Stablein and Sara Stewart will be honored.
If volleyball games had in-stands, in-match betting the way inner city high school football does, you could make tuition betting on the team that wins a wild, extended third set after splitting the first two sets. That's just the way sports momentum rolls.
Which is what FAU did to FIU Wednesday. After the Owls took the fourth set 30-28, FIU dropped the fourth set 21-25 and the match 3-1 (22-25, 25-20, 28-30, 21-25).
Junior Lucia Castro had a match high 20 kills and freshman Brianna Gogins' eight blocks exceeded FAU's team total (seven). Alas, the Panthers still fell to 6-18, 3-8 in conference and remain outside the eight-team conference tournament cutoff.
Asked FIU coach Ron Turner what he wanted to see from freshman quarterback Alex McGough after the bye.
"Just continue to get the ball out quicker and continue to work on his accuracy, which has improved drastically during the season and has to continue to improve," Turner answered. "Not so much just accuracy, but ball placement. Ball here" -- Turner mimed catching a waist high ball in front of him -- "as opposed to ball here" -- he mimed reaching behind him for a catchable ball. "At one point, it was just "get it near him.""
I wanted to talk to McGough about this. His quarterback coach from Tampa tweeted that he'd had a good workout addressing some mechanics. My request was denied.
I don't think that rejection was at all personal. McGough's a freshman and coaches worry about "focus" with freshmen, particuarly ones getting media attention. Also, it's the football way. If you want to ask an NFL quarterback a question outside his Wednesday mass media session, you need to be part of the TV crew covering that weekend's game or have the quarterback's cell phone number with a personal relationship that invites away-from-the-facility conversation.
Which is why I sometimes say that football, love it though I do, needs to get over itself.
Many hockey goalies, including NHL wins record holder Martin Brodeur, talk to media on and off the record after the game day morning skate. You could talk to Martin Brodeur, winner of three Stanley Cups, after the morning skate with a Stanley Cup Finals game seven hours away. Almost every mistake a goalie makes winds up on the scoreboard. No incompletes in their world. Only pick sixes.
You deal with that for 11 years from guys who play with a crackhead skinny margin for error every night, it's pretty laughable when you see quarterbacks sheltered as they are. After all, coaches won't forbid all small talk with hotties or watching SpongeBob.
To start, FIU coach Ron Turner confirmed Wednesday the expected: freshman running back Alex Gardner's right shoulder injury will keep him out of the Nov. 1 Rice game "and he'll be a longshot" for the Nov. 8 game at Old Dominion.
With Gardner out, expect junior Anthon Samuel, junior Lamarq Caldwell and freshman Napoleon Maxwell to get an increased workload. Samuel's the best all-around back of the three, Caldwell the best pass protector and Maxwell the most explosive.
The football team gets a few days off. With no game sucking up my Saturday, no pregame blog Friday night, no postgame blog to finsih off Sunday morning, that opens up the weekend for...
Women's soccer! No, at Texas-San Antonio Friday and UTEP Sunday...
Men's soccer! Darn, at Marshall Saturday...
Volleyball! At Western Kentucky Friday, at North Texas Sunday. Sigh...
Swimming & Diving! Saturday at Florida Southern...
Everybody's gone. No balls being kicked, carried or spiked with meaning. Going to the athletic side of Camp Mitch this weekend could make you wonder "Where is everybody?"
It's been a busy Friday -- writing, playdates, cooking for playdates, Sushi Samba -- I've got a Breast Cancer Awareness Walk early Saturday followed by a post-walk social followed by the game. So, let's get to the nitty, as Joe Bob Briggs would say, and get out of here.
Let's start with: the Homecoming Council members connected with booking the Homecoming week concerts (DJ Tiesto) and comedy acts (D.L. Hughley, Eddie Griffin) should get free drinks and hot stone massages for a month. Great gets.
