CLICK HERE to read the story on FIU's last national championship team.
CLICK HERE to read the story on FIU's last national championship team.
FIU has already taken care of one Owl team this season in Florida Atlantic getting the Don Shula Trophy back on campus. However, the Panthers face a different breed of Owl on Saturday in Rice, which is a much better team than FAU.
As always you can hear the call of FIU football on ESPN 1210 AM on Saturday with Mike Levine and yours truly starting at 11:30 a.m. with the pregame show when we will be joined as always by former FIU linebacker James Knapp. WBFS Channel 33 in South Florida is picking up the ASN broadcast. But turn down the sound and listen to us.
Rice (4-3, 2-1 C-USA), 2013 Conference USA champions, has won four straight games and looking to get back to the C-USA championship game. The Owls have plenty of momentum going into Saturday with both its offense and defense clicking after an 0-3 start.
After defeating UAB and FAU to start conference play, FIU (3-5, 2-2 C-USA) wants to get back in the win column and possibly start a run to the postseason. These Owls will be a challenge for the Panthers because of an improved defense and a smart, mobile quarterback. But here is how FIU can win Saturday's game.
COOK THE RICE RUN GAME: Rice employs a run-first offense but can also hit a defense with the play-action pass, especially if the running game is humming. The FIU defense needs to shut down the Owls rushers. Rice has a pair of solid running backs in Jowan Davis and Darik Dillard, who are each averaging more than four yards per carry. Additionally, FIU has to be wary of quarterback Driphus Jackson, who is a very mobile quarterback. If you follow the history of FIU football, then you know the Panthers defense over the years has had its share of issues with running quarterbacks. Jackson can throw the ball and if the Owls are running well then the play-action pass could hurt the FIU D. Rice receiver Jordan Taylor, who stands 6-5, has been deadly over the middle of the field and that's where opposing defenses have tested the FIU defense this season.
BEAN THE RICE D WITH THE RUN: Despite the loss of Alex Gardner, FIU has to establish a respectable run game against Rice. The Owls offense loves to control the clock with its run game and if the FIU offense has several three-and-outs that could leave the FIU D vulnerable during the 12 noon game despite temperatures not expected to be as warm as the September 12 noon game against Pittsburgh earlier this season. Anthon Samuel is expected to start at running back with a committee of backs giving Samuel a breather when need be. Samuel, who had a great start to his college career at Bowling Green being named MAC Freshman of the Year, is capable of putting up good run numbers. FIU will need to complement that with an efficient passing game.
MAKE THIRD DOWN THE FIRST GOAL: Yes, the FIU offense needs to improve on its third down conversion rate. The FIU defense will have a task on its hands stopping Rice on third down. The Owls have converted 47 percent of their third downs which is good for 17th in the nation among 125 Division I teams. The FIU D is no slouch on third down as the Panthers have the 21st best rate stopping teams on third down. The Owls have had this success because of their run game. Getting good yardage on the ground on first and second down sets up the Rice offense for third down and manageable yardage. The goal for the FIU defense is get to the Rice offense on first and second downs to make it third and long for the Owls. Make Rice one-dimensional on offense and have the Owls go away from their strength of the running game.
EARLY RISERS: The first quarter has not been Rice's friend with the Owls being outscored 63-38 this season. Meanwhile the first quarter is the only quarter FIU has outscored its opponents this season 44-27. This is FIU's second noon kickoff this season and a fast start would go a long way toward a victory Saturday. Get a jump on Rice at home and make the Owls try to come back throwing the ball is a start FIU would take. Opponents have shied away from kicking to Richard Leonard in recent weeks but maybe Leonard gets an opportunity to return a kick all the way back to get things going early. Or an FIU defensive score puts Rice in the hole at the outset.
Defending Conference USA champion Rice takes on FIU Saturday from FIU Stadium (12 p.m. My TV Ch. 33 & ESPN 1210 AM radio). The Owls are on a four-game winning streak. The Panthers are looking to get back on track after starting conference play with back-to-back wins.
For more on the Owls here is their play-by-play radio voice J.P. Heath to answer "5 Questions on" Rice.
1. What has sparked the turnaround for Rice, winners of four straight games? It seems like the Owls improved defensively to spur the win streak?
JPH: The huge turnaround has been getting some injured guys back. Christian Covington got back in the middle of the D-line and Jordan Taylor sparked the receiving game after an off-season injury. But that should not discount what Bryan Nordstrom has done at one defensive end spot. Coach Bailiff calls him a “training tape” on technique for that position and Redshirt freshman Graysen Schantz has given a lot of pressure from the other edge. There are many things that have sparked the turnaround, but those would be my top few.
2. Who are some of the playmakers on the Rice offense? Is it mostly a run-oriented offense?
JPH: The numbers say Rice is very balanced and they are, but they are definitely a run-first team. Having two dynamic backs like Davis and Dillard (whose brother is the NCAA TD receptions record holder) with their varying styles has been fun to call. That’s not to sell Driphus Jackson and the passing game short. He has been amazing at protecting the ball and coach Bailiff credits his high football IQ for being a huge reason for the Rice four-game winning streak.
3. What does Rice do well on defense and who are some of the defenders that FIU has to be wary of? Do the Owls like to blitz a lot or is it more of a zone scheme?
JPH: Like the first answer, my biggest surprise on the whole team has been the consistently great play of the defensive line. The defense has already matched its sack total from all of last season in SEVEN games compared to 14 in the championship run a year ago. The last few weeks they’ve been adept at getting in the backfield and I’d say they have a lot of schemes they use.
4. How is this year's Rice team different from last year's C-USA champion Rice team?
JPH: Very tough question. Rice lost its second all-time rusher Charles Ross, but Davis and Dillard have teamed up to more than make up for that loss. Coach Bailiff has repeatedly cited Jackson’s ability “under” center as being a huge reason that he thinks this team could even be better than the special team a year ago. He is showing acumen for the position that everyone raves about in just his ninth career start. Jackson’s leadership is very telling, too. Guys on both sides of the ball say that he will confront them about something that needs to be addressed. Cornerback Phillip Gaines is gone to the Chiefs as a third round pick, but recently Ryan Pollard has stepped up to provide some punch at that spot opposite another great cornerback Bryce Callahan. Pollard had a pick-six against North Texas. The addition of Kevin Yoxall (14-year strength coach at Auburn with stints at Minnesota, UCLA, and TCU) has been a tangible difference. Multiple players have said unprompted that he and his staff have taken them to new heights physically.
5. How do you see Saturday's game playing out?
JPH: I think a lot of it comes down to Rice’s ability to control the clock, which could be tough against the stingy FIU defense. The Owls have been one of the best teams in the nation on third downs and converting red zone chances so they must continue to do that in order to win Saturday.
FIU has played Rice in several other sports before including baseball the last few years. But the Panthers and the Owls meet on the gridiron for the first time on Saturday at FIU Stadium at 12 noon. You can listen to the game on ESPN 1210 AM with Mike Levine and yours truly calling the game. Pregame show starts at 11:30 a.m.
Rice will be the third of four new opponents to take on FIU this season after Wagner, UTSA and next week's foe OId Dominion so this calls for another installment of The Other Game. FIU enters this version of The Other Game on a 56-game winning streak. Will the Panthers make it 57 in a row?
FIU vs. Rice -- The Other Game
-- FIU has a Harley as in linebackers coach Rob Harley. Rice has a Ford as in safety Ford Corbett. Everyone knows that the acronym for Ford cars is Fix Or Repair Daily. FIU 1, Rice 0.
-- FIU was built on land that was once an airport. To this day the control tower of that airport has been preserved and is a historic building on campus. Not a bad backstory for the university. Rice University opened after its founder, William Marsh Rice, was murdered by his butler and his lawyer, who were eventually caught when a fake will was discovered. Although it was a tragic way to begin a university it certainly makes for a very interesting back story. FIU 1, Rice 1.
-- Rice's president is named David Leebron and I'm sure he's done a good job to lead a fine school like Rice. FIU is in Miami where a fellow by the name of LeBron worked for the city's pro basketball team the last four years and is now gone. With the NBA season tipping off last night, still don't know if that was such a bad thing. PUSH. FIU 1, Rice 1, PUSH 1.
-- Walk across the street from Rice University and you have an 18-hole golf course at Hermann Park. FIU's nearest golf course is the Miccosukee about 15 minutes away by car. Nothing beats walking to the golf course. Rice 2, FIU 1, PUSH 1.
-- In Miami you can find a variety of tasty rice and beans dishes from the Cuban moros and congri to the Nicaraguan gallo pinto. They might have those dishes in Houston but I'll guarantee you they don't taste as good as the Miami versions. Rice 2, FIU 2, PUSH 1.
-- Rice's owl mascot, Sammy, got its name after it was rescued from Texas A&M kidnappers. FIU's panther mascot is named Roary. Try kidnapping a panther, plus panthers eat owls. 2 points for this one. FIU 4, Rice 2, PUSH 1.
-- FIU Stadium is 12 years old, six years old if you go by the re-opening after the renovation. The Panthers' home hasn't really hosted big events yet outside of FIU clinching the Sun Belt Conference championship in 2010. Rice Stadium opened in 1950 and hosted Super Bowl VIII when the Miami Dolphins defeated the Minnesota Vikings. Plus, Rice Stadium was the venue for President John F. Kennedy's speech about going to the moon. History wins here. FIU 4, Rice 3, PUSH 1.
-- FIU has a sheriff in defensive lineman Jermaine Sheriff. Going by Hollywood sheriffs, you have Sheriff Andy Taylor (Andy Grifftin Show), Sheriff Rosco P. Coltrane (Dukes of Hazzard). Rice has Callahan as in cornerback Bryce Callahan. Going by Hollywood's most famous Callahan, Detective Harry Callahan (Dirty Harry, Clint Eastwood's most iconic character). "Go Ahead Make My Day". FIU 4, Rice 4, PUSH 1.
-- FIU's most famous baseball alum Mike Lowell won three World Series, in 1998 with the New York Yankees, 2003 with the Florida Marlins and 2007 with the Boston Red Sox where Lowell was named Series MVP. Rice's most famous baseball alum Lance Berkman won one World Series with the St. Louis Cardinals in 2011. FIU 5, Rice 4, PUSH 1.
In case you don't follow the NFL or T.Y. Hilton's exploits since he graduated from FIU, here is how T.Y. Goodbye is doing -- he is leading the NFL in receiving.
Hilton currently has 866 receiving yards which leads the NFL, 14 yards more than his childhood friend Antonio Brown of the Pittsburgh Steelers. CLICK HERE for the complete NFL receiving stats.
Hilton's next game is against the New York Giants on Monday Night Football on ESPN. Leading up to that game, ESPN.com is doing an in-depth feature story on Hilton and his rise to the top of the NFL in receiving. The ESPN reporter, Ashley Fox, who is writing the story spoke to several people that have known Hilton during his time at Miami Springs High and at FIU.
1984 FIU SOCCER NATIONAL CHAMPS TO BE HONORED
At halftime of Saturday's FIU/Rice football game, the 1984 FIU men's soccer team which won the NCAA Division II national championship will be honored on the 30th anniversary of their achievement.
The FIU Sunblazers, that was FIU's nickname back then, defeated Seattle Pacific 1-0. The Sunblazers were 14-4-3 that year coached by Karl Kremser.
Here is the 1984 FIU soccer team photo.
The Rice Owls, defending 2013 Conference USA champions, are next on the FIU football schedule with kickoff at 12 noon this Saturday from FIU Stadium. It will be the first-ever meeting between FIU (3-5, 2-2 C-USA) and Rice (4-3, 2-1 C-USA) in football. The Owls are the third of four first-time opponents for FIU this season. Thus far against first-time opponents, the Panthers are 1-1 defeating Wagner and losing to UTSA. FIU travels to Old Dominion on Nov. 8 to face its fourth first-time foe this season.
Rice is on a roll heading into FIU. The Owls have won four straight games with a powerful offense and an improving defense. After starting the year allowing 43.6 points-per-game, the Owls defense has yielded 19.7 ppg. Yes, Rice's competition in the last four games is not on par with the first two games that resulted in losses to Notre Dame and Texas A&M and a 45-42 loss to Old Dominion but the Owls defense has clearly improved.
During its four-game win streak Rice has defeated Southern Miss, Hawaii, Army and North Texas scoring 41 points in three of those four games and 28 points in the other contest. The FIU defense is sure to be tested Saturday.
Rice has a pair of running backs, Jowan Davis (4.2 yds pg) and Darik Dillard (5.6 yds pg), each averaging more than 4 yards-per-carry and have combined for 11 touchdowns. Davis and Dillard, each at 200 pounds, are not the huge backs that FIU saw earlier this season in Pitt's James Conner and Marshall's Devon Johnson, who were each 245 pounds, but the Owls backs can move.
Still, the Owls are a running team averaging 199.3 yards per game while they throw for 225.3 yards per game. With its run game Rice has owned the time of possession advantage throughout the season. The Owls have had the ball for nearly 35 minutes (34:50) per game. That's almost two-thirds of a quarter more than opponents have had the ball (25:10) and this could be a factor with a 12 noon game on Saturday at FIU. Remember when Pittsburgh kept the FIU defense on the field earlier this season. Conner exploded in the second half against a tired FIU D.
The Owls have a mobile quarterback in Driphus Jackson. Mobile quarterbacks have been a challenge for FIU defenses. But Jackson can throw as well. He is completing 59 percent of his passes and has 12 touchdowns with just three interceptions. Jackson likes to spread out the passing game with six pass catchers, including Davis and Dillard, with double digits in receptions.
Here is an alarming number if you are FIU. Rice is converting almost half of its third downs. The Owls are 52 of 110 (47%) on third down this season. No bueno for opposing defenses.
