1st and 10: Scouting Florida Atlantic


It’s been a roller coaster season so far for Florida Atlantic. In a span of two weeks, the Owls beat UTSA at home 41-37, then lost at FIU 38-10, while in the process losing two key starters to season-ending injuries. Halfway through the season, the team sits at 2-4, with all kinds of questions that need to be answered. Their bye week couldn’t have came at a better time.

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The Hilltoppers, also coming off a bye week, travel to Boca Raton this Saturday to take on the Owls in a pivotal game for both teams. FAU sits at 1-1 in conference play, with games still left on the schedule at a top-25 Marshall team, at home versus UAB and at Middle Tennessee. Meanwhile, the Hilltoppers are winless in conference play, with games left against Marshall, UTSA, and Louisiana Tech. If either team hopes to make a bowl game this season, this is a must-win game.

Like WKU, the Owls are better than their record suggests. Earlier this week, FAU coach Charlie Partridge acknowledged that his team is a few plays away from being 4-2 and undefeated in conference play. Besides two lopsided losses to ranked teams, the Owls lost 20-19 at Wyoming, and then beat themselves against FIU by finishing red zone drives with turnovers instead of touchdowns.

With both teams desperate for a victory, what can the Toppers do to secure a win? Talking to the media after practice, WKU head coach Jeff Brohm said the Tops had to be “explosive” on offense:

"Offensively, we have to be explosive. We’ve got to make plays. We can’t have any lapses. We have to find ways to move the ball running and passing but the key is trying to get as many big plays as we can. Whether that is throwing it deep, throwing it short or making a run for it, we have to mix that in there."

Being explosive is something the Tops’ offense has excelled at so far this season. WKU ranks third nationally in total yards per game, second in passing yards per game, and ninth in points per game. This should worry the Owls, who rank 113th in totals yards allowed per game and 100th in passing yards allowed per game. When asked if WKU is the most powerful offense in the country, Partridge said it was, and went on to say the following:

"They are top-ten in total offense, passing offense, third down conversion and I forget the fourth [ed. note – that’d be scoring offense, Coach P.], but yes. They are an extremely powerful offense and it is not like you can bracket one guy. There are six guys with 18 plus receptions and it is unique in my background that the pass is setting up the run. They do have some success in the run. I think they are in the 60’s in terms of their statistical ranking if you want to factor that in, but on film they are effective at what we call one back power. A lot of that is because people lighten the box to try and account for their pass game. This is a good offense. They are up tempo. You can see some teams struggle to get lined up so we have to do a good job of getting prepared this week."

Obviously, Partridge is concerned about WKU’s potent offense, as he should be. Looking at the numbers, the Toppers should be able to move the ball with ease and put up their usual big numbers. However, it doesn’t matter how many points the offense scores if the defense allows more, and as good as the offense has been this season the defense has cost WKU some close games. So what is the defensive gameplan going into the FAU game? Brohm said the defense must stop the run and get off the field on third down.

"Defensively, we just have to continue to improve. Obviously we’ve got to make strides there. I think stopping the run will be crucial. They have a quarterback who is a running quarterback so it’s going to be even tougher to stop the run. We’ve got to find ways to stop the run on first and second down and on third down, we’ve had a hard time getting off the field. That’s been a nemesis for us. We’ve studied that very hard. We’ve put together a package so that we are ready and prepared to get off the field on third down, especially third and longs. We’ve given up way too many third and longs. Hopefully we’ll do a much better job there preventing them from converting and getting the ball back to our offense."

The quarterback Brohm referred to is Jaquez Johnson. Johnson was the Conference USA “Newcomer of the Year” last year, rushing for 772 yards and throwing for 1,876. However, this year Johnson has only rushed for 182 yards (and three touchdowns) through six games, although he has thrown for 998 yards. But a player as talented as Johnson will eventually break a big run at some point in the season, and the WKU defense has shown on multiple occasions it struggles with mobile quarterbacks (Austin Grammer, anyone?) In addition to Johnson, WKU must also contain the speedy Lucky Whitehead, who leads the team in receiving with 36 receptions for 311 yards and two touchdowns. Whitehead has also rushed the ball 14 times for 80 yards, and is easily the most dynamic and explosive player on the FAU offense.

This game will come down to whether or not the WKU defense can keep FAU’s run game in check. With a bye week to prepare, hopefully the Brohm Squad have fixed any underlying defensive issues and will take a step forward instead of regressing like they did against UAB. With bowl aspirations in play, it’s time for the real WKU to stand up.

Make sure to catch game Saturday at 11:00 a.m. on the American Sports Network, or follow along with Wave the Red Towel for updates. Also, you can share your predictions and thoughts about the game with Wave the Red Towel in the comment section below, or by tweeting us at @WaveTheRedTowel.