Whoever can claim connection with scheduling Homecoming for the week of the Marshall game should get hot stones thrown at them. Did somebody not see Florida State or Alabama on the schedule and figure, "Oh, what's the difference between Marshall and Rice?" The weekend FIU wants to end on a feelgood note and somebody picks the weekend FIU plays a team that's not just thinking "we must go undefeated" but "we must score like Wilt Chamberlain and Bill Clinton at Studio 54 and engineer 1983 Nebraska blowouts?" That's cooking bacon naked, just asking for trouble.
Speaking of the Cornhuskers, next year Nebraska's comes down for a Sept. 19 game against the Hurricanes. Why not see if the Children of the Corn will go for a full week in South Florida bookended with games? See if they'll drop Southern Mississippi Sept. 26, and pick up the Panthers. Then, FIU can have Nebraska for Homecoming! If you're going to get spanked at Homecoming, get the people whose predecessors practically trademarked 69-17 and has 48 years of experience delivering it.
The FIU coaching staff should've made t-shirts this week saying "Keep Calm and Do Your Job." The first part is for the offense. The second part is for each individual member of the defense.
Taking the second part first...you can talk all you want about FIU's offense helping the defense against this juggernaut offense by "shortening the game" or "keeping their offense off the field." FIU's defense is going to have to stop Marshall's offense at some point. It'll have to do it more than once.
FIU defensive coordinator Josh Conklin described Marshall's offense simply: spread out to make the defense play seven against the run, four against the pass and beat you in the one-on-one showdowns. They bet on opponents not having enough quality defensive backs to cover their receivers. They also bank that opponents won't have enough players who can get off blocks before 243-pound Devon Johnson starts his Peterbilt imitation.
"There's more pressure on each individual job, controlling his gap," Conklin said. "If he's got the quarterback, he's got the quarterback. If he's got the dive, he's got the dive. That's what they've build their system around."
Does seeing how Pitt's big, athletic line and James Conner simply wore down FIU last month make you wonder why Marshall would do any more than occasional passing. Here's why: they want points. Big, fat hunks of creamy carbo-loaded points to build obese blowouts and grab attention of decision-makers who sniff at Marshall's schedule quality. Also, quarterback Rakeem Cato's their best player. You don't take the ball out of your best player's hands too often.
So, they're going to throw the ball on FIU and they're going to look for the matchups. On the outside, expect them to go after junior cornerback Jeremiah McKinnon instead of redshirt junior Richard Leonard. Their DVR isn't broken. Leonard's simply having a better year against better receivers. The last time Cato saw Leonard, who Phil Steele named a Third Team All-America in his midseason awards, Leonard got an interception in The Beef O'Brady's Bowl.
And they like to throw long. Cato's got the second best yards per completion in the nation.
“Their wide receivers do a great job at the top of their deep ball routes of finishing the routes,” Conklin said Tuesday. “I just told (the cornerbacks) today, we’ve got to get used to finishing on the deep ball.”
Meaning “going attacking at the high point. Not waiting for it," he continued. "A deep ball’s a 50-50 ball, we’ve got to think about we’re turning into the wide receiver, and we’ve got to go get it, not wait for it. If you get position on the wide receiver, great. But now we’ve got to go attack it.”
Marshall's allowed only eight sacks in six games. It'll be tough to get to Cato. Sometimes, however, a good middle push that prevents a quarterback from stepping into a throw works as well as pressure off the ends. Those throws come with a little zip minus, giving coverage time for recovery or interception positioning. Cato's thrown five interceptions and fumbled three times, losing one. Marshall's lost six fumbles as a team. Add it up and the FIU bakery should be open for more turnovers. The Panthers haven't won a game this year without a defensive touchdown. They probably won't beat Marshall without one.
Without much of an offense, FIU yapped at Marshall's heels last year, up 3-0 after one quarter and down 13-3 until the last minutes of the second. A Marshall interception and touchdown drive ended the half 20-3. And, "aloha" means good-bye.
"The approach we take this year will be a lot different," Conklin said. "Last year, our deal was, we're going to come out trying to blitz and pressure, then kind of settle in. This year, we're structured differently. We feel like we've got a better plan in terms of how to defend them."
Offensively, keep calm. That's what FIU head coach Ron Turner knows he has to do as a play caller especially if Marshall gets off to its normal start.
