Football: Owls will lose close road game to Navy

Zack Kelberman

Who: FAU vs. Navy
When: Saturday, Nov. 3, 3:30 p.m.
Where: Navy Memorial Stadium
Radio: ESPN 760
Prediction: Navy 31-21
The Owls (2-6) are riding last week’s win into Annapolis, Md., for a showdown with the Navy Midshipmen (5-3), who extended a four-game winning streak with a 56-28 trouncing of East Carolina.

Unlike FAU’s last opponent, the Troy Trojans, this Navy squad packs a much more powerful punch, especially on the ground. Their top two rushers — Gee Gee Greene and Noah Copeland — have each ran for more yards (511 and 426, respectively) than FAU’s counterparts Jonathan Wallace (382 yards) and Damian Fortner (255).

Statistically, the Midshipmen are better in nearly every major category. They average more yards per game (377.9), points per game (25.5), and allows eight points less (23.9). Their aforementioned rushing attack totals a staggering 269.9 yards per contest, which ranks them sixth in the NCAA. Navy has also posted a decent home record (2-2), whereas the Owls have yet to win on the road (0-5).

“It’s a unique challenge for us, it’ll be a big test,” Owls’ head coach Carl Pelini said to FAU Sports. “That’s been a big challenge for us, the discipline on the field to get the call, think about your assignment and take the correct alignments every time. Even when you’re tired. I think that’s for any new coach taking over a program such as this, that’s the biggest challenge. That’s the thing that takes the longest. Obviously, because of who we’re facing, they’ll test that.”

For FAU to have any type of chance — and avoid returning to their losing ways — the burden will be placed upon the shoulders of quarterback Graham Wilbert. The passing game, which ranks 93rd in the NCAA (Navy is 122nd), is the one area the Owls have a decisive advantage. Wilbert has thrown for more yards (1,570) and touchdowns (12) than the two-headed combination of Keenan Reynolds (413 yards, 6 TDs) and Trey Miller (381, 1 TD). In this respect, the scales are tipped heavily in FAU’s favor.

As Wilbert did last week, he’ll have to look early and often for his weapons — wide receivers William Dukes, Byron Hankerson and tight end Nexon Dorvilus, each of whom are coming off solid outings. They’ll need to beat their men at the line of scrimmage and exploit Navy’s secondary. The Owls figure to trail early, so, one way or the other, they’ll take to the air.

When playing a superior team, a near flawless performance is needed. This entails all three phases showing up, the coaching staff formulating an unbeatable game plan, and little to no mental mistakes (penalties, turnovers, etc.).

While that seemed to fall into place against the Trojans, FAU likely won’t have the same luck against the Midshipmen.

Navy’s vaunted running game will prove to be too strong for an overmatched and susceptible front seven and history tells us the Owls are just not ready to waltz onto an opponent’s home field and emerge the victor.

Not yet, anyway.

FAU should make a game of it and give a worthwhile effort — it won’t be a blowout — but ultimately head back to Boca still winless on the road and with their seventh overall loss in tow, knocking Pelini’s club out of bowl contention.