Game Preview: ULL vs FAU
One of the biggest differences for Florida Atlantic football this season has been the improved play of the defense which has often kept the Owls close in games. Giving up just 367.4 total yards per game, the Owls rank first in the Sun Belt Conference in passing and scoring defense and second in total defense. This Saturday that defense will get another test with when Louisiana-Lafayette (2-7, 2-3) travels to Lockhart Stadium for a 7:00 p.m. kickoff.
While many have pointed to the secondary as the reason for the defense’s success, the one unit that has been challenged all year long has been the linebackers. Things didn’t start off as planned for the group at the beginning of the season, but as each game goes by progress is being made.
“We’re realizing that were good and confident,” senior outside linebacker Malik Eugene said.
Confidence is just what the linebackers will need this week, as Louisiana features an offense that thrives on creating miss matches and attacking the linebackers. In last week’s loss to Ole Miss, the Rajin’ Cajuns managed to score 21 points against a good SEC defense and find offensive production.
Running back Aaron Spikes, a true freshman out of the Dallas, Texas area, has proven be the spark plug for the offense this season not only as a runner but as a pass catcher out of the backfield and leads the team with seven total touchdowns.
“He’s probably a little better than Western Kentucky’s running back (Bobby Rainey), I don’t know, we got to watch out for him,” linebacker Randell Johnson said.
Rainey, the conference’s leading rusher, ripped right through the Owls defense last week rushing for 152 yards and two touchdowns on 33 carries. FAU held Western Kentucky to just 268 yards of total offense in the one-point win on the road, but concerns have been voiced after Rainey’s performance.
“The past two weeks we were missing tackles, in practice today and yesterday that was the focal point, open field tackling,” Eugene said during the week.
A Spikes to Rainey comparison from the linebackers might be a little scary for FAU fans, but it shows how much the defense is respecting the play making ability of the Cajun back. Spikes accounted for 77 all-purpose yards against Ole Miss and hauled in a 27-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Brad McGuire, who was playing in place of the injured Chris Masson.
McGuire however suffered an injury of his own this week and promoting sophomore quarterback Blaine Gautie into the starting role Saturday night. Gautie has seen limited this action this season throwing for only 110 yards and two interceptions and will be making his first career start.
"We have a lot of confidence in Blaine Gautier. Our goal is to let him play his game and do the things that he does well. He is a dual-threat quarterback, so he'll help our running game,” ULL Head Coach Rickey Bustle said.
The athletic quarterback has run for 71 yards and three touchdowns in the minimal snaps he has taken this season. FAU players don’t seem too concerned with Gautier’s passing skills and are more focused on containing him if he scrambles.
“The one (quarterback) they got in right now likes to run a lot, but he isn’t that good at throwing it so we don’t have to worry about that,” Johnson said.
With Gautier now taking the snaps for an offense that ranked fourth in the conference in passing yards, the Cajuns answer to his limited passing experience looks to be focusing more on the running attack.
“I think we might try to run the ball out of the I (formation) to help him out, let him get comfortable,” Bustle said.
FAU’s defense and linebackers have prepared themselves to stop the run, knowing they can’t let a running back run for 100 or more yards on them for the third straight game in a row. The pressure will start up front with the defensive line, but the real task will be the linebackers coming down the field and making plays between the tackles.
“We need to be a little bit more of a force on the inside runs,” said Eugene.
If Bustle and his coaching staff do decide to look to the air, a solid pass catching target for Gautier lies in preseason-all conference tight end Ladarius Green. A 6’6” junior, Green is already the school’s best tight end in history ranking first in career receptions, yards and touchdowns amongst tight ends.
“He doesn’t seem too big and physical, but he seems like a good receiver so we need to be aware of where he is at on the field,” Eugene said of Green.
The Owls will be going for their third straight win on Saturday and are still have small chances of bowl hopes. The team knows and understands that even though the Cajuns are only playing for pride, they can’t look past them.
“We can’t look past any team, we got to take it one step at a time,” Johnson said.
T Samuel McRoy vs DE Emeka Onyenekwu - FAU didn’t allow any sacks against Western Kentucky for the first game all season. McRoy was a big part in that performance and has brought his experience to the young line. Onyenekwu leads the Cajuns with 2.5 sacks and puts a lot of pressure off of the edge.
FAU’s Passing Game vs ULL’s Pass Defense- The Rajin’ Cajuns lead the Sun Belt in interceptions with thirteen of them but also is giving up 259.2 yards per game. Quarterback Jeff Van Camp and the Owls offense struggled last week passing for only 140 yards. FAU will need to get the passing game going to find success offensively.
QB Brad McGuire managing the game - McGuire has seen game time before, but this Saturday will mark the first time he will have complete control of the offense. The coaches look to have made changes to help take pressure off the quarterback, but somewhere down the line he will have to make a play.
By the Numbers
In Bustles time with the Rajin’ Cajuns, the program has blocked a total of 42 kicks in the special teams department. One of the most notable blocks was this season when defensive lineman Jermaine Rogers batted down an extra point attempt to preserve a 28-27 win over North Texas. FAU has had its own fare share of blocks this season with three, but have had their own punts and extra points blocked as well.
Lester Jean has been the playmaker in the Owls offense this season and leads the Sun Belt Conference with 17 plays of 30-yards or more. Six of the plays have gone 60 plus yards including an 80-yard touchdown catch and run against Arkansas State. Jean caught four passes for 62 yards and a touchdown in last year’s game with the Rajin’ Cajuns.
FAU is 4-1 all time against the Cajuns, winning the last meeting 51-29 on the road behind former quarterback Rusty Smith’s 359 yards passing and four touchdowns. The Owls racked up a school record 624-yards of total offense in the process scoring seven touchdowns in the process. This year’s offense is a lot more different than the one that put up record numbers against the Cajuns, as FAU has only produced a combined 571-yards in the past two games. Stopping the run attack and putting the game in the hands of Gautier will be key for the Owls defense, as pass defense is the team’s strength. If the defense can pick up from where it left off last week and the offense finally puts together a complete performance, FAU will be in good shape at home.
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