FIU has score to settle with Bethune-Cookman in opener

The Panthers hope their fortunes begin turning in the season opener, starting with a Bethune-Cookman team that beat them by 21 last year.

08/29/2014 6:32 PM

09/08/2014 8:28 PM

The cliché says insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. Yet it’s not crazy to think Saturday’s Bethune-Cookman visit to FIU, the season opener for each, definitely could go differently than last year’s 34-13 Bethune rout.

That’s despite each team using many of the same names to execute the same offensive and defensive concepts on the same field. Same names, different players wearing the Panthers jerseys because they will be better players, FIU hopes.

Although offensive improvement must be listed as the first prerequisite for overall season improvement, FIU success in Saturday’s opener starts with the defense.

Most current college football offenses seem the offspring of 7-on-7 tournaments and street football. Bethune-Cookman goes retro. The Wildcats run the ball at a 1970s rate. The pregame notes put out by the Bethune sports information department brag that the Wildcats have run for 11,492 yards, or 6.53 miles in four years under coach Brian Jenkins.

They ran for 311 of those yards on 52 carries against FIU last year while throwing only 11 passes. Running backs Anthony Jordan and Cary White, now seniors, ran for 150 and 69 yards, respectively, in last year’s game, and quarterback Quentin Williams gained another 69 yards. The three scored on touchdown runs of 58 (Jordan), 43 (White) and 15 (Williams) yards.

“We’re going to come out and run our defense,” FIU coach Ron Turner said on the Conference USA coaches conference call Monday. “We tweaked it in the offseason. It won’t be exactly what we saw a year ago. We’re going to go out and do what we do best and run our defense. I think our defense is different than it was a year ago.

“Hopefully, with another year in the system and a lot of these guys played last year, there will be some true freshmen and redshirt freshmen that will be on the field playing. We’ll be more physical. We’ll handle our gap responsibilities better than we did a year ago, which really got is in trouble with big plays. Hopefully, we’ll be able to do a good job against the run.”

All the aforementioned skill-position players return for Bethune-Cookman as well as four of five offensive line starters. Still, Jenkins made skeptical noises about his offense, indeed, his entire team.

“I want to see what kind of team we’re going to be,” he said on the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference coaches’ conference call. “I know what type of team I want us to be. I want to see what type of team they want us to be.”

The new players on FIU’s defense work up the middle — both defensive tackle positions, where NFL hopefuls Greg Hickman and Isame Faciane played, and middle linebacker. That will be either redshirt junior Luis Rosado, who moved over from outside linebacker, or sophomore Treyvon Williams.

FIU has more depth than last year at defensive end. Michael Wakefield, Denzell Perine and Giovanni Francois all have started games, which should help in discipline dealing with an option attack.

Also, it would help the defense if FIU’s offense could spend a little more time on the field. That goes straight to having the worst third-down conversion rate in the nation and that starts with yardage on first down. Expect a less predictable unit there. Turner estimates they ran “about 10 percent” of the offense last year and are at closer to 80 percent now.

“Before we’d see something [in the defense] and say, ‘We could do this — well never mind, we can’t do that,’ ” he said. “Now, that’s not holding us back. We see something we want to do, we do it.”

Said Jenkins: “We were blessed enough to win last year. They’re not the same team they were last year, we’re not the same team we were last year. They’re new and improved. So are we.”

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