Football: Midseason Report Card

With a 1-6 start to the season, the Owls have offered little reason for optimism.

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Redshirt sophomore quarterback Jason Driskel was named the starting quarterback for this season on Aug. 23. Brandon Harrington | Staff Photographer

Brendan Feeney, Hans Belot Jr

With a team fresh off consecutive three-win seasons during Charlie Partridge’s first two years as head coach, many believed 2016 would be the year for Florida Atlantic football to improve and aim for its first bowl game since 2008.

The Owls began the season with an eight-point victory over Football Championship Division Southern Illinois before losing six straight games.

Those losses include a 33-31 loss to Florida International, which at the time was 0-4 without scoring more than 14 points in a single game, and a 28-23 loss to Charlotte which was 1-14 all-time against Football Bowl Subdivision teams. The FBS is the highest division of college football, which FAU is a part of.

The following grades are determined by each unit’s performance in the Owls first six games.

Quarterback:

Redshirt sophomore Jason Driskel won the starting quarterback job over redshirt freshman Daniel Parr in training camp. The battle between the two appeared to be a strong motivation after Driskel accounted for 336 total yards and three touchdowns in the Owls opening-day win over Southern Illinois.

“Competition brings out the best in everyone so obviously when you’re competing with someone directly for a role on a team, it’s going to bring out the best in both people,” Driskel said. “I think that’s the goal.”

In the six losses since then, he was limited to 170.1 passing yards per game with six interceptions and two touchdowns.

Driskel’s touchdown-to-interception ratio — having thrown four touchdowns and six picks — is the worst in Conference USA.

Although this is the Oviedo, Florida native’s first season as the full-time starter, he has not lived up to the standard so far. This comes in a Travis Trickett-led offense, whose Samford team accounted for the third most passing yards in the Football Championship Subdivision a year ago.

Grade: D+

Junior Buddy Howell has recorded eight rushing touchdowns this season. Max Jackson | Staff Photographer

Junior Buddy Howell has recorded eight rushing touchdowns this season. Max Jackson | Staff Photographer

Running back:

On his first carry of the season, junior Greg Howell took the ball 48 yards for a touchdown. Later in the same quarter, he busted open for 37 yards and a touchdown.

Howell took three other carries throughout the season for 38, 21 and 68 yards.

However, the yardage total from those five carries (212) happens to be the same exact total from his 73 other combined in the team’s first five games.

In the sixth game against Charlotte, Howell took 20 carries for 100 yards.

Freshman Devin Singletary and redshirt freshman Kerrith Whyte each scored their first career touchdowns, but both have been held under four yards per rush in their initial seasons.

The Owls as a whole ran for a total of 1,111 yards in their first seven games, eighth best in the conference.

The injured offensive line — see below — has made the job tougher for the crop of running backs, but for better or for worse, this is the most explosive unit the Owls have to offer.

Grade: B-

Wide receiver:

The departure of Jenson Stoshak — last year’s leading receiver who had twice as many yards as did any of his teammates — left a vacancy for the Owls No. 1 receiving option. Henry Bussey, Nate Terry, Kalib Woods and Kamrin Solomon were all legitimate candidates to step up.

“We have a lot of playmakers on the outside, we have a lot of fast guys a lot of great athletes,” Parr said prior to the season. “I feel confident in any one of our receiving core to go out and make a play when we need them.”

Woods has been the only one to take a noticeable step.

His 85.1 receiving yards per game and 41 catches on the season both rank seventh in Conference USA.

Driskel noticed the improvements his wide receiver made from last season.

“He’s one of our best receivers, he’s a captain on our team, he’s a guy who comes into work every day and it shows on Saturday,” Driskel said.

Outside of Woods, only two other Owls have reached the century mark — redshirt Tavaris Harrison and junior Nate Terry — but both average under 25 yards per game.

No other Owl averages at least two catches per game.

Woods’ efforts have been just enough to keep the receiving unit in passing territory.

Grade: C-

Sophomore linebacker Azeez Al-Shaair is the youngest Owl to be a captain since the 2012 season. Brandon Harrington | Staff Photographer

Sophomore linebacker Azeez Al-Shaair is the youngest Owl to be a captain since the 2012 season. Brandon Harrington | Staff Photographer

Offensive line:

Prior to the season, the offensive line appeared to be a strength for the Owls. Then junior Reggie Bain, an all-conference preseason member, was involved in a season-ending traffic accident on Aug. 26, just eight days before the team’s first game.

