No legendary upset for FAU, but plenty of upset Miami fans just the same

 

Miami will try to forget the 44-20 win it picked up Friday night. Florida Atlantic will long remember the loss, and fondly, for the most part.

It shouldn’t add up that way, not when the scoreboard shows one team to be 24 points better than the other. The biggest game in FAU football history was bound to turn a lot of things upside-down, however, beginning with the notion that Boca Raton could never really be the most fascinating spot on the college football map, even for an instant.

Well, it was Friday, and maybe it will be again. Anything’s possible when the Owls and Hurricanes can be on even footing in the third quarter, tied 20-20, and that’s with a raft of FAU blunders mixed in. Miami coach Al Golden sure didn’t see that coming, or if he did there was no convincing his players of its possibility.

Florida Atlantic Owls quarterback Jason Driskel (16) calls a play against the Miami Hurricanes at FAU Stadium in Boca Raton, Florida on September 11, 2015. (Allen Eyestone / The Palm Beach Post)

Florida Atlantic Owls quarterback Jason Driskel (16) calls a play against the Miami Hurricanes at FAU Stadium in Boca Raton, Florida on September 11, 2015. (Allen Eyestone / The Palm Beach Post)

This 30,321-seat FAU Stadium sellout, a first, was the smallest crowd Miami’s seen in two years. This Conference USA opponent, no matter how game, was barely a blip on the schedule with Nebraska coming up next week for the Hurricanes.

So Miami came out mentally sloppy, struggling to get players in position before the snap, slipping off ballcarriers they should have been burying, getting the least out of their considerable talent. Even with a first-quarter lightning delay that sent both teams back to the locker room it took too long to recognize that the Owls were treating them like rivals and not royalty.

None of this reflects well on Golden, who is in his fifth season of displeasing a Miami fan base that grew up on national titles and has no interest in anything else. Friday was ugly for him, and no stack of second-half stats can alter that.

FAU’s Charlie Partridge, on the other hand, played the part that every coach in his position must play. He was the fourth-down gambler, the screaming motivator, the hurry-up salesman who was all ready to go for a two-point conversion in the first quarter until an antsy false-start penalty pushed his guys back.

All that stuff is fine, but nobody really expects it to work beyond the frenzied opening minutes. The Owls, 47-44 losers to Tulsa last week, showed more stamina than that.

Even with starting quarterback Jacquez Johnson knocked out of the game with an ankle injury, they kept coming, and the FAU student section kept stomping on those aluminum bleachers, and all over the nation viewers tuned in to see what all the fuss was about.

Turnovers, five of them in all for FAU, helped to restore order beginning in the third quarter, but even then the Hurricanes were limited too often to field goals. Golden’s guys pulled away, sure. Partridge’s emphasis as FAU moves past this landmark moment will be how the Hurricanes got pushed around a little, too.

The Owls averaged 5.8 yards per play, after all, and punted only twice. Jason Driskel, the redshirt freshman who wasn’t supposed to play, completed 17-of-30 passes and looked sharp until a crazy comeback attempt forced him into dangerous throws and two interceptions. The Owls rushed for 223 yards as well, a bullheaded effort led by 132 yards and a touchdown from Jay Warren.

That brought the buzz back to a stadium that was forced into sleep mode by a lightning delay of more than an hour. That’s about the time it took for the Hurricanes to make the commute from Coral Gables to the game, and they probably would have preferred to get right back on the bus if nobody cared.

Fox Sports 1, the network that positioned this game on a Friday night, also seemed less than committed. Its play-by-play was done from a studio in Los Angeles, for crying out loud. Wasn’t worth their trouble? Wasn’t worth a few South Florida cigars on Dave Wannstedt’s expense account?

Remote control is no way to work a ballgame. It’s like turning it into Madden football. It’s like pretending it doesn’t really count, from the high-school night kickoff to the supposed mismatch between a five-time national championship program and an FAU outfit still in its teen years when it comes to longevity.

Did Miami’s players approach the game with those faulty assumptions in mind? Sure looked like it in the first half, when the Owls racked up more yards (292-231) and went 5-for-8 on third down. Even with a lost fumble and a muffed punt return, FAU built momentum.

The Hurricanes, meanwhile, popped a few big plays, like Joe Yearby’s 34-yard touchdown catch and 41-yard run, and expected that would be enough to pop the Owls’ party balloon, too.

That eventually happened, but much later, after Miami’s depth and open-field speed finally showed itself and after viewers in other states turned off the tube and headed for bed.

If FAU could recruit stars like Yearby, who rushed for 146 yards, or Herb Waters, who had 102 yards in receptions, the biggest game in Owls history might also have been the best.

The Owls aren’t there yet, but they did remind the nation that they are here, in Boca, in business, working on a competitive program in a stadium ringed by palm trees and visited, on this special occasion, by Joe Namath and Jim Kelly.

That’s a win any way you slice it, and that’s what Howard Schnellenberger has been saying all along.