Football preview: FAU hosts UTEP Saturday in second to last home game

The two teams have combined for just two conference wins this season.


Hilltoppers junior strong safety Leverick Johnson (29) pushes Owls redshirt junior wide receiver Kalib Woods (4) out of bounds. Mohammed F Emran | Staff Photographer

Hans Belot Jr., Contributing Writer

Florida Atlantic welcomes the University of Texas El-Paso this weekend, hoping to build on the momentum following its 42-25 win over Rice University last week.

The Owls (2-7, 1-4 Conference USA) snapped a seven-game losing streak with the win, their second streak of this length in the last three years.

FAU recorded 657 total yards in the victory, the most in program history. Freshman running back Devin Singletary also had a historic day, finishing with a school record of 252 rushing yards as well as three touchdowns.

UTEP (3-6, 1-4 Conference USA) is coming off a 42-10 win over Houston Baptist University and has won two of its last three games after starting the season 1-5.

Here’s what you need to know about both teams:

UTEP Miners:

Running back Aaron Jones has carried the load for the Miners offense, averaging 1.2 touchdowns per game to lead UTEP to the 11th scoring offense out of 13 teams with 23.2 points per game.

Jones currently leads Conference USA in rushing yards per game with 129.8 and has reached the end zone 11 times on the year.

The Miners running back torched Houston Baptist for 228 yards and two touchdowns, even though he sat out most of the third quarter and the entire fourth.

Quarterback Metz Ryan has been solid in keeping the offense balanced, throwing for eight touchdowns against two interceptions on the season.

However, as good as the Miners have been in the running game, they haven’t done their best when it comes to defense.

The defense allows 215.3 rushing yards per game, third worst in Conference USA. UTEP’s passing defense, which allows just 203.6 yards through the air, is second best in the conference.

As a whole, the Miners defense has been one of the bottom teams in the conference, allowing 35 points per game.

FAU Owls:

FAU‘s historic day last weekend at Rice was what the program had envisioned after the hiring of Offensive Coordinator Travis Trickett who was coming from the Football Championship Subdivision Samford team, which averaged 34.6 points and 332.9 yards per game.

The Owls racked up a program-record of 657 total yards in the game and scored the most points in a single game of theirs this season.

Singletary’s historic day brings his season average to 38.9 rushing yards per game, still behind junior Greg “Buddy” Howell’s 79.7 rushing yards per game.

The rushing game has been the only consistent thing for the Owls all season, who are now seventh in the conference with 174.7 yards per game.

After being benched for the first two series of last Saturday’s game, sophomore quarterback Jason Driskel finally found his groove, throwing for 317 yards, completing 15 of 23 passes and also tossing two touchdowns.

Prior to that performance, Driskel only averaged 169.4 yards per game and threw six touchdowns as well as seven interceptions on the season.

FAU has long been looking for a second receiving threat to complement junior Kalib Woods — who leads the the team in receiving yards with 76.9 per game — and Henry Bussey answered the call.

The junior wide receiver came alive for the Owls by catching four passes for 132 yards, including a touchdown.

The Owls are still last in the Conference USA, averaging just 22.4 points per game this season.

FAU was dominant defensively against Rice, sacking the quarterback five times during the game.

The Owls also added an interception to bring their total on the season to nine, which is ranked third in the conference.

So who will win?

For the first time this season, the Owls will not have to make many changes in between games. Instead, more of the same will do.

FAU will look to punish UTEP’s poor rushing defense by feeding the hot hands of Singletary and Howell early and often.

Although they are solid defending the pass, the Miners have not been a team known for takeaways as they only forced three interceptions on the year — second to last in the conference.

Part of the problem has been getting to the quarterback as the Miners have 10 sacks on the year — last in Conference USA — which should buy time for Driskel in the pocket.

Defensively, the Owls main focus will be on Jones who has 164 rushing attempts on the season which is ranked third in conference USA.

FAU must be wary of the passing threat UTEP poses, however. When Ryan is comfortable in the pocket, he’s able to pick his targets and limit his mistakes.

Ryan has only been sacked 17 times this season.

The Miners will do what they’ve been doing all season which is feeding their best player the ball.

UTEP will try to make the same defensive moves as FAU, including limiting the running game and forcing the offense to be one-dimensional.

The game will kick off at FAU Stadium on Saturday, Nov. 12, at 6 p.m.

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_.