FIU coach Mario Cristobal Q&A

Rutgers makes its first road trip of the season this weekend when it travels to Florida International for Saturday's matchup. The Scarlet Knights are 1-0, but the Golden Panthers are yet to open the season after having a bye last week. Today, FIU held its weekly media press conference, and former Rutgers assistant and current Golden Panthers coach Mario Cristobal had plenty to talk about.

Rutgers travels to Florida International for a Saturday (8 p.m.) kickoff, and while in Miami, Rutgers coach Greg Schiano will see a familiar face.

Golden Panthers coach Mario Cristobal is a former assistant under Schiano, and he spoke to the media Wednesday about the upcoming game (which is FIU's opener), its players and the more.

Here is the Q&A with Cristobal:

Opening statement:
"Gameweek is finally here. Obviously we've had an extra week of camp and practice to prepare for our first game. It's nice to open up the season at home as well, which is new for us.
"We feel we've accomplished a lot with our new offensive and defensive schemes, and certainly in terms of enhancing our special teams as well. Gameday is obviously a couple of days away and we're anxious."

What a win would mean in terms of seeing where the program is:
"I think any time you step outside of the conference and you play a football game of this caliber, it always gives you a chance to measure up to the top programs in the country.
"Certainly Rutgers has established itself as one of those types of programs and our players recognize the opportunity and of course being at home adds a little special feeling for us as well."

Regarding how FIU can improve on defense against Rutgers:
"Rutgers is a real physical football team. I think they showed that all season last year and I think they showed that against Norfolk State, particularly in the second half. When they wanted to take over the game, they did.
"But at the same time, Rutgers has evolved over the last couple of years where they can beat you up up-front but they also have the skill athletes outside to make plays happen and stretch the football field. They're very dangerous.
"You have to contain both. Obviously to win a football game you have to be successful against the run and run the football well. We're prepared for both, and that's what we're looking forward to."

Regarding the parallels between Rutgers and FIU as far as building programs is concerned:
"Lots of parallels. Very similar blueprint. The differences in the blueprint is that we took over during a probation period and missing 16-20 scholarships, and not having that issue at Rutgers. We're a little ahead in terms of wins and losses compared to year three at Rutgers.
"In terms of process, changing the culture and building the program, we're almost identical. In terms of the type and caliber of student-athlete we're bringing into the program [we're almost identical]."

On junior tight end Jonathan Faucher's injury:
"He's ready for as many plays as he needs to play. Faucher is a very important guy on special teams as much as he is on offense. He's such a good athlete we even thought about using him on defense. He's a very valuable football player and a team leader. We're very excited to have him back and going 100%."

On the quarterback situation:
"We have a good plan in place and we're very close to making some of those things final. Will we make them public? That depends on what we want to go with over the next couple of days.
"Our plan is set and all we've been doing is running our plays, running our schemes, polishing certain areas of our schematics. We feel that we have an opportunity to put our best playmakers on the field at the same time. We're playing against a team that is very well coached, has a lot of talent, wears you down, makes plays, is extremely efficient and capable of big plays on special teams.
"They play four quarters of football, not only last season but in their game against Norfolk State. So that's what we're preparing for: four quarters and overtime."

On what the players learned from last season's game between RU and FIU:
"I think we learned that they're disciplined and talented, and that's a very powerful combination. Not only do you learn from that in terms of going against it, but you want to emulate that as well in your own preparation and your own game. What we realized also is they're good at everything: disguising, bringing pressure, playing base defense. They do it all pretty well.
"I think it's something that has had our guys excited all throughout the offseason and during camp. This week has been extra special. The intensity has been high and so has the excitement. We're anxious. We're trying to make sure we're not over-anxious and we still play our football game."

On whether or not the program is anxious to get to the "finish line" in terms of being an established program:
"I think you're always going to want to. I think football coaches and the sport itself makes you anxious. You always want instant results and at the same time you have to understand that it is a process. To do it right, it's a process.
"And that process has to be worked every single day. There is no skipping steps. There are no easy and cheap ways out of it. You have to make sure that when you build it, you build it to last so that every single year it gets better and better. We understand that. We understood it when we took [the job] with the situation.
"At the present time our coaches know nothing but to work hard and our staff and players have the same mentality: all out every single day."

On Rutgers sophomore quarteback Tom Savage:
"Good football player. Good decision-maker. Runs a lot better than what he gets credit for. He has a big offensive line that is very physical. They establish the run well and it helps to open up some things in the passing game. Their athletes have gotten very big and fast outside.
"Even though Tim Brown, who was a speedster, graduated, they still have plenty of speed and plenty of size outside. Mohamed Sanu obviously presents some problems when they get in their "wildcat" package. He's effective.
"People always focus on his run, but if you watch him last year, he can throw the football. He's a multi-talented athlete who is dangerous. You have to make sure that you take care of him and the rest of the offense."

On what he picked up from watching football this past weekend:
"I think what everyone picked up, and if you watch the highlights again and again you can see it, is how important special teams are and what a big role they played in week one. You also realize the amount of avoidable mistakes… well you say they're avoidable but the game-one jitters, or rustiness, whatever it may be, does cause some un-forced errors.
"Some jumping offsides. Some early snaps that go over the head of the quarterback. Some alignment errors that may bring back big plays. And then the other part is taking care of the football. Not only being efficient with it, but taking care of it and protecting it. There were way too many turnovers. You watch the game on Monday with Navy and Maryland.
"A team gets down there to the one, to the two and to the six-yard line and fumbles it away three times and then loses by three points. I think if you travel to a practice of any high school, college or NFL team in the country, you'll be hearing coaches yelling across the field about ball security.
"You emphasize those things. You work them. You practice them. You do anything humanly possible to prevent giving away a football game. You always have to practice to win a game. You play to win a game. You practice to make plays, but you want to make sure you do the fundamentals the correct way to make sure you don't give away a football game."

On Boise State being a team from a non-AQ conference that has had great success:
"They do a phenomenal job. I think if you look at their history, the time that they took to build that program and what they have accomplished, what it does is they're able to recruit nationally due to that success. They did it the right way. They built it over time. They got the right guys in there. Evaluated well. I think it's a great blueprint."

On the importance of running the ball and controlling time of possession:
"It's very important. We fumbled the ball last year [against Rutgers] inside of the redzone twice. We gave away points and gave away an opportunity to score. Protecting the football is always going to be at the forefront in terms of priority. We've done a lot to make that happen.
"We've done a lot to emphasize that. You can never emphasize that enough. That is always going to be the key to winning and losing football games."

On playing a team that already played a game this season when FIU hasn't played:
"It may be an advantage one way or the other. For us the bottom line is we had to create a game amongst ourselves, so we had an extra scrimmage. We had to make sure that gameday operations were precise and efficient.
"At the same time, we got a chance to watch [Rutgers] on film. They're a great opponent. Make no mistake about it. That's a big-time defense and a big-time offense and a phenomenal special teams unit. We know it's a great challenge. We're all fired up about it."

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