Smith, Owls overmatched in 37-3 loss to Minnesota

Palm Beach Post Staff Writer

Saturday, September 20, 2008

MINNEAPOLIS After Rusty Smith set a Florida Atlantic single-season record with 32 touchdown passes last year, the Owls figured they would be able to put up plenty of points this season.

The Owls also figured they might be able to steal another victory against a school from a BCS conference, just as they did last year with a upset of Minnesota.

So far, wrong on both counts.

Coming off a miserable performance last week at Michigan State, Smith was dismal again Saturday in a 37-3 loss to revenge-minded Minnesota. He threw four interceptions, the most in a game by an FAU player. And he pointed the finger at himself.

"We need to rededicate ourselves, starting with me," Smith said. "I had four interceptions and I did not get rushed at all today."

Before Saturday, Smith had never thrown more than two interceptions in a game and had thrown only one in 99 attempts this season.

His fourth interception was returned 50 yards for a touchdown by Minnesota linebacker Simoni Lawrence with nine minutes remaining for the final touchdown of the game.

Smith, who was 17-for-34 for 153 yards, has struggled in all three losses to BCS teams, putting up cumulative numbers of 40-of-99 for 549 yards, one touchdown and five interceptions.

Last week, Smith lost a fumble and was 8-of-34 for 143 yards in a rain-soaked 17-0 loss at Michigan State. Playing under a roof in front of 41,103 in the Metrodome, the weather wasn't an excuse this time.

"It was just bad decision-making, bad poise in the pocket, and bad mechanics," Smith said. "I need to be a better leader for the team. I need to make better decisions and forget about things that happened on the field and continue to move forward and move the ball."

After Smith's fourth interception, he was replaced by Jeff Van Camp, who was 3-of-5 for 22 yards.

Coincidentally, Smith's breakthrough performance came last year in FAU's 42-39 upset win against Minnesota when he threw five touchdown passes.

"They are much better than they were last year," coach Howard Schnellenberger said. "They didn't look like the same team."

Minnesota's Adam Weber was 19-of-24 for 235 yards, including a 31-yard touchdown pass to Eric Decker.

"They're a pretty good football team and they outplayed us in every aspect of the game," Schnellenberger said. "We were outplayed by a team that was on a mission to reestablish themselves as a big-time football team and is certainly going in the right direction. We were no match in any regard, not to say that we didn't have our moments, but it just didn't work out for us today."

Minnesota (4-0) led 16-3 at halftime and took a 37-3 lead early in the fourth quarter on the second of two touchdown runs by Minnesota freshman running back DeLeon Eskridge, who had 78 yards on 19 carries.

FAU (1-3) has 10 days to prepare before they travel to face Middle Tennessee on Sept. 30 in its Sun Belt Conference opener.

The Owls said they may need the extra time.

"I feel like we are getting closer, but we haven't demonstrated that this year," senior linebacker Frantz Joseph said. "It feels like we're closer, but it comes down to execution."