Monday, December 29, 2008


Big Game Russ

“When pressure rises, it’s one of my strong points not to crack under the pressure,” Florida Atlantic quarterback Rusty Smith told CFI Radio after his first practice in Detroit for the Motor City Bowl. “I don’t really know where I got it from. It’s just something where I’ve been able to stay calm whenever the pressure builds up.”

Smith, or Big Red as he is known (his father is Bigger Red), was at his big game best once again. It wasn’t the five-touchdown performance he had a year ago at the New Orleans Bowl, but it wasn’t too shabby either. Smith completed 20-of-35 passes for 306 yards and two touchdowns (zero interceptions).

Throughout the game, Smith did a nice job going through his progressions and the Jacksonville native made throws outside the hash marks with relative ease, working the sidelines on several occasions. His arm doesn’t warrant comparison to Matthew Stafford’s, but it appears to strong enough to “make all the throws” – there was more than enough zip on his passes.

The FAU signal caller shows good pocket presence and steps up when pressured--he doesn’t panic.

Smith has an unorthodox throwing motion, which seems to impact his accuracy more than his arm strength. Several passes sailed on him, particularly when he stepped up in the pocket. Rolling to his right, Smith looked good, displaying a strong arm when he was able to square his shoulders on a pretty 53-yard touchdown pass to Chris Bonner.

His completion percentage was also hurt by drops – leading receiver Cortez Gent dropped two passes – a problem all year for the Owls.

Smith also needs to work on his ball security. Twice he fumbled the football (lost one) and the second time he wasn’t even hit that hard by the defender. Protecting the football should be a point of emphasis for the soon-to-be senior quarterback.

A second straight bowl win adds another building block for the FAU program, a piece that didn’t appear would come this season when they were 1-5 and Smith had only five touchdown passes to go with nine interceptions. With the win over Central Michigan, the Owls ended the year on a 6-1 run with Smith’s touchdown-to-interception ratio improving to 19-to-5.

What was different?

“Not taking everything into my own hands,” was Smith’s answer. “Early on in the season I was trying to do a little too much, trying to force passes that really weren’t there. I realized it’s not really helping the team if I’m trying to do too much, so I decided I should take what the defense gave me and not try and force a 20-yard throw that wasn’t there. I realized if I could hit a five-yard route, the receiver would catch it and get 15 yards.”

Killer Hankies

Number One:
With the score tied at 10 in the third quarter, it appeared CMU were going to force Florida Atlantic to punt…until they were flagged for roughing the passer. So instead of giving up the ball, the Owls had a first down on the 48-yard line, setting up Rusty Smith’s 52-yard scoring strike for a 17-10 lead. IMPACT: Minus seven points

Number Two: Antonio Brown breaks off a 78-yard scoring scamper to take a 20-17 lead…until a face mask penalty brought it all the way back. On the next play, they ran the same exact reverse to Brown, but this time he lost six yards and CMU had to punt the football. IMPACT: Minus seven points (Total = 14 points lost)

Number Three: Down 24-13, the Chippewas drove to the FAU one yard line with a chance to pull within one-score…until a false start penalty pushed them back to the six-yard line. There is not a worse spot on the field to commit a false start penalty. Dan LeFevour threw incompletions on the next two plays and they turned the ball over on downs. IMPACT: Minus eight points potentially (Total = 14-22 points lost)

Of course, one might ask, WHY ARE THEY GOING FOR IT? Inexplicably, Coach Butch Jones went for it on fourth-and-goal from the six-yard line with over 5:00 remaining. A field goal would have cut it to an eight-point game. Jones’ decision added insult to penalty.

Defensive Studs

Senior inside linebacker Frantz Joseph was all over the field, recording a team-high 13 tackles. Joseph is a big time hitter who takes names later and possesses good timing in open field when looking to lay the wood.

You can’t run right at Joseph – he’s a very sure tackler. He has excellent footwork and does a good job of sliding by potential blockers and squaring up to the ball carrier.

Joseph stays on the field in passing situations – he’s a legit three-down linebacker. He made an excellent open field tackle on Central Michigan’s playmaking wide out/return man Antonio Brown, allowing zero yards after the catch. Later in the game, Joseph knocked down a fourth down pass in the end zone, preserving the Owls’ 11-point lead.

Effort is not an issue, as Joseph doesn’t give up on plays. Even when he doesn’t make initial play, he cleans up a lot.

A couple of times, Joseph was pushed around by the Chippewas offensive line; disengaging is something he needs to work on, but it’s nothing to be too concerned about. He also can get a little too deep penetrating the offensive backfield, losing sight of the football.

Not as explosive as Joseph, but solid in his own right was CMU’s middle linebacker Nick Bellore, who recorded 12 tackles. The junior displayed good closing speed in zone coverage and quickness when he pounced on a Smith fumble. Bellore was active throughout the contest.

Unsung Heroes

Fullback Willie Rose was one of the top prospects on either team, paving the way for many of FAU’s rushing yards with his excellent lead blocks and providing solid pass protection to boot. Not just an extra offensive linemen, Rose saw some time as the lone running back in one-back sets. He showed good vision and showed toughness inside when asked to run the football. Coming out of the backfield, he can catch the ball and make yards once he gets the ball in his hands.

Following Rose’s blocks much of the time was senior tailback Charles Pierre, a physical runner who possesses good size. Pierre runs hard and is not afraid to put his hat down. Even when he was heading out of bounds, the tailback put his head down to get a little hit in on defender. He gained most of his yards (16 carries, 77 yards) running between the tackles, using his center of gravity and balance. Even when contact is made, Pierre keeps his legs churning.

He played his final game with passion and tremendous poise, so it was no surprise that headman Howard Schnellenberger went to his senior runner to milk the final minutes to secure the win. The Owls took over with 3:09 remaining in the game and Pierre touched the ball on five straight plays, converting three first downs before Smith took a knee on the final two plays of the game.

In the Trenches

Several of the top players and pro prospects will not see their name in the box score, but FAU guard Ryan Wischnefski and CMU tackle Andrew Hartline each made his presence felt. Wischnefski, just a sophomore, did an excellent job of run blocking which is where Pierre did most of his damage. Most of the Chippewas’ productive runs came when they ran behind senior Hartline, who made his 51st straight start.

On the first play of the game, Central’s defensive end Frank Zombo read screen pass, got his hands up and deflected the pass. He was quiet for most of the day, but did record a half a tackle for a loss and his pressure on Smith set up a sack for a teammate. For the Owls, their most productive defensive lineman was senior Jervonte Jackson. The defensive tackle was able to get penetration, as well as a couple of big hits on the Chippewas’ quarterback Dan LeFevour. A bit undersized to play on the inside, Jackson can get beat up physically, but has the quickness to make impact plays.

Stars of Tomorrow

Central Michigan:
WR Kiro Poblah, Sophomore; LB Matt Berning, Sophomore; DT Sean Murnane, Sophomore; Florida Atlantic: CB Tarvoris Hill, Sophomore