Editor's Note: This is my preview of the FIU Defense way back in June. It cetainly won't be a perfect preview of the D, but should provide you with a decent amount of coverage on FIU's D.
We have already looked at FIU's offense, and now we will analyze and look at their defense. Overall, their defensive unit, while not great, was clearly better than their offensive unit.
Like I said, the D was better than the O, but not by much. Yardage-wise, Florida International ranked 105th in the country in defense. Points-wise, they were even worse, ranking 115th in the country. They were much better against the pass than the run, placing 115th against the run and 80th against the aerial attack. However, a lot of that had to do with the fact that FIU was trying to come from behind in nearly every game, and it often wasn't even close. So, of course the opponent would prefer to simply run out the clock with the power running game instead of risking INTs-and-such through the air, meaning that the running game yardage would be higher than average.
As far as turnovers go, as we begin to delve in the circumstantial statistics, they were a fairly average fumbles-forced team, tying for 36th in the country by forcing 12 fumbles. Interception-wise wasn't as promising, as they intercepted only 7 passes, good enough only to tie for 109th. Sacks-wise, they were again middle-of-the-road, tying with three others for 60th by sacking the QB 25 times over the course of the season. That comes out to 2.08 a game, which is ever-so-slightly higher than our own Jayhawks' mark of 2.00 a pop. As far as 3rd down percentage goes, they were a little on the 'below' side of average, ranking 78th overall in the country allowing the opposition to convert on first downs nearly 42% of the time.
Again, this wasn't a particularly special defense last season. Still, it was a better overall unit than the offensive side of the ball, which was near-historically putrid levels. I know I have hammered that point home, but I want to make sure it is well-known. With that being said, the defense was incredibly young last season, just like the offense. So, inevitably, it figures to be much better this season. Much. Better. With the following players, previewed position-by-position.
Basing off of FIU's final-game-of-the-season's starting lineup, they are returning 8 starters. Eight. 8. Kansas is returning 9, of course, but 8 is still pretty (read: very) impressive. The question is how many of these returning starters will raise their play enough to raise the overall play of the D.
The most distinctive and informative thing I can tell you is that the Golden Panthers run a 4-2-5. Basically, the defense is your traditional 4-3 D, with one of the LBers becoming a 'rover', which is very similar to a safety. However, the rover, instead of playing a deep zone down the field like a safety would, hovers more-or-less where the LBer would reside. It is designed to put more speed out on the field, sacrificing typical tackling ability and strength for that speed. As you would expect, it tends to lean towards becoming a run-friendly defense, as the lack of a third LBer makes it easier to find holes to run through. It is not as unique as you would expect, with schools such as TCU running it as their primary defense and a large amount of teams, including LSU, Texas A&M, Arkansas, Colorado, etc., using it as a package occasionally.
Defensive End :: One of the departing seniors was defensive end Audric Adger, but they are returning the starter on the other side, junior Reginald Jones. As far as who will replace Mr. Adger, your guess is as good as mine, or Mario Cristobal's for that matter. But just for fun, in the matter of simply throwing names out there just to check back on it later, I'll go with senior Quentin Newman. He is the most experienced of the bunch fighting for a spot, and I'll vote for experience in this case. As far as who else could make an impact from the defensive end position, I would look mostly at junior Artis Warthern Jr. as well as redshirt freshman Deiondrick Roberts. My money is on Roberts playing an impact sometime this season, based purely off of a gut reaction, although I doubt he has scratched the top of the DE rotation by the first game of the season, when we see them. Bryan Frye also figures to see at least some field time.
Defensive Tackle :: Both of the starting defensive tackles are returning, and are both seniors, making a decision to start Newman opposite Jones (and keeping the same starters as last season) give the Golden Panthers a junior-senior-senior-senior, veteran-laden defensive line. For a team that is incredibly young as a whole, that is a pretty experienced unit. The two D-tackles are both painfully undersized, so much so that it draws to mind memories of Terry Allen and his mid-two-bills offensive linemen. Ugh. Daniel Chacreton is a measly 265 pounds according to the official Florida International Athletics Website and his fellow starter, senior Jarvis Penerton is a not-much-better 282 pounds. So, with all three of our interior linemen returning, we figure to be able to shove the ball up the middle all day/afternoon/night long against the Panthers. As far as the rotation goes, Cody Pellicer, Justin West and Jonathan Betancourt both should see some time.
Linebacker :: Both of their starting LBs are returning starters, making the LB position arguably the greatest position of strength for the Golden Panthers. Mannie Wellington is an undersized junior LBer, standing at a tiny 5'8". Of course, he is probably talented, and only found his way to FIU because of his "too-small-to-play" stature. Bryant Scott is also a junior and also undersized, although only slightly (5'10"). They are both very good at stopping the run, which allows Cristobal to employ the 4-2-5 and not completely fail at stopping the run. Depth-wise, Matt Garris is the primary reserve, with Tyler Clawson and Toronto Smith figuring to fight for the last reserve position, with the early advantage going to the sophomore Toronto Smith.
Note: I'm not really sure which players are corners, which players are 'rovers' and which players are safeties, so here is a list of players that played in the last game of last season and are listed as 'DBs'. I will post this list in all three of the positional recaps, and maybe fill in the gaps a littler later this offseason: D'Haiti O'Darris, Brandon Ellison, Marcelus Manear, Davis Auguste, Peter Riley and Karim Henry.
Cornerback :: They are losing one of their starters, the always-mysterious "Singleton, L.", but are returning arguably the D's best player; Anthony Gaitor. Gaitor was only a freshman last season, but was one of the better recruits Cristobal hauled in in his first recruiting class, making an immediate impact. This season, he is entering as the most important player to their defense, and probably the best. Of their measly 7 INTs last season, he was the only one to catch more than one, although his two isn't anything All-American worthy or anything.
Safety :: As far as who is the best player on this defense, it is hard to overlook Ashlyn Parker. He is a playmaker at the safety position, and is returning for his junior season. Cory Fleming has departed since last season, who was a starter in last season's finale against North Texas, but one of the aforementioned list figures to fill the void. Random name picking time...Davis Auguste.
Rover :: Yay, the position that makes the 4-2-5 defense stick out. Dezariah Johnson, or Dez for short, filled that void last season and figures to do so yet again this year. He is a junior, in what is basically an absolutely loaded junior class at FIU. Seriously, it seems that nearly every single one of the Panthers starters is a junior. Next season, they could be a legitimate upper-half Sun Belt team. Y'know, if everything breaks right.