Marshall's given up 132 yards and zero points in 30 plays on six first opponent drives. Meanwhile, The Herd has scored four touchdowns and a field goal on its six opening drives and hasn't trailed all season.
Too often, coaches facing a Marshall get down early, 10-0, 14-0 and go into full Costanza fire mode.
Coaches start reaching for a desperation big punch instead of building their way back into the game. Look for FIU to keep trying to run the ball, throwing the slants and bubble screens. One thing they might want to try, though, especially against fifth-year senior corner Darryl Roberts early -- some type of hitch and go with a serious speedster. Roberts will play in the receiver's mouthpiece and sit on the short stuff early. Just as Texas-San Antonio got the rhythm of FIU's plays, guessed right and got a tipped pass interception, he'll be trying to do the same. FIU needs to throw some wariness into Roberts early.
Middle Tennessee State, with a jumbled line and a few running backs, got to Marshall on the ground off option runs. FIU can do that. Maybe the Panthers can run it with stretch plays, also.
FIU needs to get early points and stay in the game for a half. Here's Marshall's halftime scores this season: 28-3, 17-0, 27-0, 31-3, 42-7, 28-17. The Herd's experienced, but do they even remember what it's like to be in a one-score game at halftime? Throw in the factor of several Marshall players from South Florida getting the rare or last chance to play in front of the home folks and parts can get awfully tight if the score stays close.
But, cooked down to the rock, it's a veteran team at its peak against a young team hoping to bounce back from disappointment.
Marshall 48, FIU 24.
That's one black man's opinion. I could be wrong.
FIU took a 1-0 lead into the final minute on Shelby Bowden's first goal of the season. Then, the drama began.
Rice scored with 29 seconds left in regulation to tie the game. In the 97th minute, FIU senior Ashleigh Shim set up fifth-year senior Chelsea Leiva for Leiva's fifth game-winner of the season (ranking fifth nationally), a golden goal that gave FIU a 2-1 win. FIU, 7-6-1 overall and 2-2-1 in Conference USA plays North Texas Sunday afternoon at 1 p.m.
CBSSports.com's midseason All-America team put sophomore Jonnu Smith as its Second Team tight end.
That's not mid-major All-America team. That's midseason. In fact, Smith's the only player not from one of the Power Five conferences on the First or Second Team Offense or Defense.
Sabrina Beaupre's graduated and gone, but FIU's still owning its conference's Diver of the Week award via a blond Canadian.
Freshman Rebecca Quesnel's wins in the 1-meter and 3-meter events against FAU earned her the Conference USA Diver of the Week award. Her 276.83 score in the 1-meter was the fourth best in FIU history.
The swim team's 1-0. That makes them the only FIU team currently above .500.
None of the football teams had a happy weekend whether in the dome, on the pitch or in Birmingham. But men's soccer (3-7-1, 0-4-0) could really use some comfort food Wednesday night at 7:30 against Central Florida
We've dissected American football's failure in The Alamodome. By the way, Ron Turner blamed four of the six fumbles on poor ball security, letting off wide receiver Dennis Turner's fumble along the sideline and saying freshman quarterback Alex McGough's sack-fumble was a matter of being crunched in the pocket.
The women's soccer team (6-6-1, 1-2-1 in conference) lost 2-0 at Middle Tennessee State Sunday despite a season-high 19 shots. Friday's match at Alabama-Birmingham got deluged out. But that rain's not quite as sad as another MacArthur Park downpour of goals breaking men's soccer hearts Saturday at No. 7 Charlotte.
Three days after losing to South Carolina on a goal with three seconds left -- the fourth late game goal scored between the two teams -- FIU took a 3-0 halftime lead. Goals by Daniel Gonzalez, Donald Tomlinson and Josue Espana put FIU 45 minutes from an upset.
They never got there. Charlotte pumped in four goals in 18:05 to take a 4-3 lead in the 70th minute, a lead the 49ers took to the end. FIU's held second half leads in three of their four conference games -- and lost each one.
