UT/FIU - Tom's View

My View by Tom Mauter is back with a Florida twist this week. After losing to Ohio State at Cleveland Browns Stadium last week, Toledo looks to get back on track down in the sunshine state. The Rockets leave for Miami, FL Friday morning in preparation for Saturday night's game against FIU, also known as Florida International. Read on for Tom's view of the game.

Saturday's meeting of the Rockets and the Golden Panthers marks a pivot point for both teams in this young season. The Rockets (1-2) want to enter MAC play with a .500 record and on a winning note. FIU (0-2) is looking to earn their first win before leaping into Sun Belt league play next week. It was the Toledo game last year that catapulted FIU to their best season (5-7, 4-3) since starting their football program in 2002.

Second-year head coach Mario Cristobal, who played an important role in Rutgers' recent turnaround, appears to be doing the same at FIU. The beginning of the 2009 season, however, has been a real test playing at Alabama and at Rutgers. They also will play #1 Florida on November 21st. But that's what you do when you recruit the overwhelming percentage of your players from the Florida-rich high school ranks. The FIU offense and special teams managed to score twice on the Crimson Tide in the first quarter taking a 14-13 lead into the second stanza. And Alabama's defense is arguably better than the Buckeyes.

It was the offensive unit that gave up points on an INT returned for TD along with allowing five QB sacks against Rutgers, equally the number of sacks by the Crimson Tide.

On Offense

The OL for the Golden Panthers was a question mark coming into this season and it remains one. The Rockets will face a reshuffled offensive front line with freshman Dave Istanich (6'6, 305#) starting at right tackle. This unit has given up double digit sacks and multiple QB hurries and hits which must make QB Paul McCall feel a bit like a tackling dummy. He sustained a sprained knee against Rutgers but will be ready to start against the Rockets. Back-up QB Wayne Younger sustained a bruise to his non-throwing shoulder. In the Rutgers game, five of the nine FIU penalties were committed by the OL including three consecutive false starts followed by a QB sack turning a third and one into a fourth and 23.

The rushing game netted one yard against Alabama and 130 yards against the Scarlet Knights. It is the pass that has been the weapon of choice early on for the Golden Panthers. QB McCall (40-69 with 3 TDs and 2 INTs – 58%) has been limited to the short passing game given the lack of time he has had in the pocket. Rocket fans may remember last year he ran six times against the Rockets with success.

The receiving corps is led by sophomore superstar T.Y. Hilton (5'10", 175#). When he's not playing WR, he returns kickoffs, one for a TD against Alabama, and punts. Just a sophomore, T.Y. has caught at least one pass in thirteen consecutive games and is leading FIU receivers with 14 catches for 120 yards and two TDs. WR Jason Frierson (5'9", 175#) has nine grabs for 48 yards followed by RB Darriet Perry (5'9", 195#) with eight catches for 47 yards. WR Greg Ellingson (6'3", 183#) is the deep threat with six catches averaging 16.3 yards per reception.

On Defense

The Golden Panthers have yet to stop the run but improved since the season opener. Overmatched by Alabama's front line, the Crimson Tide rushed the ball 42 times for 275 yards (6.5 ypr) and four TDs against the Golden Panthers. Rutgers followed suit running the ball 41 times for an average of 3.1 yards per rush. The defensive picked up its game against the Scarlet Knights getting four sacks and five QB hurries. This was a marked improvement from the opener against UA with FIU garnering just one sack and one QB hurry.

The inexperience of the front line is off-set by the depth at line backer, led by senior Scott Bryant (5'10', 220#) with a team-leading 21 tackles, and in the defensive backfield, headed up by sophomore Anthony Gaitor (5'10", 178#) . As a unit, they are without an INT in the first two games and have given up 237.5 yards per game in the air to two offensive teams that favor the run.

Special Teams

T.Y. Hilton puts the special in special teams. To date he has been contained on punt returns averaging a human-like 2.5 yards on two punts. However, on kick-offs, he is averaging 36.5 yards per return placing him ninth in the country. (Note: DuJuane Collins is ranked #100 with a 19.6 ypr average.)

Kicker Dustin Rivest is 3-for-3 on PATs with zero field goal attempts. Punter Carlos Munera is averaging a stellar 43.1 ypp and has changed field position for the Golden Panthers. Per coach Cristobal: "Every 70 yards of hidden yardage for a lot of people is worth six or seven points. He is such a weapon for us."

The FIU kick-off coverage is good holding opponents to about ten yard per return. The punt coverage however, has allowed more than 15 yards per return.

What to Look For

The play of the Rocket offensive line will set the tone for the game IF Aaron Opelt has time to move his head and eyes and not his feet. It should be a marked improvement over the game on the shores of Lake Erie. Running backs Collins and Williams will need to make plays, keep drives going and help wear down the Golden Panthers defense.

The height of the Rockets receiving corps should be a huge plus if Opelt is given protection and the receivers concentrate and make receptions like they really want the ball. That was clearly lacking in the OSU game.

Keeping pressure on FIU QB McCall forcing him to throw short will be in the Rockets favor. The run defense has been improving with the exception for containing the QB. Look for McCall to call his own number.

Look for Jermaine Robinson to have another QB sack, keeping his streaking intact.

Continued penalties on FIU, particularly on the OL and the DBs adding a pass interference or two call.

A real test for the Rockets special teams will be in containing the travels of Hilton. His on-field presence may force Bill Claus into punting errors. If he keeps his kicks high, things will be fine. IMO, the jury is out on his rugby style option.

Look for T.Y. Hilton to run the ball and catch the ball in WR screen plays.

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