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Game Preview: Florida Atlantic vs South Florida

fauusfpreviewsliderOne of the best ways to get over a tough loss is to move forward and prepare for the next game. For Florida Atlantic football, that has been just the theme following last week’s 21-17 loss to previously winless North Texas.

“You just got to look at that game and take everything that we did wrong in the loss and improve on it, while going into the week with the confidence that were going to win,” senior linebacker Michael Lockley said of the preperations after the loss.

Welcoming the Owls Saturday night will be a trip to the University of South Florida to take on a 2-1 Big East team that knocked off Western Kentucky 24-12 in their last game.

The Bulls offense revolves around the nation’s 22nd best rushing attack, that averages 216.67 yards per game, and has been a problem for opposing defense’s all season. Those numbers are bad news for FAU, as after last week’s 282 rushing yard performance from North
Texas, the team’s rushing defense now ranks dead last in the nation, giving up 275.67 yards per game.

“It’s bad,” Head Coach Howard Schnellenberger remarked of the run defense.  “The quarterbacks have been the main problem.”

He's right. The Achilles heel for the Owls' defense this season has been the running and scrambling of dual-threat quarterbacks. UAB quarterback David Isabelle ran for 213 yards and three touchdowns against FAU in the season opener, while the Mean Green’s Riley Dodge carried the ball 11 times for 67 yards last Saturday, earning four first downs via the ground.

USF won’t pose any different threat at the starting quarterback position, as sophomore signal-caller B.J. Daniels led the team in rushing a year ago.

“He’s very athletic, probably one of the best scramblers we’re going to see all year,” Lockley said of Daniels.

Daniels has already ran for 160 yards and two touchdowns this season, however he has also shown some struggles with the passing game, completing only 50.9 percent of his passes and throwing five interceptions with only three touchdowns.

Lining up in the backfield with Daniels are tailbacks Moise Plancher and Demetris Murray. The two have combined for 361 yards and three touchdowns in the team’s three contests, and work as tailbacks by committee. Murray ran for 115 yards in the Bulls win over the Hilltoppers, averaging 7.7 yards per carry

“We’re expecting them to come with the run,” Lockley said. “They have a good offensive line, a good couple of backs that they put in there, and were expecting them to come in the run first to open up the pass.”

FAU would like to get its running game going as well, as the Sun Belt’s worst rushing offense is only managing 74 yards a game on the ground.  The Bulls 76th ranked rush defense could be just the answer to the struggles the Owls have had.

“We’re going to continue to try and establish the run; it’s a big part of our offense,” quarterback Jeff Van Camp said of the team’s slow start.

Having running back Alfred Morris get carries and find success against the Bulls defense, could help take pressure of the an offensive line unit that has given up six sacks the season. USF’s defensive line will bring pressure off the edge and is led by defensive end David Bedford, who has seen action in 25 career games.

“There front four is probably the best one we’ll see all year, and they got a lot of speed on the outside,” Van Camp said.

Van Camp is coming off a passing performance in which he went 20-31, for 372 yards, with one touchdown and one interception.

USF first year head coach Skip Holtz understands the competitiveness of the contest and thinks the Owls will be ready for Saturday night.

“This will be one of those instate games, I know everybody will be geared up for it, and I know everybody will be excited about it,” Holtz said of the matchup. “I know we’ll lineup and see their best shot.”

The Matchups:

FAU’s Front 7 containing QB B.J. Daniels - Daniels is an elusive quarterback that has shown throughout his career he isn’t afraid to tuck it and run. Having run for 100 plus yards in five different games, his best running performance this season came when he rushed for 107 yards at Florida. The Owls have allowed quarterbacks to run for a combined 1,505 yards since 2008 and have already given up 276 yards this season. Keeping a defender on Daniels at all times will be key.

USF LB Jaquian Williams covering TE Rob Housler - Housler, a fifth-year senior, has had an up and down season so far for the Owls. Despite his 11 catches for 169 yards and a touchdown in the past two games, Housler’s production has been overshadowed by his costly dropped passes. Williams, an athletic linebacker, will be asked to cover the quick tight end, and it should be a duel to watch as Housler is still looking to redeem himself.

Keith Reaser and Brentley Harstad playing against USF - With starting cornerback Tavious Polo suspended from the game, a player will need to step up and play in his spot. Harstad should be playing in his normal nickel position, but the redshirt-freshman Reaser could be asked to start his first career game, after seeing game action and recording seven tackles this season.

By the Numbers:

USF threw the ball 11 times against the Hilltoppers last Saturday, an all-time low in school record books. Holtz wanted to stick with the run game due to problems in the passing attack, and executed just that in the win. FAU can’t allow the Bulls to consistently run the ball, and will need to force them to throw it more than a dozen times.

If you watched the North Texas game, one of the most painful moments for fans and the team was third down situations. The Mean Green were 10-15 on third down, and at one point in the contest had converted eight out of nine, with many of them coming on broken plays. If Daniels gets free and scrambles for first downs, it could be a long night for the defense.

Final Word:

FAU needs a rival outside of Florida International, and the cross-state USF Bulls could be just the answer. Last time the two schools met on the football field it was a 12-point win for the Bulls on the road, in which the Owls had tied the game in the middle of the third quarter. USF leads the all-time series 2-0, and has been a model of an upstart football program for FAU ever since the school formed a team. For the Owls to pull off the upset when they travel to Tampa, they will need to stop the run for the first time all season. Containing Daniels and forcing him to throw more passes will also benefit the defense, as the secondary has shown some signs of life this year. FAU is 1-4 all-time after the team’s Sun Belt opening game of the season, but if they can finally limit the run and force some turnovers, a close game could be possible.

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