stick game for the Panthers. The Bulldogs were one of the preseason favorites in Conference USA and feature the best offense FIU has seen in 2015. The FIU defense will be challenged Saturday.
Looking at the 2015 FIU home opener against North Carolina Central brings to mind the phrase, "taking care of business" or the song of the same name by BTO (Bachman-Turner Overdrive). As far as I know Fred Turner, the Turner in BTO, is no relation to FIU coach Ron Turner.
The reason "taking care of business" comes to mind is because if FIU does what it is supposed to do in Saturday's game then the Panthers will win and be 2-1 heading into its Conference USA opener at Louisiana Tech next Saturday.
First of all FIU cannot turn the ball over like it did last week at Indiana. Considering the Panthers and Eagles teams, turnovers are about the only thing that can keep NCC in Saturday's game.
NCC is 1-1 and is the co-defending MEAC champion, but they have holes on their squad. The FIU offense should be able to exploit an inexperienced NCC defensive line with a combination of Alex Gardner and Anthon Samuel. NCC gives up 160 rushing yards per game. By running the ball effectively, FIU will give quarterback Alex McGough time to operate through the air and keep his jersey clean as well.
Going back to the opening paragraph of this blog, more FIU receivers could BTO this week. In other words play or be like receiver T.O. (Thomas Owens) has been the first two weeks of the season. McGough should have the time to spread the ball around and move the FIU offense downfield. This could be the week that tight end Jonnu Smith puts up big numbers after being doubled by Central Florida and Indiana. If the Panthers execute on offense early, McGough could get the majority of the second half off. A lopsided score by halftime might allow McGough to rest considering the hard hit he took at Indiana last week.
The FIU defense will have to concern itself with shifty running back Dorrel McClain, who is very quick making cuts on rushes. NCC quarterback Malcolm Bell has been effective, throwing 15 touchdowns and just five picks last season. The NCC offensive line with its seniors might be one of the better units on the Eagles team.
Weather should not be a factor Saturday evening. Forecast at kickoff calls for 86 degrees under mostly cloudy skies with a 20 percent chance of rain. The wet stuff is supposed to happen in the late afternoon, possibly when the teams arrive at FIU Stadium around 4 p.m.
Earlier this week NCC was asked about FIU losing to Bethune-Cookman, a fellow MEAC team, the last two years and quickly dismissed it. The Eagles know this is a much different and improved FIU team than the ones that lost to the Wildcats in 2013 and 2014. NCC is not Wagner, another FCS team, that FIU led 27-3 at halftime and easily dispatched 34-3 last season. However, the Panthers should be singing the chorus of "Taking Care of Business" -- without the overtime part -- come 9 p.m. Saturday night.
Taking care of business, every day
Taking care of business, every way
I've been taking care of business, it's all mine
Taking care of business and working overtime
The North Carolina Central Eagles fly into town Saturday for a first-ever matchup with FIU in the Panthers 2015 home opener. NCC is the co-defending MEAC champion that won a program-record seven games last season. This year NCC is 1-1 after a shutout win against St. Augustine and a shutout loss to Duke.
Here with more on NCC is the Eagles beat writer from the Durham Herald-Sun, Brooke Pryor. You can follow Brooke on Twitter: @bepryor
2. What are some of the strengths and weaknesses of the NCC offense and who are some of their playmakers?
4. I'm sure NCC saw that fellow MEAC member Bethune-Cookman beat FIU the last two years. Has there been any talk about that leading up to this game?
5. How do you see the game between FIU and NCC playing out?
BP: With a 72-0 win against a Division-II opponent and a 55-0 loss to an FBS opponent, it's tough to gauge this NCCU team. FIU falls somewhere in between those two schools, and obviously closer to the Duke team than the Division-II opponent. I think that it will be closer than a shutout loss, though I don't necessarily see NCCU coming out on top. I think it will be close through the first half, and it will depend on the defense coming up with big stops. FIU has the capability of putting up big offensive numbers, and if NCCU's defense can't get a stop early, it will be a long night for the Eagles.
FIU plays North Carolina Central for the first time in football Saturday in the Panthers home opener. NCC is an FCS team and has been playing football since 1923. In that 1923 season NCC played just one game, a 70-0 loss to Virginia State. NCC won its first conference championship (CIAA) in 1953 with a 5-3 record. NCC has won four CIAA championships and three MEAC titles. NCC won the 2006 Black College Football National Championship.