Defensive end Brian Nordstrom leads the Owls defense with 10 tackles for loss. Defensive end Graysen Schantz has seven tackles for loss. Rice has 20 sacks with three players, including Nordstrom, with at least three sacks each. Defensive back Jaylon Finner is the Owls' leading tackler with 35 stops.
Rice is tied with Marshall for the second best rushing defense in the conference allowing 144 yards per game. FIU is sixth allowing 155 rushing yards per game. The Owls are in the middle of the pack defensively giving up 245 yards through the air per game, which ranks seventh in C-USA.
I'll have more on Rice later with "5 Questions" and "The Other Game" plus at the end of the week the game preview.
Working eight new players onto the team and making up for the losses of Tymell Murphy and Rakeem Buckles is what the FIU basketball team is faced with as the Panthers currently practice for the 2014-15 season. FIU tips off the new season against Florida College on Nov. 14 at FIU Arena.
“We brought in six players and we have two who sat out last year so we basically have eight new players,” said FIU coach Anthony Evans. “We had some injuries early on and we are starting to get some guys back, so chemistry isn’t there yet.”
Two things that Evans points to about the Panthers this season are the depth and length of the team. With eight forwards ranging from 6-6 to 6-9 and new center Adrian Diaz standing at 6-11, Evans likes what his team could do defensively. CLICK HERE for a look at the roster.
“We are going to try to mix it up defensively,” Evans said. “I don’t think we can play one style of defense. We can have some versatility defensively with guys who are 6-6, 6-7. I envision us still trying to put some pressure on people.”
The new depth is expected to help offensively as well. Murphy (16.6 points-per-game) and Buckles (13.7 ppg) combined to average 30.3 ppg last season as the leading and second leading scorers on the team, respectively. Dennis Mavin is the leading returning scorer with 11.8 ppg last season. Still, FIU expects to have scoring come from various players instead of relying on just a few like last season.
“Dennis [Mavin] and Adrian [Diaz] are guys who will provide scoring,” Evans said. “Then there are a bunch of guys who are capable of scoring. Jason Boswell, Kris Gulley, Dominique Williams, Daviyon Draper all those guys or a combination of those guys are capable of making up the points from last year. We have more depth. Some of the guys coming off the bench now will give us a chance to rest some guys.”
Said Mavin: “Last year we had like six or seven guys that consistently played. This year I think we can go eight, nine or 10 deep if we need to.”
Jose Laphitzondo went from playing club rugby at FIU to punting for the FIU football team. Already blessed with a strong leg but not much punting technique, Laphitzondo has done well in his first college football season.
Laphitzondo (40.4 yards per punt) is 2.5 yards away from the FIU season punting average record held by former Panthers punter Carlos Munera (42.9 yards in 2009). Laphitzondo knew nothing about American football when he started playing earlier this year. He calls the Super Bowl, the "Super Tason". Tason is the Spanish word for bowl and ask him to name five NFL teams and he can only come up with "the Broncos".
But Laphitzondo has been a big help to the FIU special teams in the game of hidden yardage. Plus, the junior is an FIU Honors College student majoring in finance. CLICK HERE to read his story.
Perfect weather is expected when FIU takes on No. 25 Marshall at 6 p.m. Saturday from FIU Stadium. It is expected to be 81 degrees with low humidity, sunny and without a cloud in the sky at kickoff. Such perfect weather that Mike Levine and I are thinking of doing our radio broadcast of the game from outside our new radio suite.
As always you can hear the call of FIU football on ESPN 1210 AM on Saturday with Mike and yours truly starting at 5:30 p.m. with the pregame show where we will be joined by former FIU linebacker James Knapp. Initially, WBFS Channel 33 in South Florida was going to pick up the ASN broadcast and televise the game, but now they are not.
However, for you out-of-town good people or those who cannot get to the stadium, you can now watch the game on FIUSports.com. But the videostream on the FIU website will pick up the ASN broadcast so I suggest you turn down the volume on the videostream and listen to Mike and I on ESPN 1210 AM.
Believe it or not Saturday's game between the Panthers (3-4, 2-1 C-USA) and Thundering Herd (6-0, 2-0) is for first place in Conference USA's East Division. Not too many people would have thought seven weeks into the 2014 season that FIU would be playing for first place in its division. But that's the case and it shows how FIU has improved from a year ago.
Like the expected weather on Saturday, FIU will need to play a near perfect game to upset heavily favored Marshall. The city of neon lights feels stronger today than it did earlier in the week about a Herd win as those folks think Marshall is now more than three touchdowns better than FIU. But no one knows for sure until they play the game at FIU Stadium. Here is how FIU would stand alone in first place on Sunday morning:
LONG DRIVES: Through most of this season the FIU offense has had trouble sustaining drives. The result is a lot of time on the field for the FIU defense, which is not a bad thing because the Panthers have a stout defense but all that time on the field can eventually wear out the defense. If FIU is going to beat a Top 25 team that is solid all around, then the Panthers will need to collect a bunch of first downs and score touchdowns and not field goals. You are not going to beat Marshall kicking field goals. Too many three-and-outs by the FIU offense will give back the football to Rakeem Cato and the Herd's explosive offense too many times. No bueno there.
GROUND POUND: In order to sustain those drives FIU MUST establish a productive ground game against the second best defense in Conference USA (FIU has the No. 1 D in C-USA). Not only will an effective run game keep the Herd defense honest from teeing off on quarterback Alex McGough but a good run game will chew clock and keep the Herd offense off the field. FIU has developed a nice 1-2 punch with bigger ballcarrier Anthon Samuel and the speedy Alex Gardner. Get a running game going and watch how McGough gets more time to throw and more open receivers.
MAKE CATO UNCOMFORTABLE AT HOME: Herd quarterback Rakeem Cato is back home again in Miami Saturday. Cato played his high school ball at Miami Central and was an FIU recruit before signing with Marshall. The FIU defense has to make Cato feel like he wants to go back to Huntington, West Virginia. Of course, the Panthers would love to sack Cato numerous times but even if they don't get to him all the time FIU must hit him, like Michael Wakfield (photo above) did in last year's game, or fluster him where he has to get rid of the ball early and make bad decisions in the passing game. FIU certainly has the defense to make this happen like the Panthers did to another Central quarterback back in 2011 when UCF's Jeffrey Godfrey had a terrible game in a 17-10 FIU win. Unfortunately, Cato is not the only challenge for the FIU defense as the Panthers will also have to corral monstrous and speedy running back Devon Johnson (6-1, 245 pounds). The tight end-turned-running back leads the conference with 814 rushing yards, 11 touchdowns and an astounding 7.8 yards-per-carry.
OFFENSE FROM DEFENSE OR SPECIAL TEAMS: It's no secret the FIU offense has struggled at times this season. Against a team like Marshall, the Panthers defense or special teams will need to help produce points not only for FIU's chances at victory but also to help give FIU some momentum. Recall FIU's 16-0 start against Pittsburgh where the Panthers got a safety on Jeremiah McKinnon's sack of Chad Voytik in the end zone to spur that fast start. FIU, which leads the nation in turnovers gained, could also use turnovers returned for touchdowns like it had against UAB and Florida Atlantic. It will sound like a cliche but FIU needs a total team effort Saturday to defeat mighty Marshall.
FIU has pulled off some big upsets in its 12+year football history. Whether the Panthers can knock off Conference USA stalwart No. 25 Marshall, who the City of Neon Lights thinks is three touchdowns better, we will find out Saturday.
FIU will need to basically play a perfect game against Marshall to defeat the Thundering Herd and take over first place in C-USA's East Division. More on that game later. The Panthers are 1-15 all-time against ranked teams, that includes FIU's time (2002-2004) at Division I-AA (FCS) before moving to Division I (FBS) in 2005. FIU went 1-8 against Top 25 ranked FCS teams when FIU was an FCS team. FIU is 0-7 against Top 25 ranked FBS teams. While you wait for Saturday's game to arrive, here are the Top 5 FIU Football Upsets in the program's 12+year history:
2011 - FIU 24, Louisville 17: The national spotlight (ESPN telecast) was shining on FIU that Friday in September in Louisville. The game was the only college football game that night and FIU made a name for itself. The Panthers put up a stellar defensive effort and T.Y. Hilton trended worldwide on Twitter after his 201-yard, two-touchdown performance. Linebacker Winston Fraser (photo below) set the tone with a 71-yard interception return for a touchdown midway through the first quarter. The FIU defense recorded six sacks, a fumble recovery and had an interception.
2004 - FIU 31, No. 5 Stephen F. Austin 24: The previous season Stephen F. Austin ran all over FIU with 337 rushing yards and four touchdowns in a 35-13 win in Miami. However, before the Panthers visited Nacogdoches, Texas for the third game of the season and a rematch with the No. 5 ranked Lumberjacks, you sensed it was an improved FIU team. In the first week of the 2004 season FIU upset Youngstown State in overtime for the program's first-ever road victory. This time the FIU defense held SFA to just 92 rushing yards to spark the upset win. FIU running back Rashod Smith ran for 199 yards and three touchdowns.
2010 - FIU 52, Troy 35: The Troy Trojans, perennial Sun Belt Conference champions, had been the monkey, gorilla on FIU's back. The Panthers lost the first six games with the Trojans and some of the losses were close, gut-wrenching defeats. There was nothing close about the 2010 game as FIU ran for a program-record 488 yards and four touchdowns in the 52-35 win in Alabama. Three different Panthers rushed for 100 yards or more in the game: Darriet Perry (below, 186 yards, TD), T.Y. Hilton (158 yards, 2 TD) and Darian Mallary (118 yards, TD). The victory was part of a run where FIU won six of seven games that season en route to the Sun Belt championship -- the first conference championship for FIU.
2010 - FIU 34, Toledo 32: This upset would have been ranked higher on this blog if FIU and Toledo were not as evenly matched as they were that season. The Rockets came into the game 8-4 and favored over the Panthers. Toledo shot out to a 24-7 lead by the third quarter before T.Y. Hilton made one of his many promises during his FIU career that he would deliver on, telling FIU linebacker Toronto Smith that he would return a kickoff in the third quarter for a touchdown to start the FIU comeback. Of course, you know the ending by now: Jacob Younger's terrific catch starts the Motor City Miracle that after Younger's lateral Hilton finishes by tap dancing the sidelines (below) for the first down, big catch by Greg Ellingson to set up the game-winning field goal by Jack Griffin.
2011 - FIU 17, Central Florida 10: The start of the intrastate rivalry with Central Florida began at FIU Stadium. The Knights came in on their high horse as defending Conference USA champions and having defeated Georgia in the Liberty Bowl the previous season. Still it was a magnificent defensive game by FIU highlighted by Isame Faciane's 51-yard fumble return for a touchdown to tie the score right before halftime. The FIU defense forced three fumbles, recovered two and sacked UCF quarterback Jeffrey Godfrey six times. The turnovers gained and numerous sacks that game sounds a lot like the work of not only the 2011 FIU defense but also the 2014 FIU D.
Marshall, which appears to be the class of Conference USA this season, comes to FIU Stadium Saturday to take on FIU. The Thundering Herd defeated the Panthers 48-10 last season in the penultimate game of the season. The Herd won the first meeting with the Panthers at the Beef 'O' Brady's Bowl in 2011, 20-10. Marshall leads the series with FIU, 2-0.
For more on the Thundering Herd, here is Marshall beat writer Doug Smock of the West Virginia Gazette to answer "5 Questions on Marshall".
1. The Marshall offense again is firing on all cylinders averaging 47.8 points per game and the lowest scoring output has been 42 points in the season opener against Miami (Ohio). Is this offense as good as its numbers or are the high-scoring games the result of bad defenses the Herd has encountered? Is the Herd vulnerable anywhere on offense or is there an area on offense where you think they need to improve?
DS: Well, Akron's defense turned around and held Pitt to 10 points after the Herd eviscerated the Zips, so it isn't all about bad defense. That particular game was more startling than the others, I thought. The biggest point of emphasis this week is ball security -- the Herd hasn't been bad in that category by any means, but FIU is making a living in takeaways.
2. The Herd averages 291 rushing yards per game. Would you say this offense's success is predicated on that run game or is it more quarterback Rakeem Cato and the passing game?
DS: This has become the ultimate "take what the defense gives you" team. Middle Tennessee tried to load the box to make Cato beat it, and you probably saw how that worked out -- 337 yards. You'll have to see running back Devin Johnson to believe him. At 6-foot-1, 240 pounds, he was converted from tight end and became an instant force in the backfield. He has 4.6 speed to outrun some people, but he really punishes tacklers. He can lower his shoulders to bowl you over, or he can stiff-arm you into next week. When the game gets to the second or third quarter, nobody really wants to tackle him. In the spirit of Johnson, the offensive line is more agile and physical than ever. Run blocking and pass blocking seem to be nearly equal, ability-wise, and I haven't seen that often over the years.
3. The Marshall defense seems as good as the offense. What do you think the Herd D defends better the run or the pass and has the limited success opponents have had against the Herd D come through the air or on the ground?
DS: The Herd defense is quick and speedy at every position, so you may want to stick to what you do best and take your chances. Middle Tennessee managed 169 rushing yards, but had trouble passing. Old Dominion's star quarterback was held to 85 yards. Miami's quarterback threw for some yards, but was just 24 of 49. Don't mess with cornerback Darryl Roberts or safety A.J. Leggett; defensive tackle James Rouse is a beast, the linebackers are very good despite losing Evan McKelvey for the year, defensive end Arnold Blackmon is coming into his own. The defense is well-coached, very active.
4. Marshall is ranked for the first time in 11 years. How much of a distraction do you think that will be the rest of the way for the Herd? How far do you think the Herd can go as far as a bowl game and how much do you think putting up 48 points a game helps Marshall's bowl fate?
DS: Between being ranked, having the Miami natives enjoy a homecoming, and Cato trying to break the record for most consecutive games with a TD pass, there can be distractions. This team is loaded with juniors and seniors, so I think they can deal with the rankings as long as they can get past this week. Good mental test. The Herd is probably second for the "Group of 5" major bowl berth, with East Carolina in the lead. Whether the Herd can go 13-0 and get into that spot over an American team that is 11-1 or even 10-2, we'll see.
5. How do you see Saturday's game playing out between Marshall and FIU?
DS: I like what FIU has done on defense -- lots of speed, opportunistic, tough to pass on. I doubt they can stop the run over the course of the game, and I'm not sure the freshman quarterback can deal with the pressure he will face. The Herd can really put people away in the third quarter, and that's what I look for here.
And if you're an FIU fan it is not a pretty first look at Marshall when it comes to the Thundering Herd's statistics. Marshall is near the top of mostly every NCAA statistical category as the Herd makes their way south to Miami.
The last time Marshall was ranked was 11 years ago. The Thundering Herd come into Saturday's game at FIU Stadium cracking the Top 25 at No. 25 and at No. 24 in the coaches poll. With a 6-0 record and wanting to keep impressing the voters by scoring aplenty, Marshall is likely to give FIU its best shot and then some if the Panthers are not careful.
Marshall comes to FIU with the nation's No. 2 total offense and No. 2 scoring offense. Only Baylor who apparently plays in the arena league has better numbers. The Bears score 52.7 points per game and average 622.5 yards per game. The Herd are just a tick below those numbers scoring 47.8 points per game and averaging 594.5 yards per game.
You know about former FIU recruit and current Marshall quarterback Rakeem Cato and his passing exploits. However, what sets up the prolific Marshall offense and is literally a big part of the Herd attack is bruising running back Devon Johnson who stands 6-1 and is a load to bring down at 243 pounds. Johnson might be Pittsburgh's James Conner 2.0. To no surprise Johnson is averaging 7.8 yards per carry. Johnson has 104 carries for 814 yards and 11 touchdowns and powers behind a hefty offensive line that weighs an average 299 pounds and is coached by former FIU offensive line coach Alex Mirabal.
This Marshall offense might be the best offense FIU has seen and will see this season. On the flip side, the FIU defense might be the best defense Marshall has seen and might see this season depending on who the Herd plays in a bowl game as Marshall with six wins is already bowl eligible.
Currently FIU's defense is ranked No. 23 in the nation in total defense two spots ahead of the Marshall defense at No. 25. In its first six games this season the Herd offense has gone against some pretty bad defenses. Only the Akron defense is ranked in the top 50 at No. 49 and Marshall still won that game 48-17. Other than the Zips defense, the Herd offense has faced these defenses: No. 86 Miami (not the Coral Gables school), No. 90 Ohio, No. 106 Old Dominion, No. 108 Middle Tennessee and in FCS, the No. 116 defense in the Rhode Island Rams. These are not exactly the college football versions of the old "Steel Curtain" defenses and that's not to say FIU is but the Panthers should provide a more formidable defense against Marshall than the Herd has seen all season.
Where Saturday's game might be decided is on how well the FIU offense performs. The Panthers offense is currently No. 119 in total offense and No. 100 in scoring offense. FIU's offense has to give its defense a chance by sustaining drives, not turning the ball over and of course scoring points, preferably six instead of three when they have the chance. I'll have more on Marshall later.
FIU will try to have the same success in Texas on Saturday that the top receiver in FIU football history had in Texas on Thursday night.
By now you know T.Y. Hilton had a regular season career night against the Texans in the Colts' 33-28 win Thursday. Goodbye had nine catches for 223 yards and a touchdown. After Week 6 in the NFL began last night, Hilton is leading the NFL in receiving.
The 223 receiving yards last night by Hilton fell one yard shy of the Colts (Baltimore and Indianapolis) franchise record in a regular season game. The Colts were established in 1953. Raymond Berry holds the Colts franchise regular season receiving yardage record with 224 yards. Ironically, that was Hilton's receiving yardage total in last year's AFC Wild Card playoff win against the Kansas City Chiefs. Hilton had a career-high 13 catches and 224 receiving yards [a Colts playoff record] against the Chiefs.
Last night by halftime, Hilton (156 yards) surpassed his previous regular season game high of 155 yards last year against Jacksonville. Hilton's 147 receiving yards in the first quarter last night were the most by any NFL receiver in a quarter this season.
T.Y. loves playing against Houston. In his NFL career against the Texans he has 29 catches for 611 yards and six touchdowns -- the most against any NFL team. The Colts play the Texans along with fellow AFC South division mates Jacksonville and Tennessee two times each season.
Kevin Bowen of Colts.com tweeted an interesting stat on Hilton after last night's game: "In 37 games, T.Y. Hilton has 12 100-yard receiving games. To compare it took Marvin Harrison 58 games & Reggie Wayne 75 to reach that mark."
Hilton's FIU game-high was 201 receiving yards in the upset win at Louisville in 2011. Hilton had 11 career 100-yard receiving games at FIU.
For the first time in the program's 12+ year history FIU football has a chance to start 3-0 in conference play with a win against UTSA in San Antonio on Saturday. Twice FIU has started 2-0 in conference play but then lost the next conference game. In 2008, FIU was 2-0 in Sun Belt Conference play before losing to Troy. In 2010, FIU won its first two Sun Belt games before losing to Florida Atlantic.
Saturday will be a tough test for the Panthers as the Roadrunners are on a four-game losing streak but play well at home in the Alamodome. Saturday's game will mark just the third game ever in a dome stadium for FIU. The previous two dome games were FIU's two bowl games: Pizza Bowl win over Toledo and the Beef'O'Brady's loss to Marshall.
You can hear Saturday's game live on ESPN 1210 AM or if you are on your phone or laptop then CLICK HERE to listen. Or download the ESPN 1210 AM app on your mobile device. Mike Levine joins me in the broadcast booth for the call beginning at 6:30 p.m. for the pregame show from the Alamodome. Kickoff is at 7 p.m. You can watch the game on FOX College Sports with the sound down and the radio volume up.
Once again the city of neon lights has little faith in the Panthers but here is how you can believe FIU will win Saturday.
SCORE EARLY: Although the Alamodome holds 65,000, the Roadrunners draw nearly 30,000 loud fans to their home games so the crowd will be a factor Saturday. FIU practiced all week with crowd noise piped into the FIU Stadium speakers to try and get used to the expected atmosphere in San Antonio. What's the best way to take the crowd out of a game? Score early and often. The Panthers need early drives that result in points whether they are touchdowns or field goals. Getting some early points will help diffuse the crowd noise.
GROUND DELIVERY: The strength of the UTSA defense is its ability to stop the run with its massive and athletic defensive line. Defensive tackles Ashaad Mabry (6-3, 315 pounds) and Ferrington Mason (5-11, 310) plug the interior. Physical defensive ends Jason Neill and Robert Singletary contain the outside. FIU needs to have some productive rushes to keep the Roadrunners from going all out at quarterback Alex McGough. Should the Panthers struggle on the ground, then maybe McGough hits his running backs/receivers with short passes to establish a running game that way.
DON'T BE WILE E. COYOTE: In many Looney Tunes cartoons, Wile E. Coyote underestimated the Road Runner and paid dearly. Just because UTSA is 1-4 and on a four-game skid, the Panthers cannot expect just to walk into the Alamodome and cruise to victory. An animal that is wounded is usually when it is most dangerous and right now the Roadrunners are hurting. UTSA quarterback Tucker Carter is nursing a sore shoulder and is questionable. FIU can't take Carter's injury or backup true freshman quarterback Blake Bogenschutz for granted. FIU has to approach this game as if it was playing the No. 1 team in the nation.
KEEP THE TURNOVER PARTY GOING: UTSA is one of the stingiest teams when it comes to turning the ball over. The Roadrunners have only lost one fumble this season. UTSA quarterbacks have thrown six interceptions. FIU, which leads the nation in turnovers gained with 21, has to get UTSA out of character and make the Roadrunners turn the ball over. Besides FIU scoring early, getting UTSA to turn the ball over will also help with neutralizing the expected boisterous crowd. Plus, giving the Panther offense a short field to work with can only help FIU in securing its fourth overall win of the season and third C-USA victory.
A first-time opponent for FIU football means another edition of The Other Game. FIU enters this matchup in The Other Game with a 55-game winning streak on the line. UTSA like FIU is a very young football program and a relatively young university as well as it was established in 1969.
The Panthers and Roadrunners kickoff their game from the Alamodome at 7 p.m. Saturday. FIU and UTSA kickoff The Other Game now.
FIU vs. UTSA -- The Other Game
-- FIU won its inaugural game at The Cage, 27-3 against St. Peter's. UTSA won the first game at Houston's new TDECU Stadium, nicknamed "The Cage", 27-7. The Panthers allowed four less points. FIU 1, UTSA 0.
-- If we are going by Looney Tunes cartoons, UTSA would obviously be the Road Runner. FIU's closest Looney Tunes character would be Sylvester the Cat because FIU's nickname is the Panthers. The Road Runner always won his battles with Wile E. Coyote while Sylvester lost to Tweety. FIU 1, UTSA 1.
-- Out in the real world, Panthers eat roadrunners. FIU 2, UTSA 1.
-- UTSA's home city, San Antonio, is known as the River City and one of its most popular attractions is the River Walk. You don't really want to visit the Miami River. FIU 2, UTSA 2.
-- FIU has a Spearman as in running back Silas Spearman. UTSA has safety Gage Hadlock, whose last name is close enough to haddock like the fish. You know what a spearman does to fish. FIU 3, UTSA 2.
-- FIU was built on an old airport and to this today the air control tower from that airport is in place as a historical landmark. You can also see the downtown Miami skyline from FIU. UTSA was built on 600 acres in northwest San Antonio. Ho-hum. The governor of Texas did sign the bill establishing UTSA on the back of a state representative and the first diploma was also signed on the back of the same state rep. FIU 4, UTSA 2.
-- UTSA has plenty of royalty on its roster in safety Brian King, running back Andrew King and safety Duke Wheeler. FIU does not. FIU 4, UTSA 3.
-- UTSA's rival, Texas State, once had Kathy Ireland as its kicker, well kind of. Ireland played Texas State's kicker in the movie "Necessary Roughness". FIU's rival Florida Atlantic never had Ireland as its kicker. FIU 4, UTSA 4.
-- Butlers: FIU has linebacker Fred Russ, whose name could be short for Alfred, Bruce Wayne's butler. UTSA has Miles Lerch, same pronunciation but different spelling for Lurch, the Addams Family butler. Although Lurch was a big dude, Alfred got stuff done. FIU 5, UTSA 4. Bonus: UTSA defensive tackle Ferrington Macon has a butler's first name.
-- UTSA offensive graduate assistant is Giovanni Vizza, a former North Texas quarterback. The last defense Vizza wants to see is the FIU defense from 2007 and 2008. In 2007, Vizza was sacked four times and threw two interceptions in a 38-19 FIU win in the last game played in the historic Orange Bowl. In 2008, Vizza was picked off three times by FIU in a 42-10 loss to the Panthers in Denton, Texas. FIU 6, UTSA 4.
UTSA is one of four first time opponents for FIU this season. The Roadrunners are in their second season in Conference USA like the Panthers. UTSA started football in 2011 and has had some early success.
Thus far UTSA (1-4, 0-1 Conference USA) has struggled this season after a season-opening win at Houston. The Roadrunners are a veteran team with plenty of seniors and juniors and FIU coach Ron Turner thinks UTSA is a strong, physical team like Pittsburgh.
For more on UTSA here is the Roadrunners radio play-by-play man Andy Everett to fill us in on San Antonio's college football team as he answers "5 Questions on UTSA".
1. What's the quarterback situation for the Roadrunners? I saw both played last week. Is one signal caller better than the other or is it a two-quarterback system?
AE: The coaches are saying that Tucker Carter is still the starter. And when healthy he’s the best choice. But he has had some shoulder issues since the Houston game. Blake Bogenshutz has tons of potential but he is a freshman. In the New Mexico game he rushed a couple of plays. But he’s going to be a star on this team. He’s only 18, a true freshman who led his team to the state championship last year (3A Carthage). I think Tucker will start Saturday, but I think Blake will play some.
2. What does UTSA do well on offense and who are some of its playmakers? What was the issue for the struggles last week against New Mexico?
AE: The issue with the offense has been the offense. Remember, they are trying to replace the face of the franchise for the first three years quarterback Eric Soza. Soza took every meaningful snap for those first three years. When they are on as Carter was at FAU they are really good. Their best two playmakers right now are receiver Kam Jones and running back Jarveon Williams. I’m not sure about tight end David Morgan’s status, but when healthy he may be the best tight end in the league.
3. What are the strengths and weaknesses of the Roadrunners defense and who are some of the top defenders for UTSA?
AE: The defensive line is the strength of the defense. They are 10 deep. They are tough to run against. Still not sure why they struggled at FAU, but that was the exception not the rule. In the rest of the games they’ve played great. They gave up two big plays to New Mexico that led to scores. Other than that they have been stellar all year. Defensive tackle Ashad Mabry, defensive end Robert Singleterry and defensive back Triston Wade should get invites to NFL camps if they don’t get drafted. Defensive end Jason Neill may be in the same boat after next year when he’s a senior.
4. UTSA is still in the early stages of its football program. How has the football program been received by the university and the San Antonio community and what are some of notable highlights whether on the field or off of it in the early going for the program?
AE: The biggest highlight has been attendance. UTSA was second in attendance last year only to East Carolina in the league. They have averaged over 30,000 a game since their start. The first game in September 2011 drew almost 57,000. Without ECU in the conference I’d be surprised if UTSA isn’t number one in attendance this year. The community (fans) and especially the business community has supported this team well. They would have qualified for bowls the last two years with 8 and 7 wins respectively had they been bowl eligible. This year is the first year they are 100% bowl eligible, but they are going to need 6 or 7 wins to get that.
5. How do you see Saturday's game in the Alamodome playing out?
AE: I think the key is the UTSA offense. They dominated Houston and came within an eyelash of beating Arizona. We knew Oklahoma State would be an uphill battle. FAU and New Mexico were very disappointing. If they can score in the high 20s to low 30s I think they will win, but the offense has to find that extra gear. Perhaps we all (me included) have been guilty of wanting a bowl bid so badly that we’ve put the cart before the horse. UTSA has to look at the record as 0-1, not 1-4. All that matters now is what they do in the next seven games to try to reach their goals and it starts with FIU.
The UTSA (University of Texas-San Antonio) Roadrunners are FIU's next opponent as the Panthers travel to San Antonio Friday for a 7 p.m. kickoff on Saturday from the Alamodome. This will mark FIU's third-ever game in a dome in the Panthers' 12+year football history. FIU is 1-1 in dome games -- both bowl games -- a win at the Pizza Bowl in Detroit's Ford Field and a loss at the Beef 'O' Brady's Bowl in St. Petersburg's Tropicana Field.
You can listen to Saturday's game on ESPN 1210 AM with Mike Levine and yours truly calling the action. Pre-game show starts at 6:30 p.m. The game will be televised on FOX College Sports but you need to turn the sound down on your TV and turn the sound up on your radio. Don't have a radio? Then CLICK HERE to listen on-line or on your phone, tablet, etc. Or download the FREE ESPN 1210 AM radio app.
This will be the first meeting between the Panthers and the Roadrunners so you know what that means -- another edition of The Other Game later this week, plus 5 Questions on UTSA and the game preview to get you ready for Saturday.
UTSA started playing football just four years ago and has been coached by former Coral Gables school coach Larry Coker since its inception as a football program. Former FIU defensive backs coach Jeff Popovich is a current UTSA assistant coach. The Roadrunners began their practice year in 2010 and their first season as an FCS Independent in 2011. UTSA moved up to the FBS in 2012 as a member of the Western Athletic Conference (WAC). That season was also UTSA's first of two required transition seasons by the NCAA.
UTSA's first season in Conference USA was last year and this year the Roadrunners are fully bowl eligible for the first time. During its transition years UTSA was only bowl eligible if there weren't enough teams to fill bowl games.
Like FIU (5-6) in its 2002 inaugural season, UTSA won some games in its inaugural season going 4-6. With the San Antonio Spurs as the only other team in town, the Roadrunners have drawn some good crowds. UTSA set a record for the highest-attended game for an NCAA Division I FCS start-up program with 56,743 back in 2011. The Roadrunners' average attendance in 2011 of 35,521 was also a record for a new football program. South Florida held the record with 33,038 average attendance in 1997.
UTSA was 8–4 in its second season as an FBS transitional member but did not play in a bowl game because of the transition phase.
Last week UTSA lost to New Mexico 21-9 at home where the Roadrunners allowed 283 rushing yards to the Lobos' option attack. The Roadrunners started last season with a win at New Mexico en route to a 7-5 season.
Last season UTSA like FIU this season was picked to finish last in the preseason media poll. UTSA finished 7-5 overall and 6-2 in CUSA play which was good for second place in the West Division behind eventual conference champ Rice. But since it was UTSA's second and final transition year the Roadrunners did not go to a bowl game.
UTSA defeated Houston 27-7 to start this season and then lost by three points to Arizona, 26-23, in the Alamodome. The Roadrunners have lost four in a row since the win at Houston, including losses at Oklahoma State, at Florida Atlantic and last week to New Mexico.
UTSA uses David Glascoe (256 yards, 4 TDs, 3.4 avg.) and Jarveon Williams (235 yds, 2 TDs, 5.5 avg.) as its two main running backs.
The Roadrunners quarterbacks have struggled. Tucker Carter, who has started all five games, has thrown two touchdowns and four interceptions and was pulled in the loss to New Mexico last week. Backup quarterback Blake Bogenschutz has played in two games. He has completed 60 percent of his passes but has no touchdowns and two interceptions.
UTSA's leading receiver, tight end David Morgan missed last week's game with a leg injury. Morgan is not listed on the UTSA two-deep roster this week. UTSA"s other leading receivers are Kam Jones (13 receptions, 106 yards), Marcellus Mack (12 rec., 164 yds) and Kenny Harrison (6 rec., 112 yds, TD).
The Roadrunners defense allows 28 points per game, 151 rushing yards per game and 232 passing yards per game. The fourth quarter has not been kind to UTSA as it has allowed 44 points in the final period while scoring just 19 points.
Outside linebacker Jens Jeters and middle linebacker Drew Douglas lead the UTSA D with 32 tackles each. Defensive end Jason Neill leads the team with 4.5 tackles for loss and 3.5 sacks. Douglas is second on the team with 4.0 tackles for loss.
CLICK HERE for complete UTSA's stats.
With both FIU and Florida Atlantic coming off conference-opening wins the energy for Don Shula Bowl XIII is palpable. The Panthers and the Owls seem like improved teams from a year ago and that might reflect tonight when they take the field at FIU Stadium.
You can hear tonight's game live on ESPN 1210 AM or if you are on your phone or laptop then CLICK HERE to listen. Mike Levine joins me in the broadcast booth for the call beginning at 6:30 p.m. for the pregame show along with former FIU linebacker James Knapp. Kickoff is at 7 p.m. You can watch the game on FOX Sports Florida with the sound down and the radio up.
As you may have read on this blog earlier this week, this is a true rivalry with some interesting history between the two teams despite this being just the 13th meeting. FAU leads the series 9-3 but FIU has won two of the last three Shula Bowls.
The Panthers look to get their offense on track to match the terrific start by its nationally-ranked defense. The Owls want to keep the Shula Trophy in Boca Raton and are riding the momentum of their thrilling comeback win against Conference USA upstart UTSA last week in Boca Raton.
The city of neon lights thinks the Owls are going to win Shula Bowl XIII but here is how FIU returns the Shula Trophy to Miami.
OPEN RUN LANES: FIU has to establish the run which the Panthers have had trouble doing so most of this season. FAU allows more than 219 rushing yards per game, including 498 rushing yards to Nebraska. Still, setting aside the blowout losses to Nebraska and Alabama, the Owls are generous with their run defense. If the Panthers get their run game going, then freshman quarterback Alex McGough might have a career night throwing the ball. McGough has already shown glimpses of his vast potential this season and that has been with not much of a run game for support.
QUELL QUEZ: Historically, in its 12+ year history of football FIU has had its issues with mobile quarterbacks. The Panthers did a nice job last week against UAB quarterback Cody Clements limiting him to 49 yards on the ground. FAU quarterback Jaquez Johnson hit FIU for 64 rushing yards in last year's game while throwing for 218 yards and three touchdowns in the 21-6 win. FIU coach Ron Turner always talks about eye discipline with his defense. FIU will need that against Johnson to keep him from long runs and make him one-dimensional where he has to go against the strong FIU secondary. FIU certainly has the speed along its defensive line in Giovani Francois, Denzell Perine and Michael Wakefield to make a miserable night for Johnson.
SECONDARY TEST: About that FIU secondary, they will be tested tonight against a versatile Owls receiving corps. Lucky Whitehead, despite his size 5-10, 163 pounds, can fly and will also be a factor on kick returns -- FIU needs deep kickoffs and good hang time on punts. William Dukes at 6-4 gives FAU size outside and will be a challenge for 6-0 Jeremiah McKinnon. FAU always seems to have a good tight end that can catch the football such as past Owl tight ends Jason Harmon and Rob Housler who had huge games against FIU in the past. Owls tight end Alex Deleon caught a touchdown pass in last year’s Shula Bowl and could pose a mismatch.
MORE IS LESS AND LESS IS MORE: The Shula Bowl is always an emotional game for both sides since most of the players know each other from their high school playing days or growing up together. Add to it that the game is on TV and is one of the few games played tonight and you could see how the extra hype may play a factor on the field. Of course, that fuel can spark FIU but it could also be detrimental in the form of penalties. The Panthers will have to keep their emotions in check at certain points of the game not just because of possible penalty flags but also when it comes to defensive assignments and maintaining that eye discipline that FIU coaches preach about so much.
By now after 12 meetings you may be familiar with Florida Atlantic and how the Owls always seem to play FIU tough in the Don Shula Bowl. Both teams have enjoyed their share of blowouts in the Shula Bowl but usually the games are tight -- half of the 12 Shula Bowls have been decided by 10 points or less.
FAU has a new coach in Charlie Partridge and is 2-3 (1-0 Conference USA) just like FIU. The Shula Bowl will be played for the first time on a Thursday night and after two straight seasons at FAU Stadium the game returns to FIU Stadium.
For more on the Owls here is FAU Owl Access writer Chuck King to answer 5 Questions on FAU. You can read more about the Owls at OwlAccess.com.
1. What does FAU do best on offense? Run or throw? Should the primary concern for the FIU defense be Jay Warren or Jaquez Johnson and his three main targets in Luck Whitehead, Jenson Stoshak and Alex Deleon?
CK: FAU's offense works best when there's a pretty good balance of run and pass. Jay Warren has emerged as the leading rusher and if he has a good game I suspect FAU will be on its way to a victory.
2. What's the quarterback situation with the Owls?
CK: Quez Johnson is and always has been the No. 1 quarterback. A shoulder injury forced him out of the season opener at Nebraska and kept him from playing at Alabama. I don't believe Hankerson has taken a snap in the past two games.
3. Setting aside the blowout losses at Nebraska and Alabama, how good or how bad is the FAU defense? What are FAU's strengths and weaknesses defensively?
CK: The Owls' problem has been allowing big plays. If FAU can avoid blown assignments the defense can be pretty good. They are starting to turn takeaways into points.
4. How are the Owls different under Charlie Partridge as opposed to Carl Pelini?
CK: FAU is more confident and perhaps more relaxed under Partridge. They believe in themselves and each other.
5. How do you see Shula Bowl XIII playing out?
CK: Several scenarios could play out. FAU is the superior team, so the most likely one involves the Owls putting up some early points and earning the victory. It wouldn't surprise me if FAU won by more than two touchdowns, but being a rivalry game – and given FAU's penchant for allowing big plays at odd times – it's more likely that the game is tight in the fourth quarter.
FIU and Florida Atlantic meet in Don Shula Bowl XIII Thursday at FIU Stadium. You can listen to the game on ESPN 1210 AM with Mike Levine and yours truly calling the game. Pregame show begins at 6:30 p.m.
Throughout the first 12 Shula Bowls there has been one play or one moment where each game was decided. In some Shula Bowls the outcome was affected by something that happened off the field or a career performance by one player or even a key injury. Here is my take on how the first 12 Shula Bowls were decided.
Shula Bowl I (Nov. 23, 2002, Pro Player Stadium) -- FAU 31, FIU 21: FIU quarterback Jamie Burke separated his shoulder on the Panthers' first series. The All-Independent quarterback landed on his left shoulder on a sack. The Owls took advantage of the Panthers missing their starting quarterback and built a 24-2 lead it would not relinquish despite a valiant comeback effort by FIU backup quarterback David Tabor.
Shula Bowl II (Nov. 22, 2003, FIU Community Stadium) -- FAU 32, FIU 23: Before FIU would win its first Shula Bowl in 2005, this game was the closest the Panthers came to winning a Shula Bowl. Ahead 23-21 with less than 10 minutes left in the game, the Panthers committed a pair of costly turnovers. FAU took the lead for good when FIU ran a reverse with receiver Cory McKinney from its 26. The handoff was bobbled and FAU linebacker Quentin Swain recovered at the 3 and ran in for the go-ahead touchdown.
Shula Bowl III (Dec. 4, 2004, Pro Player Stadium) - FAU 17, FIU 10: FIU's inability to run the ball that day (20 carries, 50 yards) stalled any offensive momentum. The Owls couldn't do much either with the ball so you figured the first team to score a touchdown would win this game. FAU got the first touchdown midway through the third quarter when Roosevelt Bynes caught the first of two touchdown passes from Jared Allen in the lowest scoring Shula Bowl in the game's history.
Shula Bowl IV (Nov. 26, 2005, FIU Community Stadium) - FIU 52, FAU 6: FIU running back Ben West (140 yards, three touchdowns) had a big part in the win on his way to MVP honors, but the game essentially ended on the first of four interceptions returned for touchdowns by the FIU defense, which tied the NCAA record held by Houston. Linebacker Keyonvis Bouie's 36-yard interception return for a touchdown in the second quarter made the score 24-0 FIU and game over. Marshall McDuffie, Lionell Singleton and Nick Turnbull had the three other pick sixes for FIU.
Shula Bowl V (Nov. 25, 2006, Dolphin Stadium) - FAU 31, FIU 0: The infamous brawl with the Coral Gables school made this game and the other four post-brawl games that season no contest. FIU had 18 players suspended, 11 of them starters. FIU had just 203 yards of total offense in this game.
Shula Bowl VI (Nov. 24, 2007, Orange Bowl) -- FAU 55, FIU 23: FAU quarterback Rusty Smith earned the second of his three straight Shula Bowl MVP awards with a 330-yard, 4 touchdown-performance. FIU cut the FAU lead to 14-3 with a Dustin Rivest field goal in the second quarter but 56 seconds later Owls tight end, yes tight end, Rob Housler's 68-yard touchdown run made it 21-3 to put the game out of reach.
Shula Bowl VII (Nov. 29, 2008, Dolphin Stadium) -- FAU 57, FIU 50, OT: FIU needed a win here and the following week against a very bad Western Kentucky to be bowl eligible for the first time in program history. The Owls would dash that hope with a monumental comeback with 3:09 left in the game. FIU had two 14-point leads in the fourth quarter but FAU overcame both and scored two touchdowns late to send the game into overtime -- the second of those two touchdowns came with 18 seconds left in the game. The Owls took the momentum in OT and won the game.
Shula Bowl VIII (Dec. 5, 2009, FIU Stadium) -- FAU 28, FIU 21: A tight defensive game 14-14 with 10 minutes remaining in the fourth quarter turned into the Alfred Morris show. Morris, now with the Washington Redskins, scored two fourth quarter touchdowns to break the tie. Morris ran for 158 yards and garnered MVP honors.
Shula Bowl IX (Oct. 30, 2010, Lockhart Stadium) -- FAU 21, FIU 9: There was no question which was the more talented team coming into the game: FIU. But as they have done many times in the series history the Owls played their best game against the Panthers. Down 14-9 in the fourth quarter, FIU marched 91 yards on 10 plays to the FAU 7 to set up a first down and goal. The Owls goal-line stand was the difference and it decided the game after FIU receiver Wayne Times threw an incomplete pass on fourth down from the 2. FAU scored an insurance touchdown seven plays later on a 65-yard run by Willie Floyd.
Shula Bowl X (Nov. 12, 2011, FIU Stadium) -- FIU 41, FAU 7: Kedrick Rhodes's 12-yard touchdown run in the second quarter sealed the game for FIU, which led 17-0 against a very bad FAU team that season. The Panthers ran for 219 yards in T.Y. Hilton's final home game. Hilton, with a flair for the dramatic, returned a punt 97 yards for a touchdown right before halftime to extend FIU's lead to 31 points.
Shula Bowl XI (Nov. 16, 2012, FAU Stadium) -- FIU 34, FAU 24: To this day only Richard Leonard and T.Y. Hilton know which of the two FIU players is the faster one. The two have raced before on a couple of occasions and have kept the results of each race secret. One year after Hilton graduated, Leonard made like Hilton in Shula Bowl XI by returning a kickoff 100 yards for a touchdown to put FIU ahead for good 20-17.
Shula Bowl XII (Nov. 29, 2013, FAU Stadium) -- FAU 21, FIU 6: The Panthers had a tough time on offense all last year. Shula Bowl XII was no exception where FIU had just 132 total yards of offense. Midway through the third quarter FAU quarterback Jaquez Johnson's 23-yard touchdown pass to Alex Deleon made it 21-3 and too big of a lead for the Panthers to overcome.
Ironically, the best defense in FIU Football history was the 2006 unit for a team that was winless. That season FIU had the No. 1 defense in the nation in tackles for loss and No. 28 total defense in Division I NCAA football despite not winning a game. Of course losing key players to the season due to the infamous dance with the Coral Gables school in the Orange Bowl didn't help. Still, the 2006 FIU defense featuring the "Killer B's" linebackers (Antwan Barnes, Keyonvis Bouie and Alexander Bostic) is arguably and statistically the best defense in FIU football's 12+year history.
Through five games in 2014 FIU's defense has better numbers than the 2006 FIU defense had through the first five games of that season. Whether the 2014 FIU D can match the 2006 FIU D through 12 games will be determined in late November. Currently, FIU is No. 23 in the nation in total defense.
The opponents are somewhat similar in the first five games of the 2006 and 2014 schedule. In 2006 FIU started the season against Middle Tennessee, South Florida, Bowling Green, Maryland, Arkansas State. This season FIU has played Bethune-Cookman, Wagner, Pittsburgh, Louisville, UAB. You could argue that B-CU is similar to Bowling Green or Arkansas State. Wagner is the only opponent you throw out of the mix because they are low level FCS.
Here is how the current FIU defense measures up against the 2006 FIU D through the first five games of each season.
2014 vs. 2006
Points allowed per game: 22.6; 21.2
Total defense: 317.8 yards per game; 296 yards pg
Rushing defense: 139.8 yds pg; 143 yds pg
Passing defense: 178 yds pg; 153 yds pg
Fumbles recovered: 10; 1
Interceptions: 7; 7
Turnover margin: +10; -4
Sacks: 18; 14
Tackles for loss: 32, 41
3rd down conversions: 24/76 (32%); 27/70 (39%)
Not a bad start at all for the 2014 FIU defense.
FIU might need the best performance from its offense of the young season on Saturday when the Panthers open Conference USA play at UAB. The Panthers offense has struggled through the first four games of the season. The Blazers offense has been blazing, pun intended.
UAB is averaging 41 points and more than 500 yards of offense per game. The FIU defense has done a solid job thus far but might be facing the best offense it has seen through the first four games of 2014.
You can hear Saturday's game live on ESPN 1210 AM or if you are on your phone or laptop then CLICK HERE to listen. Mike Levine joins me in the broadcast booth for the call beginning at 3 p.m. for the pregame show. Kickoff is at 3:30 p.m from Legion Field in Birmingham, Alabama. You can watch the game locally on WBFS MyTV33, Channel 33 with the sound down and the radio up.
FIU is a heavy underdog according to the city of neon lights but here is how the Panthers can change that opinion and fly home 1-0 in conference play.
NOT TO SOUND LIKE A BROKEN RECORD BUT. . . FIU has to have consistency on offense by sustaining drives and scoring six instead of three. The high-powered UAB offense may get its points. That's not a knock on the FIU defense, but the Blazers have plenty of good skill players on offense and will make their share of plays. Of course, the FIU defense could be the best defense UAB has seen through its first three games. Regardless, FIU cannot have a bunch of three-and-outs on offense and not give its defense the proper breather. Establishing the running game to prevent UAB from teeing off on quarterback Alex McGough is a must. Anthon Samuel has run well lately. He may get more carries along with Alex Gardner.
FORCE THE PASS: UAB running backs Jordan Howard and D.J. Vinson are an electric tandem that have combined for nine touchdowns this season. Howard (5.8) averages almost six yards-per-carry. With the exception of a couple of miscommunications in pass coverage last week, FIU has shown to have a secondary that can cover just about anyone. If the Panthers can make UAB's offense one-dimensional by bottling up the run it should play into FIU's defensive strength. UAB quarterback Cody Clements is completing 68 percent of his passes but he probably has not seen a secondary this season with the likes of Richard Leonard, Jeremiah McKinnon, Wilkenson Myrtil, Demarkus Perkins, Justin Halley, etc.
FIND THE HIDDEN YARDAGE: FIU punter Jose Laphitzondo did a nice job last week averaging 40 yards per punt against Louisville. Against a potent offense like UAB, FIU needs a productive punter to win the game of hidden yardage. You can't expect to consistently stop an offense like UAB's if the Blazers are starting with great field position. Also, whoever kickoffs for FIU has to get the ball in the end zone or on the goal line. UAB kick returner J.J. Nelson is averaging 29 yards per kickoff return. To put that into perspective, Richard Leonard averages 33 yards per kickoff return. Both players are dangerous returners.
TAKE THE FIRST: As UAB beat writer Nick Birdsong mentioned on the previous blog, UAB can be a slow starter. The Blazers have been outscored 27-20 in the first quarter this season. UAB has outscored its opponents in the other three quarters. FIU's strength has been the first quarter outscoring foes 30-10 while being outscored in the other three quarters. If FIU can keep its first quarter pattern going and find a way to contain UAB then it could translate into a road win. The Blazers will make their run. They have scored a combined 86 points in the second and third quarters this season so FIU will have to make a defensive stand or two and find a way to counter that with its own offense. FIU has scored 22 points in the second quarter this season. The Panthers have yet to score in the third quarter this season. That has to change to be successful on Saturday and beyond.
FIU junior defensive end Michael Wakefield's fast start has him on target to break some FIU defensive records held by FIU great Antwan Barnes (photo below) and other Panthers. Wakefield currently has 6.5 tackles for loss and 4.5 sacks. At this rate Wakefield would break the FIU single-season sacks record held by Barnes (9.5). Wakefield is on pace for 13.5 sacks.
Barnes holds the single-season tackles for loss record with 22.5. Wakefield is on pace for 19.5 tackles for loss.
Wakefield is on pace to break the FIU single-season record for fumbles forced and fumbles recovered. He has two of each. Jermell Weaver holds the fumbles forced record with four in the 2002 inaugural season. Lionell Singleton holds the fumbles recovered mark with four in 2007.
CLICK HERE to read a story on Wakefield.
FIU defensive lineman Greg Hickman signed with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers of the Canadian Football League over the weekend. Hickman was with the Detroit Lions over the summer before being released.
Hickman finished his FIU career with 13 sacks -- third all-time in FIU history. Hickman is the program record holder with seven career forced fumbles.
That makes two FIU Gregs in the CFL as Hickman joins former FIU receiver Greg Ellingson north of the border. Ellingson plays for the Hamilton Ti-Cats.
FIU BASEBALL RECRUITING NO. 29 IN NATION
According to Collegiate Baseball Newspaper, FIU baseball has the No. 29 recruiting class in the nation out of 301 Division I baseball programs.
CLICK HERE for the link.
NEW TEMPORARY COURT
The new temporary FIU arena court is being installed today. It is the court that was used for the NCAA Tournament in Anaheim. That NCAA regional was held where the NHL's Anaheim Ducks play or as the Ducks' arena is nicknamed -- The Pond. So for this season FIU will go from the beach court to the court at the pond.
FIU concludes non-conference play Saturday with a familiar non-conference opponent. The Louisville Cardinals arrive at FIU Stadium to wrap up a four-game series with the Panthers. Once again FIU will be tested by a more experienced team from the ACC like Pittsburgh did last week.
The main differences between Louisville and Pitt is that the Cardinals are a faster and more athletic team due to the large number of recruits they signed from the South Florida area. Louisville has 19 players from the South Florida area. The Cardinals probably have a size edge on the Panthers but FIU should measure up when it comes to speed and athleticism.
You can hear Saturday's game live on ESPN 1210 AM or if you are on your phone or laptop then CLICK HERE to listen. Mike Levine joins me along with former FIU linebacker James Knapp in the broadcast booth for the call beginning at 3 p.m. for the pregame show. Kickoff is at 3:30 p.m.
FIU is again a heavy underdog Saturday. Here's how the Panthers can upset the Cardinals.
DEFENSE TAKE 5: The FIU offense has to be able to give its defense a break on the sidelines. Last week Pitt won the time of possession battle with FIU 36 minutes to 24 minutes. That's almost one whole quarter more for the FIU D on the field. That does not help a defense especially during a 12 p.m., 90+ degree day in the Miami sun. Part of being able to sustain drives is the ability to run the ball which FIU has struggled with in the early going. If that remains Saturday then maybe the Panthers use the passing game to set up the run. Either way FIU needs more time-consuming drives.
MOW DOWN THE GARDNER: Louisville quarterback Will Gardner is in his first season as the starter after Teddy Bridgewater was drafted by the Minnesota Vikings. Last week Virginia was able to harass Gardner into mistakes due to a Cardinals offensive line that is apparently a work in progress. FIU's defensive front has been able to get a good rush in its first three games. The Panthers linebackers have also gotten into the act with their speed. FIU has the quickness and athleticism defensively to make it a tough day for Gardner and set up the FIU offense with good field position.
STOP THE RUNNING TRAINS: With the stadium built on the old grounds of a train yard, a train whistle blows at Papa John's Cardinal Stadium each time Louisville scores. Louisville is not home Saturday, but FIU still has to stop some Cardinal trains. If FIU can derail the Cardinals passing game, then the Panthers will have to stop the dual running back threat of big Dominique Brown (6-2, 241 pounds) and former Auburn and national championship game MVP Michael Dyer (5-9, 212). Like Pitt's James Conner (245 pounds) last week, Brown is a load to bring down and if the FIU defense is on the field for a long time again that could be a chore.
START FAST AND FINISH STRONG: FIU startled Pitt with its 16-0 fast start last week. For the Panthers to end the Louisville series in a split 2-2, they will need a similar sparkling start on Saturday, especially with the expected bad weather. As of this writing the game time forecast Saturday calls for thunderstorms with a 60 percent chance of rain. That kind of inclement weather will make it tough to hold on to the football, run on the FIU Stadium FieldTurf and for a comeback. The finish part of this section will require the FIU offense to sustain drives and play keep away from what could be a dangerous Louisville offense. As usual special teams will have a major say in the outcome. FIU needs much better punting than last week and deep kickoffs to deny Louisville's speedsters from any long returns. Last week Pitt kicked away from Richard Leonard. The Panthers would not mind Leonard getting some chances at returns this week.
Louisville returns to FIU Stadium for the second time in three years on Saturday as the Cardinals conclude a four-game series with FIU. The Panthers matched another ACC team, Pittsburgh, last week for nearly four quarters before the team from the Steel City won. Last time in Miami, the Cardinals escaped with a 28-21 victory over the Panthers.
On this trip to Miami, Louisville has a new coach, Bobby Petrino, and a new quarterback, Will Gardner. The Cardinals are a different team from last year as are the Panthers. For more on the Cardinals, here is Louisville radio host Jody Demling to answer 5 Questions on Louisville.
1. The Cardinals seem to be very balanced on offense. Who are some of the key playmakers on the offense and what did Virginia do defensively to limit the UL offense last week?
JD: DeVante Parker (photo below) is the key weapon and is still sidelined for the Louisville offense with a broken bone in his foot. Senior running back Dominique Brown is the workhorse out of the backfield, while true freshman L.J. Scott has been solid as a backup. James Quick, Eli Rogers and Michaelee Harris have been the best weapons from the wide receiver spot, while tight end Gerald Christian is a major threat. Freshman Charles Standberry has two touchdown catches in limited action. Virginia turned up the pressure after the first series and really came after quarterback Will Gardner, who is still inexperienced.
