Photo Credit: JC Ridley/FAU Athletics
With Florida Atlantic’s back against the wall at halftime, the Owl offense needed a hero.
That hero was quarterback Nick Tronti, who threw for two touchdowns and ran for another in the final half. Tronti’s second-half performance led FAU to a 21-17 victory in their season opener.
For the FAU offense, Tronti’s leadership was a big catalyst for the win. Running back James Charles never thought the game was in doubt with Tronti under center.
“It’s very important,” Charles said about Tronti. “I mean even when we (were) down and we (were starting slow), I was telling Nick [Tronti] already, pretty much speaking it into existence, … ‘Thank you for bringing us back and winning the ball game. I have all the faith in Tronti. I mean we started off slow, it didn’t look good, but to be honest, I had no worries.”
In his first start for FAU, the signal-caller finished with 98 passing yards and 94 rushing yards, most of those coming in the second half. In total, Tronti gained 137 yards in the second half. That second-half performance was the complete opposite of the first-half struggles.
First Half Struggles
The offense totaled just 72 yards total in the first half. Tronti managed to complete just 5 of his 16 passes for 30 total yards. On the ground, Tronti contributed an additional 22 yards.
“I think it was probably a little bit of both,” Tronti said about the first half. “I think rust would be a good way to put it. Couple mistakes, most mistakes on my part. I put that first half on me, I wasn’t seeing everything clearly like I should have been and should have come out a lot sharper. Like I said, it was not pretty at all in the first half.”
As a unit, the offensive advanced past midfield just once, later stalling at the Charlotte 49 yard line. The Owls, however, entered the second half down just 10 points, thanks to strong defensive play.
“I think he calmed down and I did a better job of calling plays,” head coach Willie Taggart said about the turnaround. “Just ran some things that he’s comfortable with and what he loved to do and kind of got off the script that we were on. We were on script and nothing was working. … He started making better reads. He had some misreads in the first half. Just told him at halftime, ‘Calm down. You know how to do this. Just calm down and play ball. We’re going to get some plays out here and make them defend 11 guys and not just 10.’ And sure enough, I think that got him going and got his confidence going.”
Second Half Improvement
The second half was an offensive turnaround. The Ponte Verda Beach native carried the offense, completing his first six passes for 68 yards and two touchdowns, including the game-winning 16-yard touchdown pass to T.J. Chase late in the third quarter.
“It was just a basic snag concept, a little variation of a snag concept,” Tronti said about the touchdown to Chase. “Coach Taggart actually put the play in this week. Great call In a great situation. TJ [Chase] ran a great route and he was wide open.”
Tronti’s legs made the difference in the third quarter. Tronti was responsible for opening up FAU’s scoring, fooling the Charlotte defense for a 49-yard touchdown run early in the quarter. The junior quarterback finished the second half with 72 rushing yards.
The offense, however, was still aided by a dominating defense. Leighton McCarthy’s strip-sack set up Tronti’s 16-yard touchdown strike to Chase. Later in the quarter, an Armani-Eli Adams pass break-up set up a 25-yard touchdown to Logan Peterson which gave the Owls their first lead.
Although the Owls were not perfect in the second half, they were certainly a lot better. Looking towards next week, Taggart is hoping Tronti will open the game calmer and more poised.
“From the beginning, is calming down and just go through his reads,” Taggart said. “I thought he was just panicking and just guessing when he was out there rather than looking at what the defense was giving him. I don’t know if it was just the first game jitters for him or what but just calm down and run the offense like he’s capable of doing. He showed what he can do in the second half.”