Owls enigmatic in loss to Mean Green

Franco Panizo

Fort Lauderdale, FL — FAU must have been twiddling its thumbs during its first bye week of the season. The performance put forth against North Texas was not one of a team that had two weeks to prepare.

The Owls dropped their second consecutive game of the season, losing to North Texas 21-17 at Lockhart Stadium on Saturday, Sept. 25. The defeat not only made the Owls 1-2 on the season, and 0-1 in conference play, but it also gave them their first-ever loss to Mean Green in four meetings.

Just what went wrong for the Owls? Nearly everything — not least of which was FAU’s inability to come up big on third downs. Offensively, FAU was 4-11 on third-down conversions, and defensively, the team allowed quarterback Riley Dodge and his troops to go 10-15.

“We’re disappointed in how inept we were, both on defense and offense,” said head coach Howard Schnellenberger.

For a team coming off a bye week, that type of performance is inexcusable. FAU had two weeks to prepare for a North Texas team it is familiar with, and yet once again, Mean Green was able to run wild, rushing for 257 yards and a score.

Dodge accounted for 67 of those yards, while backup running back James Hamilton tacked on 122 yards. Hamilton was also responsible for the game-winning touchdown, a 32-yard scamper in the fourth quarter.

“It was the main focus,” said Hamilton about North Texas’ running game. “They allow 285 yards per game, and we wanted to take advantage of it and we did.”

It wasn’t just the defense’s inability to stop the run that cost the Owls the game. FAU made its best impersonation of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde in multiple facets of the conference clash. From missing a short field-goal attempt after hitting one at nearly the same distance, to forcing turnovers only to cough up the ball themselves, the Owls were plenty inconsistent in a match they should have won.

Even quarterback Jeff Van Camp had an uncharacteristic moment late in the game, as he lofted a pass into the hands of North Texas cornerback Royce Hill on the first play of a potentially game-winning drive.

“I had the defender beat, but I don’t know what happened,” said wide receiver Lester Jean, who was the intended target on the play. “[Van Camp] kind of underthrew it, but we just live and we learn.”

Having shone in the Owls’ previous two games, Jean struggled to find success against the Mean Green defense, as it constantly double-covered him to prevent him from getting big gains. Jean made a game-high seven catches, but was limited to 54 yards.

Despite all the struggles, FAU still had an opportunity to win the game. With less than three minutes to play, the Owls drove down the field through two 20-plus-yard passes from Van Camp to tight end Rob Housler, who ended the game with four catches for 94 yards and a touchdown.

Having enjoyed a strong second-half showing, which included a 36-yard touchdown reception in the fourth quarter, Housler was the target on fourth and 16 on the Owls’ final possession.  Unfortunately for FAU, Housler dropped a pass that he probably should have held onto, giving North Texas its first win of the season.

Losing this match now makes things trickier for FAU. Currently 1-2, the Owls are now facing three consecutive road games (against USF, ULM and Arkansas State) in which they will likely be considered underdogs.

That means FAU has lots of work to do if it wants to avoid staring at a 1-5 record — work that includes fixing its inconsistencies.