From the start of training camp until last week’s season opener at Central Florida, FIU’s coaches tried out more combinations with the offensive line than a nervous teenager trying on outfits before a first date.
What wound up working at UCF and what’ll get a chance to repeat Saturday at Indiana started with the simplest of football philosophies: next man up.
FIU lost center Donald Senat (graduation) and left guard Jordan Budwig (torn labrum), both two-year starters. Columbus High graduate Michael Montero backed up Senat last season, but started training camp at left guard. Last year’s right tackle, Aaron Nielsen, moved to center.
That lasted just over a week. Then, Montero and Nielsen swapped Montero back to center.
“Aaron was in there a little while and we just looked at the strength factor that Mike brings, the lower-body strength he has,” FIU coach Ron Turner said. “He’s got better movement. Aaron’s better suited for guard, pulling and do some of those things.”
The hip and leg drive that lets Montero squat 510 and leg press 900 for 12 reps put him in good stead for training camp battles with FIU redshirt junior nose guard Imarjaye Albury. Turner thought those hard go-rounds prepared Montero for UCF’s 6-4, 302-pound Lance McDowdell.
McDowdell ended the game with no solo tackles and five assisted tackles. But Montero’s signature block came on defensive tackle Jamiyus Pittman to create the hole through which Alex Gardner ran for a 7-yard touchdown.
Montero got leverage on Pittman and moved him to the left, then backward at a speed the defensive lineman’s scrambling feet barely matched. Redshirt junior left tackle Dieugot Joseph joined in the fun for a while, then let Montero finish. When Pittman’s time as a blocking sled ended, both he and Gardner were in the end zone.
On the CBS Sports Network broadcast, color analyst Corey Chavous called it the best goal-line block he had seen in a long time.
“It was my first game, it was like my first true start. I went out focused and I think I had a pretty good game,” Montero said. “The O-line had a great showing.”
Left to right, that’s Joseph, Nielsen, Montero, redshirt junior Trenton Saunders and redshirt freshman Daquan Wilkie.
A group that went into last week’s season opener as the biggest group (by weight) of question marks this side of the Presidential campaign didn’t play a perfect game, but played a spotless one. No sacks or tackles for loss allowed against a well-regarded Central Florida defensive line and 135 yards rushing at 4.2 yards per carry.
“They opened up holes,” Gardner said. “I had a couple of bad reads, but those guys played tremendously.”
(Gardner said “and the fumble” shaking his head over the ball getting punched out of his arms from behind, robbing he and the line of what he thought should’ve been an 89-yard touchdown run).
“Dieugot and Montero played exceptionally well and the rest played solid,” Turner said.
Nielsen’s right-tackle spot, which redshirt freshman Kai Absheer had until he got injured, was assumed by Wilkie. Having to deal with UCF’s best defensive lineman Thomas Niles or returning starter Luke Adams all night, Wilkie held his own.
“Not one single time did we say, ‘Oh, gosh, our right tackle is killing us,’ ” Turner said. “Technique grade probably wasn’t great, but job-completion rate was good.”