There will be a football-y post later today, including FIU cornerback Richard Leonard getting Honorable Mention from the College Football Performance Awards for his game against the Owlmen Thursday (100-yard fumble return touchdown, end zone interception, bunch of pass breakups).
Let's start off Monday by giving a high five to the volleyball team, though some of you more vertically-challenged readers might have to jump to do that. A tough month of 10 consecutive losses ended with a 3-1 (25-13, 18-25, 25-23, 25-16) win over Alabama-Birmingham on Replacement Lime Court at FIU Arena, the team's first win since Sept. 6 and first Conference USA win.
Freshman Kiona McSwain had match highs with 38 assists and nine digs, the latter tying senior Martyna Gluchowicz. Freshman Jennifer Ene led in kills with 13.
SWIMMING & DIVING
The water women lost Sonia Perez and ace diver Sabrina Beaupre among several others and added a busload of freshmen. Appropriate, then, that freshmen piled up winning points Saturday as FIU smoked FAU 205-95 at the Biscayne Bay Campus in the first dual meet of the season.
Italian Silvia Scalia won the 100 backstroke, 200 back and 200 individual medley events. Her 200 back time of 2:01.69 is third in FIU history behind Perez's 1:57.35 and then-freshman Johanna Gustafsdottir's 1:54.40. Burlington, Ontario's Rebecca Quensel won both diving events.
Gustafsdottir, now a senior, won the 200 freestyle, 200 breaststroke and anchored the 400 free relay with sophomore Jenny Alfani, senior Klara Andersson and freshman Ally Mayhew. Senior Jean Madison won the 100 breast. Alfani won the 50 free.
Weather pushed Friday's FIU-FAU match into being the finale of last week's Battles With Boca. After 90 minutes of regulation followed by overtime, 0-0.
And it was as defensive as that sounds. Each team allowed only seven shots at goal. FIU put four shots on goal, FAU managed only two.
FIU'S 6-5-1, 1-1-1 in Conference USA going into this week's Friday-Sunday road trip to UAB and Middle Tennessee State.
The men (3-5-1, 0-2-0) went out to No. 15 New Mexico. They'd have been better off taking a left turn at Albequerque instead of playing there. The 2-0 loss featured a goal against in the first minute and midfielder Nelson Milsaint red-carded for fighting near the end of the first half.
They're back home against South Carolina Wednesday.
A short week before The Shula Bowl made Tuesday a Thursday in the FIU football world. Players bounced off the field like kids going from recess to lunch, a light Wednesday from knocking heads with somebody again. Then, it's 10 days off before going to Texas-San Antonio to complete this early Conference USA season mini-round robin.
No injuries of note. Cornerback Richard Leonard might get another look on offense this week.
What FIU would really like to see offensively comes in Snack Pak boxes of yardage instead of one economy size chunk of yardage. Long, laborious drives of many plays and much real world time. Give your defense time to rest. Mentally and physically crush the opponent under a feeling that they're standing against an inexorable force.
The most plays contained in an FIU touchdown drive this year is eight. That's something they'd like to change Thursday.
The disappointment of Sundays' 2-1 loss to Charlotte still lived in FIU coach Thomas Chestnutt's voice Monday. Up 1-0 at halftime, at home on a skillet of a soccer field, the Panthers (6-5, 1-1 in Conference USA) couldn't bring home the win in the last game in a seven-game homestand.
"It's about us finding a killer instinct and being able to kill off teams," Chestnutt said. "Playing-wise, we're good enough to beat every team that stands in our way. I like what we have. I like what we're capable of."
Chestnutt points to a team defense that allows only 8.2 shots per game -- "we're well organized defensively and not allowing tams to have good looks at our goal" -- and points out they've got more going for them than fifth-year senior Chelsea Leiva, who has seven goals and an assist in 11 games.
Senior forward Ashleigh Shim is "not showing up on the scoresheet but she's making a lot of things happen," Chestnutt said. He pointed out senior Marie Egan's play in the back and senior Johanna Volz in the midfield.
