Prediction: FAU will win first football game of the year

Running+back+Alfred+Morris+bulldozes+past+a+North+Texas+defender+en+route+to+the+endzone+in+a+game+last+year.+FAU+would+go+on+to+lose+the+game+21-17.+Photo+courtesy+of+FAU+Athletics.

JC Ridley

Running back Alfred Morris bulldozes past a North Texas defender en route to the endzone in a game last year. FAU would go on to lose the game 21-17. Photo courtesy of FAU Athletics.

Zack Duarte

When: Saturday Oct. 8, 2011
Time: 7:30 p.m. ET
Where: Apogee Stadium, Denton Texas
TV: ESPN3.com
Radio: 760 AM
Series Record: FAU leads 6-1

Running back Alfred Morris bulldozes past a North Texas defender en route to the endzone in a game last year. FAU would go on to lose the game 21-17. Photo courtesy of FAU Athletics.

The possibility of coming into the new on-campus stadium 0-5 is one that neither fans, players or anyone on the Owls coaching staff could have envisioned.

It’s also bad for business.

The Owls (0-4,0-1) head to Denton, Texas to play the North Texas Mean Green (1-4, 0-1) and first year head coach Dan McCarney. North Texas is last in scoring defense in the Sun Belt Conference (allowing 38.4 points per game), however the Owls rank last in scoring offense in the SBC (scoring 12.8 points per game).

Last week, FAU saw its most successful week on offense, scoring 34 points against ULL, but there were still major lapses. The third quarter saw the offense manage just two yards. Head coach Howard Schnellenberger said he almost pulled starting quarterback Graham Wilbert twice in favor of David Kooi, but instead stuck with Wilbert.

FAU has a weapon in Alfred Morris, who has averaged 4.85 yards per carry in the last two weeks (165 yards on 34 carries) yet they still can’t seem to find it in their playbook to give Morris more opportunities with the ball in his hands.

Wilbert’s three touchdowns against ULL were pivotal, but two of them came when the Owls were down 14 points with seven minutes remaining in the game. A hurry-up offense allowed FAU to come back to tie the score at 34 before ULL took the final drive down to kick a game-winning field goal.

FAU’s biggest concern on defense has been its inability to stop any of the four opponents so far this season. Against ULL the defense gave up 459 yards.

North Texas thrives on ball control, as they lead the SBC and are ranked seventh in the nation, averaging over 34 minutes of ball control a game. Last week against Tulsa, North Texas held the ball for over 40 minutes but still lost.

After colliding with multiple North Texas defenders, running back Alfred Morris is thrown to the ground. Morris would go on to rush for 54 yards on 17 carries in the game. FAU plays North Texas this Saturday, Oct. 8 at 7:30 p.m. Photo courtesy of FAU Athletics.

The reason for the North Texas’s ability to hold on to the ball is Lance Dunbar. The senior running back entered 2011 with the third-most rushing yards and rushing touchdowns among all players in Divison I college football.

Over the last two weeks he has gained 127 yards on the ground and in the team’s only win against Indiana, he had 279 all-purpose yards.

For a FAU defense that has struggled in one manor or another in each of its four games, trying to stop Dunbar will be key if FAU wants to win.

North Texas runs an offense that could confuse the Owls on defense, as North Texas likes to run a wildcat package among its normal offensive system. Also, it hasn’t been announced who will start at quarterback for the Mean Green. Last week, true freshman Andrew McNulty got the start because starter Derek Thompson was unavailable to play. McNulty struggled and backup quarterback Brent Osborn came in to relieve McNulty, completing six of his seven passes.

For FAU to gain momentum heading into conference play and the opening of its new on-campus stadium, the team needs to continue to build on the offensive success it has found in the last two weeks against Auburn and Louisiana Lafayette. It also has to find a way to involve Alfred Morris more from the back field. On defense, the Owls need to be efficient on third down and to get the Mean Green off the field so FAU’s offense can put points on the board.

As a team, the Owls have to stop making mental mistakes. Against ULL, the Owls had 11 penalties for 100 yards and each penalty was costly.

If the team wants to shine a bright light on itself heading into the biggest game in program history, it has to avoid being 0-5 at all costs. Otherwise, fans of FAU football may lose interest. Quickly.

Prediction: Owls 31 Mean Green 27