Football preview: conference’s worst meets best as FAU hosts Western Kentucky

WKU currently leads Conference USA while the Owls sit in last place.


Redshirt junior Kailb Woods leads the team in receptions and receiving yards. Mohammed F. Emran | Staff Photographer

Hans Belot Jr., Contributing Writer

Florida Atlantic will host the high flying offense of Western Kentucky (5-3, 3-1 Conference USA), who are currently tied for first atop of the conference standings.

This weekend will be a crucial one for FAU, if it has any hopes of salvaging anything out of this season.

One more loss will mean the Owls (1-6, 0-3 Conference USA) will finish the season with a losing record for the third straight year. FAU’s 27-21 loss to Marshall two weeks ago guaranteed that the team won’t finish with a record above .500 for the eighth straight year.

The Owls have won five of the seven meetings between the two teams, a trend they hope to continue this Saturday.

Here’s what you should know about both teams:

Western Kentucky Hilltoppers:

The Hilltoppers have yet to recreate the success they had a year ago, having already lost more games (3) than they did all of last season (2).

Western Kentucky was also undefeated in conference play last season, going 8-0, and carried that into 2016. The conference-winning streak, which dated back to 2014, reached 11 games until Louisiana Tech snapped it three weeks ago.

Despite losing quarterback Brandon Doughty — last year’s conference leader in passing yards, passing touchdowns, completion percentage and passing efficiency — the defending Conference USA champions’ offense hasn’t missed a beat.

Western Kentucky ranks third in the conference in scoring at 40.2 points per game, with new starting quarterback Mike White in charge.

White ranks third in the conference with 309.5 passing yards per game, and has thrown 20 touchdowns compared to five interceptions.

White’s main target has been one of Conference USA’s top receiver in Taywan Taylor, whose 124.1 receiving yards per game ranks fourth in the conference. He also has pulled in nine touchdowns.

Overall, the Hilltoppers are fourth in Conference USA in total offense, however if there is one weak link to the offense, it’s their rushing game.

Western Kentucky is currently third to last in the conference in rushing offense averaging 147 yards on the ground.

The team’s leading rusher Anthony Wales averages 105.6 yards per game, however he’s been suspended for the first half of the game versus FAU  for his role in an altercation over the weekend versus Old Dominion.

The Hilltoppers defense has been equally as impressive.

Western Kentucky allows 29 points per game, which ranks third in the conference.

The Hilltoppers are the best team in rushing defense in Conference USA, allowing just 106.9 yards in the ground per game. Overall the defense ranks third in total yards allowed, giving up 412.4 yards per game on the season.

FAU Owls:

FAU’s offense has struggled to get going most of the season, averaging just 22.4 points per game.

Redshirt sophomore quarterback Jason Driskel has averaged just 186.1 passing yards per game, with a 4-to-6 touchdown to interception ratio.

About 45 percent of Driskel passing yards are caught by junior receiver Kalib Woods, who’s averaging 85.1 receiving yards per game on the season — ranked seventh among receivers in the conference.

One of the team’s other bright spot has been junior running back Greg “Buddy” Howell, who has carried the rushing offense to the eighth spot in the conference.

Howell is currently averaging 87.7 rushing yards per game, ranking seventh in the conference, and has reached the end zone nine times.

The Owls defense has given 35.7 points per game.

FAU is also allowing 225.6 rushing yards per game and opposing teams have scored 32 total touchdowns on the year, last in Conference USA.

The Owls lone success on defense has been forcing turnovers. The team is tied for third in the conference with seven interceptions.

So who has the edge?

The trenchant offense of the Hilltoppers versus the struggling defense of the Owls looks most likely to be the deciding factor of this game.

In order for the FAU to come away with the victory, the Owls must take advantage of Wales’ suspension and limit what the Hilltoppers do offensively.

After Wales, Western Kentucky next leading rusher is Quinton Baker, who is averaging just 38 rushing yards per game.

One of the best teams at protecting the quarterback, the Hilltoppers allow just 1.62 sacks per game. The Owls will have to get after White to force him into making mistakes.

Offensively, FAU will have to continue to ride Howell’s best season yet, but it will be very difficult against the best rushing defense in the conference.

The Owls will try to alternate and keep Howell fresh by getting freshman Devin Singletary involved early and often, who is averaging about 74 yards per game over these last three games.

The team will hope that opens up a void in the defense and and will allow Howell to make plays as he has been doing all season.

For the Hilltoppers, they’ll have the same mindset they had all season: more of the same.

Despite Wale’s first half suspension, Western Kentucky will rely on White to make plays, and one person who will benefit the most will be Taylor, his go-to receiver.

Defensively, Western Kentucky will try and limit the rushing attack of the Owls, and hope it turns FAU one dimensional for the game.

The game kicks off at 3:30 p.m. this Saturday, Oct. 29, 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 @Don_Phenom_.