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September 11, 2013

FAU - struggling on offense and 0-2

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TEAM: Florida Atlantic University

LOCATION: Boca Raton, Fla.

NICKNAME: Owls

2012 RECORD: 3-9 (2-6 Sun Belt)

CONFERENCE: Conference USA

HEAD COACH: Carl Pelini (2nd year - FAU - 3-11;)

KICKOFF: 7:04 PM ET Saturday, September 14 at Raymond James Stadium - ESPN3.com

Florida Atlantic has scored one offensive touchdown all season - that coming in game two against East Carolina - with the Pirates up comfortably 31-6.

For second year coach Carl Pelini, the retooling of the Owls football program, created and coached for 11 years by legendary head coach Howard Schnellenberger - continues.

Pelini's first season at the Boca Raton school finished at 3-9, but included was a win over Willie Taggart and the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers - 37-28 - the last time the Owls won a game.

The offense
Opening with Miami (lost 34-6) and Conference USA opponent East Carolina on the road, the Owls have struggled under center.

Much like USF, the quarterback position has not been very well defined for FAU - with freshman Greg Hankerson (Lauderdale Lakes, Fla. Boyd Anderson) and sophomore Jaquez Johnson (East Mississippi Community College) taking turns. Mixed in has been freshman QB D.J. Juste from Port St. Lucie.

Each has his gifts - Hankerson was the main player against East Carolina and finished 14-26-1 for 116 and a touchdown. Johnson finished 9-14-1 for 62 yards. However, Johnson is a dual-threat, and ran for 39 yards on 12 carries.

Last week FAU went with a two-man rotation, with Johnson and Hankerson taking turns each series.

That may change this week, as the Owls look to solidify the quarterback position against a defense that stymied the pass last week at Michigan State.

On the line, the Owls have issues - with only two starters returning from last year's line. That's a key for the USF pass rush, given the return of Julius Forte. With the inexperience up front, scoring and moving the ball has been difficult, no matter who is under center.

FAU has given up 11 sacks this season, five to Miami and six to the Pirates last week.

The receiving corps is a strength for the Owls, with last year's leading receiver William Dukes (6-foot-4, 190 - Ft. Lauderdale Dillard) bringing experience to the offense. Dukes had 68 catches for 979 yards last year. He had over 100 yards receiving against Taggart and Western Kentucky last year - so look for the Bulls to have an eye on him. So far Dukes has 8 catches for 48 yards and the Owls only touchdown.

Running the ball for the Owls is returning TB Jonathon Wallace (6-foot-1, 210). Wallace is in his second season with the Owls after playing at Ellsworth Community College. He has carried the ball 20 times for 78 yards in two games, and has caught 4 passes for 35 yards. In fact, the Owls haven't had a run longer than 19 (Hankerson). Johnson and Hankerson are the second and third-leading rushers, so Bulls linebackers need to spy on the QB.

The Defense
On the defensive line, Trevon Coley and Brandon Bryant (8 tackles, 3 assists, 2 tackles for loss) are in the middle and have the most experience. Seniors Martin Wright and Corey Henry (7 solo tackles, 2 sacks) are the outside defensive ends.

Teams are running for an average of 209 yards a game on the Owls, while throwing for 202 yards .

The Owls LB corps is led by Aldarus Glanton - the team's leading tackler so far with 16 total tackles (12 solo, 4 assist) He also has 2 tackles for loss, and 1 sack. He led the team in tackles last year with 75.

In the secondary - the experience is there - with five starters or players with significant playing time last year return.

Strong safety is the only non-returner, and Sr. Winfred Strickland (24 tackles) was expected to make an impact, but was injured in camp. He is listed as the starter this week. FAU returns senior Keith Reaser (11 tackles, 9-2) and junior D'Joun Smith (3tackles, 2 assists) at the corners. Senior Jeremy McKnight at free safety and sophomore Cre'von LeBlanc (42 tackles) at nickel back.

Overview
The Owls are still buying into Pelini's defensive scheme and the offense is still building (and very - very young). This is a game that both teams come into desperate for a statement. For FAU, it's a chance to show that Pelini has the team headed in the right direction and for Taggart, it's a chance to beat an opponent that has never had success against USF.

In order for USF to do that - the Bulls have got to have a sustained pass rush, wear out the short-handed FAU defense and simply put - score. If anything, after McNeese State, USF does not have the luxury of thinking this is an assured win over an inferior opponent.



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