The Florida Atlantic football team suffered a deflating 22-7 defeat at home to the East Carolina Pirates on Saturday afternoon at Howard Schnellenberger Field.
Their overall record falls to 4-6 with the loss and sees them remain at fifth place in the conference standings with a 3-3 showing in AAC play. They stay behind No. 20 Tulane, SMU, UTSA, and Memphis. This also puts their chances of securing bowl eligibility in jeopardy, needing to win out their last two games of the regular season.
"Lot of respect for Mike Houston and East Carolina and the power of consistency. I think sometimes we as players, unfortunately, we tend to have a mindset of fans and we look at records, we don't listen to our coaches, we don't watch the film, and we don't realize how good of a football team we're about to play," head coach Tom Herman said.
It was a rough start for the Owls, conceding a touchdown midway through the first quarter. They did have a defensive highlight from safety Jarron Morris (pictured via Bob Markey II), who made a spectacular interception on the Pirates' quarterback Alex Flinn to get his third this season.
Later in the second quarter, quarterback Daniel Richardson threw an interception, leaving the offense frustrated with their play. They luckily used that frustration to becoming more creative with their movement for a set of drives, finally reaching the end zone with a three-yard rushing touchdown from quarterback Michael Johnson Jr.
It didn't change the fact that FAU struggled to convert on third down, being successful just one in six attempts while East Carolina was 4-9 in that category heading into the break. The Owls ended up converting on four of their 17 third downs by the game's conclusion.
FAU nearly got a touchdown when linebacker Desmond Tisdol recovered a fumble to return it to the end zone. However, it was overturned when officials said the ball was dead before Tisdol gained possession. Nonetheless, the Owls had another scoring opportunity with a 36-yard field goal from kicker Carter Davis, but his attempt went wide to the left.
That would end up being the Owls' last legitimate chance of getting points on the board, as the Pirates' defense kept closing in on them whenever they tried to make runs or get passes to the receiving corps. East Carolina saw their efforts defensively get rewarded, seeing their kicker convert a career-high five field goals to put the game away from the Owls' reach.
Tackles for loss was the statistic that stood out the most from the Owls. They recorded 15 of them, a new season-high this year, as it took up a total loss of 30 yards.
"The defense tried to practice like we had game-time. So we just transferred it over to the game and it led to great stops," said linebacker Jaylen Wester, who recorded 3.5 TFLs.
However, that wasn't enough as the Pirates' offensive production fared much better than the Owls'. East Carolina had 235 total yards (156 passing and 79 rushing) while FAU finished with 172 yards (151 passing and 21 rushing).
Wide receiver Lajohntay Wester's day of becoming the all-time season leader in total receiving yards will have to wait another game. He finished with 38 yards on six receptions, leaving him just 42 short of the record currently in Cortez Gent's possession. Je'Quan Burton led the team in receiving yards with 39 on five catches by the end of the contest.
The defense had the better display throughout a majority of the game, showing improvements after conceding 45 points in the prior matchup against UAB. Linebacker Desmond Tisdol led the team in tackles with nine (four solo), linebacker Jaylen Wester finished with eight tackles (six solo), safety Kaelen Skipper had a career-high seven tackles (four solo), while linebacker Jackson Ambush made five tackles (three solo).
Herman admitted that he is in uncharted territory with a 4-6 record at this point of the season, a situation he hasn't faced during his past head coaching stints at Houston and Texas.
"We got to do a lot of soul-searching as a staff and get back to work tomorrow. There's no better cure for this feeling than getting back out on the field and fleshing it out. But none of it's going to matter if we continue to play this way against Tulane," Herman stated.
The Owls will stay at home for the next week, hosting their last regular-season game against the nationally-ranked Tulane Green Wave on November 18th at 12:00 PM, which will be broadcast on ESPN+. The Green Wave are coming off a 24-22 nail-biting win over Tulsa, having their record rise to 9-1 (6-0 AAC).