FIU defeated FAU, 38-10, in a weather-delayed contest in Miami on Thursday night. The Panthers led 14-10 at halftime before a two-hour lightning delay that severely halted the momentum of the game. Quarterback Alex McGough led FIU with 18 passes for 160 yards and one rushing touchdown and cornerback Richard Leonard had an interception and a 100-yard fumble recovery touchdown. The night was mostly negative for FAU, who never really got into the flow of the game. The Owls did have a few not-so-negatives, but it was mostly a forgettable night for Florida Atlantic.
Lucky Whitehead is FAU's Best Player
That sentiment has escaped from opinion and planted itself firmly in fact. Without Lucky, last night would've been a complete statistical nightmare and visible tragedy of inept football. Whitehead was the only Owl receiver that found space on offense and his kick returns were the only gasps of life the team displayed since a forced fumble on their first punt of the game. Whitehead finished with 8 catches for 84 yards and 4 returns for 86 yards. FIU's answer to Lucky, Richard Leonard, only had 5 yards on one punt return.
Kinda, not Terrible Coaching - Avoiding Richard Leonard on Special Teams
Jordan Guest, Fred Russ and Clinton Taylor all had longer kick returns than Richard Leonard. This is very good. The idea behind utilizing Leonard in his kick returning role is to give the team an opportunity to put points on the board everytime he touches the ball. FAU, stumbling upon a realization of how moving a football towards an endzone works, decided to make sure Leonard did not have the ball in his hands. This seems like a fairly uncomplicated concept, but we'll touch more on this later.
Jaquez Johnson is FAU's Starting Quarterback
Johnson finished the night with 19 completions for 225 yards and one interception. While that interception was the antithesis of Quez's play up to this point, many of his passes were extremely catchable. His grasp and motion tightened up as the game got out of hand, but for the most part, these incompletions were drops and not bad passes. Another minor piece of "good" coaching here - Quez stayed in at QB for the entire game. There were many times were putting in backup QB Greg Hankerson seemed plausible. But, for anyone that thinks Hankerson was going to go out and create something Quez could not, you are terribly mistaken. This was not just bad quarterback play, but bad offensive play.
Everything Went Terribly Wrong
I could probably just leave this section blank and it would be right, but I'll try and make sense of what happened. First, holy moly the Owls cannot stop anyone on defense. Anthon Samuel has found his niche as the back-up, change-of-pace running back for FIU and he had two touchdowns. Alex Gardner, a true freshman and former FAU recruiting target, rushed for 100 yards and also picked up a touchdown. Alex McGough, a quarterback that runs like a newborn deer, had a rushing touchdown. I can downplay FIU's skills all I want, but they were clearly the better team and they made the Owls look clueless on defense. While William Dukes had 70 receiving yards and Lucky Whitehead continued to find a way to keep drives alive, the FAU offense was also terrible. Countless dropped passes and a simple misunderstanding of avoiding the opponent's best player disrupted any momentum Jaquez Johnson attempted to conjure.
Terrible Coaching - Throwing at Richard Leonard on Offense
So, about that whole best defensive player thing. We all know who the most dynamic player for FIU is. Richard Leonard was lined up against FAU's best receiver for a majority of the night. He is their playmaker. With 3 interceptions prior to the game (and now 4), you would think that the play-calling picture boards would just be replaced with the words, "DON'T THROW IT NEAR LEONARD". So of course, with the Owls in the red zone and looking to start their much-needed comeback, Quez flung a flattened fade ball right into Leonard's hands. It was the final pin needed to deflate any hope FAU had of winning the Shula Bowl. Leonard has already returned two interceptions for touchdowns this year and he added a 100-yard fumble recovery TD to his resume on Thursday, as well.
I firmly believe that Jay Warren will be a great running back for Florida Atlantic. Not necessarily as good as Alfred Morris, but he will be successful. With that said, there is absolutely zero chance he sees that potential blossom if he continues to put the ball on the ground. Two terribly inopportune fumbles by Warren absolutely gutted the Owl offense. One thing is Quez being left out to dry and crushed head-on by a defensive lineman and the other is bracing yourself a run up the middle that sees you lose the ball on the first instance on contact. There are nearly two weeks left until Florida Atlantic's next game against Western Kentucky and the Hilltoppers are a nice team that have seen success this season. If FAU wants to have any chance of postseason play, a winning record or even just another conference victory, they need to hold on to the ball.