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Commentary: The win that felt like a loss — why the Owls are in trouble for the rest of the season

To the surprise of some reporters, at practice this week, the Owls prepared their hail mary defense during practice.

And to the surprise of the entire stadium, that’s exactly what the game came down to as FAU’s escaped their season opener against Division 1-AA Wagner with a 7-3 victory.

This proves that maybe FAU Athletics were correct for banning media from traveling on the team plane for road games.

The Owls entered the game as heavy 17.5 point favorites. With a new head coach (Carl Pelini), new uniforms (Navy blue with wings on each shoulder), and a new starting quarterback (Stephen Curtis), the Owls began the season with renewed optimism.

New Owls head coach Carl Pelini barely escaped with a 7-3 victory over Division I-AA Wagner at FAU Football Stadium. He is the second football coach in FAU’s 11-year history. Photo by Melissa Landolfa.

Or so they thought.

Despite that, they still looked like the 2011 version of FAU. The official attendance was 14,510, but it seemed much less than that.

This was Curtis’s first ever college start, something that was painfully obvious from the onset.  He made some nice plays with his feet running the ball, but overall the offense had no rhythm with him under center. On too many occasions, Curtis either overthrew or underthrew his receivers.

And so Pelini gave up on the Curtis era after just one half, yanking him after halftime for Graham Wilbert, who threw 15 interceptions last season. Wilbert re-energized the Owls out of the tunnel, leading them to their only touchdown of the game on a 39 yard pass to wide receiver Byron Hankerson with 11:36 left in the fourth quarter.

FAU quarterback Stephen Curtis only lasted 2 quarters in his first college start. He finished with 37 passing yards, completing 4 of 10 passes. Photo by Max Jackson.

The depressingly sparse crowd finally had something to celebrate.

Wilbert was a big reason for last season’s disaster. It gives him the required perspective to put this win into context.

“We’re 1-0,” Wilbert said. “Which is a lot better than we were last year.”
Pelini tried to downplay his team’s putrid performance in his first game as a college coach. He went as far as claiming he foresaw a struggle with the Seahawks, who were 4-7 last season in the Northeast Conference.

“Hey, no one ever told me this was going to be easy. I didn’t think it was going to be easy and I knew it wasn’t going to be perfect the first night,” Pelini said. “Honestly, bottom line is: nothing that happened out there shocked me.”

That’s a giant spin job. No Division 1 coach in their right mind expects to be in for a battle with a Division 1-AA team.

Even if the Owls are coming off a 1-11 season, they still should have easily handled Wagner. Instead, FAU made the Wagner Seahawks look like the Seattle Seahawks for the first three quarters of the game.

Wagner crossed into FAU territory on every series for the first three quarters.

The only thing consistent was how surprisingly inconsistent FAU was after its grueling Camp Carl offseason. Mental errors and mistakes littered the contest. Every possible way the Owls could mess up, they did. Return man Travis Jones summed up the night when he muffed not one, but two punts, leaving the Owls in terrible field position.

“Honestly I prepared them as best as I could. Last thing I said to our coaches before we broke in the coaches locker room, I said they’re a young football team and they’re inexperienced,” Pelini said. “We’re going to make some bonehead mistakes. Stay patient and teach them through it.”

I initially predicted a 5-7 record but after tonight I may have to re-think my stance. After getting shut out by Wagner for over 45 minutes, five wins might be pushing it.

Afterwards, Pelini said he’ll never apologize for a win.

But after this win?

He should have.

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  • U

    UncleFungoSep 5, 2012 at 4:01 pm

    “That’s a giant spin job. No Division 1 coach in their right mind expects to be in for a battle with a Division 1-AA team.”

    I think that all changed a few years back when Appalachain State upset Michigan. Its good to be critical; you would be out of a job if you weren’t, but let’s see where this leads before jumping to conclusions. Upsets happen every weekend in college football. Give ’em a chance.

  • U

    UncleFungoSep 5, 2012 at 3:55 pm

    Class of 2003 here. Last Friday was my first time at the new stadium and I was very disappointed at the crowd. Not necessarily the size, but the lack of enthusiasm. There was no noise being made when we were on defense and overall it felt like the atmosphere at a funeral. MAKE SOME NOISE!!!

  • R

    RolandoSep 4, 2012 at 1:31 am

    I’m not saying they can’t be competitive(I picked 5 wins), just saying that game was a major major letdown. Anyone with eyes can agree on that.

    With that said, if they can’t manage more than 7 points at home versus a Division 1-AA opponent, how can anyone say with confidence(and not just blind faith) that they can put more points on the board on the road against a conference opponent.

    First game jitters or not, the amount of sloppiness they displayed in week one was unacceptable.

    Yes, Midd. Tenn just lost to a Division 1-AA school but that’s even more incentive for them to want to bounce back. I expect a tight game. Ultimately it’s going to come down to whether Graham Wilbert can put together back-to-back great performances, something he never accomplished last season.

    And that’s why I said the Owls are in trouble for the rest of the season. I’ve already witnessed a 1-11 year of Wilbert. Unless, he’s really new and improved, FAU could be in for another long year.

  • N

    Nick IppolittoSep 1, 2012 at 6:00 pm

    Chris I have to agree with you. Wilbert only played one half, we missed a field goal and fumbled on the one yard line. That’s 10 points right there. Imagine if he started the first half. He would have been on pace for 34 points!

    It’s also brand new systems on both sides of the ball. Let them work it out. A good judgement game will be Middle Tennessee on the road next week. Then we can see what their made of. That game will predict the season.

  • C

    ChrisSep 1, 2012 at 4:48 pm

    Shouldn’t be as doomsday as you write…
    Mental mistakes by Jones lead to horrible field position… this is something that can get fixed easily.

    Don’t forget we fumbled twice inside the 5 yard line that should, at minimum lead to 2 field goals if not 2 more touchdowns. The team got the jitters off and should look much better in the future. I’m not saying we’re going undefeated, but I expect us to be competitive in conference for sure…

  • D

    DaveSep 1, 2012 at 4:30 pm

    Great article.