Redshirt senior Kelly Parfitt, redshirt sophomore Matthew Weiner, redshirt junior Antonyo Woods and redshirt freshman Bryan Beck have also experienced their own challenges to staying healthy.

The injuries forced Rimington Award watch-list member redshirt senior Dillon DeBoer to move away from the center position and to left tackle for the first two games.

In the midst of all the injuries, the Owls allowed 2.71 sacks per game — the third most in the conference. They paved the way for the previously mentioned long running plays, but otherwise struggled to be a consistent force.

“I’m proud of the way that they have handled that adversity, but we came here to win,” Partridge said.

Grade: C

Run defense:

The Owls allow 225.6 rushing yards per game — the 17th most in the country.

In their six losses, their opponents ran for 279, 336, 226, 270, 219 and 106 yards. They also allowed 20 touchdowns on the ground in those games, including 12 in a two-week span against Miami and Kansas State.

Prior to this year’s Shula Bowl matchup, Florida International averaged 120 yards per game and failed to score more than 14 points in all four of its games, all of which were losses.

The Panthers pounded FAU for 270 rushing yards and three rushing touchdowns in the Owls 33-31 loss.

Following the game, Partridge and his defense both took responsibility for their inability to stop the run.

“I walked in there and I told them, ‘Listen fellas, I love you to death. I have to find a way to coach you better and motivate you better,’ but I couldn’t finish the sentence before the kids said, ‘No, it’s on us, we need to play better,’” Partridge said.

While the defense has struggled to stop the run, last year’s freshman All-American Azeez Al-Shaair has continued his individual success.

However the defense is responsible for giving up the 18th most points and the 14th most yards in the country and, as a captain in the middle of defense, Al-Shaair is just as responsible as any of his teammates.

Grade: F

Redshirt safety Andrew Soroh leads the Owls with two interceptions. Brandon Harrington | Staff Photographer

Redshirt safety Andrew Soroh leads the Owls with two interceptions. Brandon Harrington | Staff Photographer

Pass defense:

A season ago, FAU recorded the most sacks in Conference USA and defensive end Trey Hendrickson totalled the second most in the country as a junior.

This year has been another story, however, as the Owls have been held to 12 sacks in the first six games and Hendrickson has five of them.

The lack of a pass rush puts more pressure on the secondary, as they have to cover their receivers for a longer period of time. That has prevented the unit from performing to the best of their ability.

Still, the defense is in the middle of the pack in Conference USA in terms of passing yards allowed. They also are tied for third in the conference lead with seven interceptions, led by redshirt sophomores Andrew Soroh and Jalen Young.

Young, a preseason all-conference member, has served as the last line of protection at the back of the defense. He leads the conference with 77 tackles and his 49 solo tackles are the second most in the country.

Grade: C

Sophomore safety Jalen Young ranks seond in the nation with 42 solo tackles. Mohammed F Emran | Staff Photographer

Sophomore safety Jalen Young ranks seond in the nation with 42 solo tackles. Mohammed F Emran | Staff Photographer

Special Teams:

The most consistent unit for the Owls has been their special teams.

Redshirt senior Dalton Schomp downed 14 of his 45 punts inside the 20-yard line and exceeded 50 yards six times.

Redshirt junior Greg Joseph made all six of his field-goal attempts, including a 50 yarder.

Whyte, the team’s kickoff returner, averages 25.4 yards per return, the third best in the conference.

Grade: B

The Team Overall:

The negatives surrounding this team can not be downplayed. The defense ranks toward the bottom in the entire county and the offense isn’t much better.

The team appeared to be on the right path when it led at halftime against Ball State and was on the verge of a 2-2 record ahead of the matchup against 0-4 FIU. However, instead of the potential, and realistic 3-2 start, the Owls sit at the bottom of the Conference USA standings — the worst conference in the entire FBS according to Rating Percentage Index, a measure of a team or conference’s wins, losses and strength of schedule.

“We aren’t losers,” Hendrickson said after the FIU game. “Our record isn’t showing that.”

Grade: D-

All stats are accurate as of Wednesday, Oct. 26.

Brendan Feeney is the sports editor of the University Press. For information regarding this or other stories, email [email protected] or tweet him @feeney42.

Hans Belot Jr. is a contributing writer with the University Press. For information regarding this or other stories, email [email protected] or tweet him at @Don_Phenon_.