Gophers Pound Florida Atlantic
Saturday, September 20, 2008

“I’m disappointed and I’m pissed,” said Florida Atlantic head coach Howard Schnellenberger after his Owls fell to the Minnesota Gophers 37-3 at the Metrodome.

The coach’s reaction was different from the first time his team had come to Minnesota, resulting in a 46-7 loss three years before. At that time, the Owls were in their first season as a Division I-A (now Football Bowl Subdivision ) team. Schnellenberger, the architect of successful programs at the universities of Miami and Louisville, was trying to work the same magic again. “Our goal is to play with the bigger and stronger teams so that we can cover the gap between us and them as fast as we can,” he said at that time.

Last year in Boca Raton, Florida, the Owls used the screen pass effectively to beat the Gophers. In the return match in Minnesota, the Owls were hoping to get their high-powered back on track after being shut out at Michigan State the previous week. Rain hampered their rushing and passing game against the Spartans, but Florida Atlantic knew it would have no problems with the element in a domed stadium.

Instead, the team played inconsistently on both offense and defense against Minnesota, which upped its record to 4-0 as it looks ahead to conference play. Even with the Gophers giving them two first downs on penalties in the first half, the Owls had trouble moving the ball. Its only score came on a 35-yard field goal in the second quarter that brought them to within 10-3. However, even this score left bitterness as the field-goal followed a dropped pass in the end zone by Chris Bonner.

Florida Atlantic drove inside the Minnesota 30 two more times in the half. Once the Owls were stopped on downs after coming up short on a fourth-and-one. The next time, they reached the 25 and faced a third-and-nine when Rusty Smith’s pass was intercepted by Lee Campbell. It was one of four interceptions for the Gophers against Smith. “We need to re-dedicate ourselves, starting with me,” said Smith, who attributed the poor performance to bad decision-making and bad mechanics.

With the Owls facing a third-and-three on their opening drive, Smith threw into double coverage and was intercepted by Traye Simmons, who returned the ball 15 yards before fumbling out of bounds at the Florida Atlantic 27. A pair of nine-yard runs by Eric Decker and DeLeon Eskridge were followed by two runs by Shady Salamon, the latter over left tackle for a three-yard touchdown.

The Owls started their next drive with two false-start penalties and gained only two yards from there, giving the Gophers good field position after a 43-yard punt by Keegan Peterson. Minnesota moved from its 45 to the Owls 17 before Joel Monroe connected on a 34-yard field goal for a 10-0 lead.

Florida Atlantic got into Minnesota territory, although it appeared it would again go out quickly. However, on the punt, Minnesota’s Cedric McKinley jumped offside, giving the Owls a first down for the first time in the game. The Owls reached the Minnesota and were set up for a play on fourth-and-nine. However, a delay-of-game penalty moved them back five yards, causing them to kick the ball away with Peterson’s punt bouncing into the end zone for a touchback.

After stopping the Gophers and getting the ball back, the Owls got a first down on a 15-yard penalty when the Gophers had 12 players on the field (on the play, Charles Pierre had run for a first down, but the penalty resulted in 12 more yards for Florida Atlantic). On third down from the Gophers 25, Bonner beat Minnesota safety Kyle Theret in the front corner of the end zone, only to have Smith’s pass go through his hands and causing the Owls to settle for a field goal.

Minnesota also left points on the field. The Gophers, on the next possession, drove from their 31 to the Florida Atlantic 7, but Weber’s third-down pass was intercepted by cornerback Tavious Polo in the end zone. Minnesota later engineered a 71-yard drive to the end zone with Weber connected for a 31-yard scoring toss to Eric Decker, who was outstanding again for the Gophers (finishing the game with seven catches for 122 yards). But the normally reliable Joel Monroe was wide to the right with his point-after attempt, and the score, which stood at halftime, was 16-7 for Minnesota.

The Gophers dominated the second half, adding a pair of one-yard touchdown runs by Eskridge and capping the scoring on an interception and 50-yard return by Simoni Lawrence.

Eskridge led all rushers with 79 yards on 19 carries. Salamon added 50 yards while Weber bootlegged or scrambled for 45. Weber connected on 19 of 24 passes for 235 yards.

“We thought we were going to match up, have a heckuva game,” said Schnellenberger. “It was my judgment our team was ready to compete. Either I misjudged them completely or we’re grossly underachieving.”

Having finished its non-conference season with a perfect record, the Gophers now go into Big Ten play with its first game in Columbus against Ohio State.

Notes: Backup quarterbacks Tony Mortensen and Mike Maciejowski (both seniors) took snaps late in the game although neither passed the ball. Neither team took a time out in the game.

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