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Staff Predictions: Owls eye first road win against Fighting Illini

The University Press Sports staff predict the outcome of FAU’s final non-conference road game of the 2023 season against Illinois.
FAU Athletics
FAU graduate transfer running back Kobe Lewis (#5) advancing down the field during the Owls’ 48-14 loss to the Clemson University Tigers. September 16, 2023.

After suffering a 48-14 blowout loss on the road to the Clemson University Tigers, the FAU Owls (1-2) will again head on the road to take on the University of Illinois Fighting Illini (1-2) on Saturday at Memorial Stadium in Champaign, Illinois.  

For the first time this season, the Owls will be without starting quarterback Casey Thompson, who tore his ACL in the second quarter of the loss to Clemson and will miss the remainder of the season. Head coach Tom Herman confirmed that junior quarterback Daniel Richardson will make his first start for the Owls in Champaign on Saturday.

Herman has had experience coaching against Big 10 opponents: during his time with the University of Texas as the head coach and when he was the offensive coordinator at the Ohio State University. 

The University Press Sports staff predicts FAU’s final non-conference game against Illinois before FAU returns on Oct. 7 to host their first AAC conference opponent, the University of Tulsa.

Maddox Greenberg – Sports Editor

This will be a different Owls team than we saw before Clemson. While the Owls are on a two-game losing streak, they will be without the vital component for this offense: Thompson.

What this loss would mean to the team is still to be determined. However, the Owls have several quarterbacks who will try to fill that void for the rest of the season. 

Also in the quarterback room are some players with more FAU experience, like redshirt junior Michael Johnson, Jr., who ran for a touchdown last week. 

The Owls offensive line will have to watch out for Illinois defensive duo: juniors Jer’Zhan “Johnny” Newton and Keith Randolph, Jr., who were preseason All-Americans and “were one of the top defensive tackle duos in the nation over the last two seasons,” per Illinois Athletics.

The Owls will most likely be with senior running back Larry McCammon, who was out last week for precautionary reasons. Redshirt senior wide receiver Je’Quan Burton will not play in this game, while he is still recovering from a serious head and neck injury, which knocked out a few of his teeth in the opening drive for the Owls’ 17-10 loss to Ohio University two weeks ago. The Owls’ offense would need to rely on the receivers against this Fighting Illini defense. The Owls’ secondary would need to not let the Fighting Illini’s receivers from getting open. The Owls’ defense would need to get to the quarterback and put the Fighting Illini on three-and-outs whenever they can.

Prediction: Illinois 30, FAU 24

Cameron Priester – Editor-at-Large

Owls’ fans, brace yourselves for another tough weekend of FAU football.

It’s not out of bounds to believe Richardson could step in and provide stability for the offense. He’s experienced after starting for two seasons at Central Michigan University, and he still has weapons at his disposal, including junior wide receiver LaJohntay Wester, who’s leading the nation in receptions despite the offense’s struggles. 

Not to mention just how rough Illinois’ defense has looked to start the season—dead last in the Big 10 and 106th out of 130 FBS teams scoring defense through three games.

So, yes, there are reasons to believe the Fighting Illini could be on upset watch. Am I buying in? No. 

Chances are, Richardson will need time to get comfortable as the starter, which will be difficult. The offense is currently dealing with multiple injuries—all three running backs, Larry McCammon III, Zuberi Mobley and Kobe Lewis, as well as redshirt senior wide receiver Je’Quan Burton, are all dealing with injuries. 

Richardson could be what allows the offense to find its footing before things get out of hand finally. However, the chances of all that coming together before returning on the road on Friday are slim.

Prediction: Illinois 35, FAU 17

JD Delcastillo – Contributing Writer

The Owls are coming off a tough beating by the Clemson Tigers. Now it’s time for round two against the University of Illinois.

The biggest concern going into this game, and for the rest of the season, is FAU’s loss of starting quarterback Casey Thompson to an ACL tear. Head coach Tom Herman said on Ken LaVicka Live on ESPN 106.3 that he has faith in backup quarterback Daniel Richardson to step up to the plate, citing that he was the starting quarterback throughout the spring and off-season. I cannot say that I share that same faith. FAU’s offense revolved around Thompson being a gun-slinger to all the weapons on the outside, and now through a third of the season, the offense needs to evolve. 

It doesn’t help that Richardson will be coming in against a Fighting Illini team that is used to playing high-level competition in the Big 10 conference. FAU’s injury report also shows that all three RBs on the depth chart are dealing with injury, including redshirt sophomore Zuberi Mobley, who is out for the season with a shoulder injury. The only way to beat these Power Five conference teams is by putting up points, and this is an Owls team that put up 10 points against Ohio.

Illinois is coming off two losses to Kansas University and #7-ranked Pennsylvania State University, so they will be looking to bounce back and release their frustration on a bruised and battered Owls football team. I had faith in a Clemson upset last week, but no amount of analysis or hope can make me believe this game is winnable.

Prediction: Illinois 35, FAU 10

For information regarding this or other stories, email [email protected] or DM the staff: Maddox Greenberg (@MaddoxGreenberg), Cameron Priester (@PriesterCameron), and JD Delcastillo (@jd.delcastillo).

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About the Contributors
Maddox Greenberg
Maddox Greenberg, Sports Editor
Maddox started writing sports for the UP in Summer 2022 with the intention of improving his journalistic writing. He is a sophomore majoring in multimedia journalism and plans on becoming a sports broadcaster. He is a broadcaster for FAU Owl Radio.
JD Delcastillo
JD Delcastillo, Managing Editor
JD is a senior multimedia journalism major with a minor in sports studies and digital marketing. Since high school, he knew he wanted to pursue a career in the sports industry. He's published work in magazines, started his own sports newsletter, and currently interns with ESPN West Palm.
Cameron Priester
Cameron Priester, Editor-at-Large
Cameron Priester is an Editor-at-Large for the University Press. Having served as Sports Editor for the 2022-23 academic year, he is a multimedia journalism major and intends on pursuing a career in sports journalism. He can be found on Twitter @PriesterCameron and you can email him at [email protected].

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