2. What are the strengths of the UL defense? Where have opponents had more success against the Cards defense -- running or throwing the ball?
JD: The defense has been flying around and really getting to the ball in numbers. The defense is a lot better than most expected after losing two first-round picks (Marcus Smith and Calvin Pryor) and another player (Preston Brown) who is leading the Buffalo Bills in tackles. They have a lot of playmakers and really get after it on defense. The 3-4 defense under new coordinator Todd Grantham is a risk/reward and the reward has been great so far.
3. I would imagine the Cardinals are expecting a big contingent in the stands with 19 players from South Florida, including 17 from Miami. I know Charlie Strong was a big recruiter of South Florida. How much do you believe Bobby Petrino will recruit down here?
JD: With Lamar Thomas and Terrell Buckley on the staff, the Cardinals will try to stay in the mix in South Florida. But it won't be the mass amount of recruiting that it was with Strong. Petrino really likes Alabama and Mississippi and Georgia and is very successful there also.
4. What do you think are some of the differences between Petrino and Strong? How are the Cardinals teams different under each coach?
JD: The differences are obviously offense (Petrino) and defense (Strong) but the defense this time under Petrino is really stout. The team is pretty disciplined and has played on a lot of emotion this year. That's something that started with Strong and has continued with Petrino, who while he likes to throw the ball a lot is a 50-50 type of guy. He really likes to run the football.
5. How do you think Saturday's game will play out?
JD: With all of the South Florida ties, I can see Louisville starting off slow. There will be a lot of guys playing in front of family and friends and it always seems to be a little bit of a distraction. But in the end, I think Louisville will try to run, run, run the ball. I think they win by a couple of touchdowns.
FIU is one-fourth of the way through its 2014 season with one more non-conference game on the slate in Louisville on Saturday at FIU Stadium.
Through its first three games of this season you can see dramatic improvement with the FIU defense. The Panthers D has better numbers across board except in tackles for loss where they are off by three TFLs compared to the first three games of the 2013 season. With the exception of Wagner replacing Central Florida on this year's FIU schedule, the Panthers have played similar opponents in their other two non-conference games to start the 2013 and 2014 seasons.
FIU played Bethune-Cookman in each of the last two seasons. Last year the Panthers opened with ACC opponent Maryland and last week FIU played ACC foe Pittsburgh. FIU lost at Louisville last year and those numbers are not included below because that was the fourth non-conference game last season. Louisville is the fourth non-conference game this year. We'll see how the FIU defense does against the Cardinals on Saturday. The statistics below are through the first three games of 2013 and the first three games of 2014.
Yes, there is a big difference between UCF and Wagner when it comes to talent, but regardless the following defensive numbers from 2013 and 2014 show the FIU defense is on the right track.
FIU DEFENSE 2013 vs. 2014 (Through the first 3 games)
Points allowed: 115 points (2013); 59 points (2014)
First downs allowed: 61 first downs; 41 first downs
Rushing yards/TDs: 727 yards, 10 TDs; 503 yds, 5 TDs
Passing yards/TDs: 588 yds, 4 TDs; 370 yds, 2 TDs
Tackles for loss: 22; 19
Sacks: 5; 11
Fumbles recovered: 2; 6
Interceptions: 1; 3
3rd down conversions: 13/37 (35%); 12/41 (29%)
Red zone success: 13 scores in 14 tries (9 TDs, 4 field goals); 6 scores in 10 tries (4 TDs, 2 FGs)
Average yards-per-rush: 5.43; 3.8
Average yards-per-pass: 8.5; 6.3
Average yards-per-play: 6.73; 4.5
For the fourth straight year FIU takes on Louisville this time here at FIU Stadium on Saturday. The Cardinals are 2-1 after losing to Virginia, 23-21, last weekend. The Cavaliers snapped an 11-game losing streak against FBS teams with the win.
Although Louisville manhandled the Coral Gables school and thumped Murray State before falling to Virginia, the Cardinals have had some issues with their offense while their defense has carried them.
Later this week I'll have "5 Questions on Louisville" answered by a member of the Cardinals media to give you a more in-depth look at FIU's next opponent. Don't forget you can listen to Saturday's game on ESPN 1210 AM with Mike Levine and yours truly bringing you the call of the game. The pregame show starts at 3 p.m. Kickoff is at 3:30 p.m.
Louisville's offensive line has had trouble both in run and pass blocking. The Cardinals have given up eight sacks (nearly three sacks per game). Louisville coach Bobby Petrino, formerly of C-USA's Western Kentucky, said his offensive linemen didn't finish blocks and drive through defenders on pass protection against Virginia. That led to several passes being batted down by the Cavaliers defense. If the FIU defense performs as it did in the first two weeks and last week against Pittsburgh early on before being on the field too long, the Panthers could cause problems for the Cardinals. The FIU D could use its speed against a Louisville offensive line that has not been a strength of the team.
The Cardinals are missing two of their top playmakers on offense with receiver DeVante Parker out with a foot fracture and running back Michael Dyer, who was once an Arkansas State back, dealing with a thigh bruise. Dyer might return to play against FIU, but that won't be known until later this week. Dominique Brown has been the main ballcarrier in Dyer's absence. Brown has collected 257 rushing yards on 58 carries (4.4 yards-per-carry) with three touchdowns.
Cardinals redshirt sophomore quarterback Will Gardner is a starter for the first time this season after Teddy Bridgewater was drafted by the Minnesota Vikings. Gardner is a big guy at 6-5, 224 pounds but he had some trouble against the Cavaliers pass rush last weekend and the Hurricanes defense in the first week of the season. Getting consistent pressure from the Virginia defense, Gardner underthrew his receivers. Gardner fumbled twice in the season opener.
Right now the defense is the strength of the Louisville team, which is not good news for an FIU running game looking to get on track. The Cardinals are allowing just 2.6 yards-per-carry, 75 rushing yards-per-game. The Cardinals have a big D-line and athletic, fast linebackers. Eight defensive players on the Louisville team are from Miami. Overall, the Cardinals have 19 south Florida players, 17 of them from Miami.
On special teams FIU has to be wary of former FIU recruit Corvin Lamb. The speedster, whose nickname was the "Lamborghini" coming out of Miami Northwestern High, already has a 97-yard kickoff return for a touchdown.
FIU and Pittsburgh conclude their two-game series Saturday at FIU Stadium. Pitt won the first game 44-17 in 2010. FIU was down just six points with 12 minutes left in that 2010 game before Ray Graham put the Panthers away. Graham ran for 277 yards and three touchdowns that day.
FIU again faces another bruising Pitt running back in James Conner on Saturday. Conner is 6-2 and 250 pounds. The FIU defense has performed admirably the first two weeks of the season but gets its staunchest test to date against Pitt and Conner.
You can hear Saturday's game live on ESPN Deportes 1210 AM or if you are on your phone or laptop then CLICK HERE to listen. Mike Levine joins me in the broadcast booth for the call beginning at 11:30 a.m. for the pregame show. Kickoff is at 12 p.m.
FIU is a heavy underdog in Saturday's game. Here's how the home Panthers can upset the favored Panthers.
PUSH TO OPEN: The FIU offensive line has to get a consistent push on the Pitt defensive line to allow the running game to get going. The O-line did a better job last week against Wagner after struggling against Bethune-Cookman in the season opener. But Pitt is certainly not Wagner. If the offensive line struggles again to establish blocking for the run game it could be a long afternoon for the good guys.
TERMINATE JAMES CONNER: Not in the literal sense, but since the Pitt running back has a similar name to "The Terminator" character, why not use the preceding header. FIU must limit Conner's damage on the ground. At 250 pounds Conner is a load to bring down but you have to like FIU's chances defensively if the Panthers can stop the Pitt ground game. This would lead to Pitt having to go at FIU's defensive strength -- the secondary. Still, Pitt has some good, physical receivers in Tyler Boyd (6-2, 190) and Manasseh Garner (6-2, 220) to challenge Richard Leonard and Jeremiah McKinnon. Pitt starting center Artie Rowell is out for the game. We'll see if the FIU defense can cause some confusion for backup center Gabe Roberts.
KEEP THE CHAIN GANG WORKING: The FIU offense MUST convert third downs and keep its defense fresh with the high noon game time. As good as the FIU defense has been to start the season they cannot be on the field the majority of Saturday's game or they eventually may wear down in the heat. Not only must the FIU offense keep the chains moving, they must also score six points and not three when they get in the red zone. Pitt is on a completely different level talent-wise compared to B-CU and Wagner. Field goals are not going to beat the Panthers from the Steel City.
SPECIAL DELIVERY AGAIN: FIU has gotten terrific production from its kick return game in the first two contests thanks to the return, no pun intended, of Richard Leonard. Another momentum changing return by Leonard would help out Saturday to get FIU feeling good against an opponent from a power five conference. FIU must be flawless in both its kicking games and drive kickoffs into the end zone or near the goal line. You can't have Pitt and Conner starting with a short field.
Yes, FIU has already played Pittsburgh in its 13-year history of football back in 2010. So that would usually mean there is no The Other Game played on the blog this week. But I was away the first time these two teams played so there was no The Other Game on this blog in 2010. Lucky you. As you know FIU has a 55-game winning streak on the line in The Other Game. Which Panther team will win today's The Other Game? Let's find out.
FIU vs. Pittsburgh -- The Other Game
-- The Cathedral of Learning on the Pitt campus is the tallest educational building in the western hemisphere. The FIU Green Library is pretty tall but not like the cathedral which is 535 feet tall. Pitt 1, FIU 0.
-- Pitt has an offensive lineman named Alex Officer. FIU has a sheriff in defensive lineman Jermaine Sheriff. A sheriff outranks an officer. Pitt 1, FIU 1.
-- Pitt is the first college in the United States to adopt the Panther nickname for its teams. FIU is not, but I am kind of partial to the former nickname, Sunblazers. Still, we're talking about the Panther name here. Pitt 2, FIU 1.
-- Dan Marino was a very good quarterback when he played at Pitt. Dan Marino was a great quarterback when he played in Miami for the Dolphins. Pitt 2, FIU 2.
-- Pitt's kicker is named Chris Blewitt. Not exactly the kind of surname you want for your kicker. Still Blewitt is a very good kicker as his numbers show. FIU's kicker is named Austin Taylor. Not an eye-catching last name for a kicker but that's the point in The Other Game. This would be a harder choice if Austin's last name was Wideleft. Since this is a name game, advantage FIU. FIU 3, Pitt 2.
-- For good luck Pitt students slide or step on home plate of Forbes Field (Pittsburgh Pirates' old ballpark). The Forbes Field home plate (photo above) is embedded in the floor of Posvar Hall on the Pitt campus. [**This has to be one of the coolest features of a campus that I've come across while hosting The Other Game on this blog**]. FIU students spin the cube by the DM building for good luck. In this category, FIU can't compete. FIU 3, Pitt 3.
-- In Pitt's first official football game back in 1890, the opponent, Shadyside Academy, failed to appear for the game. Pitt lost its first game played after that 38-0 and lost 32-0 in the following game. FIU won its inaugural against St. Peter's -- who did show up at FIU Stadium in 2002 -- 27-3. FIU 4, Pitt 3.
-- Super hero movies: The Dark Knight Rises was filmed in Pittsburgh among other cities. Iron Man 3 was partially filmed in Miami. The Dark Knight Rises is the superior film by far as is the trilogy of Batman movies by director Christopher Nolan versus the Iron Man movies. FIU 4, Pitt 4.
-- Roc the Panther is Pitt's mascot which is more than 100 years old. FIU's Roary the Panther is just 27 years old. The younger Panther would prevail in this battle of the cats. FIU 5, Pitt 4.
-- Pitt has offensive lineman Mike Grimm and defensive lineman Justin Moody. FIU has defensive lineman Wonderful Terrific Monds III. I'm sure you would much rather be around a wonderful terrific person than a grimm or moody one. FIU 6, Pitt 4.
FIU TIGHT END JONNU SMITH
Jonnu Smith arrived at FIU from Philadelphia by way of Ocala. Not exactly the typical path traveled for an FIU player. Then again despite having a typical last name, Smith does not have a typical first name nor is he a typical tight end. The freshman led FIU in receiving last season and after his 141-yard performance last week against Wagner, Smith leads the FIU receivers again. Being from Philadelphia, Smith is a huge fan of a couple of Philadelphia icons. If Smith keeps up his production at FIU, he could be on his way to becoming an FIU football favorite like another Smith who played tight end at FIU. Let's go Out of the Cage with Jonnu Smith . . . .
PP: You are listed as a tight end but you play a lot of different positions on offense. What is the most challenging one to play and which is your favorite?
JS: All of them have a little bit of a challenge to them. My favorite position I would have to say is the slot receiver because I am a mismatch in the slot and I like having that advantage over defenders.
JS: I can't cook a cheesesteak. Geno's has a pretty good cheesesteak in Philadelphia. That's the place to go up there. Besides the cheese, steak and the onions I add salt, pepper, ketchup, mustard, pickles, mayonnaise. I like the cheesesteak sloppy.
PP: Outside of your family, what "Smith" first comes to mind when you hear your last name?
JS: I would say Will Smith because he's from Philadelphia. I watch "The Fresh Prince of Bel Air" all the time. It is still one of my favorite shows to this day. I always watch it. Will Smith is a character.
JS: [Laughs] Yeah I know. I guess Will Smith and I have that in common. I moved down to Ocala for high school. FIU was the only school that offered me a scholarship. [Former FIU] coach [Mario] Cristobal and [former FIU] tight ends coach Dennis Smith were with me from day one in the recruiting process and then coach [Ron] Turner stayed with me when he took over at FIU. I'm thankful that FIU was loyal through the recruiting process.
PP: What other schools showed interest but did not offer a scholarship?
JS: Middle Tennessee, Ole Miss, UCF, USF all showed interest but they never followed through like FIU did.
