Football: A tall challenge awaits FAU’s secondary

Marshall’s 6-foot-7 wide receiver is taller than any other the Owls have had to worry about this season.


Junior defensive back Raekwon Williams takes down Miami tight end David Njoku in the Owls loss on Sept. 10. Mohammed F. Emran | Staff Photographer

Brendan Feeney, Sports Editor

The 1-5 Florida Atlantic football team is riddled with problems heading into its matchup against Marshall on Saturday.

The defense ranks among the worst in the country, the team is getting little production from its quarterbacks and the offensive line has been getting banged up since before the season began. However the team’s tallest challenge comes in the form of Marshall’s 6-foot-7 wide receiver Michael Clark.

The sophomore receiver started the season with three touchdowns in the first two games and in the previous two games he has totalled 269 receiving yards on 12 catches and a touchdown. Much like the Owls’ Kalib Woods, Clark leads his team in catches, receiving touchdowns and has twice as many receiving yards than the team’s second-leading receiver.

The only game Clark failed to post either 100 yards or a touchdown occurred against the then-No. 3 ranked Louisville Cardinals on Sept. 24.

Defensive coordinator Roc Bellantoni has taken notice of Clark and his big-play capabilities.

“We got to do a good job in technique, you got to cover him, you got to make the play when the play comes your way,” Bellantoni said. “We can’t make our guys any taller, they have to play with really good technique.”

The tallest receiver the Owls have faced this season is Charlotte’s T.L. Ford, who stands four inches shorter than Clark at 6-foot-3 and burned FAU’s defense for a 37-yard touchdown reception last Saturday.

FAU’s secondary has allowed the highest completion percentage in Conference USA and sits in the middle of the pack in passing touchdowns and yards allowed. It is tied for the conference lead with six interceptions.

Though the Owls secondary has yet to face a wide receiver with Clark’s size in a game situation, they do have the fortune of practicing against 6-foot-7 teammate Nate Terry.

“It doesn’t matter if it’s a little slot guy like [Henry] Bussey or Lucky Whitehead, or a big tall receiver. It’s winning those first five yards at the line of scrimmage when you’re in press [coverage] against a guy and if you can win those first five yards, you can determine what kinda route you’re going to get from there,” Bellantoni said.

From there, he said, it comes down to the man-to-man defender keeping up and not focusing on trying to outjump the taller receiver, but instead waiting until he comes down with the ball so the defender can place his hands through the receivers to knock the ball out.

Bellantoni said his defense would not change its schemes to prepare for Clark and none of the defensive backs will garner man-to-man duties, but he will be covered depending on what side he lines up on.

The defensive coordinator did mention that sophomore Herb Miller “would be a better matchup than the other guys because of his length.”

When Clark lines up on the right side of the field he will be mirrored by Raekwon Williams. The junior, who recorded his first collegiate interception a week ago, is only worried about focusing on himself rather than his opponent.

“I do what I do every week, watch film, make sure I’m doing what I got to do, just focusing on myself,” Williams said. “When it’s my time and it’s that day, then that’s when I’m locked in on somebody else, but until then I focus on getting myself better.”

Brendan Feeney is the sports editor of the University Press. For information regarding this or other stories, email [email protected] or tweet him @feeney42.