Coach Ron Turner and running back Anthon Samuel join me to recap the Old Dominion game and preview the Middle Tennessee game.
Old Sun Belt Conference rival Middle Tennessee is next for FIU this Saturday at FIU Stadium. The Blue Raiders come in as probably the second best team in Conference USA after Marshall. MT is 5-4 overall and 4-1 in conference play. The Raiders only conference loss was to the Thundering Herd.
Like Old Dominion, Middle Tennessee has a defense that is generous but not as generous as the Monarchs. MT allows 174 yards on the ground per game and 288 yards through the air. That's nearly 500 total yards of offense per game. Opponents are scoring 31.3 points per game on MT. Outside of their 61-7 season opening win over Savannah State, the Raiders have allowed 22 points or more in each game since.
This game should be another chance for the FIU offense to put up some big numbers, especially on the ground. The MT run defense is not as porous as ODU but Anthon Samuel and Napoleon Maxwell should get their yards.
The Raiders are giving up nearly 300 passing yards per game so FIU could also go after them through the air. Quarterback Alex McGough did not throw much against ODU because he didn't have to due to the very productive ground game. But McGough should be able to put up some passing numbers Saturday.
With the way the FIU defense has started the last two games, slowly, Saturday's game could turn into one of those high-scoring Sun Belt shootouts. FIU has allowed 45 first half points in the last two games -- the most the Panthers have allowed in the first half of a two-game span since the games against Pittsburgh and Louisville (42 points). MT has a penchant for fast starts outscoring its opponents 72-49 in the first quarter this season.
FIU will face another mobile, accurate quarterback this week in MT's Austin Grammer, who is completing 65 percent of his passes. The Raiders run the same spread offense that they ran in the Sun Belt and score 33 points per game.
MT has a pair of running backs averaging 4.5 yards per carry or more. Reggie Whatley (179 pounds), the smaller of the two backs, has run for 546 yards (6.7 yards per carry) and four touchdowns. The 210-pound Jordan Parker has rushed for 475 yards (4.5 yds pc) and two touchdowns.
Grammer has four main targets in Marcus Henry (31 catches, 393 yards, 3 TDs), Ed'Marques Batties (29-307-1), Devin Clarke (21-299-2) and Shane Tucker (21-283-3).
The Raiders kicking game has been good. Kicker Cody Clark is 9 of 12 on field goals with a long of 42 yards. He's missed from 41, 43 and 29 yards. Punters Zachary Lopez and Sean O'Kane are each averaging 39 yards per punt.
There will be sunny skies and temperatures in the upper 40's when FIU and Old Dominion kickoff their first football meeting on Saturday at 3:30 p.m. from S.B. Ballard Stadium in Norfolk, Virginia. With the expected temperature in the 40's for kickoff it will mark the first time ever that an FIU football team has started a game with that low of a temperature. FIU equipment manager Chris Terlizzo and his staff will be packing warm weather gear on the charter plane.
I'll get to how the Panthers can warm up Ballard Stadium with a win in a second. But for now here is the broadcast information for Saturday's game. There is NO local TV for the game. American Sports Network (ASN) is televising the game but the closest market showing the game is in West Palm Beach where My TV Channel 43 will carry the game. You can listen to the game on ESPN 1210 AM with Mike Levine and yours truly calling the action. Our pregame show starts at 3 p.m. CLICK HERE if you are not near a radio and want to listen to us on your laptop, tablet or your phone.
Old Dominion (3-6, 1-5 Conference USA) has lost five games in a row. FIU (3-6, 2-3 CUSA) has lost three games in a row so something has to give Saturday. Here is how a happy plane ride back to Miami happens.
GROUND CONTROL: The way opponents have stopped the high-powered Old Dominion offense is with an effective running game. The Monarchs have surrendered 233 rushing yards per game. No bueno for them, bueno for FIU. The Panthers, who have struggled throwing the ball this season, have some good backs to take advantage of this. Freshman Napoleon Maxwell had a terrific game last week and Anthon Samuel has run well all season. If FIU can chew up yardage on the ground it will also chew up clock and limit the amount of time ODU's offense is on the field. When FIU gets deep into ODU territory the Panthers need six instead of three because it will be tough beating a dynamic offense with field goals.
HIT HEINICKE: It's a little surprising Taylor Heinicke has only been sacked 21 times considering how much ODU throws the ball out of its spread offense. Heinicke is a very good quarterback and has the FCS Heisman trophy to show for it. But like with any good quarterback, if you hit him and make him uncomfortable in the pocket then he can be off-target or make some ill-advised throws. FIU has to hit Heinicke, sack him or hurry his throws to get the ODU offense out of sync. ODU's offense goes as Heinicke goes. The FIU defense needs to get back to accumulating all the tackles for loss and sacks it recorded earlier in the season.