PP: What tight end or receiver in the NFL do you admire or maybe see a little bit of his game in your game?
JS: San Francisco 49ers tight end Vernon Davis. He is explosive. He is a mismatch for defenses. He's athletic. He can do everything. He is a freak of nature. Those long touchdowns he had against the Saints in that playoff game were amazing.
PP: What is it about the last name Smith, the number 87 and FIU tight ends? Former FIU tight end Sam Smith, who also wore number 87 like you, owns almost all the career FIU records for tight ends and you are closing in on some of his records.
JS: It's a Smith thing. You put the ball in our hands and we make big plays. I had never heard of Sam Smith until I got here but I'm not surprised that a Smith holds the FIU tight end records.
PP: Jonnu is not a common name. Most people when they first see or hear your name say the same thing. How did you get the name Jonnu?
JS: God gave it to my mom. She didn't have a name for me before I was born. She didn't know what she wanted to name me but right after I was born the hospital people asked her what are you going to name your son and "Jonnu" just came out of her mouth. There is no one in my family named John, Jon or Joe. I have never heard of any other person with my name. I embrace my name a lot and I thank my mom for it.
One question that FIU will have to answer Saturday is how do you stop 250-pound human bowling ball Pittsburgh running back James Conner? That one is for the FIU Panthers defense and it will go a long way toward determining the outcome of Saturday's battle of the Panthers.
The only other time FIU and Pitt met was in the Steel City back in 2010 (photo below). FIU held its own until there were 12 minutes left in the game. FIU trailed 23-17 at that point in the fourth quarter before Pitt scored 21 unanswered points to seal a 44-17 victory. Pitt running back Ray Graham rushed for 277 of the 300 Pitt rushing yards that day, including three touchdowns.
Conner at 6-2 and 250 pounds poses a similar issue for the FIU defense. Pitt enters the game 2-0 after wins over Delaware (62-0) and Boston College (30-20). For more on the Pitt Panthers here is their beat writer Jerry DiPaola from the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review to answer 5 Questions on Pittsburgh.
1. How much of the offense revolves around James Conner? Besides his size what makes Conner such a good running back?
JD: Pitt coach Paul Chryst believes in a strong running game, and James Conner is a back who can handle a heavy load. By the numbers, Conner (photo below) has 50 carries and Pitt's quarterbacks have tried 34 passes. That's the 60/40 split that Chryst really wants. There will be games this season when quarterback Chad Voytik must open up the passing attack. The threat of Conner will help in that regard. Conner is a hungry player, with a strong work ethic. I think what makes him good is his willingness to deliver a hit when a defender tries to tackle him. He's not a speedster, but he runs hard.
2. Who are some of the other playmakers on the Pitt offense? How is quarterback Chad Voytik? Is he more of a pocket passer or a runner?
JD: Tyler Boyd is one of the best wide receivers in the ACC, with the ability to catch poorly thrown balls and the elusiveness to make yards after a catch or simply run a sweep. Voytik is a first-year starter, who doesn't have the strong arm that Tom Savage showed off last year, but he is a threat to take off and run. I think he can be effective in a moving pocket, something Pitt may need to employ more extensively when the games get tougher. His 60 percent completion percentage isn't bad, but one of those opponents was Delaware. Voytik is Pitt's most mobile quarterback in almost 10 years.
3. What are the strengths and weaknesses of the Pitt defense? Who are some of the defensive players that the FIU offense has to be aware of?
JD: There is more experience on the Pitt defense than most people realize. Defensive end David Durham, linebackers Anthony Gonzalez and Todd Thomas and safety Ray Vinopal are seniors with plenty of game action in their past. The strengths, so far, have been the ability to play as a unit and to be where they are supposed to be. But will that be the case when they play Virginia Tech, for example? Pitt's defense also gets an injection of speed at the linebacker position from brothers Nicholas Grigsby and Bam Bradley.
4. Is Pitt doing anything different this week to prepare for the steam bath that will be 12 noon kickoff at FIU Stadium? Obviously, the heat in Pittsburgh is not the same as the heat and humidity in Miami.
JD: Chryst isn't a coach to use gimmicks in practice to prepare for a game. Pitt has an indoor facility that it uses when the weather is bad. Temperatures in Pittsburgh aren't expected to get much higher than the high 70s. Maybe they will practice indoors with the heat turned up (just kidding), but I'll know more Tuesday when we can watch about 30 minutes of practice Tuesday and Wednesday. I'll be honest: No one asked Chryst at his Monday news conference about the weather in Florida. But knowing Chryst, if it's 20 degrees or 120 degrees, he wouldn't care.
5. How do you see Saturday's game between the two Panther teams playing out?
JD: From what I know about FIU, Pitt should be able to win the game. If Pitt struggles, that "focus" players and coaches brag about will have been lost. If that becomes the case, they might be caught looking ahead to Iowa next week.
Do you remember from the movie version of the "Dukes of Hazzard" when Boss Hogg (Burt Reynolds) dressed in his trademark all white suit and white cowboy hat, walked into the jail to visit the Duke boys and another prisoner yelled, "You're not supposed to wear white after Labor Day!"?
Apparently, the NCAA agrees with that fashion statement when it comes to the home team choosing its jersey color.
In the NFL the home team gets to choose what uniform color to wear. Such as the Miami Dolphins do for home day games when the Dolphins wear white tops in order to help out with the Miami heat -- the weather, not the basketball team.
That's not how it works in the NCAA where the road team has to agree to what uniform color the home team chooses to wear. So in other words, in the NCAA the road team dictates what color jersey the home team wears. Makes no sense, but that's the NCAA's version of the uniform policy.
Where am I going with this? FIU wants to wear its white jerseys on Saturday for the 12 noon kickoff against Pittsburgh. The Pitt Panthers do not agree with that fashion statement because of the steam bath that will be a 12 noon kickoff at FIU Stadium on Saturday. So Pitt will be wearing white jerseys and FIU will don its blue jerseys with white pants.
Louisville has also denied FIU's request to wear white jerseys the following Saturday for a 3:30 p.m kickoff at FIU Stadium. The Cardinals will be wearing white tops while the Panthers will be in blue jerseys again. FIU probably won't be able to wear white jerseys until its first road game of the season at UAB on Sept. 27, a 3:30 p.m. kickoff from Birmingham, Ala.
This Saturday will be just the second ever 12 noon kickoff for an FIU home game in the program's 13-year history. The other noon kickoff took place in 2009 on Halloween when FIU defeated Louisiana 20-17 in overtime. Former FIU receiver Greg Ellingson (above in that Halloween game) caught a touchdown in the final minute to send the game into overtime. Ironically, FIU wore its all-white uniform that day because the Ragin' Cajuns did not object to it. I was still working for the Miami Herald at the time and it was a scorcher that day as it is expected to be this Saturday.
FIU played a 10 a.m. home game in 2003 against Holy Cross because NBC6 broadcasted the game at that time. The Panthers won 34-23. FIU lost an 11 a.m. home game in 2004 to Georgia Southern 53-32. FIU wore blue jerseys in both those games.
MCNEILL SUMMER COLLEGIATE ALL-AMERICAN
FIU first baseman/pitcher Gunnar McNeill was named a Summer Collegiate All-American by Perfect Game for his terrific summer for the Staunton Braves in the Valley League. McNeill hit .402 with 6 home runs and 50 RBI during the summer.
FIU catcher and McNeill's Staunton teammate J.C. Escarra was named the best prospect of the Valley League by Baseball America. McNeill was named the sixth best prospect by Baseball America. Escarra had no errors in 28 games and hit .283 with 3 home runs.
RUDY, RUDY, RUDY
Former FIU first baseman and current Arizona Diamondbacks minor leaguer Rudy Flores has homered in three straight minor league playoff games as his Visalia Rawhide (Diamondbacks Class A team) continue their postseason.
Flores has four home runs in those three playoff games. Flores is hitting .301 with 28 home runs and 100 RBI in just 132 games for the Rawhide.
Cats and birds. The FIU Panthers and the Wagner Seahawks at The Cage on Saturday at 6 p.m. Normally, the cats would eat the birds, see: Sylvester and Tweety, but most of the time in that show Tweety got away. FIU would like to put Wagner away on Saturday to record its first win of the season with a couple of ACC opponents on deck in Pittsburgh and Louisville.
You can hear Saturday's game live on ESPN Deportes 1210 AM or if you are on your phone or laptop then CLICK HERE to listen. Mike Levine joins me in the broadcast booth for the call beginning at 5:30 p.m. for the pregame show. Our broadcast will also be simulcasted on the videostream at FIUSports.com since there is no TV this week. The videostream costs $6.95.
Now let's get to the claws to an FIU victory.
CLAWS TO VICTORY
RUN, RUN, RUN AND RUN: If the Panthers are going to establish some consistency with their offense they will need to run the ball effectively, certainly better than last week against Bethune-Cookman. Last week's 90 yards on 43 carries is not what FIU envisions for its run game. Getting the running game going will do a world of good for quarterbacks Alex McGough and/or E.J. Hilliard. If defenses have to respect the FIU running game, then the passing game opens up. Expect to see some starting lineup changes before Saturday's game to help give the offense a boost.
TREAT THEM LIKE SEATTLE: Yes, the Wagner Seahawks are from FCS and they were 3-8 last season but FIU must approach them as if they were the Seattle Seahawks. The Panthers are in no position to take anyone lightly and cannot enter this game overconfident. FIU has to score early and often to take control of the game and then put Wagner away with either more points or time-consuming deflating drives. Don't be surprised if Wagner pulls out some trick plays or other surprises. The Seahawks have nothing to lose playing an FBS team.
THIRD IS FIRST: FIU's third down struggles from last season continued in the season opener. The Panthers were just 1 of 16 on third down conversions last week. Converting third downs into first downs is a must not only Saturday but the rest of the season, especially to give the FIU defense a breather. Bethune-Cookman had the ball five more minutes than FIU last week. If the current rate of third down conversions continues for FIU the time of possession disparity will only increase as the season progresses.
NEED TO BE MORE SPECIAL: Parts of the FIU special teams did just fine last week with Richard Leonard leading the way in the return game. After a season away from football Leonard exploded for 148 return yards breaking T.Y. Hilton's single-game program record. Chris Ayers had some good punts after his first two punts went for 33 yards and 25 yards. Austin Taylor got kickoffs into the end zone or on the goal line, but he missed two field goals. Taylor missed a 35-yard attempt. The second miss did not count toward the official stats because Bethune-Cookman called a timeout to ice Taylor. Still, Taylor kicked it wide left from 46 yards just after the timeout was called.
However, the two teams square off first in The Other Game today. The Panthers have a 53-game winning streak on the line in The Other Game. Will Wagner be the first team to defeat FIU in The Other Game? Read on to find out. . .
FIU vs. Wagner -- The Other Game
-- FIU has a gardner as in freshman running back Alex Gardner. Wagner has defensive lineman Darrell Green. A gardner takes care of the greens. FIU 1, Wagner 0.
-- If you look east from the Green Library at FIU or from the concourse of FIU Stadium you can see the downtown Miami skyline and on a clear sunny day you can get a faint glimpse of Miami Beach. The view from Wagner College is of downtown New York City. PUSH. FIU 1, Wagner 0, PUSH 1.
-- Wagner's long snapper is named Anthony Fiumefreddo. There is no one on the FIU team with a Wagner last name. FIU 1, Wagner 1, PUSH 1.
-- Wagner College is situated on 105 acres. FIU takes up 573 acres and if it moves into the Youth Fair grounds, FIU will encompass 637 acres. FIU 2, Wagner 1, PUSH 1.
-- NFL nicknames: Wagner Seahawks. FIU Panthers. The Seattle Seahawks won the Super Bowl last season. FIU 2, Wagner 2, PUSH 1.
-- FIU alum Danny Pino appeared in the CBS drama, CSI: New York. Wagner alum Carmine Giovinazzo has appeared on all three CSI shows: CSI: NY, CSI: Miami and the original CSI, which takes place in Las Vegas. Wagner 3, FIU 2, PUSH 1.
-- The Sopranos filmed an episode at Wagner College. Burn Notice filmed several episodes at FIU. Both quality shows. PUSH. Wagner 3, FIU 2, PUSH 2.
-- Robert Wagner (no relation to the college, only the same last name) played No. 2, Dr. Evil's No. 2 guy in the Austin Powers movies. The word "international" is part of FIU's name like Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery. Powers always came out on top. Wagner 3, FIU 3, PUSH 2.
-- Wagner has receiver Fritz Rock. FIU has a Michael and a Scott as in Michael Wakefield or Michael Montero and Scott Wade which combined is Michael Scott -- boss of Dunder Mifflin paper company. Everyone knows that paper beats rock in the classic game. FIU 4, Wagner 3, PUSH 2.
-- Wagner has defensive lineman Fidel Okoye, whose has an OK to start his last name. FIU has defensive lineman Wonderful Terrific Monds III, who is both wonderful and terrific and the third member of his family with that first name and middle name. FIU 5, Wagner 3, PUSH 2.
FIU looks for its first win of the season Saturday against Wagner at FIU Stadium. It will be the first matchup ever between the Panthers and the Seahawks. You can listen to Saturday's game on ESPN 1210 AM with Mike Levine and I calling the action. It all begins with the pregame show at 5:30 p.m. Mike and I will also be on PantherVision as our call will be simulcast on that broadcast. Saturday's game can be seen on PantherVision at FIUSports.com for $6.95. There is no over-the-air TV for Saturday's game.
With Wagner being an FCS team there is not much familiarity with the Seahawks so here is their beat writer Jim Waggoner of the Staten Island Advance to answer 5 Questions on the Wagner Seahawks.
1. For those FIU fans that may not be familiar with Wagner football. Tell us a little about the Seahawks football history.