FIU's part of Battle of the Identifying Vowels Weekend comes Friday when they go to FAU. After actual road games at UAB and Middle Tennessee State, they'll be back home Oct. 17 to face Rice.
SWIMMING & DIVING
FIU's best team for combining athletics and academics does its athletics thing on the Biscayne Bay campus, across town from the activity hub of Camp Mitch. Occasionally, other athletes journey over to watch them, sometimes out of gratitude for the water women showing up at everybody else's games.
But for Saturday's noon season opening meet against FAU, you can get on the bus, Gus, to the Biscayne Bay Campus. You don't need to discuss much, but you do need to e-mail Liz Augustin at LAugusti@fiu.edu. The deadline for reserving a spot was today. Do it early Wednesday and claim you're working on Miami time.
I'll get to how FIU did to UAB what the Blazers thought they would do to FIU in a moment. But here's my favorite defensive sequence of the game, the moment FIU's defense truly delivered crushed out UAB:
UAB was at the FIU 43. The Panthers' 24-13 lead seemed certain to be shrunk a little. The Blazers moved the ball on their previous possession for the first time in the second half. That drive should've ended with Jeremiah McKinnon's incredible one-armed interception, but he got called for pass interference, an amazing feat when it was a one-armed pick because McKinnon's other arm was held. The drive did end with a fourth and 2 stoning of Jordan Howard led by cornerback Richard Leonard.
Anyway, with UAB a first down from field goal range, defensive end Michael Wakefield drew a holding call. First and 20 at the UAB 47 and a posse chased quarterback Cody Clements from the pocket into a 3-yard gain. Second and 17, Imarjaye Albury with a sack. Third and 19, Wakefield with a sack for a loss of 11 as Giovanni Francois gets flagged for offside. Wakefield, in particular, that series devastated his man on each play. I thought, "UAB should decline this, punt, figure out some scheme for blocking Wakefield." Seriously, I thought a punt would be better for UAB than whatever might happen on third and 14. I wondered if Clements might be thinking "Decline the penalty, I'm getting beat up here."
UAB took the penalty, as positive thinking and all good sense indicated the Blazers should. And on third down, Clements threw a ball that three FIU defenders had a better shot at than his intended receiver and Leonard intercepted. He ran it back 46 yards to the UAB 14. FIU got a field goal out of that.
Two UAB plays later, 27-13, FIU morphed into 34-13, FIU on Perkins' 31-yard pick six. Ballgame.
"We just wanted to eliminate the big plays. Coach told us we'd have a bunch of chances to get interceptions this week and we took advantage," Leonard said. "There was nothing different about it -- in their face, disrupt the timing."
UAB kept throwing long and hit two, a 40-yarder to JJ Nelson and a 34-yarder to tight end Gerald Everette, plus got that pass interference call on McKinnon. They also failed to connect on a couple they had open. Nelson got behind Leonard in the second quarter, but dropped what would've been a pretty sliding bomb catch. UAB scored the next play anyway when Everett did his monster truck act through the FIU secondary.
Still, three completions over 20 yards and one pass interference to four interceptions is a hit-to-pick ratio any defense will take and walk out laughing.
Something else that should be noticed is FIU's defensive discipline. All those times Cody Clements left the pocket usually skedaddling from danger, rarely did FIU lose track of receivers downfield. Meanwhile, FIU's line kept good lines of pursuit. Clements broke free for one 19-yard scramble and the 15-yard touchdown in garbage time. You get pressure like FIU got all game, you'll take two plays of lost containment against the many where Clements took a sack, threw it away or ran for picayune gain. On the two fourth downs UAB tried to draw FIU off, the Blazers wound up jumping early.
Of the 380 offensive yards FIU allowed, most came on UAB's first drive of the game and last two drives in garbage time. That pressure on Clements and Jeremi Briscoe helped with those interceptions. FIU coach Ron Turner agreed those weren't throws a comfortable quarterback makes. Five defensive turnovers, two that went for touchdowns. In the competitive phase of the game, the FIU defense outscored the UAB offense 14-13.
