FAU won that game last year, and every game thereafter, as part of an unprecedented run to its first C-USA title.
The Owls enter C-USA play better positioned this season, having won two games before heading to Murfreesboro for Saturday’s game at MTSU, but they aren’t without faults.
FAU finally seems to have Motor running, but the passing game really only enjoyed one strong outing thus far – although that 471-yard performance against Air Force was outstanding. The defense, supposed to be the Owls’ strongest unit, has yet to live up to expectations.
Will all those faults suddenly be remedied now that Conference USA play is upon us? Our Chuck King and Wajih AlBaroudi offer their bold predictions for Saturday’s game at Middle Tennessee and beyond.
FAU OFFENSE vs. MTSU
King: FAU gets the tight ends involved in the passing game. Through four games Harrison Bryant has only 10 catches and has yet to find the end zone. John Raine has one catch, and that netted negative yardage. Bryant is too potent a target to be left out of the game plan, and presents too much of a match-up problem for Conference USA defenses to defend. MTSU’s safeties have injury issues, and FAU’s tight ends exploit those issues for a couple of touchdowns.
AlBaroudi: Willie Wright has his first blow-up game of the season. A home-run hitter with immense speed, Wright hasn’t yet delivered on one of the long receptions he was known for pulling off often a season ago. After scoring from a school-record 95 yards out against Navy last season, his longest catch through four games of 2018 was a 27-yarder this past Friday at UCF. If there’s ever a week to connect on the deep ball, it’s this one; both of Middle Tennessee’s starting safeties have missed time with injuries and defensive coordinator Scott Shafer blitzes at one of the highest rates in the conference, leaving his secondary with little margin for error if the rush doesn’t get to the quarterback on time. Wright will have plenty of opportunities against single coverage on Saturday – this is the week he capitalizes on it.
FAU DEFENSE vs. MTSU
King: FAU’s gets its pass rush in gear. FAU’s defensive line is only credited with three sacks this season and all three come from players unlikely to start at MTSU – two by Ernest Bagner and the other from Tim Bonner. Defensive end Hunter Snyder should return to the starting lineup on Saturday. Both he and coach Lane Kiffin say redshirt-senior sack specialist is healthy, which should greatly benefit the Owls. The Blue Raiders’ offense is loaded with short, quick passes, which will likely prevent the Owls from amassing impressive sack totals, but they should provide enough pressure to force mistakes from QB Brent Stockstill, allowing the Owls’ defensive backs to make plays.
AlBaroudi: FAU scores on a fumble return touchdown. While Middle Tennessee has fared well in limiting turnovers through the air – throwing only two picks on the year despite playing against SEC defenses in Georgia and Vanderbilt – it has shown an Achilles’ heel in that same department: ball security. Quarterback Brent Stockstill and running back/receiver hybrid Brad Anderson have both coughed up the football twice, losing three of those four fumbles. The Owls haven’t been as opportunistic as they hoped for in forcing turnovers under first-year defensive coordinator Tony Pecoraro. The Blue Raiders’ tendency to run with the football loose will help flip that around.
MTSU WEEK WILDCARD
King: FAU once again wins the Conference USA title, but doesn’t do so in undefeated fashion. The Owls begin defense of their title on Saturday at MTSU. A win in Murfeesboro could jump start a championship run in the same matter that beating Middle Tennessee in C-USA’s opening game last season did. But this run won’t be as smooth as the Owls’ undefeated stampede last season. The Owls will drop a game somewhere along the line – at North Texas? at Marshall? – but will still find themselves once again in the championship game.
AlBaroudi: For the first time this season, FAU will dominate in all three facets of the game simultaneously. The Owls have had moments where they have shined offensively (Chris Robison’s 471-yard day against Air Force; Devin Singletary’s five-touchdown showing against Bethune-Cookman), defensively (holding the Air Force offense to 20 points), and special teams (perfect on kicks with solid protection against UCF), but they have yet to put it all together in one contest. That complete performance is coming this Saturday. FAU stumbled to a 1-3 start last season before blowing the doors off of Middle Tennessee 38-20 to open conference play. It took the first few weeks of the 2017 season for the Owls to mesh with their new coaches and schemes and 2018 looks to be no different with there once again being changes at both coordinator spots. This is the game where FAU gets in sync and starts looking like the dominant force it was a season ago.