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Game Preview: FAU vs UAB

Van Camp hands off to Morris @ UAB
Florida Atlantic football opens the 2010 season against the University of Alabama at Birmingham in a Thursday night out-of-conference matchup on the road. Having played UAB the past two seasons, the home team has won each game, and the two schools have split the overall series at 1-1.

Last year’s game in Birmingham was one of the worst losses in the brief history of FAU’s program, when the Owls fell 59-29. The defense couldn’t find an answer for a UAB offense that managed 662 yards of total offense and a season high 330 yards on the ground.

“We gave up more yards than when Sherman marched through Georgia,” Defensive Coordinator and Linebacker Coach Kurt Van Valkenburgh said of last year’s game.

The good news for FAU fans is that former UAB quarterback Joe Webb is now in the NFL. Having accounted for over 800 yards and 8 TD’s in his career against the Owls, Webb was a force in the Blazers attack and a nightmare to the Owls' defense.

With the loss of Webb, UAB Head Coach Neil Callaway will have to break in a new quarterback for the first time in two seasons. That man will be sophomore David Isabelle, who ran for 288 yards and a score while backing-up Webb in 2009.

“He is built in the mold of the (Joe Webb) guy that just left, and he’s had success when he’s been in there,” FAU Head Coach Howard Schnellenberger said of Isabelle.

FAU finds itself in a similar situation at the quarterback position with the departure of Rusty Smith to the NFL. However, senior quarterback Jeff Van Camp saw plenty of action last season when Smith went down with a season ending injury. Van Camp stared his first career game in the loss at UAB, while throwing for 256 yards, three touchdowns and two interceptions.

Van Camp now travels to Birmingham as the leader of the offense and one of the top passers in the conference. A banged up offensive line full of five new starters will block for him, but according to the quarterback that shouldn’t be much of a problem.

“They have made huge amounts of improvements, you can’t say enough about them,” said Van Camp. “We had some injuries, but we had a lot of guys step up, so everyone is making progress.”

One of the biggest questions for FAU will be how much improvement has been made on the defensive side from last season. Van Valkenburgh has taken over the play calling calls for the 2010 slate and has somewhat simplified the overall scheme. With eight starters returning to the unit, experience and playmaking ability isn’t lacking.

“The big thing is to eliminate big plays and create turnovers,” Van Valkenburgh explained of the mindset for Thursday. “Play fast, and play hard. If they do that we should be a good football team.”

Along with Isabelle, UAB’s offense will feature two experienced pass catching seniors in wide receiver Frantrell Forrest and tight end Jeffery Anderson. Together the two managed 60 receptions for 956 yards and 11 touchdowns last season, something that will prove to be a test for the Owls' secondary which returns four starters.

The Blazer’s rushing attack, however is the real strength of the offense, finishing 7th in the nation averaging 229.9 a game last year. The team’s backfield will work by committee and feature junior college transfer Pat Shed, who had an impressive spring and fall camp.  

“They do have a balance of their squad back, and obviously they look pretty awesome to us from our vantage point,” Schnellenberger said of UAB.  

The Matchups:

 - S Hiram Atwater covering FAU’s passing attack- UAB’s pass defense was the worst in the Conference-USA last season, but Atwater performed well enough to be named to the preseason all-conference team. Van Camp and the offense should look to throw the ball to balance out the run but will have to account for Atwater down the field.  

 - FAU’s Front-7 against QB David Isabelle- Isabelle likes to run, and the defense will need to contain his options and scrambles. All week in practice, the team prepared for quarterback draws and read plays, but the true test will come Thursday night when they get a first look at the Blazer's spread attack.

 - DT Elliot Henigan working against C Jimmie Colley- Center has been one of the biggest stories of fall camp for FAU, as three players went down with injuries. Colley has managed to recover just in time to take on the Blazers, and will be squared up with Henigan in the trenches. Henigan managed two sacks against FAU a year ago.

By the Numbers:

 - The running game will could play a big factor for the Owls, as last season when the team ran for 150 yards or more they were 5-1. UAB was just 2-3 when opponents achieved that mark, but bring back only five starters.

 - If FAU’s defense can limit the scoring and prevent a shootout like last years contest, that could be a big advantage. The Blazers were 0-5 last year when scoring 21 points or less.

 - UAB’s kick coverage unit was one of their weaknesses in 2009, as they allowed two returns for touchdowns. With Willie Floyd and Jeff Blanchard now in the return slots for FAU, there could be be a big initial improvement over last season’s 19.14 yard kick return average.

Final Word:

The contest marks the third time FAU has opened the season on a Thursday night. But it's been a while. Coming in, the Owls are 1-1 with a loss coming at South Florida in 2002 and a win against Middle Tennessee State in 2003. Having that in mind, Florida Atlantic is also 2-1 against C-USA opponents since making the jump to the Football Bowl Subdivision, with an overall record of 3-6 in season openers. With a young offensive line at play, and the congruent strategy of the pro-style offense they run, FAU will need to be able to contain the Blazer's running game to enjoy an advantage in time of possession. If they are able to do that, a win isn’t out of the question.


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