Football Preview: Owls look to go Gator hunting in Gainesville

A week removed from a 24-17 loss versus Middle Tennessee, they travel to “The Swamp” to face the No. 8 Florida Gators

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FAU defensive backs Ocie Rose (1) and Andrew Soroh (27) celebrate after Rose recovered a fumble in the first quarter of last week's 24-17 loss to Middle Tennessee. Josh Talero | Contributing Photographer

Brendan Feeney, Contributing Writer

Football will seek the biggest upset in program history when they travel to Gainesville on Saturday to face the University of Florida Gators.

Florida Atlantic (2-8, 2-5 Conference USA) is coming off a seven-point loss to Middle Tennessee. The offense was not able to get momentum going, as they ran for a team total 75 rushing yards — only the second time all season that the Owls were unable to eclipse the 100-yard rushing mark.

The Gators (9-1, 7-1 Southeastern Conference), who are coming off a 21-14 win over the University of South Carolina Gamecocks this past Saturday, are currently ranked No. 8 in the nation, according to the newest College Football Playoff Rankings.

This will be the third matchup between the two schools, all of which have been played at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium. The Gators won the first two meetings by a combined score of 100-23.

Florida coach Jim McElwain gave the Owls’ players extra incentive heading into Thursday saying after his team’s win last week that FAU is “full of a bunch of Florida guys that wish they were Gators.”

What you need to know about the Florida Gators

Last week the Gators’ defense left the Gamecocks’ offense scoreless through the first three quarters. USC was limited to 44 total yards of offense in those quarters.

Florida’s defense has allowed only 14.5 points and 280 yards per game this season. That places them fourth and fifth in the nation, respectively.

The Gators’ defense also appears in the nation’s top ten in fewest rushing yards allowed, fewest passing yards allowed and sacks.

Sophomore quarterback Treon Harris will make his fifth start of the season for the Gators. Freshman Will Grier — who was the starting quarterback for Florida’s first six games of the season — was suspended for one year after testing positive for performance-enhancing drugs back in October. The Gators were 6-0 at the time of Grier’s suspension.

Florida will also be without their junior defensive end Alex McCalister. McCalister, who injured his foot last week against South Carolina, was the SEC Defensive Player of the Week in the week prior to the injury.

Junior running back Kelvin Taylor has found the endzone 12 times this season for the Gators, only failing to score against The University of Mississippi Rebels.

The Gators will represent the SEC East in the SEC Championship game on Dec. 5, where a win could lead them to the College Football Playoff.

What to expect on gameday

Freshman Trey Rodriguez and sophomore Greg Howell will lead the way for the Florida Atlantic rushing attack which ran the ball at least 30 times in every game this season.

Howell leads the Owls with 532 yards on a team-high 118 carries. Rodriguez — who averages a yard and a half more per carry than Howell — leads the team with five rushing touchdowns.

The Owls struggled to run the ball against Middle Tennessee and there is no reason to expect that trend to change against Florida. Only nine defenses in the nation have allowed fewer than Florida’s 105.1 rushing yards allowed per game this year.

Rodriguez was injured at the end of the first quarter of last week’s game and there is no word if he will be limited on Saturday.

The lone bright spot for the Owls may be that Harris has thrown three interceptions in the past two games versus the Gators. FAU has forced at least one interception in their past three games.

For the Owls to pull off the upset, their defense line will have to be able to force pressure on Harris as well as being able to contain the running game. If they can accomplish this, the Owls may be able to limit the Gators’ offense and create a turnover.

On the offensive end, the Owls will go as far as their offensive line takes them. If the line can protect the quarterback and open some running lanes, the Owls will be able to put points on the board against the Gator defense.

Brendan Feeney is a contributing writer for the University Press. To contact him on this or other stories, he can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter.