FAU looks for offense

Palm Beach Post Staff Writer

Monday, September 29, 2008

BOCA RATON With nearly the entire starting lineup on Florida Atlantic's offense returning from last year's team, there weren't many questions raised about the Owls' production during the pre-season.

But after FAU scored only three points in its past two games, there are certainly questions now.

The Owls, who averaged 31.2 points per game last season, were counting on improving in 2008, but so far the opposite has happened.

"I thought we were going to put up more points; everybody did," said senior right tackle John Rizzo. "If anyone would have said we would score three points in two games, you would have said they were crazy and that's it's not going to happen. I mean we scored 30 points a game last year. Of course we're surprised, but it can be fixed."

The Owls (1-3) will try to improve on consecutive dreadful games by winning their Sun Belt Conference opener tonight at Middle Tennessee State (1-3, 0-2 Sun Belt), while searching for that offensive identity.

"We just have to circle the wagons and get done what we need to get done," said FAU junior quarterback Rusty Smith.

After the Owls' defense struggled in a 49-34 victory against Alabama-Birmingham in the second game of the season, coach Howard Schnellenberger decided to simplify the defensive schemes for FAU's next game at Michigan State.

The plan seemed to work as the Owls held the Spartans to 17 points.

This week Schnellenberger said he would consider scaling back the offensive playbook against the Blue Raiders in an effort to jump-start the offense.

"We've got a long game plan, but we always work from a short list, and that list can always be shortened," Schnellenberger said. "Sometimes that list of plays can get too long, and we always look to see if that can be shortened."

Not only have the Owls seen their offensive production slip to unprecedented levels, but Smith, who was the pre-season Sun Belt Conference Player of the Year, also has struggled recently.

Since the Owls defeated UAB, Smith has completed only 25 of 68 passes for 296 yards and threw a career-high four interceptions vs. Minnesota.

Some question whether his breakout season in 2007 was a fluke.

"Criticism is going to happen," Smith said. "When you have all the expectations and you have a bad game, it just seems it comes with the position."