Hunting the Owls!
Florida Atlantic should be easy prey for the Tigers, this time.
War Eagle, everybody! We’re now into the eight game of our preview series of Auburn’s football opponents. After a harrowing trip to College Station Texas, Auburn heads back to the friendly confines of Jordan Hare Stadium, to play Florida Atlantic, on October 26th. It’s the Tigers’ last chance to tune up, before a November slate filled with 4 SEC games.
We’ve optimistically picked Auburn to be 5-2, 2-2 in the SEC at this point, with losses on the road to LSU and Texas A&M. Although, imagine if a certain Heisman Trophy winning quarterback keeps shooting his mouth off… Will he still be on the field in October? Would you want to block for this guy? The Auburn schedule to this point should include wins over Western Carolina, Arkansas State and probably Washington State. If the Tigers can sweep the Mississippi teams, that puts them right where we predict.
As an aside, imagine in 2010 if Cam Newton had been photographed drinking beer at age 20, partying hardy at the casinos, making music video cameos, or taking nothing but online classes because his fellow students were too much trouble. Or if he had tweeted that he couldn’t wait to be out of Auburn. I’d expect that ESPN and the southeast media would have crucified him. Heck, they did that anyway, with no evidence in the Cam-gate scandal of the time. But when Johnny Football does it, it’s no big deal. Just a kid being a kid. Yep, folks, there’s a definite double-standard at work, no doubt about it.
Actual speculation about the Florida Atlantic game, after the jump!
Florida Atlantic this season joins Conference USA, with a bit more difficult schedule than they previously faced in the Sun Belt. By the time they face Auburn, they’ll have played Miami, East Carolina and South Florida on the road, Middle Tennessee at home, Rice in Houston, UAB at Legion Field, and Marshall at home. I’d imagine UAB will be the only game they’ll be favored in.
Carl Pelini is in his second season as the Owls coach, and they showed signs of becoming a better football team down the stretch in 2012, under the calm leadership of senior quarterback Graham Wilbert. Unfortunately, Wilbert is now graduated, and the likely successor is junior college transfer Quez Johnson. Only two starters return on the offensive line, but they Owls do have a pretty consistent receiver in junior William Dukes, who caught 63 balls last season. He’s one of those tall guys, 6’4”, who’ve plagued Auburn mightily in the past few seasons. This is an offense that will spread you out and throw quick pass after quick pass. And they’ll have to, with a green offensive line this season.
Defensively, the Owls gave up even more points (30.8) than Auburn did last season (28.9), against mostly Sun-Belt teams. Most of their defense returns, and some say that they might have the best secondary in Conference USA. Unfortunately, they start a defensive tackle that weighed only 225 pounds last season. That won’t be good against Auburn’s meat-grinders up front!
I suppose what stands out most about FAU special teams is that they only made 8 of 17 field goals last season. They also allowed more return yards than they averaged on both punt and kick units.
Auburn has played Forida Atlantic only one other time, in 2011. If you look at certain stats, that game was shockingly even. Although Auburn won the game 30-14, the Tigers only out-gained FAU 315 to 307 yards. Auburn was basically a Jermaine Whitehead pick-six and a long TD screen to Onterio McCalebb from a REALLY tight ball game! However, it was the beginning of a very tough time for the Auburn program. I’m certainly not expecting this year’s edition of Owls to give Auburn a scare.
In 2011, Auburn was the defending national champ, and had a bit of a swagger entering the season. There were obvious problems on both sides of the ball in early close wins over Utah State and Mississippi State. But those were wins, nonetheless. With 16 straight wins under their belts, things were humming along for the Auburn Tigers as they zipped out to a 21-7 lead over Clemson in Clemson. Then, the car engine exploded. Auburn was outscored by Clemson down the stretch 31-3, and suffered their first loss since 2009. That game was the beginning of a team-wide tendency to melt down when the going got tough, something that plagued Gene Chizik’s teams for the rest of his tenure.
Against FAU in 2011, the first thing Auburn did was throw an interception on the first offensive snap of the game, and spotted the Owls a field goal. A run-heavy plan powered Auburn to a 10-3 lead early, but FAU drove in the 2nd quarter to another field goal. The teams slogged through the rest of the way to a 10-6 Auburn lead at halftime.
On the first possession of the second half, FAU quickly faced a 3rd and 4. What’s a good call for a quick-passing team in that situation? Why, a quick slant pass, of course! Except when the DB knows it too… Jermaine Whitehead stepped in front, and had himself a 25 yard Tiger TD. FAU tried to get back in the game, driving into Auburn territory, but failed on 4th down at the Auburn 34. They had Auburn to 3rd and 10 on the ensuing possession, but Trotter dumped it off to McCalebb, who went 51 yards for the score and the game was basically over at that point. Auburn floundered on to a 30-14 win over the Owls.
The next week, Auburn did regroup against a South Carolina squad with an even more melt-down-prone quarterback. Stephen Garcia repeatedly kept Auburn in the game with bad plays, and the Tigers shocked South Carolina in Columbia, 16-13. In the next year and a half, Auburn suffered double digit losses to Arkansas (twice), LSU, Georgia (twice), Alabama (twice), Mississippi State, Ole Miss, and Texas A&M.
This year’s FAU game will be different. Much like earlier cupcake coverage this spring, I’m not going to go down the list and type “advantage Auburn” most, if not all the time. Just figure that this game will be an Auburn win, and they’ll work on areas they’ve had problems with during the season. The Tigers will likely be playing for bowl-eligibility in this one, and there’s no way the Owls deny the Tigers that!
Following FAU, Auburn faces road swings to Fayetteville and Knoxville. With the right preparation, both of those games are winnable against teams with rebuilt offenses. Then Georgia comes to town, with probably the most dangerous offense in the SEC. The Tigers get an off week, then it’s a Thanksgiving weekend Iron Bowl in Jordan Hare.
Prediction: The Tigers tune up on the Owls, hitting an offensive stride not seen earlier in the season. Auburn roars over FAU, 63-20.