Owls know they must cut down on turnovers to turn season around

Boca Raton - After searching for answers to what ails FAU's offense, the consensus is in � turnovers have grounded the once high-flying Owls.

The Owls are a minus-9 in turnover ratio, having coughed the ball up 13 times and taken it away from opponents just four times.

"We have to take care of the football a lot better. That is the key part," said quarterback Rusty Smith.

Smith has thrown seven interceptions, including six in the last two games, and tossed just four touchdown passes after throwing 32 last season.

FAU now ranks No. 116 with a turnover ratio of minus-1.80 per game, after finishing 2007 third best in the nation, with plus-18, for a ration of plus-1.38 per game.

To gauge just how important turnovers are, take a look at how Minnesota and FAU have fared.

FAU went 8-5 last season helped by that positive turnover ratio. And one of those wins was over Minnesota.

The Golden Gophers turned the ball over five times in the FAU game, and ended the season at plus-15, which had them ranked No. 115 in the country. They finished the season at 1-11.

FAU and Minnesota met for a rematch this season on Sept. 20, and this time the Gophers whipped FAU 37-3, aided for four Owls turnovers.

Minnesota is now 5-1, thanks in large part to being able to hang onto the ball while stealing it away from opponents, and they are No. 2 in the country in turnover margin (plus-10, plus-1.67 per game).

FAU's minus-1.80 per game turnover ration is the main reason the Owls are at 1-4 and 0-1 in the conference, and facing an elimination game against the Trojans at Lockhart Stadium. Kickoff is at 8 p.m. and the game will be broadcast nationally on ESPN2.

"Not turning the ball over and getting some turnovers. That will straighten things out in a hurry," FAU coach Howard Schnellenberger said.

"Last year, one thing we didn't do was turn the ball over. This year, we turn the ball over, and it doesn't give you a chance to win," said offensive lineman Brandon Jackson.

You could feel it in the huddle when we are clicking some reason this year, we were clicking, clicking, clicking, then mistake here, penalty here, turnover here. Last year, one thing we didn't do was turn the ball over. This year, turn the ball over, it doesn't give you a chanc.e

FINDING THE CHEMISTRY: Losing to Minnesota did not hurt FAU as much as last Tuesday's loss to Middle Tennessee in the Owl's conference opener.

FAU had four turnovers in the game, including a fumble at the Blue Raiders goal line, and FAU lost 14-13 to a team they should have handled with little trouble.

"For a team as mature as we are, we have to be able to win a football game like that," Smith said.

But they didn't, and with Smith's completion rate at 48.1 percent (ranking 110th) and quarterback rating at 104.54 (ranking 102nd), have many wondering why he is struggling so much.

That answer is elusive. "It just seems we are not meshing like we were last year. The chemistry for some hasn't been there. There are a lot of things you can try and put your finger on but you can't really say that. Things obviously going through your mind that you think are the reason," Smith said.

Jackson also has noticed something missing on offense. "You could feel it in the huddle when we are clicking, and we did that a lot last season. For some reason this year, we were clicking, clicking, clicking, then mistake here, penalty here, turnover here," Jackson said.

Another problem has been FAU's role as favorite coming into the season, something they have had trouble handling.

"It is unchartered water for us. Something we haven't experienced before. Me, personally, I never experience being to top dog in high school or in college. We are still feeling it out. Everyone is going to bringing their A game when they play us," Smith said.

The loss to MTSU could haunt the Owls, since they had the game in hand but turnovers allowed the Blue Raiders to hang around and then win it 14-13 by scoring on their final two drives, including the final one on a Hail Mary pass with no time left.

"For a team as mature as we are, we have to be able to win a football game like that. We have to be. We have been on ESPN before, we have beaten that team before, we have everybody coming back [from last year] but a couple. You have to be able to win a football game like that. You have to be able to put the ball in when you are on the 1-yard line, you have to score when you are on their 5-yrd line. You have to be able to do things like that. I could go on, but I don't want to. Sorry," Smith said.

That sets up tonight's game against Troy, a team that is 4-1 all-time against the Owls, but that one loss was last season, which denied the Trojans their second straight Sun Belt title and trip to the New Orleans Bowl.

While FAU knows Troy will be looking for revenge, the Owls are staring at survival.

"We are just trying to get our season turned around right now. We are trying to get a victory as soon as possible," Smith said.

"We seniors are trying to tighten up. We know this is our last round. We don't want to go out like no chumps," Jackson said.