Florida International U

FIU football team wary of little-known opponent Wagner

Most of FIU’s football schedule comes with recognition factor. There are schools of prominence (Louisville, Pittsburgh), other in-state schools (FAU, Bethune-Cookman), former Sun Belt opponents (Middle Tennessee State, North Texas) and a former bowl opponent (Marshall).

Then there is Saturday’s visitor to Ocean Bank Field at FIU Stadium: Wagner. The Seahawks’ presence undoubtedly spawns questions of, “What? Who? Why? How?”

The first part’s easy. Wagner is located in Staten Island, New York.

Wagner began playing football the same year movies began to talk, 1927. Sixty years later, the school won a Division III national championship.

Wagner has been at the Football Championship Subdivision (formerly Division I-AA) level since 1992, the same level as last week’s FIU opponent, Bethune-Cookman.

Wagner, 3-8 last year, comes in 1-0 after beating Georgetown 21-3.

“They have a lot of guys coming back off last year’s team. They have a new offensive coordinator, so we aren’t 100 percent of what they will do,” said FIU coach Ron Turner in a media session.

“We have one game to go on, which was a little bit different from what they did a year ago. We are learning what their schemes are and their personnel. They have seven returning starters, so we can look at their personnel that way. We’ll probably have to make some adjustments defensively as we get into the game since we have so few reps to look at.

“But, again, seven starters back there, and I think they have seven starters back on defense as well. I just see a team that plays hard and flies around.”

As for how Wagner found itself on FIU’s schedule, it needed a dance and FIU needed a dance partner.

Originally, this would have been the week FIU went to UCF to continue that series. But UCF wanted an open week after opening its season against Penn State in Dublin on Aug. 30. So UCF asked FIU to postpone the next game in their series to 2015.

FIU’s accommodation left a hole in its schedule. That’s a schedule that opened with 2013 conqueror Bethune-Cookman and has ACC teams Louisville and Pittsburgh before FIU begins Conference USA play.

Obviously, nobody at the Mitch Maidique Campus would be upset by plugging that schedule hole with the football version of soft, creamy filling.

Enter Wagner for $265,000.

FIU comes in 0-1 after letting a potential victory against FCS foe Bethune slip through its hands.

The Panthers saw freshman quarterback Alex McGough go three quarters without an interception and lead what could’ve been a game-winning drive.

Another true freshman, running back Alex Gardner, led the Panthers in rushing with 46 yards on 12 carries.

And six sacks went a long way in the defense holding Bethune to 90 yards rushing, less than a third of what Bethune put up against FIU in 2013.

A missed field goal and a blown hold on a last-second field-goal attempt made for easy targets after the 14-12 loss.

But FIU’s problems on third down, where it went 1 for 16, again began with the inability to get anything going on first down with the running game. Gardner and junior Lamarq Caldwell combined for only 61 yards on 22 carries.

Turner said that sophomore Alfonso Randolph, transfer Anthon Samuel and possibly redshirt junior Shane Coleman could get snaps in Saturday’s game.

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