Football: Florida Atlantic looks to halt four-game losing streak against Charlotte on Sunday

The Owls and 49ers meet for the second time in history.


Junior running back Greg Howell takes a carry to the outside against Florida International. Mohammed F. Emran | Staff Photographer

Hans Belot Jr., Contributing Writer

After a tough, heartbreaking loss to Florida International University last Saturday, the Owls haven’t exactly begun the season as fans hoped they would.

Florida Atlantic — 1-4, 0-1 Conference USA — fell to the previously winless Panthers with a 33-31 loss and had to watch its fiercest rival raise the Shula Trophy, which the Owls claimed a year earlier.

However, the Owls must get past that and get ready for their next opponent, a team they defeated 17-7 in 2015 after losing their first three games of the season: Charlotte. The 49ers — 1-4, 0-1 Conference USA — are coming off a 52-17 loss to Old Dominion, which began conference play for them.

The Owls now look to stop another early-season losing streak against the same opponent that they bested last year.

What To Know About Charlotte:

In their four losses this season, the 49ers were outscored 207-70. The defense allowed an average of 44.2 points in their five games.

Aside from being the worst defense team in Conference USA in terms of points allowed, they are also ranked second to last in passing defense, giving up an average of 313 passing yards per game.

Through all the bad, however, the 49ers have still been able to make plays on defense.

They are tied for first in the conference defense with five interceptions. The run defense ranks sixth, allowing about 169 yards per game.

Most of the rushing damage was done by Heisman candidate Lamar Jackson and the Louisville Cardinals, who exploded for 272 yards on the ground in a 70-14 route on Sept. 1.

Charlotte’s offense has been average at best. It tied for seventh in Conference USA, averaging a little over 23 points per game.

Kevin Olsen — the starter of the 49ers three-quarterback system — averaged 152 passing yards per game. Matt Johnson and Hasaan Klugh also took snaps for Charlotte.

Johnson has been used more as a runner for the team as he has only thrown four passes but has carried the ball 25 times for 126 yards. He ranks fourth on the team with 25.2 rushing yards per game.

Robert Washington leads the ground attack averaging 53 yards per game, followed by Kalif Phillips with 51 yards per game.

What To Know About FAU:

The Owls defense has given up at least 30 points in every game this season and currently ranks 10th in Conference USA, allowing 38 points per game to their opponents. They allowed 26 touchdowns on the season, which is ranked second to last in Conference USA and in the bottom 10th of the nation.

FAU has also been unable to stop the run this season, giving up more than 250 rushing yards per game.

Overall, the team ranks 11th out of 13 teams in the conference in total defense, allowing 490 yards of offense per game.

One of the few bright spots for the defense has been causing turnovers. The Owls are tied for first — alongside Charlotte and North Texas — with five interceptions, two of which were executed by redshirt sophomore safety Andrew Soroh.

FAU’s offense, however, has not been much better. It produces a little over 22 points per game, which is ranked ninth in the conference.

The Owls running game was expected to be both balanced and the team’s strongest unit, with players such as junior Greg Howell, senior Jay Warren, freshmen Kerrith Whyte and Devin Singletary.

Out of the four, only Howell has been able to perform consistently. He leads the team with a little over 84 rushing yards per game with Singletary coming in second with 24 yards per game.

Whyte, the leading kick return man for the Owls who is averaging 26 yards per return — ranked fourth in Conference USA — has yet to find his groove as a running back with only 70 rushing yards on the season.

Warren has carried the ball just once for only one yard.

Redshirt sophomore quarterback Jason Driskel is averaging a little under 200 passing yards per game on 60 percent completion, and has thrown four touchdowns and four interceptions on the season.

Although very much limited in the last game, redshirt junior wide receiver Kalib Woods has become Driskel’s favorite target and a rare bright spot for the team. He currently ranks seventh in Conference USA with 78 receiving yards per game.

Who has the edge?

With two shaky offenses and defenses, there is no telling whether this game will be a shootout or a defensive grind.

FAU’s offense, and Driskel in particular, have to take advantage of the 49ers poor passing defense to feed Woods and junior Henry Bussey early in order to spread the defense so that Howell can take advantage.

Defensively, the Owls have to prepare for any and every formation that the 49ers may throw toward them with their three-quarterback system.

Charlotte will try it’s best to take advantage of FAU’s poor running defense, and will most likely attack on the ground early and often.

If that formula succeeds, the 49ers will continue as most teams have done against FAU all year long. However, if it fails, they will start throwing all of their respective quarterbacks at the Owls defense.

On the other side of the ball, it will be interesting to see how Charlotte defends itself against Howell and the running game. If the defense succeeds, it will look to force Driskel into more turnovers after already having committed a total of seven for the year.

Pending the weather, the game will kick off this Sunday, Oct. 8, at noon at FAU Stadium.

Hans Belot Jr. is a contributing writer with the University Press. For information regarding this or other stories, email [email protected] or tweet him at @Don_Phenom_.