After a week off, FAU is back on the gridiron this week and face a familiar foe in former Sun Belt conference mate Western Kentucky. With both teams currently under .500, every game from here on out is crucial in order to capture that elusive sixth win and gain bowl eligibility.
FAU is fifth in the Conference USA East standings at 1-1 and a loss here would put them at the bottom of the division where Western Kentucky currently stands. The Hilltoppers are 0-2 in the conference. Kickoff is set for 12 pm.
Special thanks to Chad Bishop (@MrChadBishop) for taking the time to answer our questions and offer his perspective on this week's game. Unlike the previous insiders, Bishop withheld is prediction for the game. If FAU fans want to know if he thinks the Owls will stay undefeated at home this year check him out on the Daily New's WKU Page, where he will release his prediction for the game on Saturday. Lets get to it.
Q: After renting Bobby Petrino for one year, Western Kentucky opted to hire from within, promoting offensive coordinator Jeff Brohm to replace Petrino
as head coach. Did the fan base feel spurned after Petrino used WKU to clean his image and how did the fans view the Brohm hire?
CB: To answer the first part, no, and the reasons are twofold. I got the sense most WKU fans understood Petrino wouldn't be in Bowling Green very long – he's never been anywhere more than four years. His leaving wasn't a shock to anyone. The other part of the equation was the team's success. He left after an 8-4 season – the most wins for the Tops in the FBS era and most wins since 2004. The Brohm hire was a no-brainer. All the way back to his hiring as offensive coordinator, there had always been rumblings that the reasons Brohm came to – and stayed at – Western Kentucky was for the opportunity to become the head coach. He's a familiar name with an affable personality. It wasn't the home run hire, but the safe one – and WKU folks were fine with that.
Q: Western Kentucky has won at least seven games in each of the last three seasons. Are the natives getting restless that perhaps Brohm's transition as a head coach has not gone as planned with WKU entering this week's contest at 2-3 and winless in conference play after losing at home to UAB?
CB: WKU fans are, for the most part, always restless. But it's not so much over the transition of Petrino-to-Brohm, because honestly, that wasn't much of a transition at all. The restlessness has come from an underperforming defense that lost three players to the NFL and a slew of other seniors. That facet of loss was greatly underestimated by most, thus equating to outrage and some to even question the retaining of defensive coordinator Nick Holt.
Q: Has there even been a transition as WKU makes the leap from Sun Belt to Conference USA?
CB: No, not really. The level of competition is about the same, even if the league as a whole is probably a slight step up – especially this season. But Middle Tennessee and Florida Atlantic were both on the schedule two years ago, as were North Texas and Florida International. Western Kentucky isn't lagging behind in "CUSA" talent or recruiting, and the opponents on the schedule are just as obscure as they were one year ago.
Q: With 32 players on the WKU roster from Florida, including star quarterback Brandon Doughty from nearby Davie, how important is it to have a good showing in WKU's lone trip to the state of Florida for recruiting purposes?
CB: Two years ago, I would have said extremely. But these days under Brohm (and Petrino in '13), the recruiting focus has shifted. The Tops got their first 11 verbal commitments from the state of Kentucky and next three from Georgia (two) and Tennessee (one). There certainly are still WKU targets in the Sunshine State, but nowhere near the amount there were two years ago with former coach Willie Taggart in charge.
Q: How significant of an impact do you think the bye week was to help WKU entering this week's matchup?
CB: It's hard to say. Bye weeks are always good to help heal and recover, but you can never be sure how they'll affect a team's psyche. This is the second time this season WKU went into a bye week after a three-point, heartbreaking loss in conference play. The first time they came back and beat Navy on the road, so it would be easy to say similar results would follow – but anything goes with this team.
Q: After season ending injuries to starting defensive lineman Brandin Bryant and starting linebacker David Lozandier, Owl fans are worried about the defense's ability to make plays. WKU enters this week's game averaging 43 points per game, while compiling a staggering 433 yards per game through the air, good enough for ninth and second in the nation respectively.
What type of offense do the Hilltoppers run and who are the key players Owl fans should be on the lookout for?
CB: The Tops run a multiple offense that tries to be balanced, but usually relies on the pass. Brandon Doughty (Davie) is having an unbelievable season statistically, Nicholas Norris (Miami), Jared Dangerfield (West Palm Beach), Willie McNeal and Joel German (Fort Myers) are four of six receivers making big-time catches and running back Leon Allen (Bradenton) is a major threat in the running game. Western's offensive line is also very solid and tight ends Mitchell Henry and Tyler Higbee (Clearwater) are both viable threats in the passing game. Western will also line up in any and every formation no matter the down and distance.
Q: Although the offense has put up gaudy numbers this year, the defense has appeared to be a bit behind as every game WKU has played has been a shootout. What has hampered the defensive play this year? What type of defense do the Hilltoppers run and who are the guys Owl fans should keep an eye on?
CB: The big thing is experience. Andrew Jackson, Jonathan Dowling and Xavius Boyd all graduated and began 2014 in NFL camps (Jackson is still with the Colts and Dowling is still with the Raiders). The Tops also lost two defensive backs and two starting defensive linemen off a unit that was one of the better ones in the Sun Belt Conference. That left a defense that, while still stellar in talent, has little experience to hold itself up. Senior Cam Thomas is an NFL prospect, but most of the rest of the defense is still trying to learn on the fly. Western is based out of a 4-3, but will adjust accordingly pending on the offense it faces.
Q: Special teams can play a crucial role in determining who leaves the field the winner. Lucky Whitehead is averaging 26.6 yards per kickoff return and 24.4 yards on punt return and is due to break one for a touchdown. How have the special teams unit performed for the Hilltopers this year?
CB: It had been very solid until the UAB loss where WKU gave up a 100-yard kickoff return at the outset, missed a field goal and had an extra point blocked. But junior kicker Garrett Schwettman is usually automatic and the coverage units have done enough to not be a hindrance. One thing to watch would be the play of punter Joseph Occhipinti who is still trying to put it together in his first year as a starter