The Panthers didn't move the ball with consistency. They turned three short fields off turnovers into two field goals. Their 297 yards of offense won't raise any eyebrows, especially when 160 of those yards (53.8 percent) came on two plays. But they showed capability for the big strike again with the 75-yard and 85-yard touchdown passes to Jonnu Smith and Glenn Coleman, respectively. That's what UAB had done earlier this season.
By the way, big ups to Coleman, who had 106 yards on four catches and the block that sprung Smith on up the sideline on his touchdown. Wonderful speed shown by Smith on that play, outrunning a fast secondary.
Leonard, Coleman, soccer player Chelsea Leiva...those that missed their 2013 seasons keep showing what their teams lacked in their absence. Coleman's averaging 20.83 yards per catch on his 12 receptions. Leonard had two interceptions, made the aforementioned fourth down stop and did a cameo on offense running a jet sweep for 5 yards.
(Leiva had another two-goal game Friday night in the FIU women's win. Guess we should mention here the FIU men footballers lost their conference opener to UAB 3-2 on a goal with 20 seconds left.)
Both freshmen Alexes went the distance. Alex Gardner handled 19 of the 27 carries between he and Anthon Samuel. Gardner's roommate, quarterback Alex McGough, never got swapped out for EJ Hilliard this game, although early on, he couldn't hit the broad side of Big Momma.
"I was trying to throw the ball too hard. That's a big problem I have," McGough said. "They were playing pretty good defense throughout the game. I was trying to force it in the beginning. Coach Turner pulled me aside and told me 'calm down, throw the ball nice and soft, a catchable pass.'"
Turner said, "He did a really good job mentally and was focused. He just missed a couple of throws that he should've made early that would kept some drives (going), but he's not going to make every throw. He's a young guy. What I did like is that he did miss some throws early, but he hung in there, hugn in there, and just kept playing and believing in himself."
As for the running game, Turner liked some of what he saw, but didn't like the inopportune false start penalties and some blown blocks that blew up plays at the handoff.
"The good news is we got a win," he said. "The better news is I think we can become so much better because we hurt ourselves a lot."
Such as the three red zone trips off turnovers. Three field goal attempts, partially because there were three false start penalties. For the day, FIU had 10 penalties for 65 yards.
FIU a two-touchdown underdog against a team with talent but not much record of recent success. A flood of turnovers, including Randy Harvey getting a special teams turnover...yeah, this reminded me a bit of the Panthers beating Southern Mississippi a year ago.
About two hours before the game, UAB players began trickling onto the field. They walked around, some down to the opposite end zone before all arriving at midfield. They formed a shield shape. A step forward, arms wrapped around shoulders, they bowed they had a team prayer. No matter your relgious feelings, it was beautiful to watch the aesthetics of them coming together. I wish I'd shot video, but instead ot just this picture.
Also, here's a shot of the home side of Legion Field, as requested by chiapanther (file too big for Twitter). The announced crowd was 16,133. Even if that was the actual crowd (go with 10,000 to 12,000 actual) Legion Field still seats over 71,000, even without the removed upper deck. What would be a nice crowd for a stadium sized like The Cage, a stadium UAB would love, looks like a family club meeting in Legion Field.
Mrs. Miniver gets Best Picture over The Magnificent Ambersons during World War II. Only early 1990s political correctness can explain Dances With Wolves getting that award instead of GoodFellas.
Muhammad Ali nemesis Ken Norton beats The Greatest once and loses two other questionable decisions. But a fading Ali barely survives Earnie Shavers in a 15-round decision win almost 18 months before Shavers blasts out Norton in 118 seconds.
Metallo nearly kills Superman. He wouldn’t last a page against Flash. A panel against Green Lantern.
Richard Nixon narrowly lost the first television age election to JFK. Could Jimmy Carter have won any Presidential election besides 1976?
I got on this riff thinking about Louisville and FIU.
This is the fourth game of Bobby Petrino’s second turn as Louisville coach. For whatever else can be said about Petrino, he’s a tremendous college-affiliated football coach. What he isn’t is the coach who constructed most of this roster, former coach Charlie Strong, now at Texas. Charlie Strong knew Florida and Florida players. Assistant coaches might still be translating Petrino for the many holdovers from Strong.