SPECIAL TRIP: Yes it would be one with an FIU victory, but I'm talking here about FIU's special teams. ODU is last in Conference USA in kickoff coverage. FIU has a dynamic kick returner in Richard Leonard. This could be the game Leonard breaks another kick return for a touchdown if ODU happens to kick to him or maybe No. 3 takes a punt return back to the end zone. To show you how much ODU scores touchdowns (32.6 points per game), the Monarchs have only attempted four field goals all season. ODU kickers are 3 of 4 in field goals made. The FIU kicking/punting game will also play a big role Saturday in the game of hidden yardage against the potent ODU offense. Both FIU kickoffs and punts need to be on point to pin ODU's offense as far back as possible.
POURING ON THE SCORING: Outside of the Wagner and Florida Atlantic games the FIU offense hasn't really had a scoring outburst this season. FIU did score 34 against UAB but 14 of those points were on pick sixes by Leonard and Demarkus Perkins. ODU is giving up 40.7 points per game. FIU should be able to score as often as it did against Wagner and FAU if not more against the Monarchs defense. ODU's defense is also giving up nearly 500 yards of offense per game (485.8). Besides the effective running game mentioned above, the Panthers need to be able to hit some deep passes like Alex McGough and Glenn Coleman connected on last week.
Like FIU did when it started its football program in 2002, Old Dominion has encountered some bumps in the road this season in the Monarchs first season at the FBS level after re-starting their program in 2009 as an FCS team. Before this season ODU was very successful at the FCS level. The Monarchs never had a losing season in their five years at the FCS level. ODU features senior quarterback Taylor Heinicke, who won the FCS equivalent of the Heisman Trophy as a sophomore.
FIU takes on ODU for the first time in football on Saturday from Foreman Field in Norfolk, Virginia at 3:30 p.m. You can listen to the game on ESPN 1210 AM with Mike Levine and yours truly. Pregame show starts at 3 p.m.
Here is Harry Minium, who covers ODU for The Virginian-Pilot newspaper, to answer "5 Questions on Old Dominion". You can follow Harry on Twitter: @Harry_MiniumVP for updates and stories on ODU.
1. What makes the Monarchs offense so explosive? Who are some of the playmakers on offense? Looking at the numbers it seems ODU runs well and throws well.
HM: Quarterback Taylor Heinicke is what makes ODU's offense so explosive. He won the Walter Payton Award given to the nation's best FCS player, the Heisman Trophy of FCS, in 2012 as a sophomore. He's played well this year when he's had time to throw and receivers open. ODU's offensive line is young and the receivers even younger -- seven of ODU's top receivers are freshmen or sophomores. ODU lost five wide receivers in the offseason to various issues, including injuries and disciplinary problems. Heinicke is very accurate on short passes and has improved his accuracy on deep throws this season very much. He's deceptively fast and really talented. He's worth watching. He's a very entertaining player, very smart, good at checking off at the line, good at reading opposing defenses. Wide receiver Antonio Vaughan is one of ODU's few seniors. He has 31 touchdown catches at ODU. Tailback Ray Lawry, a true freshman, had rushed for 100 or more yards in three games previous to Vanderbilt.
2. In contrast, it seems the ODU defense is a work in progress. Why have the Monarchs struggled so much defensively and who are some of the better defenders for ODU?
HM: ODU has struggled on defense each of the last three seasons. The defensive line just isn't big enough and strong enough at this point to compete in FBS. ODU has struggled to get pressure on quarterbacks and to stop the run. ODU's linebackers are improved over last season, but are young and the depth is poor. True freshman Isaiah Worthy made his first career start at Vandy. The defensive backfield also lacks depth and experience. Safety Fellonte Misher is probably ODU's best defensive back. Middle linebacker D.J. Simon, a senior JUCO transfer, may be ODU's best defensive player.
3. How are the ODU special teams? What Monarchs stand out there?
HM: The special teams played well against Vanderbilt, and that is an area where ODU has been hurting. ODU is last in kickoff returns and kickoff coverage in Conference USA. The Monarchs lost kicker Jarod Brown to graduation and he nailed a 54-yard field goal at Pitt last season. Ricky Segers, who took over for Brown, had season-ending knee surgery recently. True freshman Jarrett Cervi has punted pretty well and kicked a 41-yard field goal against Western Kentucky. Cam Boyd, a 5-foot-6 senior JUCO transfer, returned a kickoff 45 yards against Vandy and the Commodores kicked away from him the rest of the game. Vaughan returns punts and does so fairly well, when he has blocking.
4. How has the re-start of ODU football gone thus far? What have been some of high and lows of re-launching a program? I know FIU certainly had its share of bumps in the road when they started its program in 2002.
