2009 Florida International Preview - Offense

Posted Jul 27, 2009

CollegeFootballNews.com 2009 Preview - Florida International Golden Panther Offense

FIU Golden Panthers

Preview 2009 - Offense

- 2009 CFN FIU Preview | 2009 FIU Offense
- 2009 FIU Defense | 2009 FIU Depth Chart
- 2008 FIU Preview | 2007 FIU Preview | 2006 FIU Preview 

What you need to know:
Offensive coordinator Bill Legg came in from Purdue and there was a night-and-day improvement. Even though the veteran offensive line didn’t block anyone and despite the lack of a running game, the offense was strong considering 2007 might have been the worst offensive year in the history of college football. The attack will be all about the passing game where steady and solid QB Paul McCall has a tremendous array of weapons to work with. T.Y. Hilton might be the best under-the-radar playmaker in the country, but he’s not the only wide receiver who should shine. Everyone of note is back for the passing game with size, speed, experience, and depth in the receiving corps. The line gets everyone back, but it has to find something it can do well. Darriet Perry has to become a No. 1 back right away to provide some semblance of balance.

Returning Leaders
Passing: Paul McCall
167-317, 2332 yds, 16 TD, 9 INT
Rushing: Darriet Perry
31 carries, 173 yds, 2 TD
Receiving: T.Y. Hilton
41 catches, 1,013 yds, 7 TD

Star of the offense:
Sophomore WR T.Y. Hilton
Player who has to step up and become a star: Sophomore RB Darriet Perry
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore WR Junior Mertile
Best pro prospect: Hilton
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Hilton, 2) QB Paul McCall, 3) WR Greg Ellingson
Strength of the offense: Experience, receiver
Weakness of the offense: Offensive line production, running back experience


Projected Starter: It’s a bit of a stretch to say that FIU’s season turned around when Paul McCall got hot, but FIU’s season turned around when McCall got hot. It helped that the schedule eased up, but McCall was great after the first four games of the year throwing for 223 yards or more in seven of the final eight games including a brilliant 400-yard, four touchdown day in the loss to Florida Atlantic. The senior is only 6-1 and 205 pounds, but he has a decent arm, is mobile enough to have netted 125 yards and a score, and he finished with 2,332 yards and 15 touchdown passes with nine interceptions. Five of those picks came in the first three games. Considering several Ivy League schools were hot after him coming out of high school, smarts aren’t an issue.

Projected Top Reserves: 6-3, 190-pound junior Wayne Younger is a tall, athletic passer who took was thrown to the wolves early on in his career and had a nightmare of a time producing. While he’s a good runner, he threw nine touchdown passes and 17 interceptions in 2007 before getting knocked out with a broken collarbone. He saw a little bit of mop-up time last season and completed 18-of-33 passes for 249 yards and a touchdown, and he ran for 46 yards, but he didn’t play much over the second half of the season. With enough experience to be thrown into the starting role if needed, he’s a decent option if something happens to Paul McCall.

Looking to see a little bit of action this year is sophomore Colt Anderson, a 6-4, 215-pound passer from Omaha who has seen some mop-up duty but has mostly been a scout teamer. He has a live arm and he can move a little bit, and he’s a winner having won the Nebraska Class A state championship. He’ll have to prove himself this year to be in the mix for time next season.

On the way is Wesley Carroll, the former Mississippi State starter who lost out on the starting job and transferred to FIU. He struggled with his accuracy in the SEC but he had a few good moments and was one pass away from setting the NCAA record for the most throws in a row by a freshman without an interception (137). While he’s only 6-1 and 202 pounds, and will have to sit out a year, he’s tough, very fast, and he should be a good replacement for Paul McCall next season.

Watch Out For ... a major battle for the No. 2 job. McCall is the No. 1 guy, but Younger and Anderson will have to fight it out for the second spot. With Carroll waiting in the wings for next year, the time is now for the backups to show they deserve a shot at the 2010 starting gig.
Strength: Veterans. McCall and Younger each have a few years of experience, while Anderson saw enough practice time last year, and a little bit of work in 2007, to be one of the Sun Belt’s most experienced No. 3 quarterbacks.
Touchdown passes. There were more yards last year and the passing game was far more efficient, but there were only 17 touchdown passes total with four coming in the overtime shootout loss to FAU.
Outlook: Considering where the quarterback situation was at the beginning of the 2007 season, this is like having Peyton Manning and Kurt Warner to work with. Paul McCall is a gritty passer who doesn’t make a ton of big mistakes and runs the offense well. Wayne Younger is a nice runner who can add a different look if he’s in, and Colt Anderson is a decent-looking passing option who wouldn’t be a disaster if he’s thrown into the lineup.
Rating: 5.5

Running Backs

Projected Starters: Taking over the starting running back job will be Darriet Perry, a speedy 5-9, 200-pound sophomore who finished third on the team with 173 yards and two touchdowns in just the final two games of the year. He blew his redshirt season late to run for 115 yards and two scores against Florida Atlantic, and he followed it up with a 58-yard day against Western Kentucky. A good recruit last year who was sought after by Illinois, he’ll be the main man for the ground game.

