Palm Beach Post Staff Writer
Monday, October 13, 2008
BOCA RATON — Florida Atlantic fans have been wondering why they haven't seen the Rusty Smith with the rocket arm that was the Sun Belt Conference player of the year in 2007.
On Monday, Smith revealed that he dislocated his left shoulder early in the Aug. 30 season opener at Texas. It wasn't his throwing shoulder, but Smith admits the injury led to bad mechanics.
"It could have something to do with the fact I started throwing off my back foot more than I ever have," Smith said. "I've never done that, that I can remember."
Smith has nine interceptions in six games - the same number he had in 13 games last season - and the Owls are 1-5 and 0-2 in the Sun Belt.
FAU coach Howard Schnellenberger acknowledged at the time that Smith was injured, but neither Schnellenberger nor Smith had ever used injury as an explanation for Smith's poor play.
Schnellenberger still believes Smith's high interception rate has more to do with the poor play of the offensive line and dropped balls.
"He's been rushed more than he was rushed last year," Schnellenberger said. "He's trying to get the ball out quicker than he should."
Smith injured the shoulder when he pounced on a bad snap. A Texas lineman's knee then ground Smith's shoulder into the turf. Smith said that led to him favoring his front side.
"It may have bothered him in the second game of the season. It never manifested itself in practice," Schnellenberger said.
What has manifested itself is the frustration, according to Smith.
"Because of expectations and now we're playing bad, the morale is a little bit down," he said.
The frustration was evident on the sideline during Tuesday's 30-17 loss to Troy. On one occasion, Smith angrily walked away from a discussion with senior offensive tackle John Rizzo.
"Sometimes I don't handle that in the best way and that's definitely something I need to do better," the junior QB said. "There has been frustration shown on the sidelines that should not have been shown by me."
But Smith believes he's been unfairly criticized, not just in the media but around campus.
"I honestly don't think it's fair a lot of people are blaming it heavily on myself," Smith said. "It's a team game."
Smith's numbers have plummeted since last season when he led the Owls to the conference championship was named MVP of the New Orleans Bowl. He is completing just 48.7 percent of his passes, compared to 58.7 last season. And his efficiency rating has sunk to 105.1 from 141.5 last season.
Analyst Steve Walsh, the former University of Miami quarterback, said he believes part of Smith's problems have been the loss of All-Sun Belt tight end Jason Harmon, who underwent knee surgery after Harmon was injured in the spring game.
Harmon had 63 catches for 825 yards last season.
Walsh calls the tight end a quarterback's "security blanket," and not having Harmon is "really messing up Rusty's efficiency. ... therefore he's putting more pressure on himself to do more with the football."
Smith said the shoulder injury is something he has to "get out of my mind" and offensive coordinator Gary Nord has been working with Smith on correcting his mechanics.
"It is getting better," Smith said.
Schnellenberger expects a turnaround, starting with Saturday's game at Western Kentucky.
"He's finding his rhythm again and he's getting better and I expect him to continue to get better to where he is in the groove he was last year."