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The Youth Movement Continues: FAU Owls Season Review

FAU fans had to endure another tough season as FAU went 3-9 for the second straight year. But with a few young players making a name for themselves, all signs point towards 2016 being the breakthrough for Charlie Partridge.

Hopefully next year FAU is able to add another trophy to the Oxley Center
Hopefully next year FAU is able to add another trophy to the Oxley Center
Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

Entering the season many fans believed this would be the year the Florida Atlantic Owls would put it all together and reach their first bowl game since 2008. With six home games, a manageable non-conference schedule, and a favorable conference slate, I figured FAU had a chance to compete for the C-USA East division.

Boy was I wrong.

With injuries forcing Charlie Partridge to play a ton of freshmen and sophomores on the two-deep FAU struggled with consistency all season as the young players had to sink or swim.

A lot of them sunk, and as a result FAU drowned towards their second straight 3-9 season under Charlie Partridge.

But not all is lost. With a ton of young players seeing the field this season all signs point towards 2016 being the breakthrough FAU fans have been dying for.

Let's take a look back at a season that featured a ton of new faces providing hope for next year as well as figuring out what went wrong in Charlie Partridge's second season in Boca Raton.

Offense: D

Category Avg. Rk
EFFICIENCY Success Rate 40.30% 83
FINISHING DRIVES Pts. Per Trip in 40 3.6 122
S&P+ 23.2 104
Points Per Game 22.5 107

If you would have told me FAU would finish the season 3-9 I would have thought it was because FAU didn't win enough shootouts.

In 2014 that was the case. Not this season.

Despite returning proven commodities in the backfield with Jaquez Johnson, Buddy Howell, and Jay Warren, a go-to receiver in Jenson Stoshak and an experienced offensive line, the offensive unit underwhelmed the whole season.

Whenever I think about the offense - and  this season in general - I always look back to the opener against Tulsa. That day the offense was clicking on all cylinders as they had by far their best day of the year.

FAU scored 44 points with 518 total yards of offense, had zero turnovers and was perfect in the red zone with four touchdowns and two field goals.

That was the last time Johnson was 100 percent healthy at quarterback and as a result the offense suffered throughout the season as they would score over 30 points just one more time.

If Johnson was healthy all season perhaps that type of production would have been the norm and Brian Wright would still be the offensive coordinator.

With Johnson being hobbled with ankle injuries throughout the season, redshirt freshman backup Jason Driskel had an increased role with the offense. At times he looked good. Other times he looked bad.

Being that Wright's offense was more suited for Johnson and his ability to run the ball it is hard to fully asses Driskel's play due to him being more of a pocket passer.

The fact Wright never made the necessary adjustments to accommodate for Johnson's lack of ability to carry the ball like he used to is the primary reason why the offense failed to finish drives.

Once the field started to shrink the offense began to stall. Johnson could no longer bail out the offense with his ability to fall forward for four yards or improvise off of a broken play.

Perhaps the most disappointing offensive unit was the receiving core. Other than Stoshak no other receiver recorded more than 30 receptions. Nate Terry was a very reliable target in the red zone as he led the group with four touchdowns but other than that no one stood out.

The running back position was the best unit. Last season Greg Howell was the freshman who bursted onto the scene. This season that freshman back was Trey Rodriguez. After being in Partridge's dog house for the first four games, Rodriguez was finally able to see the field mid-season and he was phenomenal.

Rodriguez led the team with five rushing touchdowns and added another dimension to the offense as a change of pace back. Warren and Howell were also bright spots as they combined for 1047 rushing yards and six touchdowns.

All three are slated to come back to the team next year which should make for an exciting backfield.

Defense: B+

Category Avg. Rk
EFFICIENCY Success Rate 41.70% 68
FINISHING DRIVES Pts. Per Trip in 40 4.93 94
S&P+ 23.2 104
Points Per Game 28.8 82

After an abysmal 2014 season that saw Roc Bellantoni's  defense hold offenses under 30 points just twice, this season the defense made a huge leap forward.

Trey Hendrickson was a beast as he led the team with 14.5 TFL, 13 sacks, and five forced fumbles. Trevon Coley was also a force on the front four with 8.5 TFL and 4.5 sacks. Both made All C-USA First Team.

FAU received great play from the secondary this season despite having to replace three seniors off last year's team. Cre'von Leblanc made All C-USA Second Team with four interceptions and 11 passes defended.

For as much as the defense was on the field this season these numbers are really good.

The secondary will have two great pieces to work with moving forward as freshmen Jalen Young and Ocie Rose both had three interceptions each this season. They both received honorable mentions for C-USA and will be the leaders of next year's defense.

Special Teams: A

Dalton Schomp made All C-USA First team as a punter as he led the FBS with 48 yards per punt. Schomp had 15 punts down inside the 20. Ryan Rickel who specializes in short-yardage punts also did a great job this season. Out of his 10 punts seven were downed inside the 20.

In the Carl Pelini era field goal kicking was horrendous but since Partridge has been the head coach it has gotten tremendously better.

Greg Joseph was perfect from PATs this season and hit 66.7 percent of his field goals with a career high 48-yarder against Old Dominion.

There were no special team blunders and punt and kickoff coverage was good all season.

Joseph, Schomp, and Rickel are all expected to return to the team next year.

Coaching: D

If not for Roc Bellantoni's work with the defense this grade would be a lot lower. Unlike last season that featured a ton of slow starts by the Owls, this year the team failed to make any second half adjustments on a game-to-game basis.

In the third quarter FAU was outscored 116-56 for the season. In the fourth quarter it was 70-49. Finishing games has been a huge bugaboo for the Owls and since Partridge has been here he has tried desperately to fix it.

In the season finale FAU seemed to turn the corner. After leading Old Dominion 24-10 at the half they were outscored 21-3 in the third quarter.

FAU battled back to win the game and finished off Old Dominion thanks to the play of Trey Hendrickson so maybe that is a sign of things to come.

However, It's clear with the firing of Brian Wright that some coaches just weren't on the same page throughout the season.

The coaching staff does deserve credit for keeping the team together towards the end of the season with a 1-6 record as FAU battled hard in their final five games to finish 2-3 over that span with a 1-2 record in one possession games.

A win over FIU to bring the Don Shula Trophy back to Boca was certainly the highlight of the season. The natives would be extremely restless had FAU lost the Shula Bowl for a second straight year.

But after entering the season with aspirations of a bowl bid a 3-9 season was certainly not something fans were expecting. I expected no worse than five wins. If not for terrible losses to Buffalo and Rice, FAU would have got there.

Instead Partridge and his coaching staff will go into next season needing to win a minimum of five game in order to show the fan base that progress is indeed happening.

Moving Forward:

Just like last season a ton of young players got a chance to see the field this year. With Ocie Rose and Jalen Young in the secondary and Trey Rodriguez in the backfield, the future remains bright.

Of course, whether the team succeeds or not depends on whether FAU gets production out of the quarterback position. Daniel Parr and Jason Driskel will be the talk of country clubs around Boca Raton all spring as the winner of that position battle will be the face of a FAU football team that will be hungry and talented enough to make noise in C-USA.