FIU Coach Comments On Alabama Game

In 2006, just before Florida International University was to play Alabama in Tuscaloosa, the Golden Panthers played against the Miami Hurricanes. The result was one of the ugly incidents in college football history, a bench-clearing brawl that resulted in 31 players being suspended for the next game.

When Alabama hosted Florida International, the Golden Panthers were without 18 players. Bama won by a 38-3 margin.

A Miami assistant coach in 2006 was Mario Cristobal, who had played for the Hurricanes. In fact, he had been a member of the Miami team that faced Alabama in the Sugar Bowl at the end of the 1992 season for the national championship. The Crimson Tide rolled to a 34-13 victory and was unanimous number one.

Following the 2006 season, Cristobal got his first head coaching job when he was selected to head the FIU program. He brings his team to Tuscaloosa Satuday to meet Coach Nick Saban's Crimson Tide.

Alabama is coming off a 34-24 win over Virginia Tech and is ranked fourth in the nation. This will be Florida Internation's first game of the season.

Cristobal, who will turn 39 in two weeks on September 24, is the third youngest head coach in major college football.

After winning only one game in his first season, Cristobal led the Panthers to a 5-7 record last year.

Cristobal met with the media earlier this week. He said he and his team had watched Alabama against Virginia Tech.

"Obviously, we were off for Week One and it gave us a chance to develop our guys and heal up some of the guys who were dinged up a little bit," he said. He said Alabama is "a tremendous challenge, one we've been looking forward to all summer. We're just about ready to get out there and play some football."

Cristobal said it was a surprise to see Alabama run the wildcat formation against Virginia Tech. "That presents a whole new set of problems because no one has seen it from Alabama and all of a sudden you have some fairly impressive athletes making you prepare for things you haven't seen on film. Obviously, it's something we're taking into account and preparing for. They do it well. They were very effective in it and got a lot of mileage out of it."

Cristobal also saw an Alabama pass rush that harassed (and sacked five times) Virginia Tech quarterback Tyrod Taylor. He said Alabama's pass rush was from players who are "big, strong, stout and fast. They mix it up. They have good inside moves, they're good off the edge, they're good at going speed to power, they present a lot of problems. They did it to Virginia Tech not only physically, but schematically as well, causing them to misidentify certain fronts and letting guys go free. So this presents a tremendous challenge up front."

Cristobal was asked about the progress of his program and about the impact of his great sophomore wide receiver/kick returner T.Y. Hilton. He said, "We're really fired up about the progress of our program. Coming here two years ago, it was about as bad of a situation as you could imagine. Last year we were close. I think it's made us hungrier than ever before.

"I think guys like T.Y. being the caliber of player he is has not only helped us on the field but certainly has helped us off the field in terms of recruiting, in terms of being out in the community and getting our brand name out there a little bit more. So we're certainly headed in the right direction. We certainly have miles and miles to go but we're getting there and we're trying to get there as fast as we can."

The FIU coach said that progress was good in fall camp. "I think we've evolved a little more, both offensively and defensively. I think we have a much better feel for our schemes. Now we have the consistency and the continuity of having our coordinators in place for a couple of years I a row now. So that allows, again, our guys to learn ourselves better, understand our expectations that much more clearly and take that next step as a program."

With an apology, one reporter asked him his memory of the Sugar Bowl game against Alabama.

Cristobal said, "It was a rough game, obviously. We had a chance to win two national titles in a row as a college football player and it didn't work out. They showed up strong defensively, like they had all year long, and they made it real tough on our offensively. And offensively, they were able to run the ball very, very effectively against our defense, which was real, real good all year long. It was one day you truly don't want to remember, but hat's off to them. They did a great job."

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