Florida Atlantic defeated UTSA in Boca Raton on Saturday night, 41-37. The Owls came from behind to score two touchdowns in the game's final four minutes to defeat the Roadrunners and move to 1-0 in conference play. While the Owls walked away with a victory, their performance was far from perfect. Ball security is still an issue, big plays could happen against FAU at any moment and some of the play-calling continues to leave me scratching my head. But, this team is undefeated at home and heading into the Shula Bowl with an extremely hard-fought victory under the belts. With that said, let's get to the grades.
First play of the game: fumble. This was not very tight and caused me to let out a groan I didn't think my body could produce. It was painful to watch Jaquez Johnson's body language after that turnover, but fortunately for Quez, he has a short-term memory when it comes to these things. Being sacked three times needs to be corrected for next week (FIU brings the house on their pass rush), but I considered those to be more the offensive line's fault. Johnson is now up to 773 passing yards on the season and is finally starting to show some promise as a passer in this offensive system.
Running Back: C+
Jay Warren finished the game with 14 carries for 73 yards. He has officially taken over the running back position (Tony Moore had two carries and a touchdown) and if I didn't just mention those stats you could have easily assumed that he didn't even play. This may be an issue of play-calling (the Owls were trailing from the first snap) or it might just be that Warren was overmatched by a physical UTSA defensive front. Things won't get easier against an FIU defense that is actually stopping teams from running all over them.
Wide Receiver: A-
The most consistent group of the night. Jenson Stoshak, Lucky Whitehead, William Dukes and Alex Deleon all played like veteran leaders and made plays when they were called upon. I didn't imagine this team throwing this much already, but I'm glad it is working out. While these four pass-catchers had great performances, the player of the game here is obviously Nate Terry. One catch on the year and one game-winning touchdown. The frame and talent is there for the true freshman tight end, he just needs to put on a little more weight. It's only his first catch, and I don't want to completely jump the gun, but this could be FAU's next Jason Harmon (this is a big deal for long-time Owl fans).
Offensive Line: C+
The offensive front for the Owls experienced a tumultuous game that saw a new face work itself into the line up. True freshman Joe Gold worked in at center, while senior Braden Lyons shifted over to right tackle. Lyons started at tackle last season and converted to center this year due to depth issues. Regardless of the personnel protecting Quez, the unit still let up three sacks. With a quarterback as mobile as Johnson is, this is unacceptable.
Defensive Line: B-
While the entire defense buckled down as the game got tight in the 4th quarter, the defensive line did their job and applied pressure on Tucker Carter. Robinson Eugene and Tevon Coley stepped up their performances, while Brandin Bryant absolutely demolished the UTSA line en route to sacking Carter and forcing a game-decisive punt.
Kirk, Kirk, Kirk. Captain Andrae Kirk was phenomenal. Not only was he all over the field, racking up 13 tackles, but he also acrobatically intercepted a pass to give FAU some much needed momentum in the second quarter. The linebacker corps finally stepped up and made a few timely run stops. Robert Relf really showed some promise towards the end of the game and I would like to see him build off this performance against FIU.
Welcome back, Cre'von LeBlanc. I feel like it has been a long time since I wrote his name for something positive. LeBlanc wasn't perfect in this game, but he was dynamic. UTSA continued to attack his assignments and he kept answering the call. D'Joun Smith was left alone for most of the night, but even when the ball was thrown his way, he did not have much success. Another stud for this unit was Damian Parms. The senior safety showed off his athleticism and by the end of the game, I had written "PARMS GREAT TACKLE" at least five times in my game notes.
Special Teams: C
You cannot receive a good grade here if you miss an extra point. With that said, if Greg Joseph didn't hustle back to push Kam Jones out of bounds on the final kick-off, this recap would've been written much more angrily. That final return was ridiculous. It should have never happened (squib kick), but it did. All we can do is hope coach Partridge learns something from this moment and makes the proper play-call for next time. Also, Lucky wasn't at his best returning kicks in this game. UTSA kept a sound special teams coverage unit.
Everything prior to the final four minutes could've been graded as a "D+". The offense was not fun, the defense looked overmatched and you can't miss extra points. I fully anticipated a waving of the white flag, but for some reason, that didn't happen. I don't know what it is about FAU. Under Howard Schnellenberger, the Owls went through a string of good luck moments that eventually led to two bowl games and a conference championship. Sometime after that, FAU became synonymous with dumb luck and finding new and creative ways to lose football games. Just last year, the Owls let close contests against MTSU, Marshall and Rice slip away in the waning moments of each game. While they won't be able to wipe the slate clean this year (darn you, Cowboys!), it appears that FAU has finally returned to better days.