Minnesota and Florida Atlantic Finish Nonconference Schedules with Different Results but Similar Directions
Saturday, September 17, 2005

“We schedule just about anybody that will schedule us,” said Florida Atlantic coach Howard Schnellenberger following a 46-7 loss to Minnesota at the Metrodome. “The only requisite is that it be a major step up for us.”

Schnellenberger—a coach with an impressive pedigree that includes being the architect of the rise to greatness of the football program at the University of Miami in the 1980s and later success in raising the level of football at the University of Louisville—is now trying to perform the same work with the Owls at Florida Atlantic, a school in its fifth season with a football team and only its second at the Division I-A level. “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. We have progressed about as fast as any start-up team in America.”

Although the Owls have lost all three of their nonconference games (with less decisive losses to Kansas and Oklahoma State in the previous two weeks), Schnellenberger said they had accomplished what they hoped to do in these three games and now look forward to their conference schedule. “Obviously, I was disappointed that we didn’t measure up better to them [the Gophers], but I’m not disappointed in the plan of attack,” said Schnellenberger, making clear that, “I’m not happy with the way we played.”

Florida Atlantic was clearly outmatched. Owls defensive end Josh Pinnick, who gave up between 50 and 80 pounds to the Gophers he lined up against, called it a “baptism by fire.” Running back Di Ivory Edgecomb said the Minnesota defense was even more physical than that of Oklahoma State. The most frustrating part of the night, to Owls quarterback Danny Embick, was the poor field position they had. “That’s the most difficult thing for an offense to overcome. We can’t call the plays we want.”

Field position was a factor from the beginning. Daniel Kennard’s opening kickoff was out of bounds, giving the Gophers the ball on their 35 yard line. It took Minnesota only four plays to reach the opposite end zone with Laurence Maroney covering all but five yards of the distance on three carries, the final one a weaving 38 yard romp for the touchdown only a minute, 42 seconds into the game.

Florida Atlantic then started from its own 18 and quickly had to punt. Under pressure on the first play, Embick scrambled and shoveled a pass that Dominick Walker could not hold on to. Embick ran for three yards on the next play and then had a third-down pass dropped by Dantson Dareus, forcing a punt which Minnesota’s Dominic Jones took with a fair catch on the Gophers 42.

The second Minnesota drive exhibited problems that had plagued the Gophers the previous week. One was penalties. However, Maroney solved that. After a Mark Setterstrom holding penalty was followed by a false start by Matt Spaeth, Maroney took a short pass from Bryan Cupito and did the rest himself, taking it into the end zone for a 37-yard touchdown. However, Jason Giannini was wide right with the conversion, the fourth missed point-after in two games (one being blocked and the others being wide).

The Gophers continued to dominate in the first half, getting their next score as Gary Russell—playing at fullback in place of the injured Justin Valentine—broke tackles for a 47 yard touchdown run. Russell had an even more spectacular touchdown run, this one for 30 yards, in the second half, providing the Gophers with their final points as Giannini once again missed the extra point.

In between, Giannini did connect for two field goals, of 22 and 27 yards, and a point-after following Cupito’s 56-yard touchdown pass to Jared Ellerson.

Cupito finished the game with 10 completions out of 17 attempts for 230 yards, all in the first half. With a 40-0 lead after two quarters, the Gophers stuck to the ground in the second half. Tony Mortensen later took over for Cupito and threw four incomplete passes.

The troika of Maroney, Russell, and back-up tailback Amir Pinnix combined for 344 yards on the ground (145 for Maroney, 116 for Russell, and 88 for Pinnix).

The Gophers, who have not lost a nonconference game since 2002, now prepare for the Big Ten season, with their conference opener against Purdue coming up. The competition promises to be tougher, but the Gophers did get compliments from their vanquished foe. Asked to compare the offensive line of Minnesota to teams he had coached against in the past, Schnellenberger said he would put it “somewhere right behind the Nebraska team of 1983.”

Schnellenberger well remembers that Nebraska team as his Miami Hurricanes beat them in the Orange Bowl that season. Minnesota also remembers the Cornhuskers of 1983, a team that defeated the Gophers by a score of 84-13.

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