Pass defense remains a question heading into rematch with Duke

Beacon File Photo

Beacon File Photo

Brandon Wise/ Sports Director

The secondary is often referred to as a security blanket. Heck, even one of the positions is called a “safety”. When FIU played Duke last year, somebody took the safety off and let the Blue Devils run free.

Last season, the Blue Devils came into FIU and threw up and down the field on the Panthers’ secondary, racking up for 300 passing yards and three touchdowns in route to a 31-27 victory. This year, however, senior safety Jonathan Cyprien thinks that the group needs to execute much better this time around.

“I believe we need to execute things that we didn’t do as well last year, some coverages, some mishaps, some things that we did wrong. Being discipline in our assignments,” said Cyprien.

Quarterback Sean Renfree and wide receiver Conner Vernon connect eight times for 117 yards and a touchdown. Renfree ended up throwing for 335 yards and two touchdowns, completing 65 percent of his passes. Head coach, Mario Cristobal noted that the Blue Devils connected for seven big plays, including the duo of Renfree and Vernon, now captains of the team, multiple times.

“They’re timing is off the charts. They obviously spend a lot of time practicing together,” said Cristobal. “You hear coach Cutcliffe talk about the 2.8 seconds in terms of getting rid of the football, that’s accurate.”

The secondary will have their hands full this week with the Duke Receiving Corps, and Cristobal knows that his squad has to remain disciplined throughout the game.

“If you’re not discipline with your eyes, they’ll catch you in what they do with their play-action,” Cristobal said. “We certainly cannot play the same as we did last year. An extraordinary amount of attention was put to helping us prevent big plays following that game.”

From the Duke perspective, the majority believe that FIU’s speed is their biggest concern heading into Saturday’s matchup, including head coach David Cutcliffe.

“They’re as fast as anybody we’ll play this year,” Cutcliffe said. “They will likely be the most experienced offense we’ll face.”

On the offensive side of the ball, the Panthers were able to do anything they wanted and more, totaling nearly 600 yards of offense against Duke, their highest output of the season. Wide receiver Wayne Times led all receivers on the FIU side with seven catches for 54 yards and one touchdown. However, Cristobal knows that the penalties were a killer, as they were penalized eight times for 85 yards.

“We allowed ourselves to be penalized, we have to be a more disciplined football especially in the redzone. We got down there a couple of times and we didn’t do what our offense is capable of doing,” said Cristobal. “When you get too many threes instead of sevens against an opponent that can really rack up some points, it can catch you.”

The red zone was a weak point of the offense where the Panthers were only able to score touchdowns 48 percent of the time (22-46).

“An extraordinary amount of time was invested in red zone offense and defense as well as third down offense and defense, which showed up in that football game,” Cristobal said. “We weren’t as efficient as we could’ve been.”

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