Coming into the year we we’re a bit unsure how the season would unfold. Had Carl Pelini remained the head coach, a bowl bid would have been considered a minimum in order to validate progress under his tenure.
With Charlie Partridge taking over as the new head coach, bringing with him recruiting credibility and south florida ties, expectations ranged from potential conference title to at least a bowl bid. Growing pains were expected with Partridge's first head coaching job but as FAU enters the bye week, the bowl bid Owl fans we’re at least expecting, is in serious doubt.
Without the pressure of having to get prepared for a game, the coaching staff has had a chance to do more hands on work with the players. "We have focused on the development of our younger players," said Partridge of the extra time gained before the Owls face Western Kentucky on October 18th at FAU Stadium.
Partridge is still emphasizing the future of the football program during the bye week as he and his staff hits the recruiting trail and get the team ready for second half of the schedule.
"The players and coaches are working to improve and develop the foundation of this program for the long term each and every day,” said Partridge on what he's liked the most out of his team.
Buying in to a new coach is a great indicator for success when building a football program. Whether that success translates to this year remains to be determined. Regardless, Partridge has been much busier, and had to reorganize his schedule to accommodate what comes with being on top of the program.
“My biggest adjustment has been getting all of the work done early in the morning, so that I can respond and react to all the situations that come up throughout the day", Partridge said.
Now that six weeks have passed, we take a look back at the season…
The Owls’ start to the season was one all too familiar for the fan base as the hype surrounding Partridge and the football program simmered after an 0-2 start, as traditional powers Alabama and Nebraska outmanned the Owls. FAU was outscored 96-7 in the two contest.
The home opener against Tulsa was just what the football team needed as FAU wore red helmets for the first time in school history and routed the Golden Hurricane 50-21. Johnson engineered the offense to near perfection, going 15-20 with 318 yards and four total touchdowns. The defense reverted to their opportunistic play from last year forcing three turnovers; highlighted by D'Joun Smith's 23 yard interception return for a touchdown.
But the Owls let momentum slip away at Wyoming. Jaquez Johnson and the offense were inconsistent all day compiling 296 total yards, going 8-18 on 3rd downs. FAU still had control of the game until Johnson’s critical fumble in the red zone gave Wyoming new life. The Cowboys scored on the ensuing drive to win the game 20-19. The heartbreaking loss raised the old bugaboo that FAU still can’t finish games.
The next game against UTSA beamed that this was not the same old FAU, as the Owls scored the game’s final 14 points to win the game. Johnson connected with freshman Nate Terry for the game winning score. To boot, FAU overcome an 87 yard kickoff return that brought UTSA yards from pulling off their own dramatic comeback which spelled typical FAU football. However, Cre’von Leblanc saved the game with a hit to jar the ball loose securing the game 41-37 win that perhaps signaled FAU was turning the corner.
Heading into the Shula Bowl to take on FIU at 2-3, FAU had the opportunity to move to 2-0 in conference play and put on a performance in front of recruits to showcase Partridge’s regime at FAU will be similar to his predecessors when playing in the Shula Bowl; dominating wins over FIU.
Instead the 13th annual Shula Bowl turned into the meltdown in Miami. FAU turned the ball over four times - three fumbles, one interception - as FIU routed the Owls 38-10. The sloppy play from previous road games was on display tenfold in Miami. In the red zone FAU committed three turnovers. Jay Warren was responsible for two fumbles, both culminating in 14 points for FIU.
The Owls have been decimated by the injury bug as D’Joun Smith and Jaquez Johnson have missed a game due to injury while Reggie Brown, Brandin Bryant and David Lazandier will miss the remainder of the season.
"Injuries are an unfortunate part of every season," said Partridge. "We are training the players that will step in to play at their highest level.”
At the midpoint, the Owls will look to correct past transgressions and move to the next phase of the schedule.
"Turnover ratio and 3rd down stops are things we are straining to improve,” said Partridge on what the coaching staff is stressing during the bye week.
We'll see whether their words got through to the players next week against the Hilltoppers. The Owls have enjoyed home cooking in Boca Raton this year, going 2-0 while averaging 45.5 points per game.
Offensive MVP: Lucky Whitehead. After last year’s season was hampered by nagging hamstring injuries, Whitehead has burst onto the scene this year for the Owls as a utility guy with 36 receptions, 311 yards, and two touchdowns. He’s also rushed the ball 14 times for 80 yards. Whitehead has been outstanding on special teams for the Owls averaging 26.6 yards per kickoff return and 24.4 yards on punt return, good enough for 13th and 3rd in the nation.
Defensive MVP: Andre Kirk. Captain Kirk has been consistent throughout the year, leading the team with 48 tackles, adding two sacks and an interception. His senior leadership will be valuable as FAU tries to get their season back on track.