Know Your Foe: Q&A With FIU Insider David Neal
Its rivalry week Owl fans! FAU will travel to Miami to take on the FIU Panthers in what feels like one of the most important games in the young rivalry's history. A tie for first place with Middle Tennessee State in the East division will be up for grabs. Kickoff is set for 7 pm.
Special thanks to David Neal of the Miami Herald for taking the time to answer our questions and offer his perspective on this week's game. Be sure to check him out at his FIU Panthers Prowl Blog Right Here
Q: FIU went from a potential upstart program after going 8-5 in 2011, to cellar dweller it seems overnight. What happened to the FIU football program and does the fan base and athletic department still believe in Ron Turner after an abysmal 1-11 campaign last year?
DN: What's happened to FIU since 2011 could fill a book. What happened to FIU in 2012, when everything went wrong, did fill an e-book. Athletic director's Pete Garcia's firing of Mario Cristobal after the 2012 season to end their personal conflict; 30 2012 seniors leaving; Ron Turner being hired less than a month from Signing Day; several important players being academically ineligible for 2013; on and on and on.
I'm not sure how sold the fan base ever has been on Ron Turner. But after last year's abysmal 1-11 season, that the team's shown improvement this season keeps people from calling for Turner's head.
Q:Last week FIU pulled off a relative shocker and defeated UAB on the road 34-20 to start 1-0 in conference play. What went right for the Panthers to pull off the upset?
DN: Six turnovers, two of which were interceptions returned for touchdowns, an 85-yard touchdown pass and a 75-yard touchdown pass. Along with good run defense until garbage time.
Q: The FIU-FAU rivalry is a really big game for the two schools as they recruit the same players from the same area. Normally the game is near the end of the season, but with it being mid-year due to the scheduling quirks caused by conference alignment, how do you see the teams adjusting and keeping their emotions in check?
DN: I see both teams playing it as they normally do. The shifting of this game to midseason doesn't require any great emotional adjustment.
Q: Ever since the departure of Wesley Carroll, FIU has had inconsistent play at quarterback. Ron Turner made the decision to start freshman quarterback Alex McGough this season and so far itS paid off as McGough has seven touchdowns and two interceptions on the year. How has he matured over the course of the season and what impact has he had on the team?
DN: McGough's gained the respect of the team by, first of all, playing well in the spring and in training camp. He's not hesitant to take blame, pass out compliments and he seems to foster a "we're all in this together" attitude.
Q: What type of offense do the Panthers have and who are the playmakers Owl fans should be on the lookout for?
DN: FIU runs a pro-style offense leavened with some spread-option elements. A plodding offense a year ago now comes with some pop. Sophomore tight end Jonnu Smith, who sometimes lines up in the slot, remains their most dependable receiver. The return of fifth-year senior Glenn Coleman after a year of academic ineligibility injects explosiveness, as his 20.8 yards per catch average demonstrates. Freshman Alex Gardner and junior Anthon Samuel handle the running game.
Q: What type of defensive schemes does FIU employs and who are the players Owl fans should be on the lookout for?
DN: FIU runs a 4-3. Defensive ends Michael Wakefield, the conference leader in tackles for loss, and Denzell Perine have caused everybody problems in the pass rush. Cornerback Richard Leonard has three interceptions, two returned for touchdowns. Safety Demarkus Perkins has a pick six of his own, but he deals more in heavy hits. FIU's fast linebackers - Treyvon Williams, Anthony Wint, Jordan Guest, Davison Colimon - get downhill against the run quickly.
Q: Special teams can play a crucial role in determining who goes home the victory. How has the Panthers' special teams unit performed on the year?
DN: Leonard is fifth in the nation in kickoff returns and 12th in punt returns. Sending kickoffs away from Leonard guarantees nothing – as a team, FIU's second nationally in kickoff returns. FIU switched to former rugby player Jose Laphitzondo for its punting.
Q: Prediction time! This is a really pivotal game for both teams and their respective seasons going forward. The game features many story lines from Partridge's first game against FIU to Turner trying to keep the momentum and avoid going 0-2 against FAU. Both are 2-3. Both are coming off huge wins to start 1-0 in conference play.
FAU dominated FIU in the Shula Bowl last year. Who takes home the Don Shula Award this time around?
DN: Mobile quarterbacks give everybody trouble. Yet FIU's second in the nation in turnovers. Jacquez Johnson gets the chance to make one more play than FIU's offense…but gives it up on an interception. FIU 24 FAU 21.