Football: FAU drops fifth-straight game in 35-14 loss to Louisiana-Monroe

Zack Kelberman

Well-rested and fresh off their bye week, the Owls returned to the field against Sun Belt opponent The University of Louisiana-Monroe, hoping to snap a four-game losing streak.  It turns out the extra time off did little to help the struggling squad.

In a game marred by penalties, mental lapses and generally sloppy play, FAU dropped to 1-5 (0-3 in conference play) with a 35-14 loss to ULM at Malone Stadium.

It was a fairly encouraging start for the Owls, who, on their first drive, moved the chains on a 13-yard pass from quarterback Graham Wilbert to wide receiver William Dukes — a prominent theme throughout the evening. After two straight incompletions, however, they were forced to punt, and the Warhawks made them pay. ULM marched 65 yards in 10 plays, taking 3:11 off the clock and an early 7-0 lead. The Owls were gashed on the ground, as ULM went down the field with relative ease thanks to quarterback Kolton Browning.

Following the score, the game became a brief battle of field position. Both teams traded punts on each of their next two possessions, with FAU going three-and-out on consecutive drives and handing ULM excellent field position. Again, the Warhawks took advantage, as running back Monterrell Washington ripped off a 38-yard touchdown run just one minute into the second quarter, extending the score to 14-0.

The ensuing possession for FAU saw Wilbert deliver a 45-yard pass to Dukes, who used all of his 6-foot-4 frame to go up and make the catch. However, the drive stalled shortly thereafter, and FAU went backward with a pair of passes for negative yardage, forcing them to punt it away.

After ULM’s next drive stalled, the Owls received the ball deep in their own territory — and it proved disastrous. Two penalties — holding and false start — backed FAU up to their 9-yard line and a subsequent punt from their end zone. The result was a high snap and fumble by punter Sean Kelly. Warhawks running back Mitchell Bailey pounced on the ball for a touchdown, taking a commanding 21-0 lead.

“For the most part, we had three different personnel packages defensively, and that’s what we didn’t handle very well,” Owls head coach Carl Pelini said. “We handled the calls, handled the execution for the most part. The substitution part is where we lost our focus a few times. We have to do a better job as coaches and as players, understanding what personnel needs to be in the game.”

That particular sequence of events — four plays for negative 15 yards — encapsulated the Owls’ night, where little went right and good ol’ Murphy’s Law — if something can go wrong, it will — was in full effect.

FAU received the kickoff and went on to put together, by far, their best drive of the night. Wilbert started it off with a modest 7-yard gain, and a combination of running backs Jonathan Wallace and Damian Fortner followed by moving the chains on the ground. Wilbert then took over, connecting on four of his next five passes to Dukes and Jenson Stoshak, respectively. The Owls were knocking on the door when tight end Nexon Dorvilus hauled in a 12-yard reception as the ball rested on ULM’s 3-yard line.

From there, Wallace punched in it to get the Owls on the scoreboard, completing a 13-play, 76-yard drive, that took four minutes and 56 seconds and cut the score to 21-7 heading into halftime. On that drive alone, Wilbert completed 5 of 7 passes for 62 yards, including a 27-yard strike to Dukes, his favorite target of the night.

ULM received the ball to start the second half and picked up right where they left off. With the assistance of an 11-yard pass interference penalty on FAU cornerback Christian Milstead, the Warhawks sliced and diced the Owls’ defense, going 75 yards for a touchdown to tight end Harley Scioneaux . At this point, the game was 28-7 and already out of reach for the Owls.

FAU had no answer for the entirety of the third quarter, with Sean Kelly’s leg receiving an extensive workout. He booted eight punts for a whopping 306 yards (an average of 38.3 yards per punt), including two touchbacks. From there, the Warhawks were in clock-killing mode.

Though the Owls never truly established themselves in this contest, Wilbert ran the pistol offense — a two-back formation — well and added a last-minute score to receiver Marcus Cunningham on a nine-play, 51-yard drive.

However, FAU’s 11 penalties for 87 yards, and just nine third down conversions on 20 attempts, ultimately cost the team their chance at a second victory.

The Owls totaled 307 yards, nearly doubling their average of 156.4 (116th overall), and Dukes finished with five catches for 96 yards, an average of 19.2 per reception.

The Owls’ ineffective ground game (46 rushing yards) plodded its way through four quarters.

“They had nine guys in the box. You’ve got to be able to win some one-on-one battles on the outside,” Carl Pelini said. “And you got to be able to protect him to do it. You got to make good quick decisions at the quarterback position. I just thought overall we didn’t execute very well.”

Meanwhile, Wilbert still managed to complete 26 passes for 261 yards (compared to Kolton Browning’s 147) and one touchdown.

It just wasn’t enough, though, and Pelini now faces the daunting challenge of snapping FAU’s five-game losing streak.

He’ll need a new plan of action, because his last one, admittedly, backfired.

“I thought the plan was decent against a team that likes to pressure, likes to crowd the box. You start out in a first and 15, first and 20,” Pelini said. “You just let them tee off on you, you don’t have a chance.“

The Owls’ next matchup is on Oct. 20 at University of South Alabama (Time TBD).