Commentary: FAU comes out flat, loses 20-14 to North Texas

Rolando Rosa

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Same Owls, different jerseys.

New red uniforms couldn’t hide FAU’s season long red-zone woes.

After three straight losing weekends on the road, FAU returned home to a listed crowd of 13,888, but for someone who was there, it seemed more like 7,000 people total greeted them for their 20-14 loss to North Texas.

After watching the numerous careless turnovers and mistakes in the defeat, there could be even less of a crowd when FAU (1-4 overall, 0-2 in conference play) plays at home again almost a month from today against Troy.

“Keith [Reaser] made a great play, Graham [Wilbert] made a great play. We’re back in the football game,” Owls head coach Carl Pelini said of his team’s furious rally that fell short.

“But it’s the same old thing: We don’t know how to win. We have to learn how to win as a football team, as a football program. When the game is on the line, we couldn’t get over the hump. When the score’s nothing-nothing, we make mistakes. Over and over and over again.”

It’s a good thing the next home game is 28 days from now, because FAU has to work on their mental approach.

“We shoot ourselves in the foot,” Pelini said. “I can’t come away from that game satisfied. That’s a game that I thought we gave away. I thought we should have won that football game. I still think that and I’m sure I’m going to think that even more after watching the tape.”

The tape will reveal a team that only shows up when it’s down by a large margin. FAU dug itself into a 17-0 hole before scoring a pair of touchdowns within 1:12, spanning the end of the third and beginning of the fourth quarter.

One positive is that the FAU defense held North Texas, No. 44 in the nation in rushing yards at just over 189, to just 56.

Yet Pelini knows his defense unit can perform better and more intelligently.

“There were still a lot of mental errors that gave up plays that were inexcusable. The screen plays, the trick plays, we’re in man coverage and they run a tight end delay, guy comes off his man. That’s inexcusable,” Pelini said. “Those are just details of defensive football that can never happen. It embarrases me at times.”

In the first half alone, Owls quarterback Graham Wilbert tossed two interceptions, fumbled (in the redzone) and was sacked four times. Ask Wilbert though and he believes the Owls should have won despite his many miscues. When a player is the major reason for his team getting blown out, it’s a tad odd to hear him say afterwards he expected a victory.

“I felt like the entire game we were going to win,” Wilbert said. “So, I’m still a bit surprised to be honest.”

One by one, the players couldn’t deny that they are more comfortable when the pressure is off them. “That’s when we come in, we loosen up, we play good,” Owls running back Damian Fortner said. “It’s just like I said, a lack of focus. We’ve just got to come in and execute from the get-go.”

“I feel like when we realize we’re down, that’s when we focus more. We pick it up another notch,” Owls cornerback Keith Reaser said. “We need to attack like that from the beginning of the game throughout.”

Football is a 60 minute game. Not 15 minutes. Not 30 minutes. But an entire 60 minute game. Until the Owls realize this, the losing will continue. Pelini doesn’t seem to care about individual plays or stats. The man comes from tradition-rich Nebraska. The losses have to be wearing on him even if he continues to play the good soldier role to the press.

“When we’re down 17-0 that’s when we start to play,” Pelini said. “Until it gets close again, and the pressure is on us again. That’s what we have to learn as a football team, is how to play when the pressure gets on.”

The pressure should be that FAU is getting lapped by fellow Sun Belt teams. North Texas and FIU are leaving next season for Conference USA. This season, ULM and Middle Tennessee have defeated schools from larger conferences.

If that’s not enough pressure, then I don’t know what is.

FAU has a bye week then plays at ULM on Saturday, Oct. 13 at 8 p.m.