Constant pressure, speed, explosiveness and six forced turnovers, the FIU defense -- which was the No. 14 scoring defense in the nation last season -- played as advertised in the Blue & Gold Spring Game.
Behind the stellar play of veteran defenders Tourek Williams, Isame Faciane, Winston Fraser, Jordan Hunt and Jonathan Cyprien, the Panthers defense sprung to a 17-0 lead before the offense rallied against the second team defense for a 29-22 win.
"As you saw they didn't hold back much," FIU Head Coach Mario Cristobal said of his defense. "They brought pressure from every angle, played multiple coverages and duped the quarterbacks into making some mistakes."
The defense, which returns 10 of 11 starters this coming season, intercepted four passes and forced two fumbles to get a jump on the offense. Justin Halley, Chuck Grace, Sam Miller and Luis Rosado picked off the passes. Rosado returned his interception 58 yards and would have scored if not for a saving tackle by running back Darian Mallary.
The Panthers also recovered two fumbles. Defensive back Jose Cheeseborough, one of the more athletic Panthers, blocked an extra point.
Much of the damage done by the defense started with the play of the defensive line.
"I see the defensive line shaping up real nicely," Cristobal said. "Through recruiting and through the weight room we have become extremely explosive. We're very athletic on the defensive front."
With starting running back Kedrick Rhodes sidelined with a tailbone injury, the offense battled back on the ground with Shane Coleman and Jeremiah Harden providing the scoring. Coleman, who redshirted last season, got the offense on the scoreboard with a 24-yard touchdown run.
"You saw what Shane Coleman could do," Cristobal said. "He has an extra gear. He's been so used to just taking the ball and outrunning everybody. He has to get used to running between the tackles, which he did in the [spring game]. At the same time he was able to bounce some stuff and make some big plays happen."
Harden continued his good work off the strong performance against Middle Tennessee in the regular season finale in 2011. Harden had two touchdown runs of six and seven yards in the spring game. The 7-yard run put the offense ahead late in the game.
Quarterbacks Jake Medlock, Loranzo Hammonds, E.J. Hilliard and Akil Dan-Fodio had their moments throughout the game. Medlock had completions of 22 yards to Glenn Coleman and 29 yards to Willis Wright. Hilliard connected with James Louis for 15 yards and Dan-Fodio had a 3-yard touchdown run.
However, Hammonds made plays with both his arm and feet. Hammonds electrified the crowd with a 69-yard touchdown run that was eventually called back due to a penalty.
"There were some flashes," Cristobal said of his quarterbacks. "Jake does have an edge. You saw what Loranzo could do with his feet and has improved with his arm as well. Jake is still the starter. Loranzo has made tremendous strides. If not for a penalty, he probably would have had over 200 yards of offense on his own. Certainly you like to see E.J. continue to progress. He has had a very positive spring."
FIU opens the 2012 season at Duke on Sept. 1. The Panthers' home opener is against Akron on Sept. 8.
About FIU Athletics: FIU Athletics is home to more than 400 student-athletes in 18 different sports, and is a proud member of the Sun Belt Conference and an affiliate member of Conference USA (men's soccer). Athletic events are played in seven different venues on FIU's campuses (Modesto A. Maidique and Biscayne Bay), including U.S. Century Bank Arena and Alfonso Field at FIU Stadium.
About FIU: Florida International University is recognized as a Carnegie engaged university. Its colleges and schools offer more than 180 bachelor's, master's and doctoral programs in fields such as engineering, international relations, architecture, law and medicine. As one of South Florida's anchor institutions, FIU is worlds ahead in its local and global engagement, finding solutions to the most challenging problems of our time. FIU emphasizes research as a major component of its mission and enrolls nearly 48,000 students in two campuses and three centers including FIU Downtown on Brickell and the Miami Beach Urban Studios. More than 140,000 alumni live and work in South Florida. FIU is a member of the Sun Belt Conference and has 400 student-athletes participating in 18 sports. For more information about FIU, visit www.fiu.edu.