Football Preview: versus FIU

With the season hanging in the balance, the Owls face one of their biggest games of the year in the Shula Bowl.

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Football Preview: versus FIU

FAU will face FIU in this year's Homecoming game. Despite currently having a losing record, FAU looks to turn its season around. Max Jackson | Staff Photographer

FAU will face FIU in this year's Homecoming game. Despite currently having a losing record, FAU looks to turn its season around. Max Jackson | Staff Photographer

FAU will face FIU in this year's Homecoming game. Despite currently having a losing record, FAU looks to turn its season around. Max Jackson | Staff Photographer

FAU will face FIU in this year's Homecoming game. Despite currently having a losing record, FAU looks to turn its season around. Max Jackson | Staff Photographer

Ryan Lynch, Sports Editor

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There’s a sense of déjà vu hanging in the air for Florida Atlantic football as they come into Homecoming weekend.

The Shula Bowl is being played during Homecoming weekend, with FAU facing 3-3 Florida International for the second time in the rivalry’s 14-year history.

The last time the Owls played FIU in a Homecoming game – on Oct. 30, 2010 – they won 21-9. The win was the second time in the past five years that FAU beat the Golden Panthers in their yearly meeting.

Much like last year when they sat at 3-5 coming into their game versus UAB, the Owls head into Homecoming weekend with a losing record (1-4).

Florida Atlantic has a problem with turnovers this season, totaling 15 giveaways through five games this year. In all of last season, they had only 12 turnovers.

FIU will bring an improved rush defense that is ranked 41st in the nation, a jump from the 63rd spot in the FBS last year. The second-best defense against the run in Conference USA is allowing 136.2 rushing yards per game this season.

Looking at the Owls’ running game, the effectiveness of sophomore Greg Howell and junior Jay Warren has been hampered both by injuries (Warren was hurt midway through the Miami game and had limited carries versus Buffalo) and fumbles. The duo has averaged 83.4 and 46.5 yards per game respectively, each searching to improve upon their previous struggles to find long rushes.

The Owls’ best chance of consistent gains will come from their passing attack. Quarterback Jaquez Johnson played his first game back against Charlotte on Sept. 26 after missing a week with an ankle injury he suffered midway through the Miami game.

His health will be a major factor in his effectiveness. During his return to action, Johnson threw for 144 yards and had a rushing touchdown. He also threw two interceptions and fumbled four times. If he is at full capability, the Owls will benefit from his leadership and ability to create plays with his feet.

FAU’s defense has improved over the past few games, but will need to double down against Alex McGough and the Golden Panther offense. The sophomore brings 1,399 pass yards and twelve passing touchdowns to Boca Raton, and has six receivers with over 100 yards: Thomas Owens, Ya’keem Griner, Alex Gardner, Dennis Turner, Clinton Taylor and Jonnu Smith.

Interceptions have been how the Owls have changed the tide of games on defense. Senior defensive back Cre’von LeBlanc has three (tied for 16th-best in the FBS) and true freshman defensive back Ocie Rose has two, including his first-ever interception return touchdown during the end of the Charlotte game.

Senior defensive tackle Trevon Coley has a career-best five and a half sacks this season and 13.5 for his career. He’ll look to break the school record of 16 before the end of the year.

In their last Homecoming matchup, FAU lost to UAB 31-28 after a field goal with two seconds left thwarted the Owls’ 21-point comeback. The loss was the team’s first of the season in Boca Raton and was part of a five-game losing streak to end the season.

Head coach Charlie Partridge’s team will come into the game needing to prove they have become better than the mistakes that crippled them early in the season. Otherwise, it looks like the Owls are on their way to another bowl game-less year.