FAU Football: Owls drop regular season finale against Middle Tennessee, missing out on a bowl game


The FAU Owls (5-7, 3-5 CUSA) season is over as they drop their final game of the season to the Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders (6-6, 4-4 CUSA), 27-17. During the game, they held a 14 point lead.

Besides the Owls not becoming bowl-eligible, unable to get to the six-win mark, their season ends on a four-game losing streak.

It was more of the same for the Owls, the defense came up big and gave the offense multiple opportunities to put this game away, offense stalls out. 

FAU Hagerty Family Head Coach Willie Taggart talks about the team in his opening statements after the loss Saturday night:

“It was a disappointing loss. We didn’t play well enough to win the game. It was disappointing being up and letting them come back and beat us. We saw some of the things we saw all year. Those things can’t happen. We got to get it fixed. I got to get it fixed. And I will get it fixed.”

Offensively, they got the start they wanted as the Owls went 75 yards on eight plays that ended in a 48-yard touchdown pass from quarterback N’Kosi Perry to Je’Quan Burton up the middle. Those were the plays FAU was missing the last three games.

The defense didn’t give Middle Tennessee enough time to work their offense and held them to three points in the first half. 

But they can only do so much…

While the offense found another touchdown drive in the second quarter that came off of a variation of a flea-flicker from Perry to John Mitchell, the offense couldn’t get anything going. In the whole second half, the only points were from a 23-yard field goal from Morgan Suarez.

That’s it.

It’s been the same offensive inefficiency that has been seen the whole season. Nothing has improved since the beginning of the season and while people can argue if it’s coaching, if it’s the performance of the players, Taggart says it’s all of it.

“Well, I think it’s everything, it’s coaching, it’s playing, it’s all of it and we got to do a better job at it. We got to do a better job coaching, we got to do a better job as players executing and what we call out there and then we gotta get out and recruit, keep recruiting and try to make sure we continue to bring the right guys in here to help us.”

When it came to the offensive playmakers, Perry finished with 328 passing yards, two touchdowns, and one interception. LaJohntay Wester led the team in receptions with a whopping 14 catches, which is one short of the school record, and 95 yards. Running back Johnny Ford had 158 all-purpose yards as he ran for 53 yards while also recording 47 receiving yards. 

After Middle Tennessee took the lead late in the fourth quarter with just over four minutes left in the game, FAU had the chance to either tie the game at 20 or take the lead, and it looked like it was heading that way.

Before this drive, FAU had punted four consecutive times, but it seemed that this drive was going to break that streak. It did, but not in the way the Owls wanted.

As Perry completed an impressive 31-yard pass to receiver TJ Chase on a 4th and 2, they were in prime position to score. The very next play, Perry was sacked and fumbled the ball in which the Blue Raiders defense returned it for a touchdown to seal the game.

It seems to be every game that it’s down to a couple of plays that go wrong whether it be the drops against Marshall, the turnovers versus UAB, and this time around, people will go back and look at this play. 

While people will pay attention to that, these games shouldn’t have to come down to those plays. The team once again had multiple opportunities to score and trail away in this game, and like we’ve seen, they didn’t capitalize. 

The offense was 6-19 on third downs, allowed three sacks, and was noticeable that Perry was hit on most plays 

As said before, the defense played winning football for most of this game. In the second half and towards the end of the game, we saw the defense crumble, seemingly like they were gassed from being out there too often. Coach Taggart talks about the defense’s performance, what they did right and what could have been improved.

“I thought our defense, especially in the first half, did a good job, you know, and then I thought the second half we were poor in tackling. You know, I think a lot of those plays they [MTSU] got were from a lot of missed tackles. And that’s what allowed them to get down the field on us.”

A bright spot from the game was freshman defensive tackle Evan Anderson. He was a physical presence on every play and disrupted MTSU in the running and passing attack. Anderson finished the game with seven total tackles (tied for first on the team), had a half a tackle for loss, one pass breakup, and two quarterback hurries. 

Taggart says the best is yet to come for Anderson and that he is a player that the team is going to build off of:

“He’s one of the guys we’re gonna lean on and build off of, he hates losing, and we need a lot of guys like that. We got to continue to build off of guys like that, because it’s very important to him that we’re successful, it’s a big reason why he came here is to be successful, and the kid goes out and play his tail off every single day, in practice, in games. We got a lot of young guys, I mean it’s good to see some young guys get experience and play that way.”

What was said time and time again from Taggart was the disappointment he had not just because of the loss, but of how the team sent out the seniors that were celebrated. He talks about the impact they left at FAU:

“It’s huge. Like I told those guys, their memories here they’ll never forget, you know, and they’ll look back and see our program five, six, 10 years down the road and be able to say ‘I helped put our program there.’ You think about our program moving to the AAC, they’re a big part of that happening for the work that they did leading up to this, but I love those guys. If there’s anything I can do for them moving forward, I will. Again, wish them nothing but the best and like I told them, we’ll make them proud.”

One of the exiting players is John Mitchell who has been a part of the FAU program for the last six years. He’s been an outstanding veteran that has been through three head coaches starting with Charlie Partridge, Lane Kiffin and now Willie Taggart. 

While it is a bittersweet ending for Mitchell, he talks about his time at FAU and there’s nothing but good memories for the senior.

“It’s been everything I could have ever asked for honestly. It gave me the college experience that everyone dreams about and I wouldn’t take it back for the world, I wouldn’t do it any other way. And it’s taught me a lot as a man, as a competitor, like I said before as an athlete. I’ve gained so much wisdom here just playing football, going to school, meeting people. It’s been a blessing to say the least.”

He said it was special for him to get the touchdown in his last game as a player for FAU, even though it would’ve been great to get the win. He talks about what he’s learned from the different coaches throughout the seasons he’s been here. 

“The biggest thing that I’d take from every single coach, they do a great job of talking about playing through adversity. One, playing diversity, two, that the way that you do anything is the way that you have you do everything. Your habits are absolutely paramount in life and life in football, life after football, because you can’t make every decision throughout any given day. So you sharpen your habits, and these coaches have really hammered that end, and everything seems to work out for you. Everybody says football is like a mini version of life, there are ups, downs, good times, bad times, but just staying yourself, staying true to character through adversity, that’s one of the best lessons I’ve learned playing this game.”

Overall, it’s been disappointing for FAU all around as Taggart speaks on the performance on the team this year and how he would describe the season as a whole:

“I don’t think we did a good enough job coaching, we didn’t get to do a good enough job playing, it wasn’t good enough. You know, we got a young football team and you can’t overlook that. Having a young football team and there’s a lot of teams we played against that are pretty mature. We got to build off with those young guys and continue to build on them and get better and me personally I got to do a great job of evaluating our entire program and everything in it and making sure that we got the right people here and in the right places so that we can move forward.”

In the end, FAU finishes 5-7 overall along with being 3-5 in the conference. Willie Taggart is 10-11 as the head coach through his first two seasons with the program as he looks to improve in 2022 in what could very well be a make-or-break year. 

Photo courtesy of FAU Athletics.

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