BOCA RATON – Hurricane Matthew afforded FAU an extra day to practice for its game against Charlotte.
The Owls can use all the extra preparation they can get – and defensive coordinator Roc Bellantoni knows it.
“We’ve got to be better at everything – tackling, rushing the passer, holding our gaps, covering our man,” Bellantoni said. “We have to be better at everything.”
Hurricane Matthew forced FAU to move the game from Saturday to noon on Sunday and prompted Florida Atlantic to offer free admission to the game.
Bellantoni and the Owls hope that anyone who might show up to a battle of 1-4 teams gets to see a more consistent defensive unit than the one that’s allowed at least 30 points in every game this season. The Owls possess big play ability on defense, but too breakdowns on seemingly mundane plays continue to cripple FAU’s chances of winning.
FAU ranks near the bottom in most statistical categories, nationally. Only 10 teams allow more than the 39.0 points per game the Owls are currently giving up. Only 11 surrender more yards than the 490.4 per game the Owls do. And FAU is allowing its opponent to convert 47.3 percent of third down attempts – No. 112 in the nation.
Third down conversions were the most problematic in last week’s loss at FIU, when the Owls allowed what had been, until that game, an inept Panthers offense to move the chains on 12 of their 20 third downs.
“We’ve got to do a better job getting off the field on third down,” Bellantoni said. “That was the biggest, I think, weakness or whatever it is. We need to do a better job on third down because we are playing too many plays.”
On more than a few occasions the Owls’ 2016 defense has borne a striking similarity to the 2014 unit of Bellantoni’s first season in Boca Raton. That year FAU ranked No. 113 nationally in total defense while surrendering 34.3 points per game.
“There’s probably some similar issues – some guys and some of the things that we’re lacking right now,” Bellantoni said. “We’re just going to continue to fight the way we did and get it turned around, that’s all we can do is continue to show up and fight and get it turned around – and we will. I know we’ll get it turned around.”
Charlotte provides another such opportunity for turnabout. Like FIU from the week before, the 49ers struggle offensively. The 23.4 points per game Charlotte is averaging ranks No. 100 nationally.
Complicating matters for the Owls is that 49ers have three different kinds of quarterbacks – a pocket passer, a rusher and a dual threat – and could employ all three during a given game.
“All three of them are very different in the styles that they play,” FAU coach Charlie Partridge said. “We’ve got to account for that.”
Essentially, Partridge and Bellantoni are asking their players not to try to make the spectacular play, but to simply do their job on every play. Too often this season, one person failing at their job led to disaster defensively.
“If 11 guys don’t do their job you’ll start to see the defense crumble,” defensive end Trey Hendrickson said.