MIAMI- BDN was on hand during the Blue Devils huge win this past weekend and we bring you exclusive video of Head Coach David Cutcliffe’s postgame comments after the Blue Devils’ comeback 31-27 victory at FIU on Saturday.
The Blue Devils will look to make it three in a row on Saturday as they travel to FIU to take on the Golden Panthers. The matchup will be televised on ESPNU at 7PM ET and will also be FIU’s Homecoming Game. Duke evened their record at 2-2 last week with a convincing win over Tulane behind impressive performances by QB Sean Renfree and the Blue Devil defense. Renfree finished with 278 passing yards and 1 touchdown, and added 2 rushing touchdowns as well. The Blue Devil defense held the Green Wave without an offensive touchdown for the first three quarters and allowed just 2.5 yards per carry for the game. Despite numerous injuries, including the loss of ACC sacks leader DE Kenny Anunike for the season, Duke dominated the game, controlling the ball for 36:12 while building a 48-13 lead by early in the 4th quarter.
FIU is one of the youngest programs in the FBS, having played its first season in just 2002. The Golden Panthers are coming off their first winning season in 2010, which saw them claim a Sun Belt Conference co-Championship and a Little Ceasar’s Pizza Bowl victory. When the Golden Panthers take the field, all eyes are on Heisman Trophy candidate T.Y. Hilton, the reigning Sun Belt Conference Player of the Year and one of the most exciting players in all of college football. Hilton lines up at wide receiver for the FIU offense, but also handles the punt and kickoff return duties. This season, Hilton helped FIU to a fast 3-0 start to the season, including over 200 yards receiving and 2 touchdowns against Louisville in week 2. A hamstring injury limited Hilton in week 4 against Louisiana-Lafayette, and the Golden Panthers dropped to 3-1 after a 36-31 defeat to their Sun Belt Conference rival. The Blue Devil defense will have a stiff test on Saturday night as they try to slow the speedy Hilton and the Golden Panthers.
KEYS FOR DUKE
1. Contain T.Y. Hilton
When you face a talent such as Hilton, the key is to minimize his impact on the game, both offensively and on special teams. The probable return of CB Ross Cockrell should help the Duke defense keep tabs on the speedy Hilton, who is utilized in a variety of roles in the FIU spread offense. With Hilton as his favorite target, redshirt-senior QB Wes Carroll has completed over 61% of his passes and thrown for 3 touchdowns. After injuries to Hilton and Carroll forced FIU to rely heavily on RB Kedrick Rhodes in week 4, expect the Golden Panthers to try and get their passing game back on track against Duke. Paul Asack and Alex King would be wise to try and avoid good return opportunities for the always dangerous Hilton.
2. Match FIU’s speed
Relying heavily on the fertile South Florida recruiting grounds, Head Coach Mario Cristobal has built this FIU team around speed, headlined by Hilton, but exemplified up and down the roster. The Golden Panthers are balanced on offense, averaging 198 yards passing and 138 yards rushing per game. Defensively, FIU ranks fifth in the country with 15 sacks per game and has also recorded 7 tackles for loss. On special teams, Hilton averages over 33 yards per kickoff return, good for 4th in the nation. Under David Cutcliffe, Duke has made a deliberate effort to improve their team speed, and it will be put to the test in all phases against a FIU team capable of making explosive plays all over the field.
3. Protect Sean Renfree
Renfree has played outstanding over the past two weeks, spreading the ball around the field to his deep group of receivers and leading Duke to a top-20 passing offense in the country. The Duke offensive line has allowed 8 sacks so far on the season, but Duke fans have seen Renfree sustain several other hard hits. Against an athletic FIU pass rush, the Blue Devil offensive line will have to provide Renfree enough time to deliver the ball down the field to South Florida natives Conner Vernon and Donovan Varner. If Renfree is able to establish a rhythm with his receivers against a FIU secondary that allowed 363 passing yards to Louisville, the Blue Devils will be in good shape.
FIU +2, Duke -3
What a difference a year makes. The Blue Devils have significantly cut down on their turnovers from a year ago and find themselves playing better football as a result. The Duke defense is still struggling to turn opponents over, but have managed to force a few key miscues. With a redshirt-senior QB in Wes Carroll, the Duke defense likely will again have difficulty winning the turnover battle on Saturday.
