Saturday, October 22, 2011

Home Sweet Home?

BY SCOTT MORGANROTH


How did we get to the New FAU Football Stadium?

On October 15, 2010, ground was broken and exactly one year later, the $70 Million Facility hosted the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers as the start of a new era began in FAU Sports History.

Construction workers worked seven days a week giving up their Sundays to make the Saturday October 15th opener a reality.

This is the only stadium in the United States where you can see the Atlantic Ocean. The campus is 2.1 miles away from the Atlantic Ocean.

Prior to the game, the Star Spangled Banner was sung with a Full-Sized American Flag covering the entire field.

But the road to this Beautiful Venue saw Coach Howard Schnellenberger, Athletic Director Craig Angelos, former President Frank Brogan and his successor Dr. Mary Jane Saunders witness some lopsided defeats to some of the most heralded football programs in the country.

FAU took the guaranteed large payouts to Auburn, Clemson, Florida, Kansas, Kansas State, Kentucky, Louisville, Michigan State, Minnesota, Nebraska, Oklahoma State, South Carolina, Texas, and USF.

There were four notable wins as FAU defeated Hawaii, Central Michigan, Memphis and Minnesota. FAU defeated Memphis in the 2007 New Orleans Bowl and followed that triumph in the 2008 Motor City Bowl defeating Central Michigan.

A year ago, the Michigan State Spartans were supposed to open up FAU Stadium but that never materialized. FAU's home game was moved to Ford Field as the Owls shared a home with the Detroit Lions. FAU lost this game 30-17.

So instead of seeing the Spartans, Owls fans saw their team lose 20-0 to the Hilltoppers in front of 29,103. The score could have been worse for FAU if Western Kentucky would have converted three field goals and an extra point.

But these numbers tell the story!

FAU had only six first downs, 25 rushing and 121 total yards. More importantly, Owls fans would have to wait until Saturday October 22nd against the Middle Tennessee State Blue Raiders to see the first points in the new stadium at 8:07 PM.

On Saturday October 15th, No. 23 Michigan State defeated state rival No. 11 Michigan 28-14 in East Lansing, a place that wasn't kind to the Owls earlier this year. The Spartans whitewashed FAU 44-0 on September 10 in East Lansing.

When the contest was over, there was a huge sense of happiness and relief that the new on campus stadium dream has become a reality.

By the same token, now that the opener is over, reality has set in that FAU dropped to 0-6 and 0-3  in the Sun Belt Conference. The Owls are in last place and know they have to start winning games.

Quarterback David Kooi said, “Our offense was shaky and we put no points on the board. We didn't execute and just hurt ourselves. This was a great atmosphere and we didn't get the job done. I just want to say I'm sorry to the fans.”

Running back Alfred Morris added, “ I'm very disappointed and wanted it so bad. We just couldn't get it together. This was a very exciting atmosphere, it was crazy. We'll try to get them next time.”

Senior defensive back Marcus Bartels was in a somber mood when he said, “I never expected this. We feel like we let everybody down. I want to apologize to the fans.”

Coach Schnellenberger said, I've never been in a situation like this before. We worked so hard and so long to make this stadium. We played badly on the offensive side of the ball. We expected to win this game but yet played so poorly in front of dedicated fans. That's what happened and I have to deal with that. I'm the coach and I have to do fix this situation.”

Former Owls QB Rusty Smith now of the Tennessee Titans came in town due to his teams bye week. On this day, the Owls could have used him in his old No.11 jersey.

But now, the stadium is open for business. The team has to focus on winning since there will be no more hype.

It's all business as the Owls hope to send Schnellenberger out on a respectable note to end his 52-year coaching career
 
Game 2 at the new stadium would produce another loss and it was ugly.
 
The attendance was listed as 16,344 but in actuality, it looked like the crowd was in the 10,000 range.
 
What they saw was a team that fell behind 21-0 as Western Kentucky and Middle Tennessee scored 41 unanswered points. The Owls broke the scoring drought with 9:57 left in the second quarter. The Historical Touchdown was a Wilbert Graham to Darian Williams five-yard connection that was set-up by a 48-yard run by Morris.
 
In the first half, Middle Tenessee Sophomore QB Logan Kilgore set a school record with 19 straight completions for a school that's been playing football for 100 years. He used 10 different receivers to set the mark.
 
When the game was over, the Blue Raiders offense gained 479 yards to roll to a 38-14 win. FAU had eight fumbles, five were lost to go along with two interceptions and 55 yards in penalties. Morris did gain 153 yards.
 
At his post-game press conference, Schnellenberger looked like he was trying to figure out the Rubik's Cube.
 
"With all the experience I have, I can't figure out all the problems we have," he said. "It will be harder to teach and an involved process."
 
One thing is certain, FAU will have two weeks to digest the fact that its record has dropped to 0-7, 0-4 as it hosts Arkansas State on November 5th. In the meantime, there will be no bowl game in 2011 and the Owls can only hope for "A Win."
 
I do believe that when they field a competitive team, FAU Stadium will be a fun place to watch a game. It's a beautiful stadium.

But for now, the fallout of the first two weeks have given mixed reviews with plenty of more chapters to be written before we can say this indeed is a "Home Sweet Home."
 
Scott Morganroth's blog can be seen at http://www.scottsports33.com/ and he can be reached at scottsports33@aol.com.

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