Costly turnovers prove fatal in Florida

Minnesota gave up the ball seven times including five first-half miscues.

Luke Middendorf

With five turnovers in their first two games, Minnesota had been taking care of the ball well relative to how many young and inexperienced players it had on offense.

But Saturday against Florida Atlantic the Gophers could not keep their hands on the football, surrendering a total of seven turnovers. Five of those turnovers came in the first half, matching the total number of turnovers from their first two games.

“We’re not going to win a football game when we turn the ball over seven times,” coach Tim Brewster said.

Minnesota’s offensive misfortunes started late in the second quarter with the score tied at 14. After a Mike Sherels sack and a punt by FAU, the Gophers had a chance to take their first lead of the game.

But in the first play of the drive, redshirt freshman quarterback Adam Weber threw an interception on a pass thrown slightly behind wide receiver Ernie Wheelwright.

Although Minnesota’s next mistake was not a turnover, it was just as costly, as the Gophers (1-2 overall, 0-0 Big Ten) didn’t have the opportunity to convert a fourth and inches situation after receiving an illegal formation penalty, forcing them to punt.

After the Owls (2-1 overall, 1-0 Sun Belt) drove the field 99 yards to score on their next possession, Minnesota began to put together a solid drive of their own.

Yet things went sour again on first down with the ball on Florida Atlantic’s 38 yard line. Weber lofted a short pass to sophomore running back Jay Thomas, which Thomas lost shortly after the catch for a fumble.

Again, Florida Atlantic took advantage of the Minnesota mistake, converting the turnover into a touchdown, which pushed the score to 28-14.

During a long return by true freshman Harold Howell after the touchdown, the young speedster added to the Gophers’ turnover woes with another costly fumble.

Howell said that he was hoping Minnesota would be able to bounce back and forget about his turnover.

“We needed to forget about the fumble and try to move on,” Howell said.

But the Owls again wasted no time to score, throwing a 43-yard strike into the end zone on the very next play to put FAU up by three touchdowns.

After another nice return by Howell, it was again Weber’s turn to join the turnover parade, throwing a deep ball down the field, which was nowhere near the route of wide receiver Mike Chambers, which brought Weber’s interception tally to two on the game.

On FAU’s next drive, the Minnesota defense stepped up and forced the Owls to punt deep in their territory. After a deep snap over the punter’s head, the Gophers were primed to get back on the scoreboard with the ball on the Owl’s two yard line.

But on the very next play, the Gophers again could not hold onto the football and take advantage in a key situation. This time the fault rested on the shoulders of senior running back Amir Pinnix, who lost the ball near the end zone, which was recovered by the Owls for a touchback.

Florida Atlantic could not, however, convert this turnover for a score, and Minnesota was eventually able to get themselves closer to the lead by the end of the third quarter.

“We showed some heart in the second half, and that’s what kind of ball team we are,” wide receiver Eric Decker, who had 122 yards receiving in the second half, said.

With the score at 35-24 and the Gophers nearing another scoring opportunity, Weber threw his third interception of the day to halt the Gophers’ drive yet again.

But Weber and company put Minnesota in a position to tie the game with a field goal after he led the team to just a three-point deficit at 41-39 with the clock dwindling.

Weber, however, threw his fourth and final pick on a forced pass to Wheelwright with three seconds on the clock to end the game.

“It was a ball I probably should have just thrown away and let my field goal kicker kick it,” Weber said. “I got a little greedy, I think.”