FIU 15, Duke 7
The Duke offensive line will have its hands full as they try to protect Sean Renfree against one of the top 5 pass rushes in the country. FIU’s defensive speed will particularly challenge the Blue Devils with their blitz packages, as they will try to penetrate Duke’s pass protection. With Brian Moore still sidelined, Duke will need another strong effort from redshirt-freshmen Laken Tomlinson and Takoby Cofield.
Duke 46%, FIU 29%
Duke’s success on 3rd down has been a big part of their #7 national ranking in time of possession. The Blue Devils have converted 28/61 3rd down opportunities while holding opponents to just a 38% conversion rate. Conversely, FIU has struggled to sustain drives, picking up just 14/49 3rd downs while allowing opponents to be successful on 35% of their opportunities. Both 3rd and 4th down conversions have been key to their current 2-game winning streak, and they’ll look to continue that success on Saturday.
T.Y. Hilton is explosive, and FIU’s speed can burn opponents. If Hilton is allowed to make plays for the Golden Panthers, it will be a long night for Blue Devil fans. Duke, of course, has playmakers of their own. If it is to be a happy homecoming for Conner Vernon and Donovan Varner, Duke will have to continue to get them the ball down the field. Freshman Jamison Crowder showed a glimpse of his explosiveness last week with a punt return touchdown that was later voided by penalty. With Crowder and Hilton in the return game, there will be explosive athletes on both sides of the ball in all phases on Saturday.
Duke 10, FIU 9
Coach Cut says, “When you run out of room to throw the football, find a way to run the ball in.” Despite the loss of QB Brandon Connette, RB Desmond Scott, and RB Josh Snead, the Blue Devils have been successful rushing the football in the red zone in their past two contests. In fact, Duke was able to convert all 7 of their red zone chances against Tulane, including 2 rushing scores for Sean Renfree and 2 more for Juwan Thompson. With the possible return of Scott and/or Snead, the Blue Devils will have plenty of weapons to punch it in on the ground. For FIU, Kedrick Rhodes has been the primary threat on the ground, but the always-dangerous Hilton can run it in from anywhere.
FIU 5/6, Duke 2/8
Welcome back, Will Snyderwine the All-American. After a disastrous start to the 2011 season, the Blue Devils’ kicker got back on track with a 40-yard FG against Tulane. Though he is still nursing an ankle injury, Duke fans should be able to breathe a small sigh of relief when the Blue Devils line up for a field goal. FIU’s Jack Griffin has been perfect from inside 50 yards so far in 2011.
Duke 20-168 yards, FIU 21-183 yards
The Blue Devils continue to clean up their act, but are far from playing error-free. Against an energized and veteran FIU team, Duke will have a very small margin for error on Saturday, meaning that penalties could be costly. The Blue Devils will have to match the Golden Panthers’ speed with good fundamentals and avoid ill-advised penalties.
ESPNU was wise to televise this game, as it should be both entertaining and competitive. Both offenses feature explosive talents that are likely to put up points on the board. The Blue Devil defense is playing with renewed confidence after two victories, while the Golden Panthers will look to fight back from a disappointing conference loss to Louisiana-Lafayette. Uncle Mo is on the Duke side, and it should be enough to carry the Blue Devils into their off week at 3-2 behind another strong performance by Sean Renfree.
On October 1st, Head Coach David Cutcliffe and the Blue Devils will take their first (of two) trips to Miami to take on the Florida International Golden Panthers. The Blue Devils and Golden Panthers will play a home-and-home series, with FIU traveling to Durham in 2012. When Duke first scheduled the home-and-home with FIU, the youngest program in the FBS, many fans questioned the agreement, but one look at the high school football talent in South Florida should silence the critics. The October 1st matchup will kickoff at 6 PM ET on ESPN3 and will serve as FIU’s Homecoming Game.
Of course, for the Blue Devils’ trip to Miami to pay off in the long run, Duke must come away with a victory, a task easier said than done. The Golden Panthers enter 2011 as the defending Sun Belt co-Champions and winners of the 2010 Little Caesars Bowl. Led by reigning Sun Belt Player of the Year TY Hilton, the Golden Panthers feature a dynamic offense that returns 8 starters. Defensively, the Golden Panthers lose senior leader Anthony Gaitor, but return leading tackler DB Jonathan Cyprian to anchor the secondary. Florida International is the consensus pick to defend their Sun Belt title, and the Blue Devils will certainly have their hands full under the lights in FIU Stadium.
As the youngest program in the FBS, it’s no surprise that Duke fans may be unfamiliar with the 2010 Sun Belt Co-Champions. To fill us in on the Golden Panthers, BDN welcomes Andres Garcia, administrator for www.FIUGoldenPanthers.com.
