The Shula Trophy is going back to Miami where it will stay for the foreseeable future after FIU defeated FAU 34-24 in the Shula Bowl at FAU Stadium on Friday.
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BOCA RATON – Florida Atlantic coach Carl Pelini’s first Shula Bowl had the same result as former Owls coach Howard Schnellenberger’s last one did, with FAU losing to FIU.
FAU dropped its second consecutive Shula Bowl—which is likely the last for a while due to FIU's move to Conference USA in 2013—in a 34-24 loss to the Panthers on Friday night at FAU Stadium.
Pelini wasn't worried about the future of the rivalry but rather the missed opportunities and uncharacteristic play of his team.
"I just thought that we played, in a lot of ways, we played outside of who we are,” Pelini said. “We did things tonight that were uncharacteristic of who we’ve been in the last four or five weeks. We didn’t look like a very disciplined football team.”
The ground game was nonexistent. FAU netted -11 yards at halftime and -12 yards by game's end. The passing game was the only offense the Owls managed to muster.
“We felt like we could run the ball and it was important for us to be able to run the ball in order to get our passing game going,” Pelini said. “They were more physical than we were up front and I just didn’t think we executed the game very well.”
But despite the early offensive woes, FAU (3-8, 2-5 Sun Belt) only trailed by four heading into the second half.
Following a roughly 30-minute lightning delay in the opening minutes of the third quarter, the second half turned into a shoot-out between the two squads in the third and fourth quarter. Despite FAU’s ineffectiveness running the football, they found strength in their passing game.
“I think the passing game, in between our mistakes, was effective enough to keep the chains moving for the most part,” said Wilbert, who had two touchdowns and a career-high 403 yards passing on the night. “We just tried to stick with that because it was working and it just wasn’t enough.”
Wilbert had a career day, setting personal records for completions (28), attempts (51) and a career-long touchdown pass of 60 yards to walk-on wide receiver Jenson Stoshak in the third quarter.
But Wilbert was more concerned about the play of the offense as a whole than personal accolades.
"Offensively we didn’t execute well at all. Pretty much the whole game,” he said. “We weren’t running the ball well. I had a lot of missed throws I’m going to be thinking about all night. It’s just frustrating. We didn’t put our best game together at all.”
After the Owls took a 17-14 lead off a Jonathan Wallace 1-yard touchdown run, FIU’s Richard Leonard responded with a 100-yard kickoff return, the longest play of any kind ever against FAU. The second longest also came in the Shula Bowl back in 2011 when T.Y. Hilton took a punt back 97 yards for the score.
“I thought really the play that really broke our backs was that kickoff return,” Pelini said. “That’s got to be fixed. As much time as we spend on special teams that should never happen.”
FAU’s defense had similar struggles in trying to contain FIU quarterback Jake Medlock as he used both his arm and his legs to make plays.
Linebacker David Hinds, who recovered a muffed punt by FIU (3-8, 2-5) in the second quarter, said it all came down to lack of execution.
“I feel like we had a good game-plan on containing him,” Hinds said, “We just didn’t get the job done.”
FAU has two weeks to prepare for the final game of the 2012 season when it faces Louisiana-Lafayette on Dec. 1.
"“These next two weeks will be a test to their endurance and their character." Pelini said. "(We are) not going out that way. I thought we’ve come too far as a football team to put out another display like that.”
GameBrowser: FIU 34, FAU 24
After FIU scored a touchdown on a 1-yard run by Kedrick Rhodes to take a 34-24 lead with 10:45 remaining in the game, the Owls desperately needed to answer and looked like they were going to do just that. On first down with the ball on the FAU 35-yard line, quarterback Graham Wilbert hit wide receiver William Dukes on a post pattern for a 43-yard gain to the FIU 22. Two plays later, however, Wilbert's pass was picked off by Panthers senior safety Johnathan Crypien near the goal-line ending the Owls' drive and chance to rally.
- It was uncharacteristic of FAU to do such a poor job of tackling. FIU ball carriers gained plenty of yards after contact to get free into the secondary.
- FIU didn't look like a team that had only won two games and went for the kill when it sensed it had FAU on the ropes.
- The Owls had a short week to prepare for the game. FIU was off last week and had extra time to get ready for the game and it showed.
- Thanks to a weather delay and sloppy play, the last Shula Bowl for the foreseeable future was a dud.
(-12): Rushing yards by FAU, tied for the third worst in school history with games vs. Troy in 2004 and UConn in 2002 and trailed the -15 yards FAU had vs. James Madison in 2002 and their -36 yard performance vs. USF the same season.
2: FAU players with more than 100 yards. William Dukes had 116 yards on six catches and Jenson Stoshack had 108 yards on five catches. It was the first time since Chris Bonner (139) and Corez Gent (108) did against FIU in 2008.
250: Consecutive attempts without an interception by Graham Wilbert before he was picked off in the fourth quarter.
8: Number of victories for FAU in 11 games vs. FIU in the Shula Bowl. FIU won the final two games of the series and vacated its 2005 victory vs. the Owls due to NCAA sanctions