Defense can’t limit FIU, as Wilbert has career night
Florida Atlantic had never let Florida International win back-to-back games in the Shula Bowl heading into Friday night.
On a nationally televised stage, the Owls couldn’t stop one of the conference’s worst offenses as the Panthers walked away with a 34-24 victory.
“We played outside of who we are. We did things tonight that are uncharacteristic of who we have been for the last four or five weeks,” head coach Carl Pelini said.
The win comes as the second in a row for FIU in the twelve year series, and can be attributed to blown assignments on defense and a lack of production from a run game that totaled -12 yards on the night.
From the first whistle of the game, the Owls couldn’t stop the deep pass and the Panthers made them pay.
The visitors drove the length of the field on their opening drive of the contest and quarterback Jake Medlock found wide receiver Willis Wright for a 38-yard touchdown pass to set the tone of the night.
FAU simple couldn’t prevent the big play while the offense couldn’t run the ball.
Wilbert was ineffective in the first quarter and was just 4-of-11 passing at the conclusion of the period. He looked off of his usual mark and didn’t have time in the pocket. The offense line couldn’t provide him with protection, and the run game was nonexistent.
The passer would find gain some composure a few snaps later and hit Nexon Dorvilus for a 17-yard touchdown pass to tie the game in the second quarter.
FIU would respond on their next drive with two pass plays to put them inside the Owls’ 5-yard line. The Panthers would then call a “tackle eligible” gadget play, and 280-pound offensive tackle Rupert Bryan would run the ball in for a 5-yard touchdown.
The Owls would cut into the lead with a field goal before half but trailed 14-10 at the break. The team had combined for -11 rushing yards and was just 2-for-8 on third down.
A weather delay at the beginning of the third quarter suspended play, but once action resumed FAU would take it’s first and only lead of the game.
Running back Jonathon Wallace would punch in a score from 1-yard out and things finally looked positive for the home team.
But the advantage wouldn’t last long as the Owls would give up another costly play.
FIU returned the ensuing kickoff 100-yards for a touchdown and retook the lead. The Owls had effectively led for just thirteen seconds of the contest.
“They really broke our back with that kickoff return,” Pelini said. “That’s got to be fixed with as much time we spend on special teams for that to happen.”
The Panthers would add score another for insurance on a Medlock pass to Wayne Times, and held a 27-17 lead heading into the final quarter of play.
FAU would do it’s best to construct a comeback bid, but the effort was short lived.
Wide receiver Jenson Stoshak caught a deflected pass and raced 60-yards for a touchdown, but that would be the team’s final points.
FIU would add another touchdown on a Kendrick Rhodes 1-yard touchdown run, before Wilbert threw an interception in the red zone.
“I’ll probably think about that for the rest of my life,” Wilbert said of the pass.
The quarterback finished with a career-high 403 passing yards, but the interception in the fourth quarter marked his first in 250 passing attempts. Wilbert was sacked four times and frequently was forced to make throws while being hit.
Wallace and the run game never developed for the offense and the unit finished with -12 rushing yards – the program’s third worst rushing performance in school history.
The Owls’ defense gave up 264-passing yards and couldn’t stop Medlock, who often kept plays alive with his feet.
“We had opportunities defensively. We gave up on the pass rush; we were playing soft, wouldn’t challenge receivers and missed tackles. We had the opportunities to make some plays,” Pelini said.
FAU falls to 2-8 on the season and 2-9 in games played in the rain.
- True freshman wide receiver Jenson Stoshak started his first career game, as Byron Hankerson was held out of the contest. The pass catcher filled in nicely at the ‘X’ wide receiver position catching 5 passes for 108 yards including his 60-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter. Numerous times he helped move the chains and proved to be a solid pass catching option for Wilbert. The Owls had two 100-yard receivers in Stoshak and William Dukes for the first time since 2008.
- Another freshman, linebacker Freedom Whitfield, had a solid night as well. Whitfield was used as a coverage linebacker and often spied the mobile Medlock passing situations. He finished with two tackles and a quarterback hurry, which stalled an FIU drive.
- FIU wide receiver Wayne Times and Willis Wright had a productive night and got the best of cornerback Christian Milstead. The two were often matched up against the defender on the boundary side of the field, and consistently where open. The receivers tallied 98 yards receiving including the two touchdowns.
- Wilbert became the first FAU quarterback to pass for over 400 yards since Rusty Smith accomplished the feat in 2007 against Minnesota. His 28 completions and 51 attempts where the most in his career along with the 60-yard strike to Stoshak.