BDN: After taking over an 0-12 team in 2007, Head Coach Mario Cristobal led Florida International to their first bowl game in 2010, a 34-32 win over Toledo in the Little Caesars Bowl. What are some of the reasons for his success in building the youngest program in the FBS into one of the top teams in the Sun Belt?
Coach Cristobal inherited a mess when he got to FIU, as you mention the team was coming off an 0-12 season which included that now infamous brawl with the University of Miami. In addition to that, the team had just been hit with NCAA violations which reduced the number of scholarships for future years. The main reason behind Coach Cristobal’s success is his ability to recruit and sell a dream to local kids. One of the first to come on board was Anthony Gaitor (a 7th round NFL draft pick in last year’s draft) and TY Hilton who chose FIU over an offer from West Virginia. FIU’s recruiting rankings have improved steadily over Coach Cristobal’s 4 years at the helm. In addition, the team for the first time is able to field a full complement of scholarship players which has led to an improvement in the depth that FIU fields. Often times in the early years, FIU would be able to hang on with teams for the first 2 quarters and then fade at the end due to lack of depth, this is no longer the case as was seen last year when FIU was able to compete against the likes of Rutgers, Maryland, Texas A&M and Pitt for an entire game.
BDN: Sun Belt Player of the Year TY Hilton may be the best college football player most fans have never heard of. Can you give us a quick scouting report on Hilton and describe his impact on the FIU program?
TY Hilton is quick, has great hands and is very elusive. He is Mr. Everything at FIU on offense and of course he’s our most dangerous kick returner. As I mentioned before, TY opened the door for other quality South Florida recruits to at least consider coming to FIU. In addition, he is the face of the program and has been a fantastic ambassador in the community. His impact will be felt for a long time at FIU and we were very relieved that he chose to stay in school for his senior season.
BDN: Offensively, FIU returns 8 starters in 2011, including a deep group of players at quarterback and running back, along with the aforementioned Hilton at receiver. After outgaining Rutgers and Maryland and nearly upsetting Texas A&M in 2010, how good is this unit expected to be this season and what questions still need to be answered?
FIU loses 2 very important pieces to last year’s offense in Brad Serini (starting Center) and Greg Ellingson (6’4” starting receiver) from last year’s team, however, the coaches expect their replacements to be able to pick up some of that slack. One of FIU’s question marks is the continued improvement of the OL. The Golden Panthers have 4 quality running backs which they rotate and which as a unit were very effective last year, while TY is a great weapon, it was the team’s ability to run the ball which allowed Wesley Carroll to take advantage of TY. Speaking of Carroll his improvement is also a key cog in the development of the offense. He needs to cut down on his interceptions and improve his accuracy. FIU has plenty of weapons on offense, the questions are whether the OL can create the holes and give the QB the time to find and exploit those weapons.
BDN: The Golden Panthers will have a young, but experienced defense this fall. With only one projected senior starter, who is expected to step up and assume a leadership role? What are the key position battles heading into training camp?
Last year’s defensive star was Anthony Gaitor who graduated and will hopefully move on to the NFL. This year, everyone is looking towards Jonathan Cyprien (DB) to take over the leadership role and explode on to the scene for the defense. Cyprien is joined as a Pre-Season all conference player by Tourek Williams (DL) and Winston Fraser (LB) so the Coaches feel they have established leaders for all 3 units in the defense. The big defensive battles will be along the DL and the CB positions. FIU returns several contributors from last year’s team as well as a couple of new freshmen which could see some playing time. The LB corps is stacked with quick backers that can get to the ball in a second. This defense is built on South Florida speed.
BDN: With FIU in just its eighth year of FBS football, it’s no surprise that this will be the first meeting between the Blue Devils and Golden Panthers. What will be the keys to the game for FIU to pull out a Homecoming victory on October 1st?
The key for FIU will be to control time of posession with its ground game and eliminate turnovers. This will limit the exposure of the talented but young FIU defense against the potent Blue Devil offense. On defense, FIU needs to contain the Duke passing game which is easier said than done. FIU needs to create pressure up front in order to force some turnovers and make sure to capitalize on those opportunities.
FIU fans are looking forward to this game possibly being our first win versus a team from an AQ conference. After coming so close last year, we are hoping the momentum continues and we cross that threshold.
BDN: Thanks for your insight, Andres!
Previous week: September 24, Tulane at Duke
Next week: October 8, Off Week
Next game: October 15, Florida State at Duke