Florida International U

FIU Panthers defense getting pounded into ground

Louisiana Tech running back Kenneth Dixon gains yardage against FIU on Saturday, Sept. 26, 2015.
Louisiana Tech running back Kenneth Dixon gains yardage against FIU on Saturday, Sept. 26, 2015. For the Miami Herald

Remember when FIU’s 2012 defense, with 11 starters back and two future NFL players, imitated the mortgage market collapse that made Goldman Sachs a lot of money? Now, in a sequel, FIU’s 2015 defense is starting to resemble the Greece economy.

Instead of a run on the banks, it’s a run on the Panthers — over five Conference USA games, FIU has allowed an average of 225.4 yards per game, 5.3 yards per carry. Only North Texas, winless this season before Saturday, allows more per game and per carry.

Florida Atlantic pounded FIU for 229 yards on 49 carries in Saturday’s 31-17 upset of the Panthers. Two weeks earlier, Middle Tennessee ripped big holes for freshman Desmond Anderson, who racked up most of Middle’s 200 yards rushing in a 42-34 Panthers loss. To the naked eye, it looked awfully similar.

“A few missed hits here and there,” FIU senior middle linebacker Jephete Matilus said Saturday after the loss to FAU. “Our guys played hard defensively. Those guys found the creases and outleveraged us a bit.”

Before the FAU game, sophomore outside linebacker Anthony Wint said, “They have a lot of two-back runs, which we struggled with against Old Dominion.”

Though FIU routed Old Dominion 41-12, after three quarters with the game still in doubt, the Monarchs had 255 yards on 24 carries. Granted, 132 yards came on 57 and 75-yard runs that stood as Old Dominion’s only two scores. Removing those still leaves 123 yards on 22 carries, a fat 5.6 a pop.

225.2 Rushing yards per game allowed by FIU in five C-USA games

5.3 Yards per carry allowed in conference games

Football Logic 101: if you can’t stop the run, your pass rush must pay attention to play action fakes. Guess which team, with preseason all-conference defensive ends Michael Wakefield and Denzell Perine, is 12th out of 13 C-USA teams in sacks in conference games at (1.2)?

That, in turn, hurts the Panthers defensive rushing numbers. In college-affiliated football, quarterback sacks get subtracted from team and individual rushing totals, unlike the NFL’s method of taking the yardage from team passing yards.

Why this collapse since the opening against Central Florida, when FIU owned the line of scrimmage (and before UCF’s total disintegration)?

Though Wint tries to take personal responsibility for some of the run defense’s problems, run defense usually starts in the middle. That first game, senior Darrian Dyson’s Godzilla performance at defensive tackle set up junior middle linebacker Treyvon Williams for a team high 11 tackles.

Williams hasn’t played since suffering a knee injury against Louisiana Tech. That game, Dyson had as many unsportsmanlike conduct penalties as total tackles (one). He disappeared soon after. Literally, when coach Ron Turner didn’t dress him the next two games. Figuratively, against Middle, Old Dominion and FAU to the point where one football source told The Herald that NFL scouts have stopped asking about him.

It’s not all on Dyson, the most talented of FIU’s defensive tackles. Defensive tackles Lars Koht, Leonard Washington and Imarjaye Albury (who missed Saturday’s loss) have gotten pushed aside, also.

Excepting goal line plays, reading off the run play tacklers in the Middle Tennessee game sounds like roll call in an FIU defensive backs meeting. FAU completed only 16 passes, yet FIU’s leading solo tacklers were freshman safety Tyree Johnson and senior cornerback Jeremiah McKinnon. Johnson and McKinnon were second and fourth in total tackles with sophomore safety Niko Gonzalez fifth.

FIU sophomore running back Alex Gardner, who ran for 105 yards on 20 carries against Florida Atlantic, was a bit upset after the Panthers lost 31-17. The loss hurts FIU's bowl eligibility chances. Video by David J. Neal

ATTENDANCE GOAL CLOSE

The official numbers say FIU will manage to stave off NCAA attendance probation.

FBS schools are required to average 15,000 per home game in actual or paid attendance. FIU’s total official paid attendance after three of five home games is 48,327, an average of 16,109 per game.

With 26,673 over the last two home games, 13,337 per game, FIU will meet its attendance requirement. Saturday’s noon game against Charlotte and the Nov. 21 2:30 p.m. regular season finale against Western Kentucky remain. For the latter, FIU might have to outscore one of the NCAA’s most prolific offenses for bowl eligibility.

With two of five home games being attendance-crippling noon starts and no Power Five conference opponents visiting,

There was concern at FIU that the school would fall short of the requirement for a second consecutive season. Two consecutive seasons would put FIU one misstep from receiving a conference championship game ban and a bowl game ban.

This Saturday, FIU’s attempting to boost the in-house attendance with a Salute to Hometown Heroes Day. Active or retired military personnel and first responders (fire, police, emergency medical folks) and their groups will receive free admission.

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