BOCA RATON – Week One at Oklahoma didn’t go nearly as well as FAU fans hoped it would. The Owls 63-14 blowout loss to the Sooners made it difficult to accurately assess what kind of team Florida Atlantic has this year.
After all, Oklahoma put that game away in the first quarter. Nearly all of the Owls’ successes came against players low on the Sooners depth chart. FAU played so poorly in so many facets of the game that the Owls have to play better this week in the home opener against Air Force, right?
Probably. But the types of schemes employed by Air Force could make it difficult to draw firm conclusions following Saturday’s game, too. Air Force’s triple option offense is unusual, tough to prepare for, and the experience doesn’t benefit FAU much moving forward.
And even though Air Force shut out FCS competitor Stony Brook last week, it’s hard to consider the Falcons’ defense as a top unit nationally. They were one of the nation’s worst last year and haven’t changed much.
Still, we were able to pull some nuggets from this week’s FAU practices. Here are our bold predictions for Saturday’s FAU home opener against Air Force.
FAU OFFENSE vs. AIR FORCE
Chuck King: Quarterback Chris Robison makes the second start of his career and performs significantly better this week against Air Force. Robison made his collegiate debut last week and while he didn’t exactly play poorly, nearly all of his 15 completions came within a few yards of the line of scrimmage. Facing a Falcons’ defense that doesn’t bring the same kind of pressure in the passing game that the Sooners did, Robison will have more time to look down field. An extra week working primarily as the first string quarterback should his the chemistry with wide receivers, and the Falcons lack the speed at cornerback to cover the likes of Jovon Durante and Willie Wright for long periods of time. A good day from Devin Singletary on the ground should open some deep routes.
Wajih AlBaroudi: Devin Singletary rushes for at least 150 yards. His streak of 12 straight 100-yard rushing games came to an end last week against No. 7 Oklahoma. But few teams in the country offer a better opportunity for a rebound performance. Only five teams in FBS had a worse rushing defense than Air Force last season — 238.1 yards allowed per game. That was before the Falcons lost Grant Ross and Jack Flor, their former starters at inside linebacker. This is a salivating matchup for the FAU ground game. Expect the Owls to pound the football early and often, with Singletary providing the same gargantuan level of production fans have grown accustomed to over the past couple of seasons.
FAU DEFENSE vs. AIR FORCE
King: LB Khantrell Burden will enjoy the best game of his career. FAU plays a 4-2-5 defensive alignment so often that it can be difficult to remember that the Owls’ true base defense is a 4-3. When playing the 4-2-5 the Owls replace a linebacker with a nickelback better suited to covering the extra wide receiver employed by spread offenses. Against Air Force’s triple option, that third linebacker returns to prominence. In this case, look for Burden to get the start on the strong side. Injured frequently during his career, the 6-foot-1, 230-pound senior is only credited with 29 career tackles, many of which came on special teams. Coaches praised Burden’s performance during fall camp, and he recorded a career-high four tackles against Oklahoma. He’ll exceed that total on Saturday, making his presence felt.
AlBaroudi: The FAU defense will hold Air Force quarterback Arion Worthman to under three yards per carry. Last season the Owls were shredded by Navy quarterback Zach Abey, the Midshipmen signal caller accounting for 345 total yards and three touchdowns in a road win at FAU Stadium. FAU learned a valuable lesson that night. Abey was far too often left free to scurry down the middle of the field untouched as the Owls were waiting for him to either pitch or hand off the ball. Having been burned by the quarterback run in an option offense first-hand last season, FAU will hone in on defending that position above the rest against Air Force.
AIR FORCE WEEK WILDCARD
King: Weather permitting, attendance at Saturday’s home opener will impress. As of Wednesday afternoon FAU had sold approximately 17,000 tickets for Saturday’s game, nearly 5,000 of which are season tickets. Of the 7,000 tickets FAU set aside for students, 4,100 had already been claimed and that number should continue to grow as the game approaches. Add walk-up ticket sales and there could be 20,000 actually in attendance on Saturday. That would represent 2/3 of Howard Schnellenberger Field’s capacity. Last year’s win total certainly helped garner attention for the football team, as did the growing popularity of coach Lane Kiffin. New athletic director Brian White’s paradise pricing program, which keeps the prices of common food items such as hot dogs, sodas and beers reasonable, surely makes attending an FAU game more attractive to students and families alike. And students are likely pleased that the first 1,000 matriculators who enter the stadium will receive two free slices of pizza. Now, let’s hope the sun keeps shining.
AlBaroudi: FAU wins by two scores. The Owls weren’t projected to win against Oklahoma, but it’s how FAU lost – 63-14 with 42 points allowed in the first half – that left some fans feeling bleak on the team’s season-long outlook. Saturday’s game will help reset the narrative and revitalize the energy around the program. FAU has the potential to jump out to an early lead against a porous Air Force defense and the Falcons’ offense isn’t built to play from behind. If the Owls get off to a fast start, this game could balloon out of hand quickly in their favor – the exact opposite of last week’s game.