After a troubled season, Florida Atlantic hosts conference-rival Troy (6-5, 5-2) this Saturday with not much left to play for but pride. With the Owls falling 38-14 to Middle Tennessee State last weekend, the program has been eliminated from bowl game contention and will end the year against the Trojans.
However, FAU (4-7, 3-4) is not only looking to win the final game of the season, but would also like to honor a senior class that will be playing in its final collegiate contest.
“This is the Super Bowl, this is whatever bowl you want to call it, the National Championship, however you want to look at it. A lot of us aren’t ever going to play football again, and we’re just going to be able to tell stories when we're old to our kids and nieces and nephews,” wide receiver Lester Jean said.
Jean is one of nineteen seniors who will dawn the Owls uniform for the last time this Saturday and for him and the rest of his class this is it.
“It means a lot. I might never get to play football again, I just want to enjoy the moment while it lasts,” Jean said of the game.
While emotions will be running high for the players playing in their final game, the opponent will provide just as much of an inspiration to grab a victory as the rivalry between the two schools has grown over the years.
The Owls are 1-6 all-time against the Trojans with the only victory coming back in 2007, in a game that decided the Sun Belt Conference title. FAU played spoiler to the Trojans out-right title hopes that year and with a 38-32 win split the conference.
This year the situation is a little different, but the Owls and their senior class still have an opportunity to pull off an upset on national television with the game being broadcast on ESPNU.
“For them (the seniors) we only beat them one time, so it would be a pretty good accomplishment to beat them again. We’re underdogs, and nobody thinks were going to beat them,” junior safety Marcus Bartels said.
Bartels along with the rest of the underclassmen are hoping to help make the senior’s final game a special one, but they would also like to use this game as a foundation for next season’s preparations.
“It’s definitely a big difference between the feeling of winning your last game and losing your last game. I think winning the last game is a big stride for the seniors to go out on and for us to come back and work hard in the off season,” Bartels said.
One of the keys to nabbing a victory will lie on the offensive side of the ball, and in the arms of senior quarterback Jeff Van Camp, who will be starting the final game of his career. Van Camp had a rough outing in last week’s loss to the Blue Raiders, tossing three interceptions, but this week things should get easier against the conference’s worst pass defense. Troy is giving up 242.6 passing yards a game and has surrendered nineteen touchdown passes thus far.
In last year’s 47-21 loss, Van Camp found success against the Trojans completing 66.7 percent of his passes for 193-yards and a touchdown. FAU’s offense will need the him to find that productivity this week, but will also need a struggling run game to return as well.
Running back Alfred Morris hasn’t found the same success he had a year ago, gaining only 882 rushing yards compared to the 1,382 he had last season, and his ability to move the chains is directly impacting the passing game.
“Our offense is always run first. Run the ball to open up the pass,” Jean said.
Keeping the ball in the hands of the offense will be essential against the Trojans, as the defense will be facing the most efficient offense in the Sun Belt. Troy ranks atop the conference in passing offense, total offense and scoring offense.
One of the reasons lies in redshirt freshmen quarterback Corey Robinson, a conference player of the year candidate. Robinson has already thrown for over 3,000 plus yards and 21 touchdowns in his first year as the leader of the offense.
The young quarterback’s top receiving target is senior Jerrel Jernigan, a speedy wide receiver that already leads the Sun Belt in career receptions and career receiving yards while ranking third all-time in all-purpose yardage. Last year against the Owls, the wide-out paced the offense with 252 all-purpose yards in a game where the Trojans racked up 651-yards of total offense.
“They're a great offense, it’s going to be a great challenge for our defense. They got great play makers,” Bartels said.
Along with Jean and Van Camp, Michael Lockley, Malik Eugene, Jeff Blanchard, Willie Floyd, Avery Holley, Rob Housler, Ryan Houston, David Muniz, Ed Wertepny, Ed Alexander, Dino Cox, Tarvoris Hill, Daniel Joseph, Tavious Polo, Morgan Barnett, Chris Athans, and Ross Gornall will be participating in the senior day festivities.
“I think it will be a really good opportunity for the seniors to go out a winner and beat Troy. Only one FAU team has ever beat
Troy, so we’re going to be feeding off that and getting everybody up so we can go in there and win the game for the seniors,” Van Camp said.
CB Tavious Polo vs. WR Jerrel Jernigan - With only three healthy cornerbacks available this Saturday, Polo will have to be on his mark against one of the most elusive wide receivers in the conference. Jernigan ranks seventh in the nation in all-purpose yardage per game and has caused problems for opposing secondary’s all year long in the passing game, managing three double-digit reception games and five touchdowns.
RT Max Karrick vs. DE Jonathan Massaquoi - Last week FAU’s offensive line saw the conference’s premier pass rusher in MTSU’s Jamari Lattimore. This Saturday, Karrick will be matched up with a player just as productive in Massaquoi. A junior college transfer and first year starter, the defensive end has recorded 9.0 sacks thus far and has flourished in his starting role. The Owls offense will need time to move the ball and that will start in the trenches with Karrick.
RB Alfred Morris vs. Troy’s Front 7 - Morris’s rushing yards have come with difficulty this season, but in games where he has rushed for 95-yards or more the team is 3-1. The Trojans have allowed opposing rushing attacks to eclipse that same mark in all of but one game this season. FAU would like to get the run game going to open up the passing attack, and it will start with Morris between the tackles.
By the Numbers
FAU is 27-15 all-time in games decided by seven points or less, which is the highest win percentage of all current FBS teams. Three games this season have been won by a slim one-point margin, but the Owls did manage to lose to ULM by three points earlier in the year.
Troy ranks dead last in the nation averaging 8.82 penalties a game for 78.27 yards a contest. The Trojans have been penalized 97 times throughout the season and frequently see the yellow flag on the field. FAU has had its moments this season with mental errors, but this game could provide an area where they can take an advantage.
Saturday will mark the end of an underachieving season for the Owls, but there is still plenty to watch for against the Trojans. The contest will be the final game for the program in Lockhart Stadium before next year’s transition to an on-campus stadium, and it will also be the last game for nineteen seniors. When FAU traveled to Troy a year ago, they met an offense that was efficient and could score points. This weekend, the Trojans attack shouldn’t be any different and it will come down to the Owls offense needing to match the production. If FAU can ride the emotion of senior day and play a complete offensive game a competitive matchup isn’t out of the question for the underdogs.