NCC is the defending MEAC co-champion going 7-5 last season under then-first-year coach Jerry Mack. The Eagles' seven wins were a program-record for NCC as an FCS team. Like FIU was big on takeaways last season so was NCC, whose +12 in turnover margin ranked third in FCS.
This season the Eagles, who return 15 starters, are 1-1 with a 72-0 win over St. Augustine in the season opener. St. Augustine is a Division II team that plays in NCC's old conference (CIAA). NCC was shut out 55-0 by Duke last week.
NCC is a balanced offense having run 61 times and thrown 58 passes. Through the first two games the Eagles have averaged 121 yards on the ground and 195 through the air. Dorrel McClain leads NCC in rushing with 82 yards. Malcolm Bell is the quarterback and he's 25 of 44 for 290 yards, 1 touchdown and 0 interceptions. Khalil Stinson (9 rec, 95 yds, TD) and Jalen Wilkes (8 rec, 61 yds, TD) are the leading receivers. An interesting stat is NCC is just 2 of 22 on third down conversions, including 1 of 8 on third down against St. Augustine.
The Eagles are allowing an average of 160 rushing yards per game through the first two contests and 251 passing yards. Against Duke, which FIU is closer to in quality than St. Augustine, NCC allowed 288 rushing yards and 367 passing yards. The game was essentially over by halftime with Duke leading 24-0.
Jordan Miles leads the NCC defense with 17 tackles. Reggie Hunter has 15 tackles. Neil Williams has two sacks to lead the Eagles in that category.
Saturday's game will be FIU's seventh game against a team from North Carolina. The Panthers are 0-6 in their 13+ year history against teams from the Tar Heel State having lost two times each to Duke and Gardner-Webb, and single losses to Elon and East Carolina.
FIU has a chance to start 2-0 for just the second time in the program's 14-year history if the Panthers can take down Indiana Saturday night in Bloomington. The only other time the Panthers started the season 2-0 was in 2011 after wins against North Texas and Louisville. FIU and Indiana begin a four-game series Saturday with each team playing two home games in the set.
The potential roadblock to 2-0 is the Indiana offense which is better than the Central Florida offense that the Panthers beat 15-14 last week. Unlike the pro-style offense that the Panthers faced last Thursday in Orlando, the Hoosiers use a spread offense and feature a solid big quarterback in 6-6 Nate Sudfeld and a bruising rusher in Jordan Howard. FIU faced Howard last season when he was at UAB. Howard ran for 102 yards against FIU in a 34-20 Panthers win in Birmingham.
As you know FIU has faced plenty of spread offenses in years past when it was in the Sun Belt Conference and in its current Conference USA play. Where FIU could face difficulty in defending IU is when the Hoosiers spread the field leaving more open areas for Howard to run through. Howard rushed for 145 yards and three touchdowns last week against Southern Illinois. Yes, FIU's defense is better than SIU's unit but this is a potent Hoosiers offense.
Sudfeld missed six games last season when he injured his non-throwing left shoulder. Sudfeld didn't appear to miss a beat last week throwing for 349 yards and rushing for 46. At 6-6 and 240 pounds Sudfeld is not easy to bring down, like Ben Roethlisberger. The FIU D will have to make sure to wrap him up.
Sarasota's Ricky Jones is Sudfeld's top target catching six passes for 186 yards and a touchdown last week. Simmie Cobbs, who is the bigger receiver at 6-4, 212 pounds, caught three passes for 64 yards. Jones is listed at 5-10, 188.
With the type of offense Indiana has this game has the potential to turn into an old Sun Belt shootout where the last team with the football will win. That is of course if the FIU defense does not play like it did last week against UCF. I think several points will be scored on both sides. This will sound cliche but I believe the game may turn on whose defense can make the critical stop on the other offense.
As the Panthers showed last Thursday they have a solid defensive front seven with plenty of depth. That depth will be needed this week after FIU learned that linebacker Davison Colimon is out for the season with a pectoral injury. Expect Jordan Guest, Vontarius West and possibly Fred Russ to see action for Colimon.
