Football preview: Owls to stun Western Kentucky, win a close game

Zack Kelberman

Who: FAU vs. Western Kentucky
When: Saturday, Nov. 10, 1 p.m.
Where: Smith Stadium
TV/Radio: CSS/ESPN 760

Prediction: FAU 28-24

Following a close loss to Navy, the Owls (2-6) return to Sun Belt conference play in a road matchup with the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers (6-3).

This will be FAU’s fourth away contest in its last five games, a challenge for a team still winless on the road this season (0-6) and in it’s last 15 tries.

Look for that to change Saturday.

The Owls gave Navy all they could handle, nearly pulling off a major upset in the final minutes. The Hilltoppers, on the other hand, are reeling from a 34-29 loss to Middle Tennessee, their second defeat in three weeks. Momentum may not be measured in the box score, but it sure exists on the football field.

FAU, on the strength of their offense, has seemingly improved each week. Those close to the club, including head coach Carl Pelini, believe they’re certainly capable of achieving victory.

“We’ve taken steps forward,” Pelini told the Sun Sentinel. “We just need to make that one play.”

A familiar word of caution still applies, however: this won’t be an easy task.

Western Kentucky boasts the 77th ranked passing game, 44th ranked rushing attack, average 29.4 points per game (58th overall) while allowing just 23.9 (45th). They’re a talented squad, featuring the likes of quarterback Kawaun Jakes (1,798 passing yards, 18 touchdowns) and running back Antonio Andrews (1,053 rushing yards, 5.5 yards-per-carry and 7 TDs). To a leaky Owls defense, this has the makings of a nightmare.

Assuming Western Kentucky’s can’t be stopped – only contained – the Owls will need to respond with drives leading to touchdowns. It is crucial they reach the end zone and don’t settle for field goals. Using up a chunk of clock on the majority of their possessions would not only keep them in the game, but also revert the Hilltoppers’ high-powered offense to helpless bystanders on the sideline.

Owls’ quarterback Graham Wilbert (1,775 passing yards, 12 touchdowns) has made definite strides since the season began. In the last four games, he’s thrown for 1,030 yards, seven scores and, perhaps most importantly, no interceptions. He must keep the hot streak going, as his primary weapons should be able to shake loose in the middle of the field.

For as impressive as Western Kentucky’s offense is, their defense isn’t as up to par, allowing at least 26 points in five of their nine games. Their defensive backs have had trouble containing tall, vertical receivers, so they’ll likely have their hands full with 6-foot-4 William Dukes.

As it stands, absolutely no one is picking the Owls; in fact, they’re favored to lose by 16.5 points. But this is a team that’s been an underdog for the entire year, and it didn’t stop them from knocking off Troy a few weeks prior.

In a continuance of FAU’s down-to-the-wire style of play, expect this game to be decided deep into the fourth quarter. Positive results will be yielded, though, as the Owls head home with a much-heralded third win in advance of next week’s showdown with rival FIU Panthers.