Football preview: Owls look to end slide versus UTEP

Head to El Paso for first time in program history.

Freshman+running+back+Trey+Rodriguez+celebrates+with+redshirt+freshman+quarterback+Jason+Driskel+and++redshirt+junior+offensive+lineman+Kelly+Parfitt+after+Rodriguez+scored+in+the+third+quarter+of+last+Saturday%27s+33-17++loss+to+Marshall.+Brandon+Harrington+%7C+Photo+Editor

Brandon Harrington

Freshman running back Trey Rodriguez celebrates with redshirt freshman quarterback Jason Driskel and redshirt junior offensive lineman Kelly Parfitt after Rodriguez scored in the third quarter of last Saturday's 33-17 loss to Marshall. Brandon Harrington | Photo Editor

Zak Sadik, Contributing Writer

Following a 33-17 defeat against Marshall last week, football will travel to El Paso to take on the UTEP Miners this Saturday night, Oct. 24, at 7 p.m.

The matchup will be the first ever between the two teams and will be Florida Atlantic’s first away game in over three weeks.

The Owls enter the game with a record of 1-5, last among all teams in Conference USA’s East division, while UTEP (2-4) is currently riding a two-game losing streak, falling to FIU 52-12 last weekend.

Here’s what you need to know for this weekend’s game:

Keys to the game:

According to offensive coordinator Brian Wright, redshirt senior quarterback Jaquez Johnson will get the start this Saturday. Johnson injured an ankle during the first drive of the Owls’ loss to Miami in the second game of the season and has been in and out of the lineup ever since.

He dressed, but did not play in the loss to Marshall.

“He felt better last night than he has in a while,” said head football coach Charlie Partridge on Monday. “[Johnson] wants to play. We want him to play.”

Redshirt freshman Jason Driskel has been filling in as the team’s starting quarterback in Johnson’s absence. While he hasn’t registered a win, Partridge said the redshirt freshman “did some nice things.”

Driskel completed 14 of his 31 passes for 203 yards of passing and had an interception during last week, and will be in the position to play if Johnson goes down again.

Sophomore running back Greg “Buddy” Howell saw limited action in the Marshall game (just four carries out of 30 total run plays). Partridge said he didn’t have enough chances to go around for all the running backs, with five players receiving carries versus the Thundering Herd.

“There was nothing Buddy did wrong. Trey [Rodriguez] was doing well. Jay [Warren] had done some things,” Partridge said. “It’s a good thing when you feel like you have three or four quality backs that can all produce for you.”

Howell finished with just nine yards. Rodriguez had the majority of the carries, rushing for 72 yards on 16 attempts. Warren had seven rushes for 16 yards.

The silver lining in the loss came when freshman defensive back Ocie Rose returned an interception 95 yards for one of FAU’s two touchdowns in the game. The score was Rose’s second touchdown return in three weeks.

Turnovers have increasingly been the Owls’ way of scoring, with seven of their 17 points last week coming from turnovers. They have scored 44 total points from turnovers this year, a mark they need to continue to supplement their offensive production.

Beyond forcing more turnovers, the defense needs to find its footing once again. FAU has been outgained in yards by every team they have played this year except versus Buffalo.

Although they have a better overall record than the Owls, stats show that the Miners allow over 10 points more to their opposition than FAU has on average this season (31.8 compared to 43), while also conceding nearly 500 yards per game.

So who will win?

The key for the Owls emerging victorious will be Johnson’s health. They have gone 0-3 in games in which he has not played compared to 1-2 with him in as starter, including two close losses to Tulsa and Rice.

Considering the Owls have scored more this season with Johnson at the helm, their defense can’t keep spotting yardage and points to opposing teams.

In order for UTEP to win, the x-factor is their entire defensive unit. Albeit inconsistent, their offense has shown the ability to keep up in shootouts as proved in their 50-47 win earlier this year against New Mexico State.

Zakaria Sadik is a contributing writer with the University Press. To contact him on this or other stories he can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter.