I am going to say it, just so that the 500 lb. gorilla is off the table immediately. FIU is a program in shambles and if the offense doesn’t hang another half-a-Benjamin on this weekend’s opponent, then we have some serious issues and we can suspend any talk of winning C-USA.
FIU has barely been able to “Cage” 15,000 fans a game this year…falling below the NCAA two-year average requirement.
Yes…I will also say we just need to win…one point or a hundred, we want the win. But style points do matter for a program trying to close out its term in C-USA properly while keeping an eye on the UCFs of the world. Hated to have to say this, but they are heading in the right direction no matter how much I despise their coach and their fans. And, they will be the AAC benchmark next year.
The off week has brought with it a bunch of items to ponder so I am going to sort of scatter shoot it in this post.
FIU and our Team
Looking for any and all information I could find on this team, I stumbled across David Neal’s blog at the Miami Herald. I applaud David’s style in his approach to covering a team that is in serious trouble if it wants to hang around at the top level. He aptly describes their attendance issues and how real they are and I love his comments on the NCAA…soooooo true…they will definitely hold FIU to the attendance requirements for top-level football because $$$$$$ is attached to it. Never mind the trivial business of paying players, changing grades, and that type of stuff…but dammit, the NCAA draws the line on not turning the gates enough.
Particularly, David got a good chuckle out of me in his October 28th post:
“Considering the Pirates have ravaged three opponents for more than 50 points, it’s worth asking if the number of fans on the south side of the stadium at kickoff will exceed the over/under points line when that gets posted.”
Oh man…I hear you David…I really do. It is tough to cover a team that gives you little if anything to write about. There are only so many ways to describe a team that is reeling.
Look no further than the fact that Bethune-Cookman trounced the Panthers 34-13 this season and Skip Holtz’s paint-drying-watching-is-more-exciting-to-watch team there at Louisiana Tech also thrashed FIU 23-7 to understand why this game would really have to be the perfect storm for us to not roll roughshod over this team. Defensively, the Panthers are giving up ~400 yards a game (200/200 rush to pass) which, I know, is skewed a bit with heavy-hitters like Maryland, UCF, and Louisville piling on them. That said, the match up – their D to our O – is a hand that FIU coaches really have no play for. Teams are running all over their front and when teams have mixed in passes, the Panthers have few answers.
If they can’t stop Coop and we are allowed to mix up the run/pass at will…holy cow! It could get ugly fast…it SHOULD get ugly fast.
Their offense averages 11 points a game, can’t run the ball at all, and don’t have a passing game to make up for it, clicking along at about ~250 yards of total offense a game…yikes, so even if our Defense falls prey to its historic failings – yes, FIU will start a rookie QB – I just can’t see any way we don’t trounce. Moreover, with an FIU offense that hasn’t been able to sustain anything, just consider what their already iffy D will do if they are exhausted by half-time.
So, if we are rolling, the big advantage may be that we get to see a lot of players getting live game action – something we desperately need if we are going to try to finish this season correctly with State, Tulsa, and Marshall still ahead of us.
Which Brings Us to Injuries
Yes, of course, all teams experience attrition. It is football…right? Alone, the injuries to date probably wouldn’t be that alarming but with the number of players lost to boneheadedness…well, it magnifies the cost of the injured guys.
The big news injury-wise during the off-week was the loss of right tackle Adhem Elsawi and back-up quarterback Cody Keith.
I really feel for Adhem…a detached retina could wipe the rest of his senior season. His story is a great one and deserves a more glamorous ending. Hopefully, he will heal in enough time to catch the end of the season. More importantly, he was a good, good right tackle for our system and we needed him. Obviously, we all expect Tre Robertson to step in and not skip a beat, but still, Elsawi’s presence in the lineup was comforting. Back in spring camp and then again in the fall, OC Lincoln Riley expressed to me that Tre was guy who would and should see the field…that he was ready for prime time…well, the spotlight’s on Tre. My understanding is that Tre is less the pre-med type ala Elsawi and more a “send-em-to-the-hospital-type” ala Will Simmons, so perhaps the Coop may be seeing different things off tackle to the right.
DaQuan Barnes gets his first collegiate catch against USM. Expect more from Barnes as he gets the reps.
As for Keith…I think the biggest cost to the program is that we have to burn a redshirt for Kurt Benkert. Anyone who follows my writing here or elsewhere knows that I think Benkert is the next starting quarterback at ECU. This is why I have mixed emotions about the Keith injury. Never want to see a player hurt, but in his absence, Benkert is going to get a lot of reps in the system that he has not seen yet. And, if the game goes as expected Saturday, Benkert should get his first collegiate, live game experience in a game where there should be absolutely ZERO pressure. If this happens, these snaps will be über valuable not only for Kurt, but for the program. I believe Kurt will be the unquestioned No. 2 next season injury or no. He is a more complete quarterback, polished, and stronger than Cody, IMO. So, from my perspective, the future is now…for Kurt. For Cody, I hope he heals up and comes into spring like a guy who has to battle for survival, revving up the QB competition as the younger guns jockey for the 2015 job.
Also, as much as I wish Davon Grayson could have finished the season (get well kiddo…need you back full speed next season), I was really
happy to see DaQuan Barnes (something to read on DaQuan here
) making good use of his new-found reps. And, seeing Cam Worthy and Bryce Williams factoring in more was great. We have some real talent in the WR ranks in this program. To have been able to sustain the loss of two veteran starters (Justin Jones and Danny Webster), a star in the making (Jabril Solomon), a frosh phenom (Grayson) and rising talent (Smyre) and not miss a beat is a testament to the talent we are bringing in. Isaiah Jones looks like a savvy veteran already and DaQuan really looked good out there…expect to see him on the receiving in of some deep shots…very proud of him…he earned his the old-fashioned way. Bryce gives us that JJ mismatch – sort of – but seems to be a better route-runner and a guy who will always make the effort to make a catch. And Worth…don’t know what it is about Cam…but he just seems like a fighter when he catches ball. Very happy to see the offense keep on clicking.
The Rest of the Schedule
I know…don’t look ahead. But you know what? If we ever expect to be atop the AAC and beyond, we have to stop thinking that we can’t call a spade a spade and point out when our team is either over-matched, or over matches an opponent. If the press affects how our team plays…if a way-off-the-radar blogger can impact our team’s performance, we might as well pull the plug on the program. OK…I wrote that really for my own little corner of Karma.
Anyway…I watched with great interest, the MTSU win over Marshall and came away with some very clear thoughts on what lies ahead for us. More on that momentarily.
So, we go to FIU and then come home for Tulsa and UAB and then hit the road for NCSU and Marshall. Here’s what I see:
FIU: Already know my POV on that one.
Tulsa: No doubt this is a big game for us against a dangerous opponent, but it is a game that I don’t see us struggling with. Tulsa is not the passing juggernaut it was a few years ago, they are more balanced and for us, defensively, that is a plus, allowing our stellar run defense a chance to close down half of their offense. Defensively, they are giving up ~400 yards a game. Plus, they are traveling to our place and our kids should be boasting a 6-2 record, be primed for the stretch run, and have a pretty good home crowd behind them. A slip up game…maybe, but I like to think we already had our gaff game this season at Tulane.
UAB:Simply put, the Blazers are not a good team…at all. Yes, they edged FIU and they beat FAU, but if those are the signature wins…ouch. And, we get them at home so the Alabama slamma won’t be in play for us. Our offense should roll and our defense should give them ample opportunities to roll.
NCSU: Here is where it gets dicey. On the road at State. First, the obvious…records and stats mean nothing in this game…toss them as quick as you can. What we have going for us is that our kids rolled UNC this year and will go into the game confident. What we have going against us, a hostile crowd and a proud group of State players who will attach significance to this game. I think ECU has the better team from a talent-experience perspective, but this really will be a toss-up and, unfortunately or fortunately, have serious impact on the Marshall game. I hate the timing of this game, really do. Want to beat the Wolfpack but if we had to pick a split here, I would say drop the NCSU game and win at Marshall. Did I really say that? It is a trap game for us…an emotional trap. I have no doubt that our kids will not look past State, but I am convinced it will be a game where the first quarter slugfest could spell the outcome with the team that hits fastest and hardest winning it. Our offense will have to be on point and our defense will have to be peaking to overcome what will without a doubt be an emotionally draining game.
Marshall: All the beans…the whole enchilada…last man standing…pick a phrase…this could be the biggest C-USA game of the season for the league. It will have all of the ingredients one could hope for. The two top teams in the EAST with the season on the line in the final regular season game. Two very similar teams: Powerful, quick strike offenses driven by two of the top QBs in the country; and two defenses that have made monumental one-season turnarounds. The environment will be hostile for our PIrates…it will be cold, it will be tense every snap of the game. IMO, this game comes down to two big factors: 1) how spent are we from the NCSU game; 2) which team’s defense has come the furthest.
MTSU showed us that Marshall is not quite the juggernaut offensively that they are touted to be. But MTSU also showed us that being emotionally amped and focused is a necessary ingredient to beat Marshall. The last two games with Marshall were all out wars so we will have to expect another.
So, in summary, I feel like our season will pivot on the State game. I hate to think that way, but I believe it. If we go into Marshall at 9-2, I think we win solidly there and roll on to the C-USA title and beyond. If we go into that game 8-3 (and the loss coming to State), I think we see Marshall edge us and we go to a bowl somewhere talking about extra practice and the AAC. Fugly thought, but that is what I am feeling right now. Subject to change of course.