Sunday saw FIU senior defensive end Tourek Williams named the National Defensive Lineman Performer of the Week by the College Football Performance Awards for what he did Saturday against Central Florida.
But Saturday night, Williams didn’t get asked about his career-high nine tackles, four tackles for loss and one sack, which caused UCF’s first fumble of the season. He got asked about what happened in the first half (which opened with Williams snagging running back Storm Johnson for a 1-yard loss) of FIU’s 33-20 loss.
“We let them come out and do pretty much what they wanted to do in the first half,” Williams said. “In the second half, we knew what they were going to do. We just made adjustments and did our best to slow them down.”
That applies to this Saturday, the Saturday before that and the Saturday before that. In the first halves against Duke, Akron and UCF, an experienced defense allowed 71 points, an average of 23.7 per first half; 550 passing yards, 183.3 per first half; and a 767 offensive yards, 255.7 per first half.
Opposing quarterbacks have launched 64 first-half passes while suffering only one sack. FIU has trailed by 23, six and 23 at halftime in its three games.
While FIU’s offense shares the blame — especially in its two-first-down first half Saturday that barely gave the defense time for Gatorade sips — the defense has given up more on the scoreboard each week by halftime than it gave up per game last season.
Missed tackles — such as safety Justin Halley bouncing and spinning off UCF’s Rannell Hall on Hall’s 16-yard wide receiver screen-pass touchdown — and missed chances for drive-killing interceptions — such as Halley’s two Saturday or senior safety Johnathan Cyprien against Akron the play before the Zips scored a touchdown — make the difference between 2011 and 2012.
Saturday, the biggest first-half problems came on third down. That’s when UCF redshirt sophomore wide receiver J.J. Worton caught a 36-yard pass and an 18-yard pass to keep touchdown drives going. UCF converted a third-and-5 on a third touchdown drive after Worton caught a 20-yard pass on second-and-25.
“The times where he made plays, the quarterback [redshirt sophomore Blake Bortles] had enough time,” FIU coach Mario Cristobal said. “[Worton] did a great job finding a soft spot in the coverage and the ball was accurate.”
In the second half, Bortles found himself under a little more pressure. But, by then, UCF was in the mode of sucking time as much as compiling points.
“It’s a want-to thing,” Williams said of the second-half improvement. “We knew we needed that pressure on him to slow him down and get him uncomfortable in the pocket so we could make a comeback. But it was too short.”
• Junior RB Kedrick Rhodes saw a doctor Sunday about the right leg injury suffered in the third quarter Saturday. For the second week in a row, Rhodes didn’t finish the game.