Football preview: FAU will sneak out of Tampa with upset win over USF
Who: FAU at the University of South Florida
When: Saturday, Sept. 14, 7 p.m.
Where: Raymond James Stadium, Tampa, Fla.
Radio: ESPN 106.3
Prediction: FAU 21, USF 17
Hoping to rebound after last Thursday’s 31-13 drubbing by East Carolina, FAU (0-2) will venture out of conference to take on the University of South Florida (0-2), who similarly started their season with consecutive losses.
Fortunately for the Owls — who enter Saturday as 13-point underdogs — this is likely the week they pull off the upset and pick up their first win of the 2013 campaign.
After two games that featured stagnant offense and a quarterback carousel, FAU offensive coordinator Brian Wright seemingly put an end to the flux, declaring that the team will settle on one starting signal-caller –– either sophomore Jaquez Johnson or freshman Greg Hankerson.
“Whoever the starter is will have the opportunity to go longer,” Wright told the Sun Sentinel. “I would plan that you would see a guy for half the football game, for sure. [We'll] assess him a halftime and see where we’re at.”
With the quarterback position more clearly defined, the Owls offense should run smoother and give the club a better chance at victory.
Although they’ll be facing a ball hawking USF secondary (two interceptions last week versus Michigan State), both Johnson and Hankerson are mobile enough to get out the pocket and make plays.
However, the Owls must score touchdowns and avoid settling for field goals. Their lone TD of the season came in garbage time against ECU, when Hankerson found top wide receiver William Dukes from two-yards out.
In that game, Johnson and Hankerson combined for just passing 178 yards, two interceptions and a lost fumble.
FAU Head Coach Carl Pelini stresses that his QBs must avoid turnovers, though he indicated in his weekly press conference that offensive miscues are not only the fault of his quarterbacks, but the entire offense (offensive line and receivers, namely) became “a bit laxed.”
Hankerson echoed the same sentiment.
“The coaches told me to relax more,” Hankerson said in a press conference this week, denying the notion that alternating quarterbacks may have stunted his development. “I wouldn’t say [the QB rotation] has held me back, but it has helped because we help each other out. [Johnson and I] don’t want to see each other fail.”
To open some passing lanes, establishing the run game is imperative.
Early first downs will take the crowd out of the game and play action may pay huge dividends in the passing game. If the rushing attack is working, it’ll free up Dukes, Daniel McKinney, Jenson Stoshak and the rest of FAU’s wideouts downfield.
But it’s not solely dependent on the offense, either.
FAU’s defense has given up 65 points through its first two games, allowing opponents to rip off large chunks of yardage with relative ease. While the offense does them no favors with turnovers and three-and-outs, the defense has to hold its ground against a shaky Bulls offense.
What should come as welcome news for FAU is USF employs a sort of revolving door at the quarterback position.
Former walk-on and USF senior starting quarterback Bobby Eveld started at Michigan State in place of sophomore Matt Floyd, who struggled in the team’s 53-21 season-opening loss to McNeese State. Eveld didn’t do much to quell the competition, completing just six passes and committing two turnovers in last week’s 21-6 defeat to the Spartans.
Assuming the defense plays consistently –– and the offense chips in with a few turnover-free scoring drives –– FAU should trump USF and pick up some much-needed momentum ahead of next Saturday’s home opener in Boca.