After back-to-back one-point wins over Western Kentucky and Louisiana Lafayette, Florida Atlantic football travels out of conference this Saturday to take on one of the most storied programs in the country in the University of Texas.
Led by the legendary Head Coach Mack Brown, the Longhorns haven’t quite lived up to the preseason top-five ranking that many had given them. Instead they have struggled all season long, compiling a 4-6 losing record while going just 1-4 at home.
Despite the overall record and the fact that Texas has lost four straight games, FAU still understands what kind of team they are facing this weekend on the road. The Longhorns have to win their final two games to become bowl-eligible, and that means a win over the Owls is essential.
“There a good team, there record might not say it, but they are a good team. They are 4-6, they are going to come out fighting hard, they don’t want to lose this game, if they lose one more they are done,” defensive end Jamere Johnson said.
FAU’s defense will need a near perfect performance against Texas to pull off an upset, and Johnson along with the rest of the defensive line could be just the key to a victory.
The Owls’ run defense has been a concern this season, as opponents have run for 150-yards or more in seven of the nine games thus far and are averaging 193-yards a contest. In last week’s win over the Ragin’ Cajuns, the defense’s inability to stop the run kept the game close, but this week Johnson and the front four want things to change against Texas.
“We want to force them to pass the ball. I feel like our DB’s are good enough to cover their wide receivers and if we can stop the run and force them to pass the ball, I feel like we can win this game,” Johnson said.
Limiting Texas’s running game will be no easy task, as they average 140.7 rushing yards per game, but things might have gotten a little bit easier with the loss of two ball carriers in the backfield. Running back Tre’ Newton permanently left football earlier this week due to head problems and his counterpart Fozzy Whittaker is likely to miss the game with a nagging injury.
Those injuries leave Texas’s offense with running back Cody Green and quarterback Garrett Gilbert as the team’s leading rushers. Gilbert, who has struggled in the passing department this year, has found production with his legs and ran for 55-yards last week in the 33-16 loss to Oklahoma State.
“He’s definitely an athlete, he’s a good player,” defensive tackle Dino Cox said.
If the Owls can limit the running of Green and the scrambling of Gilbert while forcing Texas to pass the ball that will play to their advantage. FAU’s pass defense ranks seventeenth in the nation and is giving up only 180.9 passing yards per game.
The formula to the success in the secondary has been the experience of the starters and the depth surrounding them. FAU has been starting three seniors and a junior at the defensive backs positions, and numerous players have seen game action.
“We got a lot of experience back there, and we just put it to work,” senior corner back Tarvoris Hill said. “We’re a tight group, we all know what to expect from each other.”
Last week when starting cornerback Tavious Polo left the game with an injury, redshirt-freshmen Keith Reaser stepped right in and captured his first career interception. The Owls now rank second in the Sun Belt Conference with 10 interceptions on the year, which is twice the total from what they had all of last season.
While the takeaways and pass defense can be credited to the secondary, the defensive line has had just as much of an impact. Quarterbacks haven’t had time in the pocket, and FAU has already forced 15 sacks, three more than the total from last year.
“They help tremendously with the pass rush and stopping the run, and then we just have to worry about the pass,” Hill said.
Saturday, the defensive line will need to turn the pressure towards Gilbert and the Longhorn’s offense to find success and force the pass.
“Our number one goal is to stop the run, and then stop the pass,” Cox said of the defensive line.
Texas starts three freshmen along the offensive line and the group has shown problems throughout the season. Gilbert has struggled with his pocket presence, throwing 15 interceptions to only seven touchdown passes. FAU’s defenders know of the quarterback’s problems in the passing department and are eager for a chance to create takeaways of their own.
“That would be huge to get one Saturday,” Hill said.
“They have had a lot of turnovers this year, which has been hurting them,” Johnson added.
Forcing some turnovers would not only benefit the defense but it could also help FAU’s offense find production. The Owls are averaging only 18.2 points per game and a Sun Belt Conference worst 300.8 yards per contest.
“The more our offense has the ball the better,” said Cox.
FAU will go for their fourth straight win when they face Texas this weekend. And with only three games left in the season, each game has become more and more important in terms of bowl game hopes.
“I feel like our team is believing right now that we can come out there and go to a bowl,” Johnson said.
WR Lester Jean vs. CB Aaron Williams - Jean the conferences’ leading receiver had a season-low one catch last week against Louisiana, but he made the most of it running 45-yards for a touchdown. This Saturday, Williams will provide coverage on the outside against the wide receiver and look to slow him down. Jean will need to get open and provide a down field option for quarterback Jeff Van Camp.
DE Sam Acho vs. RT Max Karrick - FAU’s offensive line has been going through growing pains all season, and this week it won’t get any easier as Texas’s defensive line is chalk full of NFL-talent. Acho, a senior defensive end, has already recorded 51 tackles and five sacks and the Owls have prepared for him all week. Karrick will have his hands full with an elite pass rusher coming off the edge.
LB Yourhigness Morgan vs. The Texas Backfield - The Owls are going to make it a priority to stop the run Saturday afternoon and a player that will be on the spot is Morgan. Filling in for the injured Randell Johnson, the redshirt-freshmen is set to start his fourth career game at the outside linebacker spot and will look to build off of last week’s 12-tackle performance.
By the Numbers
Texas’s defense ranks seventh in the nation in total defense, primarily because of a pass defense that is giving up an average of only 160.1 yards per contest. Three times this season opponents have been held under 100-yards passing, but the Longhorns only managed to come away with one win during those games.
In FAU’s four wins quarterback Jeff Van Camp has thrown eight touchdown passes and only two interceptions, while in the losses his ratio is four touchdowns to five interceptions. The offense performs well when Van Camp is on his mark and struggles when he is off. Saturday the signal caller will need to have one of his best outings and continue his solid play from the win streak. .
The Owls and Longhorns have met only once before, back in 2008 when both teams were opening up the season. Texas racked up 232 rushing yards and 503 yards of total offense winning 52-10 in a game that was never close. A lot has changed for both programs since then, but many key players for the Owls, like Van Camp, tight end Rob Housler and running back Willie Floyd took snaps against the Longhorns last time around. FAU knows that Texas is still a very dangerous team and is a lot better than what their record shows. To pull off an upset they will need to be able to run the ball and force Texas to pass the ball on offense. If FAU can accomplish both of those tasks, they have a chance to make some noise in Austin.