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Game Preview: Florida Atlantic vs Arkansas State

Post season hopes hang in the balance of Saturday's outcome

Florida Atlantic football travels to face a talented Arkansas State squad this Saturday afternoon in search of their first Sun Belt Conference win while hoping to turn the season around.

After falling 20-17 to Louisiana Monroe two weeks ago, the Owls received a much needed bye week this past Saturday, to rest and recharge for a difficult opponent awaiting in the 2-5 (2-2) Red Wolves. Arkansas State is coming off a 36-34 loss to Indiana last week, and has lost three games this season by seven points or less.

“I’m really happy that we have had this off week before tackling Arkansas State, it’s quite obvious that they're an outstanding football team with a record that doesn’t indicate their capacity,” FAU Head Coach Howard Schnellenberger said.

Led by star sophomore quarterback Ryan Aplin, Arkansas State’s spread-offense has posed problems for opposing defenses all season long, as the team ranks second in the conference in points and total offense.

“He is the spark plug,” Schnellenberger said of the conference’s leading passer.

Aplin accounted for 298 yards of total offense and scored four touchdowns in the loss to Indiana, which was good enough to claim the Sun Belt Conference Offensive Player of the Week award. The quarterback’s performance marked the third time this season that he had earned those honors. However, in the close game with Indiana he did throw two costly interceptions, which is something that the Owls’ defense is hoping to build on this Saturday.

“It’s huge,” senior safety Ed Alexander said when asked how important it will be to force turnovers. “Our coaches have been emphasizing turnovers this week, and I think we should get some.”

Winning the turnover battle will be essential in the contest, as Arkansas State wins 73% of their matchups when they have a positive turnover margin. Aplin has thrown six interceptions in six games this season, and the Red Wolves have fumbled the ball eight times as a team.

“Every time we step out there, we’re trying to get a turnover and stop the opposing team,” senior cornerback Tarvoris Hill said.

The key to the Arkansas State offense this season has been a revamped passing attack that features four to five wide receiver sets and multiple formations, allowing for the quarterback to complete short passes quickly.

“They do everything on offense, if we take all of the games we have prepared for this year and put them in a hot graph, we probably wouldn’t cover all the formations and all the different plays they run so effectively,” Schnellenberger said of the Red Wolves offense.

Fourteen different players have caught a passes for Arkansas State this season, but the receiving corps is led by junior Dwayne Frampton and sophomore Allen Muse. The two have combined for 861 yards and seven touchdowns, while providing as viable pass catching options.

A positive for the Owls on the offensive side of the ball, is that the Arkansas State defense ranks 119th in the nation and is giving up 474.6 yards per game. Most of those yards have come on the ground, as four opponents have rushed for 215 yards or more. FAU running back Alfred Morris is coming off his best performance of the season in which he ran for 153 yards and two touchdowns in the loss to ULM. The team would like his production to carry over, as they fell it could help open up the offense.

“Setting the tempo early, and getting the run started early is going to help everything out,” quarterback Jeff Van Camp said of the rushing attack.

The Owls are still battling with injuries along the offensive line unit, and are looking to rebound from a performance against ULM in which they gave up five sacks for 27 yards. This week, the interior blockers on the offensive line will have to control an Arkansas State front that has recorded nine sacks thus far.

“Their numbers are a little bit skewed right now because they played a couple good teams,” Van Camp said. “It’s going to be another big test for us.”

The last time FAU and Arkansas State squared off it was a 35-18 win for the Owls that snapped a two game losing streak. This year it’s a four game losing streak that the team would like to snap, and the players understand what it means.

“This our season right here. Right now we feel like we’re in the playoffs and we have to win, there is no other choice,” Alexander said.

FAU will need to begin a perfect mark in remaining conference play to remain hopeful for the post season.

The Matchups

LB Michael Lockley containing QB Ryan Aplin - The Owls have seen numerous dual-threat signal callers this season, but Aplin might be the best of them all as he already has run for 230 yards and six touchdowns. Lockley, FAU’s second leading tackler, often will find himself matched up with the quarterback and will have to prevent long scrambles from occurring and keeping drives alive.

Red Wolves CB Darron Edwards working against WR Lester Jean - Edwards leads the conference in passes defended, and had a career high-four pass breakups at Indiana, tying the  nation’s leaders for most in a game. Jean has been by the far the Owls top receiving threat, but only has a combined 86 receiving yards in the past two games. FAU is going to want to throw the ball, and this will be a battle to watch.

FAU’s secondary covering the Red Wolves’ receivers - Arkansas State is averaging 271 passing yards a game and that will be put to test against the conference’s top passing defense in FAU. The Owl’s cornerbacks, Tarvoris Hill and Tavious Polo will have to makes plays up front and stop the short passes in order to prevent the Red Wolves from taking chances down the field and finding big plays.

By the Numbers

FAU’s scoring defense ranks a top the Sun Belt conference giving up only 26.2 points per game. Arkansas State’s offense is second in the conference averaging 27.7 points per game and has scored at least 24 points in each of their six games. The Owls offense has struggled to put points on the board after the season-opening win, and haven’t scored more than 17 points in four straight contests.

Arkansas State has had 37 offensive plays go for 20 yards or more this season, meaning that Owls will need to prevent the big play from happening. FAU has given up big plays at times this season, and can’t afford to give up any long plays because of a missed tackle or broken coverage.

Final Word

FAU travels to Jonesboro, Arkansas in the Sun Belt Network Game of the Week televised at 1 p.m. Last year when the Owls matched up with the Red Wolves, it was the first career start for Aplin who went 20-of-27 for 168 yards and a touchdown. A season later Aplin comes into the matchup as one of the top quarterbacks in the conference, and the engineering of a dangerous passing attack that averages 402.7 yards of offense a game. Arkansas State will show a lot of different formations and plays to the Owls, but the defense needs to figure out how to stop the quick passing game. If FAU can do that and create some turnovers, an upset and the team’s first conference win isn’t too far out of reach.


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