I expected the Shula Bowl to be a close one and it lived up to the billing as the game featured five lead changes, big momentum swings, and gutsy decisions by the head coaches.
Unfortunately for FAU, the gambles Charlie Partridge took didn’t pay off and FIU did just enough to eek out a 33-31 win at home to take home the trophy. Austin Taylor made the go-ahead 32-yard field goal early in the fourth quarter and FAU was never able to respond as the Owls are now 1-4 and 0-1 in conference play.
A pick six by Azeez Al-Shaair to start the second half gave FAU a 24-14 lead and all the momentum to begin the final half. Rather than panic and abandon the game plan, the Panthers answered back with 7-play 75-yard scoring drive capped by an Anthony Jones rushing touchdown.
When Howell fumbled the ball on the ensuing possession which resulted in a FIU touchdown on the next play, all the momentum FAU had was gone. The Panthers had the lead 27-24 and that was the microcosm of FAU football since Partridge has been the head coach.
In less than five minutes FAU went from being up 24-14, to trailing by three. Rather than putting FIU in a position to pass the ball from behind, they were still able run the ball during the final stretches of the game.
FAU’s weakness all season had been the rushing defense and FIU exploited it to the tune of 270 yards and three touchdowns as they averaged 5.5 yards per carry. Gardner rushed for 119 yards on 27 carries, Anthony Jones rushed for 90 yards and two touchdowns, and McGough rushed for 61 yards and two scores.
Jason Driskel had his worst game of the season as he passed for 92 yards and one touchdown on nine completions. The rushing attack was phenomenal as Greg Howell, Devin Singletary, and Driskel combined for 236 rushing yards.
Once again, the talent is here but something is missing. Interim head coach Ron Cooper had the Panthers more prepared and energized than any game they had played this season and it showed.
In games decided by eight points or less Partridge is now 4-10. He’s 1-2 against FIU and now it’s going to be immensely harder for FAU to win battles on the recruiting trail with zero results to show for it.
FIU has a chance to pick up their second straight win as they will go on the road to take on a 1-4 UTEP team. FAU will host Charlotte next week.