Southern Illinois started fast against the IU defense scoring 32 first half points. The Hoosiers allowed 15 points in the fourth quarter and avoided the upset when the Salukis missed the potential game-winning two-point conversion.
Last week FIU probably got its best game from quarterback Alex McGough in the sophomore's young college career. McGough exhibited a tremendous amount of poise when plays were breaking down and was extremely accurate (76% completion percentage) to go with 260 yards.
Thomas Owens, Ya'Keem Griner and Alex Gardner provided McGough with the receiving production that was not consistent last season. And that was with UCF doubling Jonnu Smith most of the game and Anthony Jones getting limited playing time. Imagine how dangerous the FIU passing game can be when those two get more in the action.
The FIU run game led by Gardner established a ground presence (131 yards) against UCF to give McGough time. More of that will be needed Saturday.
None of the offensive production against UCF happens without the play of an offensive line finding its footing. The FIU O-line had a very good game against UCF led by new center Michael Montero, especially in the run game.
The IU defense was generous against SIU allowing 659 total yards (248 rush and 411 pass). FIU could find plenty of space to operate on offense which could leave this game to how well the FIU defense can contain the IU offense.
One area that didn't get much mention after the UCF win was FIU's punting. Both Chris Ayers and Stone Wilson helped FIU win the game of hidden yardage against the Knights especially after the FIU offense started several times with poor field position.
Weather should not be a factor Saturday at kickoff. Partly cloudy skies and temperatures in the upper 50's are expected with a 20% chance of rain. Sleep with the windows open type of weather.
FIU will take on Indiana for the first time in football Saturday in Bloomington, Ind. As you know on this blog whenever there is a new football opponent for the Panthers we like to learn more about the opponent and its university. Thus we have some fun and play The Other Game. If you do not recall from last season FIU is on a 57-game winning streak in The Other Game. Can the Panthers make it 58 in a row? Let's get right to the dramedy.
FIU vs. Indiana -- The Other Game
-- Basketball in Hollywood: Miami Vice in its 1980's heyday shot an episode at FIU's basketball arena during an FIU Sunblazers game. (FIU used to be known as the Sunblazers). The movie "Hoosiers" is based on basketball in Indiana. Miami Vice was a good show back in the 1980's. Hoosiers was a good movie. PUSH. FIU 0, IU 0, PUSH 1.
-- Indiana has a running back named Alex Rodriguez. FIU has an Aaron, like Hank Aaron, in offensive lineman Aaron Nielsen. Hank Aaron did it the right way and hit home runs while he was drug-free clean. Can't say the same about the New York Yankees DH. FIU 1, IU 0, PUSH 1.
-- Indiana's Hoosier nickname has a very interesting history, including a folk story about how the term was used in order not to be shot when approaching someone's home on the frontier in the old days. FIU's nickname history comes from the animal in the Everglades. FIU 1, IU 1, PUSH 1.
-- FIU has Roary as a mascot and before that had Son of a Blazer when FIU was known as the Sunblazers. Indiana tried to have a bulldog, a bison and "Hoosier Pride" as its mascot through the years but none of them stuck. IU currently doesn't have a mascot. FIU 2, IU 1, PUSH 1.
-- IU alum Isiah Thomas led IU to a national championship in basketball as a player. Thomas didn't have the same success as a former FIU coach. FIU 2, IU 2, PUSH 1.
-- FIU has been consistent with its team colors through its history: blue and gold. IU has had a clash of colors in some sports. Such as the baseball team's jackets having a different shade of red from its caps and uniforms. FIU 3, IU 2, PUSH 1.
-- Part of the HBO series "Ballers" was filmed at FIU Stadium. The USA Network hit series "Burn Notice" had several episodes filmed on the FIU campus. The movie "Breaking Away" was filmed on IU's campus. All three productions are solid. PUSH. FIU 3, IU 2, PUSH 2.
-- Former Subway spokesman Jared is an IU alum. Jared didn't go to FIU. FIU 4, IU 2, PUSH 2.
-- IU has offensive lineman Hunter Littlejohn, as in Robin Hood's friend. FIU has defensive lineman Jermaine Sheriff, as in the Sheriff of Nottingham. FIU 4, IU 3, PUSH 2.
