Florida Atlantic University's first student-run news source.


Florida Atlantic University's first student-run news source.


Florida Atlantic University's first student-run news source.


Big Time Reality Check

Minneapolis – Ever since the end of last season, the Owls have been talking a big game. Upon further review, it might be time for FAU to rethink things.

A 37-3 loss to a Minnesota team that FAU beat last season has created the need for a big reality check.

“We’re going to go back and look at it from an overall standpoint and start retooling,” says FAU coach Howard Schnellenberger.

That statement is a far cry from Schnellenberger’s bold declaration after last season’s New Orleans Bowl victory that FAU expected to win every game they played from then on. Championship teams that return 17 starters shouldn’t have to retool.

And now? “We thought we would be further along,” he says.

Whatever you want to call them, advanced training games live, whether Schnellenberger and the rest of us want to believe it or not. Forget expecting to win these games; FAU has hardly been able to score in them. The Owls haven’t put six points on the board since a Sept. 6 win over Alabama-Birmingham.

While the rest of the Sun Belt has been putting scares into big-time teams, even beating one every once in a while, the Owls have been conspicuously inconspicuous. Plagued by a confluence of ineptitude not seen in a couple of seasons, FAU has looked overmatched – and frankly, overrated – so far in 2008.

“I’m disappointed and I’m dejected and I’m pissed,” says Schnellenberger of his emotions.

Those sentiments are being echoed by the rest of the Owls, many of whom were dumbfounded by losing by 34 points, after beating a nearly identical group of Minnesota players 42-39 last season.

We just need to focus a little harder,” says wide receiver Cortez Gent. “I don’t know what’s going on.”

What has gone on is this: In losses to Texas, Michigan State and Minnesota this season, the defending Sun Belt champions have scored only one touchdown and have been outscored 106-13 overall.

“Either I misjudged [our players] grossly or they are underachieving … I’m going to the film room as soon as I get back to try to get a handle on that,” Schnellenberger says.

Star quarterback Rusty Smith threw four interceptions and played the worst game of his career. A stand-up guy as usual, he took the blame for the loss. “We were very surprised that we weren’t able to put points on the board,” he says. “We all need to rededicate ourselves and it all starts with me.”

But this was only partly Smith’s fault. Jittery wide receivers dropped passes and ran the wrong routes. The defense didn’t wrap up the Minnesota ball carriers. The special teams unit never supplied particularly good field position.

“Of course I’m concerned about the offense. I’m concerned about the defense. I’m concerned about the special teams,” says Schnellenberger.

It wasn’t the same old Owls we got used to watching last season, making strong showings against superior teams like South Florida and Florida, then getting hot at the end of the season to beat Troy and Memphis.

Lack of execution is what players say continues to be the problem.

Could this team actually be regressing? Or has the competition just been that much better? The truth probably involves a little of both.

I think the problem has been this: The Owls haven’t gotten any better while the competition has. But it is still hard to measure this team until the conference schedule begins.

Those lofty ideas of reaching higher and achieving more than last season are all over now. After what has happened so far in 2008, a repeat 8-5 record, Sun Belt title and New Orleans Bowl win seems like kind of a stretch.

“With eight games to go in our conference, the goal is to carve out whatever kind of record we can out of that situation,” Schnellenberger says.

With an über-important conference game against Middle Tennessee coming up on Sept. 30, this disappointing start might quickly turn into a dejecting season.

Revenge of the Gophers: Minnesota atones for last season’s loss in a big wayMinneapolis – Reigning Sun Belt Player of the Year Rusty Smith threw four interceptions and went without a touchdown pass for the second consecutive game as Minnesota beat FAU 37-3. Smith threw only nine interceptions all of last season, but has already thrown five through four games this year.

“We are going to have to do something different, come out with a different attitude,” Smith says. “We just didn’t execute. We played bad.”

After scoring seven touchdowns on Sept. 6 against University of Alabama-Birmingham, the Owls have scored only three points in their last two games, losing by a combined score of 54-3.

First Quarter: MINN 10, FAU 0: FAU made another early mistake, something that has often plagued them in big conference road games. This time a Rusty Smith interception on the third play of the game put the Gophers in line for a 7-0 lead, which swelled to 10-0 on the next drive. The Owls appeared to go three-and-out on offense again before an offside penalty gave the Owls their initial first down. On their fourth drive, the FAU offense finally found scoring position, setting up a field goal.

Second Quarter:MINN 16, FAU 3: A 36-yard Warley Leroy kick cut the Owls’ deficit to seven points. On the next drive, the Gophers drove near the goal line, but a Tavious Polo interception in the end zone, his first of the season, gave the Owls the ball back and thwarted a Gophers scoring chance. Afterward, the Owls’ offense couldn’t find the end zone and turned the ball over twice: on downs and again on Smith’s second interception. Five Gophers penalties helped the Owls keep the deficit manageable.

Third Quarter: MINN 23, FAU 3: The Gophers scored on their second drive of the half with a 1-yard DeLeon Eskridge touchdown run that gave Minnesota a 20-point lead. With the Owls’ hopes of a comeback fading quickly, FAU went for it on fourth-and-two at the Gophers’ 37-yard line with just over two minutes left in the quarter, but Smith threw his third interception of the game, ensuring yet another road loss to a Bowl Championship Conference team. FAU is now 0-13 all-time in such road games and 1-15 overall.

Fourth Quarter:MINN 37, FAU 3: With the FAU offense on the skids, the defense wore down as the game wore on. Minnesota tacked on another Eskridge touchdown for a 30-3 lead. Things worsened when Smith threw his fourth interception of the game, which was returned 50 yards for a touchdown. The end of the quarter marked the eighth in a row without an FAU touchdown. The last time the Owls found the end zone was in the fourth quarter of the UAB game on Sept. 6.

Quotable“If we’re going to believe that we can compete with the best teams on our schedule and we don’t, then we have to feel worse about it than we do if it’s an advanced training game … We have put ourselves in this situation knowingly and for the right reasons and we’re not sorry that we did. We have to grow up some time.”

– FAU coach Howard Schnellenberger on the Owls’ struggles against BCS conference teams since the retirement of the “advanced training game” mindset.

Key PlayAn end zone interception by Tavious Polo in the second quarter took away a near-certain Gophers touchdown that could have made the score 23-3 heading into halftime. It was Polo’s first interception of the season after a team-leading seven in 2007. In last season’s 42-39 win over Minnesota at Dolphin Stadium, Polo had a team-record three interceptions of Gophers’ quarterback Adam Weber.

Star PlayersGophers QB Adam Weber: 19-of-24 for 235 passing yards and one touchdown. Six rushes for 43 yards.Gophers WR Eric Decker: Kept seven catches for 122 yards and one touchdown. Gophers RB DeLeon Eskridge: 19 rushes for 78 yards, two touchdowns.Owls RB Charles Pierre: 10 rushes for 70 yards.

Turning pointSmith’s third interception of the game ended the Owls’ hopes of a comeback and set up the Gophers for another score. Down 23-3 and going for it on fourth-and-two, Smith rolled to the right and was intercepted by Kyle Theret with two minutes left in the third quarter.

Game InfoScore: Minnesota 37, FAU 3Where: Hubert H. Humphrey MetrodomeAttendance: 41,003Weather: RainyRecords: Minnesota 4-0. FAU 1-3. Up next: FAU plays Middle Tennessee in Murfreesboro on Tues., Sept. 30.

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