Five Keys to Beating FIU – From the Bird’s Nest
I remember last year pretty well.
We were all still wondering about the Cajuns, who had beaten Kent State in a monsoon and struggled for two quarters against Nicholls State. They went to Miami to take on FIU and they were 17 point underdogs.
Then they found a quarterback.
Blaine Gautier had his coming out party in that one and the Cajuns were able to outscore the Panthers 36-31. For a lot of us, including me, that one was the eye opener.
Well, here we are.
The Cajuns are 2-1 on the season once again and they’re playing an FIU team that’s picked to win the Sun Belt by the coaches. The Panthers haven’t been the team many of us expected, but they’ve gotten better the last two weeks. The Panthers first two opponents scored 84 points. The last two opponents, better teams than the first two, have scored 61 points.
This one, as most league games, won’t be a walk in the park. If the Cajuns are going to win, here’s what needs to happen.
1, SLOW THEIR ROLL–FIU will come in wanting to run the football. They always do. And, they usually succeed. The Panthers have rushed the football more than they’ve thrown it this year. With a new quarterback, they’ll want to run it even more. The Cajuns probably can’t stop FIU from running it. But they can slow them down some, which is really what needs to happen. First down is the key. Hold the Panthers to three or fewer yards on first down and put them in a position where they have to use the quarterback. FIU is deep at running back and can run it even if Kedrick Rhodes is unable to play.
2. PUNISH THE FRESHMAN–FIU played things very close to the vest last week when E. J. Hilliard was pressed into action after the injury to Jake Medlock. Hilliard completed 9-10 passes, but only for 82 yards. We can expect the Panthers to open things up some and use Hilliard as the weapon many feel he can be. But he’s a freshman making his first collegiate start. If he’s running it, the Cajuns need to punish him. If he’s throwing it, the Cajuns need to hit him, even if he completes the pass. Do it cleanly, but hit him hard. Often.
3. PLAY TO YOUR STRENGTHS–We can argue all day about the advantages of either team on offense or defense. There’s no arguing who has the better kicking game. The Cajuns must use the kicking game to their advantage, whether it’s getting a return, getting a turnover (FIU has turned it over in the kicking game four times in four games) or punting the ball to turn field position. The Cajuns are better in every facet of special teams. They have to show it. The other strength is Cajun Field. FIU has a freshman quarterback making his first collegiate start in front of the most hostile crowd he’ll see the rest of the season. Step it up, red zone. This is your chance to make a difference.
4. HOW ‘BOUT SOME DEJA VU?- -Blaine Gautier became a man last year in this game. It’s time for that man to show up. I think the Cajuns are going to have a devil of a time running the football against FIU…everyone has….and I still don’t think UL’s running game is where it needs to be. But FIU opponents have rushed for five touchdowns….and thrown for 13. Get the message? If UL can’t get it going through the air, it could be a tough night. Protection is key. FIU’s lack of a pass rush has been the reason for other teams’ success.
5. HOLD ON–I mentioned FIU has turned it over four times on special teams this year. You know how many times they’ve turned it over on offense? Twice. No interceptions. Cajuns need to be able to at least match them in that department. UL can win the game if they’re even in turnovers. They can’t if they’re in the minus column.
The Cajuns have Arkansas State and WKU coming to Cajun Field in addition to FIU. Mark Hudspeth stresses protecting the house.
That starts in earnest Saturday night.