JW: Wagner has been playing football since 1927 with an all-time record of 391-337-19 (I know this because I have the media guide that John Beisser slipped to me at the end of Tuesday’s practice). That was mostly at the NCAA Division III level, with undefeated seasons in 1960, 1964 and 1967, and the NCAA Division III championship in 1987. Since transitioning to the scholarship-based FCS, they haven’t fared as well, although the 2012 Northeast Conference championship might have been the program’s finest moment. The Seahawks had a nine-game winning streak capped by a first-round NCAA victory over Colgate — the NEC’s only triumph to date in the FCS national tournament.
2. What does Wagner do best on offense? Where are the Seahawks vulnerable on offense?
JW: Wagner did nothing well on offense during the 2013 season, with a four-pronged quarterback system leading to a 3-8 record. They ranked near the bottom of every statistical category, despite having 4,000-yard career rusher Dominique Williams, who was a late cut by the Minnesota Vikings and this week was signed to the practice squad of the Arizona Cardinals. They ditched the no-huddle spread offense and seem intent on using a more run-oriented, low-risk offense. The Seahawks hope their defense is returning to 2012 form, when they were ranked among FCS leaders. The 21-3 victory at Georgetown and a senior-dominated defense offers hope. They are strong in the secondary and linebacking corps, with question marks along the defensive line (preseason injuries).
3. What kind of defense does Wagner run and who are its playmakers on that side of the ball? What are the D's strengths and weaknesses?
JW: I think the defensive MVP is coordinator Malik Hall, although the 33-year-old former UMass defensive standout would cringe to hear me say that. I think they’re still a basic 3-4 defense with various moving parts. They try to pressure the quarterback and their inside linebackers are experienced and solid. The biggest name on defense is senior cornerback Jarrett Dieudonne, an all-conference player from Fort Lauderdale who spent one year at Purdue. Another playmaker is fifth-year senior linebacker Trevor Loveland, who passed up a job on Wall Street for graduate school and a final season.
4. Has Wagner ever played in South Florida and how eager is the team to be playing in Miami against FIU?
JW: The Seahawks traveled to Florida Atlantic to open the 2012 season — their first game against an FBS opponent — and came home with a narrow 7-3 loss. That was the NEC championship season and their quarterback, Nick Doscher, had played three seasons of minor-league baseball before returning to his hometown and setting just about every Wagner offensive career record. I count 10 Florida natives on their roster and to say they are excited about returning home to play a game would be an understatement.
5. How do you see Saturday's game between FIU and Wagner playing out?
JW: I think FIU has to be regarded as a formidable opponent and that the team will be eager to notch that first victory. There’s a substantial difference in scholarships (the NEC has expanded to a cap of 40 for the past couple of seasons) although Wagner has added a handful of FBS transfers. If you look at many of the top FCS teams (including Bethune-Cookman) I think you’ll see a similar transfer trend. That said, Wagner’s offense was sluggish the first half at Georgetown (picked to finish last in the Patriot League) and I’m not sure a ball-control offense will work as well against a much more physical FIU front. They might make a game of it (and I’m sure they’d tell you they’d like to keep it close going into the fourth quarter) but I’m going to call it FIU 27, Wagner 13.
Escarra will enter the 2015 college baseball season as FIU's starting catcher after Aramis Garcia was drafted and signed by the San Francisco Giants. Escarra hit .247 with 17 RBI in 50 games last season for the Panthers. Escarra's productive summer goes along with FIU first baseman/pitcher Gunnar McNeill's solid summer with the Staunton Braves. McNeill was named MVP of the Valley League.
CLICK HERE for the Baseball America rundown on Escarra.
When you saw Wagner on the FIU schedule you might have been like me wondering what's Wagner all about in football. Later this week I'll have Wagner beat writer, Jim Waggoner, drop by to talk about the Seahawks. [By the way, how is that for a last name for the Wagner beat writer? Waggoner]. It's like if CollegeFootballNews.com's Pete Fiutak covered FIU.
FIU plays Wagner for the first time in the Panthers' 13-year history of football on Saturday from FIU Stadium. Wagner is coming off a 21-3 win over Georgetown last Saturday where the Seahawks totaled 330 yards of offense, 167 yards on the ground. The Hoyas were limited to 204 total yards.
You can hear Saturday's game on ESPN 1210 AM at 6 p.m. with Mike Levine and yours truly on the call. Pre-game show starts at 5:30 p.m. You can also watch the game on PantherVision as our radio broadcast will be simulcasted on the live videostream.
FIU played Georgetown, Wagner's opening week opponent, in the Panthers inaugural season of 2002 when FIU was a Division I-AA Independent. FIU defeated the Hoyas 27-2.
The Panthers are 11-13 all-time against FCS teams. FIU is 11-15 against the FCS if you count new Sun Belt member Georgia Southern, who the Panthers lost to twice back in 2003 and 2004. Wagner will be the 54th different opponent FIU faces in its football history. Later this season meetings with Old Dominion, Rice and UTSA will make it 57 different teams FIU has played in its 13-year history.
The Wagner Seahawks, from Staten Island, New York, first started playing football in 1927 and won a Division III national championship in 1987. Wagner has been an FCS school since 1992. Wagner coach Walt Hameline is in his 34th season as the Seahawks coach. Hameline has 217 career wins, which ranks fifth among active FCS coaches.
Wagner was 3-8 last season and returns 14 of its 22 starters. The Seahawks feature nine Florida players, six of which are from South Florida high schools. Wagner was picked to finish fifth in the Northeast Conference.
The Seahawks lost their leading rusher and receiver from a year ago, who combined for 1,699 yards and 10 touchdowns.
Former Fort Lauderdale Dillard High product running back Otis Wright rushed for 74 yards and two touchdowns last week. The Seahawks like Bethune-Cookman like to run the football.
The leading returning receiver Anthony Carrington caught a touchdown pass from quarterback Brian Gehring last week. Gehring (photo above) played in four games last season and beat out Chris Andrews in camp. Andrews played in eight games last season.
Five of the six leading tacklers for Wagner last season are back led by leading tackler linebacker Trevor Loveland, who also led the team in tackles for loss with 12.
FIU opens its 13th season of football against Bethune-Cookman at FIU Stadium on Saturday at 7:04 p.m. Coming off a 1-11 season the Panthers would like to get off to a quick start against the Wildcats, who won last year's meeting at FIU 34-13.
Before we get to the 5 Claws to victory for the Panthers to win their season opener, here are some notes about Saturday's game broadcasts.
You can hear the game live on ESPN Deportes 1210 AM or if you are on your phone or laptop then CLICK HERE to listen. Mike Levine joins me in the broadcast booth all season long to call all 12 FIU games. Before each game we'll have a 30-minute pregame show. After the final whistle we will have a postgame show. Former FIU linebacker James Knapp, who did color commentary in last year's FIU broadcasts, will help co-anchor the pregame show. We will be on the air LIVE starting at 6:30 p.m. on Saturday.
The game can be seen in South Florida on WBFS Channel 33, but it will be shown on a 1-hour tape delay basis. The channel 33 broadcast of the FIU game will begin at 8 p.m. Kickoff is at 7:04 p.m.
5 CLAWS TO VICTORY
PUT A LEASH ON THE WILDCATS: The Wildcats ran for 311 yards and four touchdowns in last year's win at FIU. That is what B-CU does best -- run the football. With FIU breaking in a new pair of starting defensive tackles replacing graduated Isame Faciane and Greg Hickman, you can be sure the Wildcats will go at the middle of the FIU defensive line. B-CU has the talent and size to pound the ball. The top three Wildcat backs each weigh more than 210 pounds. The Panthers need to stop the run and force B-CU to throw the ball.
BACKING THE D-LINE: With the exception of Luis Rosado, the FIU linebackers are also relatively inexperienced. Yes, Treyvon Williams played some last year but he is just a sophomore. Jordan Guest, Patrick Jean, Davison Colimon, De'Shawn Hazziez and Anthony Wint will get their first bulk of playing time this season. Should the Wildcats get to the second level of the defense running the ball, the FIU linebackers have to make plays to help out the defensive line. Despite having some of the better safeties in the conference, the Panthers can't have the safeties coming up to make tackles play after play because it will usually mean the Wildcats have already gotten good yardage on the play.
FAST START: Yes, the Panthers have more team speed with the new additions and the return of several key players, but this fast start has to do with getting some quick points. B-CU comes in ranked No. 22 in the FCS poll and is a more experienced team than FIU. The Wildcats also carry the confidence of having won at FIU last year. It was such a confidence-building win for B-CU that they hung a sign about it on their campus all last fall. FIU has to find a way to get on the scoreboard early to thwart any B-CU momentum coming into the game.
LONG DRIVES: Several times last season the FIU offense couldn't sustain drives and that brought the Panthers defense back to the field too soon. That eventually led to the defense tiring especially with its lack of depth. This is year two of the offense running coach Ron Turner's scheme. The Panthers need to gobble up first downs and move the chains on a consistent basis. FIU has to do what B-CU did last year and control the clock with its offense. The Wildcats had the ball 34:15 in last year's game compared to 25:45 for FIU.
FIND THE HIDDEN YARDAGE: The Panthers struggled a bit in special teams last year when it came to kickoffs and punts. FIU has to launch kickoffs either in the end zone or at the goal line to prevent sizable returns from B-CU. Same goes for the punt game. The Panthers need to win the game of hidden yardage. Getting Richard Leonard back for kickoff returns and/or punt returns along with speedy freshman Alex Gardner can only help.
One way you know it's football season around this blog is when opposing team beat writers drop by to
talk about the game. Brent Woronoff of the Daytona Beach News Journal is the beat writer for Bethune-Cookman and provides us here with some in-depth knowledge of the Wildcats.
Here's 5 Questions on Bethune-Cookman with Brent Woronoff:
1. The Wildcats are ranked in the preseason polls. What was the feeling around the team in camp regarding the preseason expectations in the polls?
BW: They are not too concerned about rankings, especially preseason rankings, but coach Brian Jenkins was very pleased with preseason camp. This is the opposite of a year ago when Jenkins was not happy with his team's fundamentals and attention to detail throughout camp.
2. What's different about the B-CU offense from a year ago?
BW: I think they will be better. They lost two stalwarts in running back Isidore Jackson -- their all-time leading rusher -- and receiver Eddie Poole, but should have no problem replacing them. At receiver they return Jhomo Gordon and University of Miami transfer Jontavious Carter and add Western Michigan transfer Jaime Wilson, who caught 67 passes for 792 yards and led the MAC in punt returns as a freshman in 2012. They are also talented and deep at running back with Anthony Jordan (150 yards rushing against FIU last year), Carey White (69 yards, 2 TDs in the FIU game), promising sophomore Michael Jones and UM transfer Danny Dillard. Quarterback Quentin Williams should be improved and he'll be pushed by Kent State transfer Brett Maxie Jr. and redshirt freshman Larry Brihm.
3. What's different about the Wildcat defense from last season? Is the D better, the same or re-building?
BW: The defense will have a lot of new faces. The line will probably be better with the return of end LeBrandon Richardson and tackle Rony Barrow and the addition of FBS transfers David Perry (UM), and Korey Harris (West Virginia). B-CU lost several playmakers in the secondary but return strong safety Marquis Drayton (47 tackles, two fumble recoveries, two interceptions) and cornerback Thomas Finnie, another UM transfer. Ralph Williams should be able to step in for Jarkevis Fields at middle linebacker. Williams played out of position last year on the outside. Donald Smith and Tavarus Dantzler also return at linebacker. The defense might not be better right away but should be a strong unit by the second half of the season.
4. Who do you think will be the key offensive and defensive players for B-CU on Saturday at FIU?
BW: Well, I've mentioned a bunch, but I'd have to say Jordan will be the man to stop on offense and Richardson, a Miami Central grad, will be the key on defense. Richardson did not have one of his better games last year at FIU and will likely be fired up this time.
5. How do you see the season opener between B-CU and FIU playing out?
BW: I think both teams will be prepared. FIU will want to make a point after losing to an FCS team last year, and B-CU will want to show the win wasn't a fluke. I look for a much closer game. B-CU hardly threw a pass in the second half last year while rolling up 20 points to turn the game into a rout. The Wildcats will have to pass effectively and not give up big plays on defense in order to have a chance to repeat the upset.
Later this week you can catch the first installment of FIU Football Weekly on FIUSports.com. On FIU Football Weekly, I'll interview coach Ron Turner each week, plus either Panther players or assistant coaches as we review the previous week's game and preview the upcoming game.
For the first show along with Turner, center Donald Senat (photo left) and safety Demarkus Perkins joined me to talk about camp and the upcoming season opener against Bethune-Cookman.
Have a look at the inaugural show and tell me what you like and what you think we could improve on for the show. You can be a part of the show. If you have questions for the show you can send them on Twitter: @PetePelegrin
Former FIU football players Isame Faciane, Sam Miller (pictured on front of blog) and Anthony Gaitor got through the first round of NFL cuts. Faciane, Miller and Gaitor each are still members of the Minnesota Vikings, Buffalo Bills, and Tampa Bay Buccaneers, respectively. The final round of NFL cuts are this Saturday at 4 p.m. when teams have to get down to the mandated 53-man roster.
Greg Hickman (Lions) and Junior Mertile (Texans) were not as fortunate as each was released. Faciane, Miller and Gaitor are trying to join former FIU Panthers in the NFL: Antwan Barnes (Jets), T.Y. Hilton (Colts), Johnathan Cyprien (Jaguars), Tourek Williams (Chargers) and Caylin Hauptmann (Seahawks).
60 SECONDS WITH GREG ELLINGSON
Former FIU and current Hamilton Tiger-Cats receiver Greg Ellingson recently participated in a 60-seconds get-to-know-him video. CLICK HERE to watch.