At the top of FIU’s reconstruction to-do list after Saturday’s 20-point loss at Duke isn’t the defense that allowed 37 points in just over a half, but, rather, special teams and fumbles.
And it could lead to at least one personnel change.
Senior Mitch MacCluggage handled the long snapping the first nine games last year before going out with a knee injury. Senior center Shae Smith took over the job during training camp, but he had two bad snaps on field-goal attempts Saturday.
“We haven’t had a special teams blunder on PAT or field goal since I can remember,” FIU coach Mario Cristobal said. “Those things showing up in a game is a little bit odd, but the bottom line is they did show up. So, those are things you attack now.
“The long snapper position, it’s always been an open competition week in and week out.”
Sophomore Richard Leonard, FIU’s fastest player, did some backup time on punt and kickoff returns last year.
But Leonard’s fumble on Duke’s first punt led to a Blue Devils touchdown. He also made a fair catch at the FIU 4-yard line, generally considered a cardinal sin.
“Back there for punt returns, Richie’s a good football player and he’s had his good moments,” Cristobal said. “We want to continue to work him. I don’t want to yank him. But we are giving [senior] Wayne Times and [junior] Sam Miller some reps back there. As well as [freshman] DeAndre Jasper, who’s back from his hand [injury] this week.”
When Duke took a 23-point lead at halftime, the Blue Devils had 308 yards of offense. They also had 10 points on short drives after two recovered fumbles and another seven off a blocked field goal returned for a 75-yard touchdown. A bad snap on that field-goal attempt and one on an earlier miss from 45 yards, well within kicker Jack Griffin’s range, cost FIU six points. The latter field-goal attempt perhaps isn’t necessary if not for a first down fumble on a reverse that turned a 6-yard loss into a 17-yard loss.
Without the two lost fumbles and the snap problems on the two field goals, it could have been a 20-20 game at halftime even though FIU’s defense was getting run into the Carolina woods.
Also, perhaps defense isn’t the top worry when facing an Akron team that, as new Zips coach Terry Bowden put it on Monday’s weekly Mid-America Conference coaches conference call, “We’re going to have to play at the top of our game, not beyond our game, but at the top of the game to have a chance to win.”
Bowden also said that before the 56-14 loss to UCF, “You’ve got a quarterback who’s never started a college game; most of the team’s never played the offense.”
Also of concern to FIU were punt and kickoff coverage. Two of Josh Brisk’s four punts were returned, one for 17 yards, and the punts averaged 38.2 yards. Each of the two kickoffs Duke returned — Griffin put one kick into the end zone — began inside the 5, but came back 25 yards apiece.