The Florida Atlantic O-line will be a challenge!
War Eagle, everybody! This week, the Auburn Tigers will take on the Florida Atlantic Owls, in a Saturday night contest at Jordan Hare Stadium. No, that’s not really the Owl line pictured above. I had pegged this game as a 40+ point blowout prior to the season, but this years edition of the Owls could give the Tigers problems if there’s a hangover from the big win in College Station last weekend.
The FAU Owls are 2-5 on the season, with double digit wins over UAB and South Florida. In their first season in Conference USA, the Owls opened up in Miami, where the Hurricanes throttled them 34-6. East Carolina then roughed them up 31-13 in Greenville. FAU got into the win column in Tampa, defeating South Florida 28-10. Remember when South Florida used to be a decent team? The Owls opened their home season against Middle Tennessee, and lost a 42-35 shootout. FAU then lost a heartbreaker in Houston as Rice pulled it out 18-14. A trip to Birmingham followed, where the Owls picked up a conference win over the UAB Blazers, 37-23. Back home in Boca Raton, Florida Atlantic had Marshall down by 9 points in the 4th quarter, but lost a 24-23 thriller.
I had predicted before the season that FAU would be one of those pesky quick-passing teams with a suspect offensive line, but it hasn’t really played out like that. Like virtually any college football team these days, those throws are in the playbook. But this Owl team runs more than it passes, in a fairly balanced attack. Senior runing back Jonathan Wallace (go figure!) leads the team with 508 rushing yards and a 5.0 yard per carry average. Sophomore quarterback Jaquez Johnson came in out of East Mississippi Community College, and is a rushing threat with 346 yards and 5 touchdowns on the ground this seasons. He’s also been a capable passer, hitting 100 out of 165 passes for 1060 yards, 5 interceptions and 6 touchdowns.
In the coaching business when you seen the Pelini name, you think “defense.” Carl Pelini’s second squad at FAU is playing better defense this season, giving up 26 points per game. That might be a bad, typical Ted Roof season at Auburn, but FAU usually gives up more than 30 per game. A multiple, zone read offense that has picked up 141 first downs on the season has helped. Senior linebacker Adarius Glanton is one to watch. Number 4 leads the team in tackles with 49, and has 6.5 tackles for loss. It’s up to the Auburn backfield to keep him off Nick Marshall! Junior D’Joun Frye-Smith is one to avoid in the secondary, as he has 4 interceptions this season, 9 passes batted down, and 2 forced fumbles.
The Owls have been able to bring in some pretty decent sized linemen on both sides of the ball, but it’s unlikely that those guys will display the athleticism that Auburn’s lines have this season. Time and again this week during my sparse free time, I’ve gone back to the AUHD highlight video of last week, and marveled at Auburn’s front seven guys chasing down Johnny Football!
Both of these teams have been a bit above average in turnovers. Auburn and Florida Atlantic have each lost 7 fumbles. Auburn has thrown 5 interceptions, while the Owls have 8. The Auburn turnovers have resulted in a loss at LSU, and closer than necessary games against the likes of Mississippi State and Ole Miss. For FAU, turnovers have been catastrophic, resulting 3 close losses. Had the Owls taken better care of the ball, they’d likely be 5-2 right now, and playing for a bowl trip.
In this week’s game, I’d expect a similar game plan to what was shown against Western Carolina a couple of weeks ago, but bear in mind that this Owl team would pretty handily beat the Catamounts. We probably won’t see a 42-3 halftime score. Still, I think the coaches would like to see a pretty good two quarters of work for the starters, then a second half to develop depth. It will be interesting to see how well the Auburn defense contains the running of Jaquez Johnson on the zone read. The Tigers were abysmal at containing the quarterback early in the season, but things shored up dramatically in October, when Bo Wallace and Johnny Manziel couldn’t find much consistency on the ground. Johnson should provide some much-needed continuing practice against that type of ability.
I can’t wait to get into Jordan Hare Stadium this weekend, and add my voice to the tens of thousands welcoming this amazing team back home! And we’ll likewise welcome the 1983 Auburn team, who is to be honored this week on the field. It should be an amazing time! For those attending the game, bundle up! It’s supposed to be downright cool with this one, with the temp dropping into the 40s by the 4th quarter. I think I’ll break out the wool P-coat for this one! War Eagle, and let’s beat the Owls!
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