Florida Atlantic University's first student-run news source.


Florida Atlantic University's first student-run news source.


Florida Atlantic University's first student-run news source.


Rivalry week

This season has been anything but special for FAU’s football team, which has posted a dreary 4-7 record, failing to accomplish its two main goals of reaching a third consecutive bowl game and winning the Sun Belt Conference in the process.

Despite their subpar season, the Owls can still end it positively. As has been made customary every year, the Owls’ season finale is against archrival Florida International University (3-8) in the Shula Bowl, and more than bragging rights are up for grabs in this year’s encounter.  

The match, which is among the biggest rivalries in the Sun Belt, will provide the South Florida teams with a shot at redemption for their dismal seasons, as the winner will end 2009 with a big confidence booster.

After last season’s 57-50 overtime thriller, in which quarterback Rusty Smith and the Owls pulled out a comeback victory over the Golden Panthers at Landshark Stadium in Miami, the next chapter in this rivalry has long been anticipated.

This game will be much different, though. For one, the Owls have lost Smith to a season-ending shoulder injury and are now in the hands of backup quarterback Jeff Van Camp. Van Camp has performed well in his four starts this season, throwing for 955 yards, 10 touchdowns and only two interceptions (both versus University of Alabama-Birmingham in his first collegiate start). But Van Camp has yet to get a taste of this rivalry, and with the game being played at FIU Stadium in Miami, there is a chance he could lose the poise he has demonstrated thus far.

Another reason to expect this match to be different is due to the inclusion of Owls running back Alfred Morris. FAU had its share of success running the ball in last season’s bout, rushing for 135 yards, but the Owls now boast Morris, a bruising runner capable of carrying a heavy load. Morris enters the game with 1,234 yards and 10 total touchdowns, so expect him to be the focal point of FAU’s attack.

But FAU’s offense will have to be wary of Golden Panthers linebacker Scott Bryant, who has been a playmaking machine this season. Bryant heads into the match with 95 total tackles, two sacks, a pair of forced fumbles and an interception. His skills will likely warrant the Owls to keep him busy with tight ends Jason Harmon, Jamari Grant or fullback Willie Rose, a trio of numerous seniors who will be playing in their final game.

As for FIU’s offense, the unit is led by senior quarterback Paul McCall, who threw for 400 yards against the Owls defense in 2008. McCall may enjoy an even bigger day this weekend, as he will battle an Owls defense that has mustered only five interceptions and 12 sacks, and has been plagued with surrendering big plays all season long.

FIU’s ground game, however, is a weak one, and the team has no real standout runner. Assuming linebacker David Hinds and safety Ed Alexander provide solid run support, the Owls should be able to force FIU to pass for the majority of their plays.

That is where the Owls secondary comes in. FAU’s defensive backs need to shut down top Golden Panthers wide receiver T.Y. Hilton, a solid route-runner who has posted 604 yards and five touchdowns on 54 catches. Safety Marcus Bartels and the rest of the Owls secondary will also have to be wary of receiver Greg Ellingson in order to stymie FIU’s offense and improve FAU to 7-0 all-time against their biggest adversary.  

If keeping their undefeated record over the Golden Panthers intact isn’t motivation enough, knowing that a core of the offense is playing in its final game should be. As mentioned before, the nucleus of possibly the most talented offense in FAU’s brief history is getting ready for departure. Seniors like Harmon, linemen Carl Spitale and David Matlock, and receivers Chris Bonner and Cortez Gent are among some of the starters whose FAU careers will come to a close after the match in Miami.

So, while the standout seniors and the rest of the Owls fell short of their dream of reaching a third consecutive bowl game, ending this season with a road win over hated FIU would not serve as a bad consolation prize.

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