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After Duke debacle, FIU eyes better defense vs. Akron

Like most players on Florida International University’s defense, linebacker Winston Fraser has a two-word question echoing through his mind:

“What happened?”

Defense was supposed to be the stabilizing influence on the Panthers’ team this year, but against Duke in Saturday’s season opener, FIU gave up 420 yards in a 46-26 loss.

“We made mistakes,” freely admitted Fraser, a 6-1, 232-pound senior.

Fraser and FIU coach Mario Cristobal agree it’s time to cleanse the mind of what happened at Duke and look forward to Saturday’s 6 p.m. home opener at Alfonso Field against Akron. Nothing can change that Duke score, but Fraser knows all too well something can be done about the upcoming one.

“We need to be on-point, that’s one thing,” he said. “We need to communicate and make sure everybody is doing what they should be doing. Another thing is flowing to the ball and to make tackles. We need to be sure to wrap up. We need to make sure that we’re attacking.”

Attack is what Fraser and FIU intend to do against Akron, which lost its opener 56-14 to Central Florida. The nicely nicknamed Zips are coached by Terry Bowden, son of legendary Florida State coach Bobby Bowden. Terry Bowden, who coached Auburn for six years, is in his first season at Akron.

A year ago, FIU defeated Akron 27-17.

According to Fraser, that wasn’t satisfying.

“We went back to the locker room after the game,” he said, “but even though we won we knew we didn’t do well enough.”

Losing football games does not sit well with Fraser. In high school, he was not accustomed to it. He came to FIU out of Miami’s Booker T. Washington High, going 14-0 as a senior and earning a Class 4A state championship ring. In his first season at FIU, starting as a freshman, he played in Tuscaloosa against Alabama and notched seven tackles against the Crimson Tide.

In his three FIU seasons he has established himself as an anchor of the defense with 31 starts, making 108 tackles a year ago.

However, all those tackles can’t negate a loss. Losing can’t be accepted in his mind.

“Losing to Duke definitely makes us more determined,” Fraser said. “For me, I have to hold myself to a higher standard. I have to make sure that when I go to practice that I’m hustling, that everybody is hustling and going to the ball. Especially with this being my last year, every week I have to go out there and go to the ball.

“I try to be a leader. I try to do everything I can to make sure the defense goes out there and is ready. I try to communicate and make all the calls, get everybody lined up. We need to make sure everybody knows what their job is. My main goal is to make sure everybody is set and right, so we can play every game and every play.”

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