Howard Schnellenberger's final season is shaping up to be quite a challenge.
Schnellenberger's Florida Atlantic team managed only one first down Saturday in a 44-0 loss to No. 17 Michigan State. The Owls were outgained 434-48.
"This was a very disappointing thing for us," said Schnellenberger, who is retiring after this season. "We thought we'd come up and play more consistently than we have in the past. We didn't. We played absolutely inconsistent and horrible."
FAU (0-2) has scheduled a brutal opening month. The Owls opened at Florida and play at Auburn in two weeks. They lost to the Gators 41-3.
Schnellenberger, who rose to prominence as Miami's coach in the early 1980s, is in his 11th season at FAU. He had back-to-back winning seasons there in 2007 and 2008, winning a bowl in each of those years.
The schedule should ease up when the Owls begin Sun Belt Conference play, but they looked overmatched by Michigan State. FAU will have a much-needed open date next weekend, while the Spartans play at Notre Dame.
"We know that we can play better than that," quarterback Graham Wilbert said. "Obviously we haven't proven that, but we know we have the guys who can make plays out there with anybody. We just haven't been able to do it yet."
Kirk Cousins threw for 183 yards and two touchdowns for the Spartans. B.J. Cunningham caught five passes for 73 yards, breaking a tie with Matt Trannon for Michigan State's career lead in receptions. The Spartans (2-0) led 27-0 at halftime.
Cousins finished 16 of 21, and backup Andrew Maxwell also played quite a bit.
Michigan State has held an opponent to one first down only one other time — against Maryland in 1944.
Michigan State beat Youngstown State 28-6 in its season opener but didn't pull away until well into the second half. The Spartans looked much sharper against FAU. Cunningham entered the game even with Trannon at 148 catches, but he had two receptions on Michigan State's first drive to take sole possession of first place on that list.
Edwin Baker capped that drive with a 9-yard touchdown run, and Le'Veon Bell added a 2-yard scoring run late in the quarter to make it 14-0.
Dan Conroy equaled his career best with a 50-yard field goal that made it 17-0, then added a 41-yarder.
Cousins made it 27-0 with a 1-yard touchdown pass to Dion Sims with 12 seconds remaining in the half, and the senior quarterback caught a bit of a break in the third quarter when his fourth-down pass went through the hands of FAU's Keith Reaser and was caught by Garrett Celek for an 8-yard touchdown.
Wilbert went 4 of 10 for 15 yards, and the Owls couldn't run the ball either against Michigan State's tough defensive front. In the fourth quarter, FAU's Xavier Stinson ran for 14 yards and what would have been the Owls' second first down — but he fumbled, and Michigan State's Jeremy Langford returned it 37 yards for a touchdown and a 44-0 lead.
The only FAU first down came in the second quarter, when backup quarterback David Kooi threw an 8-yard pass to DeAndre Richardson on second-and-4.
"They don't have much of a chance," Schnellenberger said. "They barely get the ball, set to throw and somebody's coming."