Each Sunday during the football season OwlAccess.com writers Chuck King, Jake Elman and Matt Wilson dissect the previous day’s FAU football game in our new feature entitled “Four Down Territory.” Here’s our analysis of FAU’s 38-30 victory over Southern Illinois.
King: The Owls took the field filled with confidence and emotion, but after Buddy Howell’s 48-yard touchdown run on their second play from scrimmage FAU reverted to its recent trend of playing to the level of its competition. Despite defensive coordinator Roc Bellantoni’s assertion that this is a good tackling team, the Owls missed tackle after tackle to keep the Salukis in the game. Southern Illinois is a good FCS team, but this never should have been a one possession game. The short term good news? If the trend continues and FAU plays to Miami’s level next week, the Owls could once again prove problematic for the Hurricanes.
Elman: Jason Driskel’s composure throughout the game. We’re all aware of how well Driskel performed in relief last year, especially against Miami and Old Dominion, but his first game as the team’s official starter in 2016 went better than I think most people would have expected. Completing nearly 75 percent of his passes behind an offensive line missing two starters, Driskel gave the Owls something on Saturday night that we really never saw in the Quez Johnson era: consistency. Look for Driskel’s success in game one to give the offense a bit of a motivational boost going into next week’s showdown with the Hurricanes.
Wilson: The play of defensive end Haiden Nagel. The redshirt junior, a former walk-on who received an athletic scholarship at the end of camp, recorded eight tackles, including a sack. Nagel started the game and played well, overshadowing his counterpart Nick Internicola. Nagel had the second most tackles on the team, two behind Azeer Al-Shaair.
PLAYER OF THE GAME
King: I’m going to cheat. After all the turmoil of last week, which included losing left tackle Reggie Bain for the season in a motor scooter accident and then losing right guard Antonyo Woods for at least one week to an undisclosed injury, FAU’s reconfigured offensive line performed admirably. Quarterback Jason Driskel had plenty of time to throw and Buddy Howell certainly didn’t have much trouble finding creases. The line took another hit during the game when Woods’ replacement, Matt Weiner, left the game (he had his arm in a sling on the sidelines near the end of the first half) but replacement Jakobi Smith drew postgame praise from FAU coach Charlie Partridge for his play. Woods is expected back for next week’s game vs. Miami, which should provide a much needed boost to a unit that already overcome its share of adversity.
Elman: Even with all of the plays Driskel made on Saturday, the Owls aren’t in the game at halftime if Buddy Howell doesn’t show off his electricity with two scoring runs. All camp long we heard about how Buddy can make explosive plays and how Buddy can really change a game. On Saturday, even if there was more of a pass focus in the second half, we really got to see that all that talk about the dangers of Buddy Howell was indeed correct. It wasn’t until the start of the second half that Driskel and the rest of the offense really began to click but, if not for Buddy Howell nearly eclipsing the century mark in the first quarter alone, we may not have been able to see FAU even try to muster up a comeback in the final 30 minutes. The success of this offense is probably going to ride on Howell and, if Saturday night was any indication, Howell can handle that.
Wilson: Greg Howell had an outstanding game rushing for 128 yards on 16 carries and two scores. If he had not played as well as he did, FAU would not be in the win column. He was a game changer. He was the ‘Work Horse’ that coach Partridge wanted and he helped manage the game.
King: Partridge blamed Daquan Isom’s 69-yard touchdown run in the closing seconds of the first half on a missed tackle. While the Owls did miss a tackle near the line of scrimmage on the play, a missed tackle on a play where the opponent is essentially trying to run out the clock simply can’t lead to a touchdown. The defensive call, and the execution of that call, in that situation has to be better.
Elman: With how well Howell was playing, it would have only made sense for Jay Warren — the 1B to Howell’s 1A — to get some snaps as part of the Owls’ two-back offense and the ‘dynamic duo’ set. Yet, Warren — who finished the 2015 campaign with a strong showing at Old Dominion — only got one carry in the entire game and none after the first quarter. Partridge confirmed after the game that Warren was healthy, so why the lack of touches for the senior? Kerrith Whyte actually drew the start for FAU but struggled to get anything going all night, constantly being stuffed for minimum yardage. It raises the question of why Partridge and Trickett would limit Warren to just one touch.
Wilson: Howell. didn’t need to be splitting carries with Whyte, who gained only 20 yards on 11 rushes for 20 yards. FAU should have gone with the hot hand and kept on giving the ball to Howell. It was good game experience for Whyte, a redshirt freshman, but in the end it was not practical. Howell was a dominant runner and showed the ability to break the big play. Feed him.
King: Three quarters of the stands looked empty on Saturday, but not the student section. FAU students may have comprised as much as half the announced attendance of a little less than 15,000, a good showing considering it was a holiday weekend against an FCS opponent. The closed end of Howard Schnellenberger Field gets loud – providing a true advantage for FAU.
Elman: People are going to look at the box score and think the Owls really clamped down on the Saluskis in the second half, but if not for a missed PAT and a blocked kick, that 38-30 final is a 38-34 final. This was a much closer game than the final score indicates, in large part because of the Owls’ inability to stop Southern Illinois’ offense even on plays where the opportunity was right in front of them. We talked about it in the trending topics, but FAU’s defense was really struggling to wrap guys up and bring them down for the tackle. At times, it looked like something out of a classic football video game where the players are 7 feet tall and 400 pound of pure muscle with a 99 break tackle rating. Nerves and anxiety for the opener are one thing and the team acknowledged that after the game, but the tackling needs to really improve if the Owls have any hopes of staying competitive with the Hurricanes next Saturday.
Wilson: FAU came out sluggish against SIU and benefited from some SIU injuries. SIU lost several defensive linemen throughout the game, especially later in the game. FAU will need to play the pass better because C-USA and the other teams they play can throw the ball. Also, FAU will need to utilize Howell more against Miami. They will need to come out much stronger next week to be in the game with Miami.