Despite loss to Texas, FAU ambitions still high

Moving past a humbling loss to Texas, the Owls are focused on having a winning season and returning to a bowl game.

jshain@MiamiHerald.com

As the sound of work crews embarking on cleanup duty began to echo through the underbelly of Texas' Memorial Stadium, so too did FAU coach Howard Schnellenberger begin to pick up the pieces of his team's busted ambition.

''Don't feel too sorry for us,'' Schnellenberger said. ``We're experts in handling big scores, big losses.''

It's part of the task in getting a fledgling program off the ground. And though the Owls had hoped they had outgrown results such as Saturday's 52-10 thumping, it's not unfamiliar territory.

''We've been in the same situation before,'' said cornerback Corey Small, quickly turning his attention toward next Saturday's home opener against Alabama-Birmingham.

``Our ultimate goal is still to go back to a bowl game and have a winning season. We've got to focus now on UAB. That's what a mature team does.''

For all the lopsidedness of the score, the truth is that it could have been so much worse.

Quarterback Rusty Smith played nearly all game with stretched ligaments in his left (nonthrowing) shoulder, an injury not disclosed until after the game.

Last season's Sun Belt Player of the Year sustained the injury during the fateful end of FAU's first drive, chasing down a bad shotgun snap that squandered a scoring chance.

Further examination Sunday back on campus showed no lingering effects, and Smith isn't expected to miss any practice time.

''He'll be out there doing what he always does,'' Schnellenberger said.

Smith didn't mention any problem when he met with reporters after the game, and had long departed by the time Schnellenberger brought it up.

Asked about the bad snap, Smith said he was determined not to keep it from getting scooped up for a quick Longhorns score. UT's Sergio Kindle had to outfight Smith for possession.

''They recovered it,'' Smith said. ``I was not able to fall on it, but they didn't run it back for a touchdown.''

However, Smith began complaining of shoulder pain when he returned to the FAU sideline. Assured that he couldn't injure it further, he wound up throwing for 253 yards and a TD.

''I thought he was a real trouper handling the adversity,'' Schnellenberger said. ``He was a little apprehensive on the sideline, but when he went back in he handled it as he's always done.''

FAU's bigger problems came from the defense, which gave up touchdowns on six of the Longhorns' first nine possessions and allowed 503 yards before the night was through.

''We've got to do a better job of getting the ball back,'' Small said, ``so that the offense has the confidence to know if they make a mistake, it doesn't matter. The defense will go out and get the ball back.''

Though Schnellenberger voiced displeasure with the Owls' tackling immediately after the game, he softened those remarks after getting a look at videotape.

''At times our guys were right ready to make a play and their talent was better than our talent,'' the coach said. ``Their ability to juke a tackler was better than our ability to make a tackle.''

The video, he said, also showed the game wasn't as lopsided as the 52-10 outcome would indicate.

''We're a lot closer than we've been before,'' Schnellenberger said. ``If we had the capacity to finish up a couple of those [early] drives and put a couple of 7s up there, the game would have been interesting a lot longer.

``Now whether we could have won or not, it's very debatable.''

 Center Nick Paris (foot) and defensive end Robert St. Clair (knee) aren't expected back for UAB this week. The Sun Belt opener Sept. 30 against Middle Tennessee is a more likely target, Schnellenberger said