Owls on the ground

Disclaimer: This was written prior to FAU’s game versus University of Louisiana-Lafayette on Oct. 24, so that game was not taken into consideration in the writers’ columns.

The FAU football team has not reached the midway point of its season, but college football’s regular season is more than halfway complete. Due to a pair of early bye weeks, the Owls have played only five games, and through those matches they stand at 1-4 (1-1 in conference play) heading into a seven-game stretch that ends on Dec. 5.

The UP sports staff has whipped out their red pens and is ready to grade the Owls based on their midseason showing. Here’s what they have to say:

 

Franco Panizo
Sports Editor

The 2009 football season was supposed to be a successful one for FAU, a season that redshirt senior quarterback Rusty Smith and his highly coveted offense were ready to take by storm en route to capturing a third consecutive bowl game victory.

To this point, the season has been minimally successful.

The Owls are shockingly 1-4 near the midway point of the football year, and have struggled with consistency on offense and defense.

The offense has been subpar for the most part, committing drive-killing penalties and lacking a knack for the big play. Smith’s performances were the focal point of the disappointing start, but the Owls’ offensive orchestrator has steadily improved with each game. His play will dictate much of the team’s success throughout the remainder of the season.

Running back Alfred Morris, who is playing in his first collegiate season, has been a pleasant surprise, rushing for 524 yards and four touchdowns on 111 carries. Morris has been the team’s most consistent performer this year, and it would not be a stretch to label him the team’s most valuable player through five games.

It is a bit tougher to name a defensive MVP. The defense was anticipated to have growing pains, but it was also expected to improve with each week. It hasn’t.  

The defense has a penchant for missing tackles, and is also prone to giving up big plays, two facets that must be corrected quickly. Defensive linemen Kevin Cyrille and Josh Savidge have failed to live up to their preseason hype, and only a few players on this side of the ball could be considered when talking about good seasons.

There is room for optimism among FAU fans, however, as the team is coming off a 44-40 victory against North Texas. It was the type of performance the team was expected to have throughout the season — a good, old-fashioned shootout. As long as the offense replicates that outburst throughout the remainder of the year (as it admittedly says it must do) then a bowl game victory may still be within reach.

FAU fans better hope the Owls duplicate that, rather than their overall performance from the first five games.

Grade: D+

 

 

Brianna Bramm
Contributor

With an offense packed with seniors, the Owls undoubtedly want to end this season with a bang. But, while the Owls have surprised everyone this season, it is not in the way they intended to do so.

The Owls are currently 1-4, and perhaps the only positive to draw from that record is that losing has given the Owls something to prove.

A glimmer of hope for this season is that the Owls seem to be following the pattern they have set for the past two years. Starting slow and then finishing with a bowl championship seems to be the Owls’ style.

But all the preseason hype has led Owls fans to disappointment. They expected a triumphant season, and triumph has yet to be seen. In fact, the hype has almost made it worse for Owls fans, because, instead of expecting failure and finding victory, fans expected victory and have gotten … well, not quite victory.

While everyone is quick to lay blame to one side of the team or the other, it can be hard to pinpoint who is to blame for the Owls’ four losses. More than that, it is pointless because neither side of the team is ever solely responsible for wins or losses.

That said, there are definitely factors that can be pointed out that have led the Owls to their 1-4 record.

The Owls offense seems unable to put points on the board. To win games and be successful, the offense must be able to complete drives and put points on the board. Period.

The defense, too, has certainly faced its challenges and slow starts this season. In the season opener against Nebraska, the Owls defense simply could not shut down the Huskers’ running game in the second half, which, along with a horrible offensive game, resulted in a crushing 49-3 loss for FAU. To win games, the defense must learn to shut down opponents’ drives to give the offense more time on the field.

At the end of the day, however, no excuse is able to turn a loss into a win. For the Owls to have a chance at a bowl game this year, they have to keep working and improving.

Grade: C+

 

 

Michael Allen
Staff Reporter

Five games into the 2009 season, the Owls’ 1-4 record is identical to the one they had last season. Thanks to their 44-40 shootout victory over North Texas, the Owls finally earned their first win after losing their previous two games to Louisiana-Monroe and Wyoming by a combined total of four points.

40 is now the magic number for FAU since they are 11-0 when they score 40 points or more in a game. Although the team edged out their first win, they still have room for improvement on both sides of the ball.

The Owls offense is ranked 33rd in the nation (out of 120) in total offense, averaging 413.2 yards per game, but they have had problems. They rank 89th in scoring, averaging only 23 points per game, and that is including their 44-point outburst against the Mean Green. The offense has also had problems finishing drives with touchdowns.

The two bright spots on offense have been the emergence of sophomore running back Alfred Morris, who ranks 16th in the nation in rushing yards per game with 104.8, and the return of senior tight end Jason Harmon, who leads FAU in catches after missing the entire 2008 season due to a knee injury.

Unfortunately, the defense can’t slow down a turtle at a stop light. They are giving up over 461.4 yards a game, putting them at 114th in the nation in total defense. They are also allowing an average of 36 points a game. Two of the big losses, though, were games on the road against BCS conference schools (Nebraska and South Carolina), where the Owls were not expected to win.

Linebacker Michael Lockley has stepped in nicely to replace departed star linebacker Frantz Joseph, and leads the team in tackles with 50.

Another sign of concern is the defensive line’s inability to put pressure on opposing quarterbacks, averaging only 1.2 sacks per game (101st in the nation).      

The team has a steep hill to climb if they want to accomplish their goal of appearing in a third straight bowl game. For that to happen, the offense will need to score more, and the defense has to find a way to stop the run.

Grade: D

 

 

Chuck Forbes
Staff Reporter

I predicted FAU football to have a record of 9-3 this year. FAU started 0-4.

Finally winning a game at North Texas on Oct. 17, the Owls are now 1-4, and have kept their Sun Belt championship flame at a low kindle. With an offense carrying so many weapons, and the ability to score every possession, I did not think any Sun Belt opponent (besides Troy) would deem itself worthy. We can dismiss the first two games because Nebraska and South Carolina on the road are very tough opponents. However, Louisiana-Monroe and Wyoming should have never come down to Fort Lauderdale and gotten a victory over the Owls. 

With that being said, the last game against North Texas was very promising for FAU’s offense. FAU scored 44 points, and at one point in the game, 30 unanswered points. This is the offense we have been waiting to see; the offense where Jason Harmon, Chris Bonner, Lester Jean, Cortez Gent, Willie Rose and Alfred Morris all work together to make it a nightmare for their opposition.

Throw in Rusty Smith, one of the most decorated quarterbacks ever to play in the Sun Belt Conference, and the all-time conference leader in passing yards, and you can see that FAU’s slow start to the season is unlikely to continue in the second half of the year.

The defense has been FAU’s Achilles’ heel. It does not matter how many points you score if the defense allows the other team to do the same. We are seeing struggles and growing pains on the defensive side, mainly due to youth and inexperience, and it needs to be corrected.

It has definitely been a disappointing season for fans so far because of the extremely high hopes and expectations that seem to rise each season. Now, the goal for the team is simple: win.

In 2007, the Owls shared a conference championship with Troy, and if they are to claim the conference again (which the team stated as a main goal during preseason), then the Owls cannot afford anymore slip-ups.

There is no more room for error. The offense must be explosive, and the defense must step it up.

Grade: D