Football preview: FAU will battle but fall short in Conference USA debut against ECU

Wesley Wright

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FAU will travel to play ECU on Thursday night. Photo by Ralph Landau.

Who: FAU at East Carolina

When: Thursday, Sept. 5 at 7:30 p.m.

Where: Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium

TV: Fox Sports 1

Radio: ESPN 106.3

Prediction: East Carolina 31, FAU 14

Making their Conference USA debut on Thursday, FAU (0-1) will travel to take on East Carolina (1-0), who entered the season as league favorites to win C-USA’s East Division.

If the Owls are to pull off the upset and pick up its first win of 2013, a significantly better defensive performance is imperative against the Pirates, who boast reigning C-USA player of the week, quarterback Shane Carden. Carden led the ECU offense to 52 points while amassing 447 yards and five touchdowns versus ODU.

By contrast, the Owls defense is coming off an outing in which they surrendered 503 total yards to the Hurricanes –– including 304 yards on the ground –– in the 34-6 loss.

 Fortunately for FAU, ECU has a very thin stable of running backs, two of which switched to other positions on defense. This will allow Owls defenders to key in on stopping Carden.

 But as anemic as FAU’s defense was in the season-opener, their performance was rivaled by an offense that managed just six points, looking overmatched by a UM defense that was statistically among the worst in the nation last season (116th in total yards allowed).

 Perhaps the first order of business in the FAU locker room is to choose a quarterback with which to place their trust behind.

Last week’s starter, Jaquez Johnson (11-of-20 for 83 yards), alternated series with freshman Greg Hankerson (5-of-11 for 34 yards) until Hankerson went down with a rib injury in the first half. Hankerson is expected to play, but it’s unclear if he or Johnson will start.

Sheer inexperience from the quarterback position is an aspect of this year’s team that will make some possessions hard to watch for Owls fans. Hankerson, a true freshman, and Johnson, a junior college transfer, played the first NCAA game of their respective careers against Miami.

Both are now being asked to use a short week to prepare for ECU, while trying to improve on a wholly disappointing performance that can probably be attributed to a combination of jitters and the absence of rhythm.

The emergence of tight end Nexon Dorvilus as a safety blanket for these young Owls quarterbacks could expedite their development. What also figures to help the Owls is the return of wide receiver Daniel McKinney from a one-game suspension. McKinney and William Dukes are the team’s top receivers, and they have to find a way to get open against ECU.

If the secondary can minimize the mental mistakes and the passing game gets off to a solid start, the Owls may find themselves hanging around.  But there needs to be better play on both sides of the ball, and the offense must put some points on the board. Field goals simply won’t cut it.

At the end of the day, however, an experienced Pirates offense will take advantage of the Owls defense through the air, making this another tough week for FAU as they head back to Boca, still without a win.

How do you think FAU will fare against ECU?

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