HM: ODU's football program hit the ground running in 2009, compiling a 9-2 record. They've never had a losing season. The Monarchs finished second in the Colonial Athletic Association in 2011 in their first season in the league and won the title in 2012, when the Monarchs finished 11-2 and went to the quarterfinals of the FCS playoffs. They were 8-4 last season in their transition year, their worst record to date, but were 1-4 against FBS opponents. They've hit the wall this season playing bigger, more talented, more experienced FBS teams. They've been competitive in all but one game -- a 56-14 loss to Marshall -- but haven't had quite enough to win in other games. The one surprise was a 45-42 victory over Rice in their C-USA opener. But Rice was riddled with injuries. ODU's fan support remains solid -- the Monarchs will have their 40th consecutive sellout Saturday at the 20,118-seat Foreman Field.
5. How do you see Saturday's game playing out?
HM: Turnovers will be a key, I think. FIU has feasted on turnovers. If ODU avoids turnovers, it will be a close game. I haven't seen FIU play this season, with the exception of the last few minutes of the opener with Bethune-Cookman, but ODU coach Bobby Wilder says the Panthers are bigger and stronger than the Monarchs along the line. I would expect FIU to attempt to crank up its running game. Controlling the ball on the ground against ODU has been the key to beating the Monarchs.
FIU plays Old Dominion for the first time in the Panthers' program history on Saturday from Norfolk, Virginia. The game is televised by ASN and is expected to be picked up by My TV Channel 33 in South Florida. You can listen to the game on ESPN 1210 AM with Mike Levine and yours truly calling the action. Pregame show starts at 3 p.m. Kickoff is at 3:30 p.m.
The Old Dominion Monarchs are in their first year at the FBS level. Old Dominion started football in 1930, but discontinued the program after 1941 due to a rule against freshman players and a $10,000 debt. The football program was relaunched in 2009 at the FCS level where the Monarchs went 9-2, a record for the best first season in modern college football history.
ODU is currently 3-6 and 1-4 in Conference USA play having defeated Rice 45-42. The Monarchs have lost five straight games going into Saturday's meeting with FIU.
This season the Monarchs have scored a ton of points and given up a ton of points. ODU averages 32.6 points per game and allows 40.7 points per game. So Saturday's game could turn into a defensive basketball game with a score in the 40s, which ironically is the expected temperature at kickoff. FIU will be playing in its coldest game of the season with a temperature of 49 degrees with sunny skies in Norfolk on Saturday.
ODU goes as its quarterback Taylor Heinicke goes. Heinicke is a 6-1 senior out of Atlanta who has completed 62.7% of his passes for 2,577 yards, 23 touchdowns and has thrown 11 interceptions. Heinicke is not as mobile as Rice quarterback Driphus Jackson was last week but he is mobile enough to get yardage. Heinicke operates out of a spread offense that FIU saw plenty of during its time in the Sun Belt Conference.
As if having a solid quarterback wasn't enough ODU also has a potent running game and athletic receivers. Ray Lawry (5-10, 192 pounds) and Gerard Johnson (5-9, 194) form the bulk of the ODU rushing attack. Lawry has run for 563 yards and 12 touchdowns. Johnson has 469 yards on the ground with only one score, but each back is averaging five yards or more per carry.
Receivers Zach Pascal and Antonio Vaughan are the top pass catchers. Pascal has 45 receptions for 609 yards and five touchdowns. Vaughan has 42 grabs for 743 yards and 10 touchdowns. Receiver David Washington has 30 catches for 390 yards and two scores.
The ODU offense will pose a challenge for the FIU defense because the Panthers have to defend both a good ground game and a strong passing attack led by a veteran quarterback who makes good decisions.
The Monarchs have shown this season that they will get their points having scored less than 28 points a game just twice in nine games. That was a 17-3 win over Eastern Michigan and a 56-14 loss to Marshall. The FIU offense will need to score plenty to help out the Panthers defense.
The good news for the FIU offense is that the ODU defense has shown to be generous this season. If you want a good snapshot of an ODU game this season just look at the final score against Western Kentucky, which the Hilltoppers won 66-51 -- that's a WNBA score.
Besides the 40 points per game allowed, ODU is giving up 233 rushing yards per contest and 252 passing yards per game. That is almost 500 yards a game given up by ODU. The Panthers offense should have their opportunities for big plays and scores.
Middle linebacker D.J. Simon leads the ODU defense with 69 tackes and seven tackles for loss. Safety Fellonte Misher is second with 68 tackles. Defensive end Poncho Barnwell leads the team with 3.5 sacks. ODU has only picked off three passes but has recovered 12 fumbles.
The ODU secondary has size with their starting cornerbacks Reggie Owens and Eriq Lewis each standing six feet tall. Safeties Misher (6-2) and Christian Byrum (6-1) also have good size.
I'll have more on ODU this week with the "5 Questions" blog and the game preview.
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.