Football: FAU falls to Middle Tennessee 31-17 in Sun Belt Opener

Mohamed Abdihakim

FAU football lost its second game of the 2012 season to Middle Tennessee, 31-17. Last year, FAU lost 38-14. Photo by Michelle Friswell.

The Owls started Graham Wilbert at quarterback, but in their first road game their offensive woes continued.

FAU (1-1) fell 31-17 to Middle Tennessee tonight at Floyd Stadium in its Sun Belt Conference opener.

The Owls were only down 7-0 before the Blue Raiders broke open the game in the third quarter with 17 points. The Owls defense allowed a pair of Blue Raiders running backs to reach over the century mark, as redshirt junior Drayton Calhoun (14 carries, 104 yards, one TD), and freshman Jordan Parker (16 carries, 114 yards) carried the load.

Wilbert passed for 260 yards and two touchdowns. He completed 11 passes in a row at one point, an all-time FAU record. Wilbert threw one touchdown to wide receiver Byron Hankerson (two touchdowns for the season) and the other to running back Damian Fortner, who was playing his first game of the season.

“I thought Graham [Wilbert] played OK. I thought he executed for the most part,” FAU head coach Carl Pelini said. “I was a little bit disappointed in some of our skill guys at times. The turnovers have gotta stop, the dropped passes have gotta stop.”

Middle Tennessee held the Owls rushing attack to a total of 96 yards after they had 164 against Wagner in week one. Fortner led the Owls in rushing with 42 yards on 13 carries. Owls running back Johnathan Wallace had 27 yards on four carries.

“Both guys bring multiple different things to the table. We just try to utilize them with what they do the best,” Owls offensive coordinator Brian Wright said to ESPN760. “Sometimes with different things, guys lined up out wide, throwing the ball to them, or throwing screens to them, bringing them back into the backfield running the ball with them. We’re just trying to utilize the guys that we have right now on offense.”

The largest run of the night for FAU was 18 yards by Wilbert.

On the other side of the ball, the Owls’ troubles defending the run made the Blue Raiders’ passing game a non-necessity, producing 178 yards in the air with two touchdowns (compared with 302 yards, two TDs on the ground).

But, when the Blue Raiders put the ball in the air, they punished FAU’s secondary defensive unit. Quarterback Logan Kilgore only threw 14 passes, but two were touchdown receptions to Anthony Amos. The senior wide receiver caught four passes for 102 yards.

Owls kicker Vinny Zaccario scored FAU’s first points of the game in the third quarter with a 39- yard field goal. In last year’s game, pictured here, FAU lost 38-14. Photo by Michelle Friswell.

Wright looked to be erring on the side of caution tonight.

Most of FAU’s pass attempts came in the form of short yard plays. For the majority of the night, Wilbert saw his passes generate few yards, the longest of which included the 32 yard touchdown pass to Hankerson.

“We were trying to build his confidence early, as well as the offense, with some intermediate throws and easy throws for him,” Wright said to ESPN760. “Try to get him set in a rhythm.”

FAU scored 14 of its 17 points in the fourth quarter.

Pelini understands the importance of properly preparing the Owls for their next two games (Georgia and defending national champion Alabama), which are on the road against top 10 teams in the country.

“As far as I’m concerned, we just need to go back to the drawing board and keep working hard,” Pelini said. “Get our players to keep believing and keep fighting.”

FAU plays at No. 7 ranked Georgia Bulldogs on Saturday, Sept. 15, at 7:30 p.m. The game will be streamed on ESPN3.com.