The Florida Atlantic football team were unable to get payback against the Ohio Bobcats on Saturday night at Schnellenberger Field, losing 17-10 as they fall to 1-1 on the season.
"Maybe one of the weirdest games I have been a part of. I told the team at halftime with a smile on my face up 10-7 that there is not a team in the country that can beat two teams in one night and we were trying to do that the entire half and a lot of times in the second half," head coach Tom Herman said.
The beginning of the contest brought both a surprise and a shock to the fans who attended, even after seeing a 30-minute weather delay for the first time this season. They immediately rose from their seats in cheers when linebacker Jackson Ambush made an interception on Ohio's first play of the game.
However, FAU turned it over when wide receiver Je'Quan Burton sustained a brutal tackle that kept him down to the ground for a substantial amount of time and left fans nervous before he finally got up as team staff carted him off the field. Burton eventually returned to the team's bench looking mobile and chatting with teammates as he did not have his jersey on, being out for the remainder of the game.
"He got a busted up teeth and lip but beyond that, I haven't heard [anything]," Herman said.
Another tough moment came for FAU when safety Armani Eli-Adams went down with a lower leg injury in the first quarter who, like Burton, did not return to the game. It was very unfortunate for the defensive co-captain, who just came back after going through concussion protocol for the past week.
FAU finally got points on the board in the second quarter with a 37-yard field goal from Logan Lupo, the first of his career with the Owls. They found more success on the defensive end a couple minutes later, as Jarron Morris (pictured, photo Bob Markey) picked off Kurtis Rourke and ran for 72 yards to score the first touchdown of the night and his first as an Owl.
"I saw it all the way. I was reading my keys and I saw him get a signal that he ran on me earlier. I knew he was going to run an out route, so I was just trying my hardest to break down to it. It just came to me," Morris said.
Responding with a touchdown to cut FAU's lead to three to close the first half, the Bobcats scored again to take the lead and not look back with 5:38 remaining in the third quarter.
The fourth quarter continued to be a struggle for the Owls until Lajohntay Wester's punt return of 29 yards gave them one last chance to tie the game or go for the win. However, quarterback Casey Thompson's pass to the end zone in the dying seconds was unable to go through as the offense goes back to the drawing board for adjustments.
After torching Monmouth with six touchdowns including five passing touchdowns from Thompson, the Owls cooled off against the Bobcats' defense. They were unable to gain momentum as they were limited to just 180 passing yards and five rushing yards, in stark contrast to the 280 passing yards and 213 rushing yards they got last week.
Thompson, in particular, was not at his best against Ohio's defense. The quickness of their defenders resulted in FAU's offensive line being shaky throughout the game, leaving Thompson vulnerable to sacks and constant pressure. That ended up with him throwing for two interceptions and zero touchdowns, while completing 23 of his 42 passes for 180 yards and a humble quarterback rating of 81.2.
"Overall, we just have to play better. That starts with me at quarterback. We have to run the ball and get a run game going and then in the passing game, we just have to clean up a little bit of details, whether that is an incompletion, accuracy issues, or a dropped pass here or there," Thompson said.
After allowing 20 points against Monmouth, FAU's defense impressed by forcing three turnovers including two interceptions. They made things for Ohio's offense difficult for a good chunk of the night, even with star quarterback Kurtis Rourke leading the way. He was 18-of-29 in completed passes as he got picked off twice.
Ambush continued showcasing his excellent tackling ability, making eight tackles (four solo) and the aforementioned interception to start the game. Inside linebacker Eddie Williams also shined in the former category, making a game-high 11 tackles (five solo) in the process. In a game where FAU won the tackling battle 75-52, their linebackers combined for 30 total.
Despite the struggles, Herman affirmed his confidence in the team. He said they are a work in progress as the long-term goals they have set for themselves are still achievable.
"At the end of the day, it is not about plays, it is about the way that we play under pressure. That is my main task this week, to get guys to understand that all you have to do is play the way you are coached to play with fanatical effort and the technique that you are coached to do," Herman said.
"We are talented enough to do it, but there are times out there where it is chaos…We will go to the ends of the earth to figure out why that is, but I am confident that we will have learned the lessons that are presented to us tonight and learn because of it."
The Owls now await their first challenge on the road, heading up to South Carolina to take on the nationally-ranked Clemson Tigers on September 16th at 8:00 PM. Clemson is coming off a dominant 66-17 victory in their home opener against FCS opponent Charleston Southern.