Ready, Set… Bowl

NEW ORLEANS, LA — The Memphis Tigers are taking it easy on their way to the Big Easy.

While Memphis Coach Tommy West elected to bring his team to New Orleans on Tuesday, FAU Coach Howard Schnellenberger took a more intensive approach, with most of the team arriving on Monday morning and practicing later that day and again on Tuesday.

On Friday at 8 p.m. at the Louisiana Superdome Schnellenberger will put his perfect 4-0 bowl record on the line in the R & L Carriers New Orleans Bowl. His previous triumphs came while he was head coach at Miami and then Louisville. He brings FAU into the post season as the fastest program ever to do so.

“We are doing the same thing we do every time we take the field,” Schnellenberger said before Tuesday’s practice at the facility of the New Orleans Saints. “We will need a good offense that allows us to keep possession of the football and we will need a defense that doesn’t allow a long run or a pass for a touchdown.”

Even with the high stakes, Schnellenberger is preparing his players for Memphis much like he would for any other opponent.

“We came out, worked hard, and we’re looking good right now,” said defensive lineman Robert St. Clair. “If we execute our game plan well we can win the game.”

Everything has fallen into place for FAU in a season of unexpected and unprecedented success. Meanwhile, it has been a trying season for the Tigers, one in which offensive lineman Taylor Bradford was shot and killed in the middle of the season. Memphis postponed a game due to the tragedy and had to play three games in 11 days, their record no doubt suffering as a result.

During their rough stretch, the Tigers lost to two teams that FAU beat: Arkansas State and Middle Tennessee. Despite those disappointments, Memphis was able to make it to its fourth bowl game in five years by finishing the season with a 7-5 record after winning five of its last six games. The Tigers won the 2003 New Orleans Bowl.

Memphis features a prolific pass-happy offense that utilizes a bevy of tall wide receivers. The most vertically gifted of the group is 6-8 Carlos Singleton, who caught 10 TD passes this season.

“We have to be prepared for them throwing the ball up and out jumping our guys.” Schnellenberger said. “They can try and do that but I doubt that it will be very successful.”

The Owls have developed a passing attack of their own this season, led by Sun Belt Player of the Year QB Rusty Smith and a group of emerging receivers like Cortez Gent and Jason Harmon. Gent is the team’s leading receiver and has caught nine TDs. Harmon has caught four TDs this season.

“[Smith] has a good feel for me. I have trust in him and he has trust in me,” said Gent.

The similarities between the Owls and Tigers do not end with their identical 7-5 records and potent passing games. The Tigers average 29 points per game while the Owls average 30. On defense the Owls give up 34 points per game while the Tigers give up an average of 31.

Tigers QB Martin Hankins has thrown 22 TDs this season against 12 INTs while Owls’ Smith has thrown 27 TDs and just 8 INTs in his sophomore season.

On the ground the Tigers have a pair of running backs, Joseph Doss and TJ Pitts, who combine to average over 100 yards per game. Meanwhile, the Owls feature a multi-faceted ground attack that features Charles Pierre, BJ Manley, Willie Rose and DiIvory Edgecomb. Pierre leads that group with 7 rushing TDs and an average of 61 yards per game while Rose has caught 6 TDs and run for one more.

Read more New Orleans Bowl Game coverage.