Preview: Keys to the game for FAU vs. Wagner

The Owls are returning home after their first win and preparing to take on the Wagner Seahawks.


Senior linebacker Rashad Smith won Conference USA player of the week with two fumble recoveries and six tackles to go along with a sack and a forced fumble against Ball State. Photo courtesy of FAU Athletics.

Joseph Acosta, Contributing Writer

The Owls look to get their second win of the season this Saturday against the Wagner Seahawks at 6 p.m. at FAU Stadium.


The Florida Atlantic Owls return home from getting their first win of the season last week, which was a 41-31 victory in Indiana over Ball State University. Lane Kiffin called it “the best game of the year”  in his Monday press conference. 


Quarterback Chris Robison had a standout performance, going 33-41 for 366 passing yards and four touchdowns. Senior linebacker Rashad Smith recovered two fumbles, while adding on six tackles (2.5 for loss), a sack, and a forced fumble. Smith was named Conference USA Defensive Player of the Week for his efforts.


However, the Owls could come into this game without some of their players. With DL Noah Jefferson, RBs Larry McCammon and Malcolm Davidson, and CB Korell Smith all injured, there’s a chance they miss Saturday. 


Here are three keys to a win for the Owls this Saturday:


1. Dominate both lines of scrimmage

In FAU’s victory over Ball State, the Owls were able to dominate the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball. Offensively, the Owls had a much better game protection wise, as well as in run blocking. The offensive line only allowed one sac and helped FAU gain 132 rushing yards.


Defensively, the Owls had five sacks, with junior LEO Leighton McCarthy leading the team with 1.5. Wagner comes in with only two returning starters along the offensive line, so the Owls need to dominate the line often. Pressure creates turnovers, and putting pressure on the Wagner backfield will then create opportunities for turnovers for FAU.


Despite the preseason accolades for the Wagner defense, they’ve allowed an average of 210 yards on the ground and 201 through the air in their first three games. The Owls will have their hands full with Wagner LB Cam Gill, but if the offensive line can establish a running game, and keep Robison on his feet, the Owls will be able to move the ball effectively, and put points on the board.



2. Get the ball to the playmakers


Because Robison was kept clean for the majority of last week’s game at Ball State, he was able to get the ball out early to FAU’s receivers and backs. Outside of John Mitchell, redshirt senior Tavaris Harrison had four catches for 87 yards, Senior TE Harrison Bryant added on 80 yards on four receptions and Senior TE John Raine added a touchdown reception. 


In total, nine Owls had at least one catch, and five had a rushing attempt. When Kiffin and Offensive Coordinator Charlie Weis Jr.’s spread offense is clicking, this is what Owls fans should expect. On Saturday, the Owls should look to get multiple people involved in the run game and the passing game, to keep the Wagner defense on their toes.



3. Do not underestimate Wagner 


Despite their loss to Division 1 opponent UConn, the Seahawks kept the game close, and only lost by three points. On the offensive side, Wagner brought in FIU graduate transfer Christian Alexander-Stephens, who was the 2018 Offensive MVP in FIU’s 35-32 victory in the Bahamas Bowl over Toledo. 


Senior TE Adam Giordano, a 2019 Preseason All-NEC pick is one to watch for Wagner, as well as their leading receiver through three games, junior Joshua Decambre. Under head coach Jason Houghtaling, the Seahawks are stout on defense, returning six starters from last year, including senior LB Cam Gill, the 2018 and NEC Defensive Player of the Year. 


This is FAU’s final non-conference game, so it’s important for the Owls to keep their momentum from last week to go into conference play with a win. 


The Owls can’t get complacent and look past Wagner — they do have the athletes to make this game interesting. And the Seahawks should be playing with more urgency, because they haven’t won a game yet. This could be a trap game for the Owls, but if they approach this week just like they did last week, the Owls will go into conference play with a 2-2 record, and momentum on their side.

Joseph Acosta is a contributing writer for the University Press. For information regarding this or other stories, email [email protected] or tweet him @acosta32_jp.