-- Tom Hanks movies & football coaches: FIU has coach Ron Turner as in "Turner & Hooch" and IU has coach Kevin Wilson as in Wilson the volleyball from "Cast Away". Who doesn't like a movie where a dog is the co-star? FIU 5, IU 3, PUSH 2.
The 14th season of FIU football opens in Orlando Thursday evening against Central Florida. The Panthers and Knights meet for the fourth time in series history. I expect the 2015 season opener to resemble the 2011 series opener between these two teams.
The 2011 game at FIU Stadium was a defensive slugfest that left each offense scraping for every yard it got. FIU won 17-10 that night helped in part by Isame Faciane's 51-yard fumble return (photo below) for a touchdown just before halftime and a UCF fumble in the third quarter that led to Darriet Perry's touchdown run to give FIU a lead it would not relinquish. UCF tallied 300 total yards, FIU had 238 total yards. Similar offensive outputs might be the case Thursday.
Once again the two teams bring very good defenses to the matchup with the Knights possibly having a slight edge on offense. UCF's offensive strength like FIU might be its running backs. Will Stanback, Dontravious Wilson and Taj McGowan carry the ball for UCF with Stanback being the workhorse at 230 pounds. If you recall last season FIU had some trouble with bigger backs (see: Conner, James as an example).
The Knights have a young promising quarterback in Justin Holman and an inexperienced receiving corps. Where have you heard that before? FIU has talented running backs in Anthon Samuel and Alex Gardner, a young promising quarterback in Alex McGough and an inexperienced receiving corps, outside of Jonnu Smith. You can see how this game could be another pitchers' duel in football terms.
UCF will likely deliver a heavy dose of Stanback and run company and test the inexperienced FIU safeties in the pass game. If the Panthers can control the Knights running game and force the UCF offense to rely on the receivers then FIU could win its fourth season opener in its 14 seasons of football. FIU is 3-10 in season openers with wins against St. Peter's (2002 - 1st ever FIU game), at Youngstown State (2004 - 1st ever FIU road win) and North Texas (2011). The City of Neon Lights had more folks renounce their UCF fandom earlier this week. You can figure out the rest from the previous sentence.
Of course for FIU to drive south on the Florida Turnpike happy late Thursday night it will need to score on what was the No. 5 defense in the country last season and No. 6 against the run. Most of those defenders are back like FIU's D situation. Add to it that FIU will be trotting out basically a new offensive line and the sledding could be tough for Samuel and Gardner. Which may put the game in the hands of the FIU passing game, especially with UCF fielding a new secondary. It could be inexperience (FIU receivers) versus inexperience (UCF secondary) to decide this one.
Should this game play out as a tight one then look to FIU's Richard Leonard or UCF's Jordan Akins to possibly decide it returning a kick for a score or giving his respective team some seriously good field position with a big return.
Weather should not be a factor. A temperature of 86 degrees and partly sunny skies are expected at kickoff. There are some showers forecast for the early afternoon in Orlando, but the game forecast looks good with just a 15 percent chance of rain. And now Tricia Takanawa for the traffic report.
The first FIU depth chart of the 2015 season is out. Based on camp practices and what coaches have said there aren't many eyebrow raisers here. Still, let's take an inside look at the season's first depth chart.
LT 78 Dieugot Joseph, 65 Daquane Wilkie; LG 70 Aaron Nielsen, 69 Chris Miller, 72 James Cruise; C 64 Michael Montero, 61 Danny Nunez, 76 Neal Mars; RG 73 Trenton Saunders, 68 Chris Flaig; RT 75 Edens Sineace, 65 Daquane Wilkie.
With the loss of Jordan Budwig to season-ending shoulder surgery, the left guard spot has seen several players vie for the job. Nielsen, who can play various positions, has been a valuable cog to the O-line. Nielsen will see action at either guard spot. Maybe at right guard with Saunders currently dealing with an injury. Montero should do just fine as the new center. Outside of Joseph and Nielsen there isn't much game-experience on the O-line.
TE 87 Jonnu Smith, 80 Ya’Keem Griner, 11 Akil Dan-Fodio; WR 81 Thomas Owens, 9 Shug Oyegunle, 17 Mark Hutchinson; WR 5 Clinton Taylor, 14 Dennis Turner, 82 Julian Williams.
