Totally swamped

FAUs+defense+makes+its+way+to+the+sidelines+following+a+break+in+play+versus+the+University+of+Florida.+Photo+by+Lorenzo+Ponce+de+Leon.

Lorenzo M. Ponce de Leon

FAU’s defense makes its way to the sidelines following a break in play versus the University of Florida. Photo by Lorenzo Ponce de Leon.

Ryan Cortes

FAU's defense makes its way to the sidelines following a break in play versus the University of Florida. Photo by Lorenzo Ponce de Leon.

GAINESVILLE — First impressions mean everything. And so, as FAU stepped out onto the field for the start of the game and looked around, it was startling. 88,708 fans piled into Ben Hill Griffin Stadium, all of them doing the Gator Chomp in unison. All of them rocking and swaying.

The Owls kicked off the ball. This was the moment so many of them had been waiting for, the moment so many had been craving. And Florida’s Jeff Demps bolted 88 yards to theendzone. On the first play of the game. The crowd erupted and FAU looked around, embarrassed and defeated.

The fact that the kickoff was called back because of a penalty on UF matters little. After that play, for the duration of the game, little changed.

There went Chris Rainey twirling and shimmying his way past FAU defenders on his way to the endzone. Again. And Again.

He’d end up being the first player in the NCAA since 1996 to score a touchdown in three different ways — rushing, receiving and returning.

And there went Jeff Demps, racing past a gassed FAU defense (that spent more than half the game on the field) for two touchdowns and 105 yards — on just 12 carries.

All on FAU’s watch.

“I was disappointed in our football team,” said head coach Howard Schnellenberger. “As I watched the game unfold, it became obvious that we weren’t prepared for the game.”

That lack of preparation falls on Schnellenberger’s shoulders — and his right hip.

Before the game, he announced he’d be coaching the game up in a press box, away from world class athletes potentially running into his bum hip. Truth be told, though — he hated it.

“I don’t like it at all and I am not going to be up there anymore,” Schnellenberger snapped when asked about coaching three levels above the field.

He grumbled under his breath and decided against commenting further.

Instead, he went on to compliment everything about UF. “My hat’s off to the new regime and the overall program,” said Schnellenberger. “It is inspirational.”

It’s also everything he’s ever wanted for his own program in Boca. An on-campus stadium. An atmosphere that has hundreds of fans pouring into the streets four hours before games. Tradition. Success. And a quarterback who actually makes plays.

Making the first start of his career, Graham Wilbert struggled so mightily he was pulled from the game after just one quarter. His backup, David Kooi, entered the game. On his first drive of the game, Kooi and the Owls were penalized for a delay of game followed by a penalty for an illegal formation. To end the trifecta, Kooi was promptly sacked for a 7-yard loss on 3rd and 7.

He was then pulled from the game as Schnellenberger went back to Wilbert. “It’s our job to put points on the board,” said Wilbert after the game, taking responsibility. “Three points is not acceptable.”

When Schnellenberger was asked to grade Wilbert he said the performance was so “disjointed” he couldn’t even make a judgement.

“I can’t determine how hard they played because we made an error on almost every play,” said Schnellenberger.

Despite the poor showing from both Wilbert and the entire offense, the defense didn’t go blameless. It’s hard to avoid that when you lose 41-3 in a game so many Owls crowed they were waiting for.

“I don’t think that changed us,” said linebacker David Hinds about the expectations for the game. “We were still trying to fly around to the ball, but them guys…speed. Speed kills.”

Hinds was then asked what he learned from this game defensively, what he could take away from it all.

He paused for a few moments and then smiled.

“Got a lot of studying to do,” said Hinds.

Yes. Yes, they do.