BOCA RATON – Playing a high profile opponent like No. 25 Miami poses similar emotional dangers to the ones that produced those first-game jitters that caused FAU to sputter in its season-opener against Southern Illinois.
For most at FAU, Saturday’s game against Miami is the biggest stage they’ll play on this season, facing a ranked team with a storied history loaded with players they played with or against while growing up.
All week the Owls have been saying the right things about this being only one more game on the schedule.
“To be honest with you, they are just another team,” FAU linebacker Nate Ozdemir said. “They are not The U. They are just another Miami team with a Miami logo.”
Over the years teams fueled by waves of emotion and energy have soared to many an upset. Riding those waves too far, though, can also cause players, and teams, to lose focus and sometimes crash.
The Owls learned a week ago that saying the right things and heeding those sentiments once the whistle blows are completely different tasks.
During the opener against Southern Illinois, a 38-30 victory for the Owls, an overflow of emotion and adrenaline did more hurting than helping for FAU (1-0). The Owls hope a more even emotional approach against Miami will limit the errors they can’t afford to commit against their more heralded neighbors to the south.
“I think we were over-amped last Saturday because it was the opener,” FAU defensive coordinator Roc Bellantoni said. “And hopefully they learned the lesson that they don’t have to be over-amped for anybody.”
For Bellantoni’s defense, being over-amped manifested itself in poor tackling.
Frequently throughout the first half FAU went for kill shots against ball carriers only to end up shooting themselves in the foot.
Rather than using their learned technique of wrapping a runner’s legs they hit high and ball carriers simply bounced off and kept on moving.
“I just feel like we had to calm down,” said safety Andrew Soroh, whose poor form on one first quarter play allowed Southern Illinois to turn a short pass into a 54-yard gain. “We came out, we were a little too hyped at first, then we had to calm down and really key into what our job was.”
Soroh’s missed tackle led to a touchdown. Near the end of the first half another poor attempt at tackling, this time on a play where the Salukis appeared to be trying to run out the clock, resulted in a 69-yard touchdown run.
“In our defense you don’t have to be superman,” Bellantoni said. “It’s 11 guys playing together as one. Hopefully they just go back to what their training has got them ready to do.”
The emotional issues weren’t limited to the defensive side of the ball.
Offensive coordinator Travis Trickett says much of the trouble redshirt freshman running back Kerrith Whyte’s experienced while averaging less than two yards per carry can be attributed to his over-aggressiveness when looking for a hole.
“When (Whyte) slows down, he plays and he’s comfortable – he’s pretty special,” Trickett said. “The biggest thing is when he gets so exited he just tries to go because he’s so damn fast.”
FAU (1-0, 0-0 C-USA)
vs. Miami (1-0, 0-0 ACC)
- When: Saturday, 6 p.m.
- Where: Hard Rock Stadium, Miami Gardens.
- TV: ESPN3
- Radio: ESPN West Palm (106.3 FM); 560 WQAM Miami
- Scouting the Hurricanes: HurricaneSports.com
Key for FAU: Survive the early Miami onslaught. The Hurricanes hung 70 points on Florida A & M in the opener, scoring 28 in the first half. They’ve also heard all week about how FAU was able to keep last year’s game close into the second half. Miami has the talent to put this game out of reach quickly. FAU is a confident team possessing as much raw talent as the Owls have ever rostered. If the Owls can stay close early, they will believe the game is theirs to win.
Key for Miami: Slow the tempo. Miami is talented on defense, but the Hurricanes lack depth. FAU’s offense is going to try to wear down the Hurricanes with an up-tempo offense. If the Canes’ defense can keep up, Miami figures to be well positioned to keep climbing the national rankings.
Key Match-up: FAU’s offensive line vs. Miami’s defense. For the second consecutive week the Owls may be looking at juggling their offensive line. A source tells OwlAccess.com that FAU spent the week preparing true freshman Brandon Walton to start at right guard in place of the injured Antonyo Woods and Matt Weiner. If that happens the three players on the interior of the Owls’ offensive line will have combined for two career starts – both coming last week.
Thomas Time: Redshirt freshman Tarrick Thomas made some mistakes against Southern Illinois in his first start, but coaches were impressed by his overall performance. “Tarrick is maybe one of the most athletic linemen I have ever been around. Ever,” Trickett said. “That guy is twitchy. He’s athletic. He can bend. He’s got power in his body when he comes off. The biggest thing for him is just, it’s fast for him right now. But, again, when you’ve got the opportunity to be the guy, you have to be the guy. The maturation process has to speed up.”
Right on Richt: When Howard Schnellenberger brought Miami football to prominence in the early 1980s, Mark Richt was one of his backup quarterbacks. Now Richt, who was fired by Georgia last winter after 15 seasons in Athens, is the head coach at Miami, adding another Schnellenberger tie to what is the last scheduled game between two programs he essentially fathered. Does Schenllenberger want this young series to end? “Hell no,” he said. “I think both teams should try to figure out a way to make it happen even if it’s five years out.”
Insight out: FAU running back A.J. Turman, who transferred from Georgia over the summer, said he didn’t offer any inside information about Richt’s offense because the offense is fairly simple – what coaches see on tape is what they will get. “I’m looking forward to see FAU play FAU football, honestly,” Turman said. “Who’s on the other sideline really doesn’t phase me. Great coaching staff over there, but I’m excited to see how all my boys do because they have been working so hard this offeason, during camp, so I’m really excited about that factor.”
Extra Incentive: Running back Buddy Howell understands more than most what it means to play the Hurricanes. The graduate of Coral Gables High School played his prep football in the shadow of the Canes’ campus. “It’s always one of those games that I know my hood, my community, my teammates from back home, my coach from back home, everybody’s eyes are going to be on me,” Howell said. “Like any other game, you go out there and ball. …Time to show them that I’m out here working and doing what I have to do.”