Also, the book on Louisville says the Cardinals come at you with speed, Florida speed. They hit the flanks and fly. What does FIU have? Speed, Florida speed.
Louisville probably brings better athletes to those get-togethers on the corners. Still, that seems to play into what the FIU defense does well – get lateral, chase down plays going away from them. Expect the Panthers young linebackers to look fantastic one play, then fall for an okie doke on a reverse or a counter the next play. Where they’ll be tested most will be in pass coverage with the tight end off play action.
Pitt hit FIU between the tackles with the occasional quarterback keeper around the edge. There’s talk Louisville coach Bobby Petrino might want to use this week to work on Louisville’s inside running game. Remember Michael Dyer, freshman running back on Auburn’s 2010 national championship team? He’s trying to come off injury as a fifth-year senior at Louisville. He might be back Saturday.
At least FIU won’t have to worry about a mobile quarterback. Louisville’s Will Gardner, like predecessor Teddy Bridgewater, runs with great reluctance. Louisville’s offensive line is still trying to get its act together, so expect FIU’s pass rush to bring heat and humidity on passing downs.
“He’s not a run first guy,” Petrino said in his Thursday media session. He’s really more of a passer. Thinks of himself more as a passer. He needs to stand taller, stand his back leg under his hip so he is 6-4.”
Petrino said in practice this week, Gardner, “set his weight, snapped his wrist, worked on the timing, throwing the ball hard. You could certainly see he’s making a conscious effort to do the things we’re coaching him to do.”
FIU batted down some passes against Wagner’s 6-4 Brian Gehring and might play swat pong with a couple here. Expect Gardner’s mechanics to be off on a few throws, giving the Panthers some interceptions chances.
Gardner likely will go the whole way or until the clock strikes blowout. He usually swaps with freshman Reggie Bonnafon. Bonnafon will miss the game while attending his father’s funeral.
Also, FIU must make the Cardinals work for their scores, which means good punting and solid punt returns. Punter Chris Ayers needs a good game to hold onto his position.
Pitt’s touchdown drives were shorter than a dinner rush line at a Pollo Tropical drive-thru. The long drives tended to end in James Conner fumbles. It’s hot for the offense, too. People get tired. Mistakes get made.
With the ball, expect Louisville to send numbers at freshman quarterback Alex McGough out of its 3-4 defense. Until FIU starts running the ball consistently, what’s to stop teams from creating stampedes to the quarterback with the thought of just collecting the run along the way?
There’s going to be chances for the kind of boom plays that helped FIU get up 16-0 on Pitt. A missed tackle on sophomore tight end Jonnu Smith. Glenn Coleman, TJ Lowder or Dennis Turner outrunning man coverage downfield. Alex Gardner on a screen or draw.
(The only downside with starting a freshman running back: predictability. Picking up blitzes in pass protection usually doesn’t come naturally after a high school career in which they have the ball or the pass is designed to go to them. So, the freshman sometimes gets swapped out for a better blocking running back. Meanwhile, the entire opposing coaching staff starts whoopin’ and hollerin’ because they’ve got a solid hint that on an obvious passing down, the offense will pass.)
“Offensively, we had 10 big plays,” FIU coach Ron Turner said of the game against Pitt. “I don’t know that we had 10 big plays in any game last year. We might’ve gone six games without having 10 big plays.”
Probably – they had only 24 plays (21 run, three pass) 20 yards or longer all year.
I don’t think they’ll get 10 against Louisville. If they do, the score will be much closer than my prediction:
Louisville 38, FIU 10.
But that’s the opinion of one man raised by a single African-American lesbian (and I thank God for all of that). I could be wrong.
Two goals by fifth-year senior Chelsea Leiva and the women's soccer team opened the night with a 2-0 win against Stetson, their third win in a row. They get a shot at a ranked team Sunday when No. 23 Long Beach State comes to the field.