Projected Top Reserves: 5-10, 205-pound senior Daunte Owens was supposed to be the third man in the mix last year, he finished fourth on the team with just 130 yards and a score. He’s a speed back and can catch the ball a little bit, and he has enough talent to be productive here and there. However, he’s had problems staying healthy and can’t be counted on to last for long stretches.

Looking to get back into the rotation is junior Trenard Turner, a very fast, very athletic 5-9, 204-pounder who was going to play a big role last year as both a runner and a special teamer but he hurt his leg and only played in four games. As a freshman he set the school record for the most receiving yards by a running back in one game with 84 against North Texas.

Watch Out For ... a regular rotation of runners. There isn’t a workhorse in the backfield, and the offense doesn’t really utilize the running game all that much, but there are several decent prospects waiting to be unleashed. The coaching staff will go with several options and will stick with the hot hand … or legs.
Strength: Quickness. Darting in and out of holes isn’t going to be a problem for this bunch. There’s speed, athleticism, and speed and quickness to burn out of all the options. There isn’t a thumper, but everyone can move.
Production. FIU was 107th in the nation and last in the Sun Belt in rushing, and now Julian Reams and Amod Ned, who combined for 736 of the team’s 1,185 yards, are gone. There’s good potential in Perry and Owens, but they’ll have to prove they can do it for a full season.
Outlook: The FIU ground game is mostly along for the ride. With Paul McCall at quarterback the rushing workload will fall on the backs, and while Darriet Perry and Daunte Owens should be good with time, they’re unproven for more than just a short stretch. There’s no power, but there are five backs available who are extremely quick.
Rating: 4.5


Projected Starters: The passing game needed a new playmaker to emerge, and one did … and right away. T.Y. Hilton was a good recruit for the program who turned into the Sun Belt’s breakout playmaker with a team-leading 41-catch, 1,013-yard, seven touchdown true freshman season. Overlooked mainly because he’s only 5-9 and 168 pounds, Hilton overcame his size by showing off blinding speed every time he touched the ball averaging 24.7 yards per catch while averaging 23.4 yards per kickoff return and 14.8 yards per punt return. He also ran for two scores. The offense will use him in a variety of ways again and he should be in the hunt for Sun Belt Player of the Year honors.

One of the team’s veteran targets is junior Greg Ellingson, a dangerous 6-3, 200-pound junior who finished second on the team in catches with 35 grabs for 574 yards and three touchdowns averaging 16.4 yards per catch. He didn’t do too much for most of the season and then he came on over the final three games to catch 18 passes for 323 yards and two scores. He should flourish with all the attention being paid to Hilton.

Junior Mertile had a strong true freshman season finishing third on the team with 26 catches for 245 yards and two scores. He didn’t blow up in any one game, but he was steady throughout the season. The 6-0 and 185 pound sophomore has decent size and excellent 4.5 speed, and now needs to use his skills to bust off more big plays. His biggest play was just 36 yards.

Miami transfer Eric Kirchenberg took over the starting tight end job early on, starting the first ten games and finishing fourth on the team with 14 catches for 157 yards and two touchdowns. He was a key scout teamer for the Hurricanes before tearing his ACL, and he became a good part of the FIU passing game right away. He’ll do even more this year.

Projected Top Reserves: Junior Jason Frierson ended up leading the team in receiving with 21 catches for 190 yards as a true freshman, but only played in six games last year and caught just ten passes for 113 yards and two touchdowns. However, he started the final two games of the season and showed off flashes of greatness. The 5-8, 160-pound cousin of Frank Gore will start out playing behind T.Y. Hilton, but he’ll see time at several spots.   

Senior Jeremy Dickens had the potential to be a No. 1 target in the passing attack, but he only caught 12 passes for 138 yards and a touchdown and now will have to fight to see playing time. The 5-10, 183-pounder has experience and has finally been able to stay healthy, but he won’t likely make more than 12-to-15 grabs. He’ll play behind T.Y. Hilton.

Working at one of the outside spots will be Marquis Rolle, one of the biggest surprises in the 2007 off-season. He didn’t do much on the field catching just nine passes for 71 yards, but the 6-3, 185-pound sophomore has blinding 4.46 speed and has the potential to be a field-stretcher.

6-0, 201-pound senior Elliott Dix is one of the team's fastest players, and now he has to use his wheels a bit more after catching 17 passes for 225 yards over the last two years. He has the potential to be great yard-after-the-catch receiver, but he needs to get the ball on the move playing behind Junior Mertile.

Looking to make an immediate impact is JUCO transfer Edgard Theliar. The 6-3, 195-pound JUCO All-American was given the full court press by South Florida, but shoes FIU and could be a key target because of his size.

Watch Out For ... the receiving corps to be among the best in the Sun Belt. Hilton is a great player to start with, and there’s plenty of speed and talent working around him. There will be plenty of good targets to for QB Paul McCall to work with.
Strength: Experience. The top seven receivers/tight ends return and all have the talent and potential to be better. The sky’s the limit on this group with field-stretching speed at all three spots. The backups can fly, too.
Backup tight end. Eric Kirchenberg is a good one but he has to prove he can stay healthy. John Ellis is more of a fullback than a receiver, while Christopher Campbell is an unproven redshirt freshman.
Outlook: Arguably the team’s biggest weakness two years ago, now it might be one of the Sun Belt’s biggest strength. All the top targets are back, led by playmaker extraordinaire T.Y. Hilton, and this group is just scratching the surface on how good it can become. There’s Miami Hurricane-like speed and quickness, decent size at a few spots, and excellent depth.
Rating: 6

Offensive Linemen

Projected Starters: All the starters are returning up front with more needed from the tackles, specifically Ula Matavao, a 6-3, 311-pound senior who started every game at left tackle. The former JUCO all-star has the quickness for his size to be far better in pass protection, and he has the talent to emerge as a potential all-star if he can be more consistent.

On the other side will be Joe Alajajian, a 6-4, 300-pound senior who started early on at right guard before moving to right tackle for the final ten games. While he’s a good athlete, he’s not the strongest pass protector but he can blast away for the running game when he gets on the move. With his experience and versatility, he could be the anchor for the line.

Working again in the middle will be 6-3, 300-pound junior Brad Serini, one of just five FIU players to start every game at the same spot. A good recruit three years ago who’s still improving, he should be the anchor for the line for the next two seasons now that he has started to bulk up a bit and after starting every game for the last two seasons. He's a mauler who should do far more for the running game.

Senior Andy Leavine will be the main man at left guard again after taking over the job midway through the season. He started out at right tackle, struggled, and showed he was far better suited for the inside. The 6-5, 298-pounder is athletic for a guard, but he struggled against speed rushers as a tackle.

Back at right guard will be Mario Caraballo, a 6-2, 290-pound junior who has gotten much, much bigger since he originally signed. Originally an athletic 238-pound blocker, he’s now a big, promising all-around inside presence who should be better now that he’s able to play at his new weight.

Projected Top Reserves: Trying to get eligible and become a major part of the line is Cedric Mack, a former JUCO All-American who was a superstar recruit. He could’ve gone to a BCS school without a problem, but he has had problems getting on the field. This year, he should finally be a key part of the tackle rotation. 

6-4, 285-pound Chris Cawthon saw starting time at right guard over the first half of the season and will figure into the rotation against behind Mario Caraballo. He has gotten his weight in check but kept his strength.

Working along with Joe Alajajian at right tackle will be Devon Dickerson an undersized 6-4, 261-pound sophomore who started against Iowa. While he doesn’t have the bulk to be a regular starter, he’s athletic enough to be a decent pass protector for stretches.

Watch Out For ... a bit more stability. While the coaching staff won’t be afraid to tinker with the lineup to get a bit more production, five starters are back and there’s hope for a bit more cohesion.
Strength: Experience. All five starters are back and two players with key starting experience are ready to step in if needed. That doesn’t even include Mack or redshirt freshman center Kenneth White, one of the team’s key young blockers.
Blocking. The pass protection was a wee bit better, but it didn’t take much for that to happen. The Golden Panthers were still 94th in the nation in sacks allowed, giving up 27 on the year, and did nothing for a ground game that averaged 99 yards per game.
Outlook: The line has almost gotten the quarterbacks killed over the last few years, but there’s the potential for a far better season with so many starters returning and several decent backups to count on. It would be nice if there was one star to work around, like left tackle Ula Matavao, who has the potential to become the main man, and there’s more than enough size to go along with the experience. Now it all has to translate into production.
Rating: 5