Commentary: FAU misses golden opportunity to end win-less streak

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On a designed run play, Middle Tennessee shoves FAU linebacker Cory Henry away from the play to make room for backup running back Reggie Whatley. Photo by Melissa Landolfa.

Rolando Rosa

After losing to Middle Tennessee State, head coach Howard Schnellenberger makes his way to the locker room. In his 51st and final year of coaching, FAU has began the season with an 0-7 record. Photo by Melissa Landolfa.

FAU scored its first touchdown at the new stadium, but the bleeding continued during this disappointing season of Owls’ football. The battle of the bottom two teams in the Sun Belt Conference ended in familiar fashion for FAU, with another loss. This time, it was a 38-14 thrashing from Middle Tennessee State.At 0-7, FAU is now more than halfway to a win-less season and officially ineligible for the postseason. Clearly, this is not the proper sendoff Coach Howard Schnellenberger deserved in his last year.

Against an opponent nearly as futile as themselves, a win for the Owls was a distinct possibility. Yet that is not what happened on Saturday night in front of a sparse crowd, officially listed at 16,344, although it looked more like 10,000. Under the lights for the first time in the FAU stadium, the Owls’ flaws continued to shine bright.

Attendance will continue to dwindle with more poor performances like tonight’s. History was made, but it was done by the opposition. MTSU QB Logan Kilgore shredded the Owls’ defense as he completed his first 19 passes, a school record.

The Blue Raiders constantly employed a high paced, hurry up offense the FAU defense could not answer.

“The speed of their offense, like it has in the last three years, is what beat us,” said Schnellenberger.

Not even facing an opponent with the 115th (out of 120 teams) ranked defense in the nation could cure FAU’s offensive woes. While Kilgore was carving up the Owls defense, FAU’s offense committed 3 turnovers in the first half alone, with key fumbles by QB Graham Wilbert and RB Alfred Morris at critical junctures.

The turnovers would carry over into the second half. Despite going over 150 yards rushing, Morris killed momentum for the Owls with his pair of fumbles.

”It was just more humid than usual, I was sweaty, and the ball kept shooting out of my hands,” admitted Morris.

In total, FAU had 8 fumbles, 5 of them recovered by the Blue Raiders. It’s virtually impossible to win with the amount of freebies that FAU gives up each game. The effort is clearly noticeable. These players want to win badly, but week in and week out the actual production for the Owls, especially offensively, is scarce.

On a designed run play, Middle Tennessee shoves FAU linebacker Cory Henry away from the play to make room for backup running back Reggie Whatley. Photo by Melissa Landolfa.

“Turnovers killed our drives and really hurt us,” said Morris. “We beat ourselves like usual.”

If the Owls want any chance at earning its first win, silly mistakes need to end.

Briefly during the 2nd quarter, the Owls gave their fans a reason to cheer. QB Graham Wilbert tossed a 5-yard pass to Darian Williams for the first points for the home team in FAU stadium.

”It felt good to score the first touchdown in this stadium and get the fans excited, but the loss ruined it for us,” said Williams.

The return of Graham Wilbert to the lineup was inconsequential. His erratic play continued, as he was both fumbled and intercepted. Without a steady quarterback, winning will not arrive anytime soon for the Owls. It’s as simple as that. To have a quarterback that is even a caretaker would be welcome at this point. Unfortunately, the combination of Wilbert and Kooi can’t even do that properly.

Desperation would come, but not even temporarily yanking Wilbert in place of third string QB Stephen Curtis late in the third quarter could ignite a rally. Curtis, a freshman, scored a 1 yard rushing touchdown in the fourth quarter to make the score 31-14.

”He showed the glimmer of a good freshman quarterback,” said Schnellenberger. “He has desirable characteristics and we will continue to work with him as part of the rotation.”

So it may be possible to turn to the freshman now.

With the way the season is unravelling for the Owls, he deserves a shot at leading the team next week versus Arkansas State.

Despite the FAU defense giving up 479 yards in the contest, overall the offense is the culprit for the mounting stack of losses. Averaging a mere 211 yards from scrimmage, the Owls offense is handcuffing and placing its defense into difficult field position with their constant punting and turnovers.

Visibly worn afterwards, Schnellenberger refused to go down easily.

“We are determined to fight this battle throughout the season,” said Schnellenberger. “And see how much ground we can cover.”

Whether through ground or air, FAU is fighting a losing uphill battle, one that will not be fair unless the lure of an on-campus stadium will eventually bring better talent to Boca.