The FIU men now have two wins against ranked opponents after senior Quentin Albrecht's bicycle kick goal gave FIU a 2-1 overtime win against No. 25 San Diego State. They beat then-No. 19 Michigan 1-0 in August.
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.
Miami's athletic Cold War thaws. South Florida sports Sadat will shake hands with Begin.
FIU and the University of Miami officially announce resumption of their muscular rivalry Friday morning. Football draws the most attention, of course. There's mutual benefit -- UM gets a home opponent other than Florida State or Virginia Tech that should draw something other than heat to Sun Life Stadium. FIU gets a guaranteed excellent crowd with a home game against UM, wherever the game's played. Both get a road game without all the road game travel expenses.
But extending the hugfest to other sports also can give everyone the warm streudel feeling.
Basketball: anything that puts a charge in college-affailiated basketball in South Florida should be pursued. The difference in the ACC and Conference USA matters none. You can put the UM in the ACC but you can't take the Hurricanes out of South Florida. Neither gender fills The Branch in Coral Gables. FIU improved its atmosphere and crowd last year, but still needs opponents with buzz included. I never understood UM's aversion to coming west.
Baseball: They recruit the same high talent area. The coaches don't like each other. Who's up first?
Women's soccer: No travel, a few bucks better at the gate, maybe a litle nastiness. The usual reasons...
Track & field/Swimming & Diving: Little in college sports provide the sustained sizzle with periodic intense jolts than a rivalry dual meet in these sports.
Sort of like the US vs. USSR on the track during The Cold War.
Whatever the display inside FIU Stadium on Showed Them The Money Field, all agree that FIU's tailgating masses do a Miami school proud. Strong volume, both numbers and bass, tremendous enthusiasm. I love to do a tailgate walk before a game to get the creative juices bouncing. Many a synapse has been fired in the athletic department trying to figure out how to get all that to transfer from out there to inside La Cage on a regular basis.
Now, the tailgating has been shaved down to the Lot 6 strip on the east side of the stadium, says the layout for the Aug. 30 season opener against Bethune-Cookman.
No Tamiami Park. Florida Gun Show Miami is at the Fuchs Pavilion Aug. 30 and 31. The Children's Trust Family Expo is all over the Youth Fair grounds Sept. 13, the day of the noon home game against Pitt. The following week, there's a Wellness and Lifestyle Expo from Friday through Sunday, which encompasses the Louisville game. There's another gun show Nov. 1, the day of the noon Rice game.
The visiting tailgate is east of the Blue Garage. Kind of breaks up the energy center around FIU Stadium. And I'm not sure the smell from the soul food from the Bethune-Cookman tailgaters can waft all the way to The Cage.
Fall's best hope for bringing FIU a conference title, women's soccer, was picked to finish fourth in Conference USA. Charlotte, from the soccer power state of North Carolina, is the favorite followed by North Texas and Rice.
Last year's leading FIU scorer, senior Ashleigh Shim, was picked for the preseason all-conference team after being Second Team All-C-USA in 2013. The women open the FIU athletic season Aug. 22 at home against Arizona.
Just received an e-mail that all football training camp practices will be closed to the media. No mention of post-practice media sessions. I'm sure they'll come up with something.
This mostly curtails the usual detailed daily training camp reports here on the blog. It cuts the daily rail tidbits that run in the print Herald, as well as the occasional training camp feature. On the other hand, I get more time to work on preseason section stuff, take my daughter to summer camp in the mornings and cram in a few more Buffy the Vampire Slayer episodes before the summer ends.
Word on the street and out of Camp Mitch is former FIU assistant and longtime club softball coaching ace Gator Rebhan will be named as FIU's new softball coach.
UPDATE: FIU announced this a half-hour after I posted the above.
Rebhan was an assistant under Jake Schumann, who left to be the associate head coach at Ole Miss after three years at FIU (and no raise from $59,000). He inherits arguably the most promising team in the athletic department. Almost everyone returns from a young team that went 33-20, 15-9 in Conference USA last season.
Single game tickets for the fall sports -- football, volleyball, both soccers -- go on sale at 5 p.m. at FIUSports.com.