BOCA RATON — Home for the first time in three weeks, FAU wasn’t in the mood to let any lightning surges ground them. There’s a reason why Owls find it difficult to fly in the rain, however.
After suffering the worst loss in program history in last week’s 63-7 slaughter by Kansas State, the Owls had to fight through numerous lightning delays and more injuries to key players only to limp away with a heartbreaking 31-27 loss to Ball State that dropped FAU to 1-3 for the season.
Lightning was more than just background light on a dark night for the Owls, the initial kickoff was delayed nearly an hour. A second lightning delay occurred midway through the third quarter, a third came an hour later and with 5:33 left on the game clock.
After the final lightning delay, Ball State quarterback Riley Neal led the Cardinals down the field and scored with 1:46 left on a two-yard run, giving Ball St. it’s margin of victory. Starting from their own 30 following a 4th-and-short run by Buddy Howell that went nowhere, Neal went 3-4 for 35 yards on a drive that showcased the poor tackling that continues to plague FAU’s defense.
“It has to be a part of your makeup — anywhere I’ve been, where we had tough streaks or good streaks – you have to move on,” FAU coach Charlie Partridge said. “It’s the way this game is and you have either 24 hours to celebrate or 24 hours to get over a tough loss emotionally. That’s all you have. If you handle it any other way, then you have no shot to continue to get better.”
A week after being replaced by backup Daniel Parr, quarterback Jason Driskel responded by leading the team to two scoring drives in the first quarter – one of which ended with him running into the end zone for his second rushing touchdown of the season. The other score saw Driskel connect with Kalib Woods for a 31 yard strike, the latest highlight between the two.
A year after only catching 27 balls for 350 yards, Woods has elevated his game to a new level with 24 catches and 347 yards. Woods finished the loss with 4 catches for 108 yards.
The composure and playmaking skills that led Partridge and offensive coordinator Travis Trickett to pick Driskel over Parr in fall camp returned early on Saturday night in full force. With his seat as the team’s starter warming up after two blowout losses, Driskel silenced the doubters with an electric performance where he totaled 324 yards passing and played mistake-free for 58 minutes.
It was his interception to seal the loss, however, that is going to be the moment most remembered from this game.
“I wasn’t good enough. I didn’t give our guys a chance to do what they do best which is make plays,” Driskel said of the final drive. “I played well, but not well enough. That drive at the end of the game was the worst drive I’ve had all year. We played all right for one half but that’s not enough.”
For the first time this season, Buddy Howell was held scoreless and was limited to just 3.7 yards per touch on eighteen carries. Not getting the explosive plays Howell is prone to making definitely had an impact on FAU’s offense, especially on the fourth and short midway through the fourth quarter.
Not all was negative on the rushing front, however, as Kerrith Whyte scored his first collegiate touchdown in the second quarter on a three-yard rush. In the past two weeks, Whyte has averaged 4.8 yards a carry and given the Owls a nice compliment to Howell.
“It feels good getting the first touchdown of my college experience,” Whyte said. “Couldn’t do it without the O-line, they’re a big part of that. It was an inside play and the moment coach called it, I knew it was going to be a touchdown.”
The injury bug bit the Owls yet again as both offensive lineman Tarrick Thomas and cornerback Ocie Rose each had to leave the game. Thomas was on crutches for the second half of the game.
GameBrowser: Ball St. (3-1) 31, FAU (1-3) 27
Leading 27-24 with 7:48 remaining, FAU twice the gave the ball to Buddy Howell, who gained 24 yards on two tough runs. Ball St. held the Owls to two yards on the next two plays, and on fourth-and-1 from the Cardinals’ 32 stuffed Howell on a run up the middle. Ball St. got the ball back and, after a weather delay, launched what turned out the be the game-winning drive.
- FAU’s patchwork offensive line enjoyed its best night of the season. Matt Weiner started at right tackle, with Antonyo Woods moving to the left tackle. FAU put together two good drives in the first quarter, but did lose left guard Tarrick Thomas to injury. As well as the line played, though, FAU failed to score on a goal-to-go situation in the second quarter, leading to a field goal from the 1, and they couldn’t open a hole on that crucial fourth down play in the fourth quarter that gave the ball back to Ball St. The health and effectiveness of the offensive line will determine whether the Owls can climb back into bowl contention.
- With the victory over Old Dominion that concluded last season season, the Owls thought they had finally solved the late-game issues that had cost them games. That doesn’t appear to be the case. There weren’t any strange late-game decisions or outright blown plays – though the Owls did look inept in the two-minute drill. The fact is, this team simply doesn’t know how to win games that are close, late.
- Maybe it’s something in the Boca Raton air, but Florida Atlantic really looked at home in the first half; Jason Driskel looked composed for the first time since the season opener, all of the receivers – not just Kalib Woods, as has been the case in recent weeks – were making plays, and the defense finally showed some life after consecutive blowout losses. If Saturday’s first half is a sign of things to come for how the Owls are going to play in the first thirty minutes of games, then more wins are in the Owls’ future.
- Buddy Howell isn’t going to get held up often, but averaging just 3.7 yards per carry on Saturday limited FAU’s offense, especially in the second half. When Howell goes, the offense goes and the team goes but when Howell doesn’t go and he’s held to games below the level of his talent, it’s hard to get things going if you’re the Owls.
2 – Penalties by the Owls, a staggeringly-low count for a team who’s battled off-sides and holding problems all year.
3 – Different players who recorded 10 tackles for the Owls: Jalen Young, Nate Ozdemir and Azeez Al-Shaair.
8 – Consecutive Conference-USA games the Owls will play to end the season. The Owls will leave Florida for just three of those games, however.
10 – Losses in 12 Non-Conference games since Partridge took over prior to the 2014 season.
11 – Different Owls who caught passes on Saturday. The Owls’ offense finally started spreading the ball.
23 – Catches junior Kalib Woods has on the season through four games. Woods only had 27 catches all of last season.
74 – Yards rushing for Ball St. QB Riley Neal, who baffled the Owls on the read option. He also threw for 252 yards.
226 – Yards rushing for Ball St., which made the most of the Owls’ talking issues.
448 – Yards of total offense for Ball St.
For the fourth time in five weekends, the Owls will stay in their native state of Florida as they travel to Miami for this year’s edition of the Shula Bowl and a match-up with the FIU Panthers. Kickoff is scheduled for 7 p.m.