Smith is money in the bank, unless it's a Greek bank. Griner had a good camp and I think will show his potential this season. Dan-Fodio is underrated as a pass catcher and will help. Owens is poised for a breakout season. Taylor is steady. Turner will have to be the deep threat especially with tall, rangy receivers Juwan Caesar and Shawn Abrams out for the opener. Williams displayed secure hands in camp. Not listed but certainly in the mix is freshman Anthony Jones.
QB 12 Alex McGough, 8 Christian Alexander or 6 Bud Martin or 10 Trey Anderson; RB 42 Anthon Samuel, 1 Alex Gardner, 2 Anthony Jones.
McGough has taken control of the offense and made enough strides from last season that he doesn't have to look over his shoulder. Coach Ron Turner said this morning that Christian Alexander and Anderson are the co-backups to McGough. Alexander has not looked like a freshman since arriving at FIU in the spring. Alexander has displayed a maturity running the offense and a strong arm. Expect Samuel and Gardner to carry the load in the run game. Silas Spearman or Alfonso Randolph could get carries that would have gone to Napoleon Maxwell, who is out for the season. Turner has said before that Jones could get carries as well.
DE 11 Denzell Perine, 91 Anthony Johnson, 90 Fermin Silva; DT 93 Imarjaye Albury, 98 Leonard Washington, 94 Marques Cheeks; DT 44 Darrian Dyson, 74 Lars Koht, 46 Milord Juste; DE 55 Michael Wakefield, 24 Josh Glanton, 92 John Broome.
The defensive line is the strength of the FIU defense. Key will be the play of Albury, Dyson, Koht and the rest of the tackles to give the linebackers opportunities to make plays. Johnson and Glanton had good camps spelling Perine and Wakefield. Should the FIU offense have some three-and-outs and keep the FIU D on the field there is good depth on the D-line to withstand the extra plays.
LB 53 Anthony Wint, 47 Sage Lewis, 41 Fred Russ; LB 52 Treyvon Williams, 34 Jephete Matilus; LB 35 Davison Colimon, 57 Jordan Guest, 29 Vontarius West.
Wint, Williams and Colimon make up one of the better linebacker units in the conference. Matilus, the Minnesota transfer, earned his spot behind Williams with a solid month of practice. With the athletes on the linebacker corps this group has a chance to be special. Guest and Lewis have the ability to be starters but the firm of Wint, Williams and Colimon have a hold on the first team.
CB 3 Richard Leonard, 28 Deonte Wilson, 20 Emmanuel Lubin; CB 7 Jeremiah McKinnon, 22 Mark Bruno, 39 Jestin Green; S 33 Niko Gonzalez, 27 Xavier Hines; S 38 Wilkenson Myrtil, 26 Shermarke Spence, 31 Tyree Johnson.
FIU should be set at the corners with cousins Leonard and McKinnon. Wilson moved from safety, early in camp, to backing up Leonard. Lubin and Bruno are good backups. Myrtil and Gonzalez have the athletic ability to play safety but lack the game experience. You can expect for Myrtil and Gonzalez to be tested early and often by opposing quarterbacks, especially with the lockdown corners that FIU has in Leonard and McKinnon.
P 16 Chris Ayers or 6 Stone Wilson; K 43 Austin Taylor, 96 Scott Wade; LS 45 Sam Medlock, 51 Brandon Taylor; HOLD 16 Chris Ayers.
Ayers appeared to have the upper hand for the punter's job in camp but it seems like that position will be fluid until either Ayers or Wilson cements the job. Austin Taylor has improved each season and held off Wade in camp. Medlock and Brandon Taylor have been automatic in their FIU careers.
Punt Return 3 Richard Leonard, 5 Clinton Taylor, 2 Anthony Jones; KR 3 Richard Leonard, 5 Clinton Taylor, 2 Anthony Jones, 7 Jeremiah McKinnon.
If FIU's offense needs time to find it's footing then Leonard could provide a quick six points in the return game. Leonard is as electric returning kicks as a former No. 4 was at FIU that you may know as Eugene Hilton. I'm eager to see Jones get a chance to return kicks. Jones does not have the top end speed like Hilton or Leonard but he does have the video game moves that creates plenty of open space for himself.