Sept. 25, 2012
After a three-week stretch on the road that featured back-to-back games against top-tier Southeastern Conference opponents, the Florida Atlantic football team is back home this Saturday against North Texas.
Not only is Saturday the first home game for the team in nearly a month, it’s also FAU Pride Day. The athletics department and new AD Pat Chun has a challenge for Owl fans, especially the student body.
“If we get 4,000 students in the stands before kickoff, we will distribute rally towels to all 4,000 students after the first quarter,” said Chun. “You did great turning out for the first game, but we know you can do better! Show your Owl Pride by getting to the game before kickoff!”
Since the Owls last played at their home field, they’ve gone 0-3. It was all the way back on August 31 when they were last at FAU Stadium, winning 7-3 over Wagner College. The next week, they lost their Sun Belt Conference Opener to Middle Tennessee State, and then played back-to-back games against teams currently ranked in the top five nationally: No. 5 Georgia and No. 1 Alabama.
Head coach Carl Pelini is “glad to be home,” and described what a win Saturday would mean to the team.
“All the hard work they’re putting in during the week needs to show on the field,” he said. “(A win) would certainly be a boost for everyone: the program, the players and coaches. I’m not going to say we can’t keep getting better if that doesn’t happen. Certainly, they’re pushing themselves, in the meeting rooms and on the field. They’re working at getting better, but a boost would help.”
The squad got a fourth quarter touchdown to snap a nearly 13-quarter scoreless streak by the Alabama defense, a span that saw the Crimson Tide score 134 unanswered points.
“Just the fact that we kept playing and punched one in there was important,” said Pelini. “I guess I could’ve kicked a field goal, but I felt if we couldn’t get 4th-and-1, they deserved the shutout. So we went for it, and ended up scoring on that drive, which was good to see.”
Pelini has seen a lot of improvement in this early season, especially on special teams.
“Here’s what I see after four weeks: I think special teams-wise, we’ve at least competed or won every game, minus the first game,” he said. “Our coverage teams have been tremendous; our return teams have been at least comparable to what the opponents have been giving us. The punt game has really flipped the field a number of times and our kickoff team has done a great job giving up nothing, so that’s a definite improvement over a year ago.”
Two other areas that Pelini is excited about is penalties and turnovers, at least the lack thereof by the team.
“We were a highly penalized team a year ago,” said the coach “We’ve got to be, statistically-speaking, a highly-rated team in terms of number of penalties, and we’re operating efficiently (there). Turnovers were a big deal to us going into the season. We had those miscues early, but we’ve gotten better every game in terms of just taking care of the ball and ball security. I’m looking at marked improvements in certain areas.”
There are three areas Pelini pointed to that still do need improvement.
“I want to see us get out of the gates faster and I want us to be a better tackling football team, and I want to be able to run the ball more consistently,” he said. “Those are the things I want to see more improvement on. But I’m seeing improvement in areas, and I keep saying that’s what this year is about, laying foundations for playing our kind of football. I knew that this was going to be a long haul, it wasn’t just going to be a quick fix. It’s not going to happen overnight.”
North Texas will come to Boca Raton with the exact same record of 1-3 overall and an 0-1 mark in the Sun Belt. And their season schedule to date looks very similar to that of the Owls: They lost to two top-ranked opponents (No. 3 LSU and No. 8 Kansas State), won over a smaller school at home (34-7 over Texas Southern), and lost their conference opener (14-7 last week to Troy).
Kickoff on Saturday is at 5 p.m., and the game can be heard on fausports.com or seen on ESPN3.com. Tickets are available through Ticketmaster or calling the FAU Ticket Office at 1-866-FAU-OWLS.