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September 14, 2013

Analysis of USF vs. FAU - the 8 keys

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USF takes on Florida Atlantic at Raymond James Stadium Saturday, and both teams are looking for their first win.

How do the Bulls and Owls match up? We break down the game in eight key areas.

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FAU gave up 202 passing yards to East Carolina, and the Pirates' first scoring play of the game was an 18-yard pass for a touchdown. 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. FAU returns senior Keith Reaser (11 tackles, 9-2) and junior D'Joun Smith (3tackles, 2 assists) at the corners. FAU is giving up 201 yards per game through the air, so this might be the break-out game that Eveld has been waiting for. South Florida has struggled at quarterback since B. J. Daniels got hurt last year - followed by Bobby Eveld. Matt Floyd took over and in four games, has yet to throw a touchdown pass, but has managed seven interceptions. Eveld took the starting reins back last week and kept them through practice. This could make the difference, but the line play still has to improve before we can give the Bulls the nod. USF has got to get vertical with Andre Davis Davis and the receiving corps have struggled - as evidenced by Steven Bravo-Brown having more receiving yards on one catch than everyone except Davis.


The Florida Atlantic lineabckers leave much to be desired. Other than Aldarus Glanton.In week one, Miami's run game blew past the Owls' defensive line, accumulating 303 yards on the ground. Only once was the defense able to get QB Ryan Williams for a sack. The story remained the same last week against ECU, and so it is little surprise that both of FAU's opponents this season have scored over 30 points. The Owls have been gashed for 413 in two games - and with an inexperienced LB corps, the Bulls just might be able to pound and ground. USF gets the nod with Marcus Shaw leading the way. Shaw's 145 yards against McNeese State was followed up with 94 yards against a stingy Michigan State defense. Still, like with teh passing game - we want to see the Bulls offensive line clearly dominate an inferior defensive front. Getting Michael Pierre involved a little more than two carries a game is a big stept towards building some depth on this team. This might be the game we get to see the freshman Darius Tice show us what he can do.


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. The experience is there, but the fact remains that the Owls haven't stopped anyone. The pass rush is enough to cause us some concern, as USF has struggled against both McNeese State and Michigan State in protecting the quarterback. Austin Reiter and the much-maligned offensive line are waiting for that breakout game. This may be the one. However, until it happens we're still going to consider this the weakest part of the offense. Everything flows on whether or not this O-line can gel together and provide lanes for Shaw and pass protection for Eveld. Everything else - the lack of big plays, the receiving numbers being down - everything changes once this line learns what it can do.


The Owls have also struggled at the quarterback position, with both sophomore Jaquez Johnson and freshman Greg Hankerson seeing action in their previous two games. All signs point to Hankerson getting the start tonight, which would be his first of his career. The freshman has completed 19 of 37 passes for 150 yards on the season, with an 83.85 passer rating. Florida Atlantic is looking to switch things up after back-to-back losses against Miami (FL) and East Carolina with Johnson as the starter, and starting Hankerson against USF appears to be its way of doing just that The Bulls' secondary has also seemed to improve since the home opener, though they have yet to face a truly potent offense. They didn't give up the "big play" to Michigan State last weekend, and held the Spartan offense to just 94 passing yards so that they were averaging just 3.9 yards per pass. FAU gave up 202 passing yards to East Carolina, and the Pirates' first scoring play of the game was an 18-yard pass for a touchdown. The 'young guns' of Johnny Ward and Nigel Harris will get tested. Safety Mark Joyce and company better be ready.


FAU's top two rushers have not combined for the amount of yardage that Marcus Shaw has accumulated this season. Senior RB Jonathan Wallace has rushed for 78 yards on 20 carries, and the player with the most rushing yards behind Wallace is Johnson from the quarterback position with 69 yards on 27 carries. The Owls' struggles on offense are directly related to their stagnant run game, and it is likely that the struggles will continue against a Bulls defense that has improved since the home opener. DeDe Lattimore had a monster game last week, and that may be the spark the LB corps needs. Losing Reshard Cliett is not - but the young Nigel Harris will get the chance to show USF fans what the future holds. The Bulls successfully stuffed Michigan State on big third down plays and that's a confidence boost after getting scorched by McNeese State in the opener. Lattimore will have to have the same monster game this week that he did last week. Look for continued production out of Zach Bullock, C. J. Garye and Hans Louis


FAU has been dealt a considerable blow with the loss of starting guard Mike Marsaille. Though he is questionable for today's game, he did not practice during the week; the redshirt sophomore is recovering from a leg injury that he suffered against East Carolina last weekend. If Marsaille is ruled out the Owls will have to use Chris Chappell, who generally only sees action on the special teams unit, in his place. FAU has given up 11 sacks this season, five to Miami and six to the Pirates last week. If Marsaille can't go, the Owls will have one experienced player on the line. The defensive line that went up against Michigan State looked almost entirely different from the one that showed up for the season opener against McNeese State, a sign that Taggart's defensive scheme is beginning to operate properly. DE Julius Forte looked sharp, forcing a fumble out of Spartan QB Connor Cook early in the game that would eventually set the defensive tone for the entire game. Though Michigan State's offense is hardly a powerhouse, the defensive line showed that they are perhaps the strongest area of the team and will continue to get stronger as the season progress .


Considering the amount of work the punting team and field goal team have gotten for FAU, this could be a strong point. The Owls have four field goals and a touchdown to their name offensively, so kicker Mitch Anderson is - for now - the primary weapon for the Owls. PunterSean Kelly had 10 punts against Miami and five against East Carolina - averaging 40 yards a kick. The Owls have had lots of practice returning kicks, but are only averaging 12 yards on KO returns. The emergence of Marvin Kloss as a weapon last week - hitting a key 49-yard field goal to bring the Bulls within one - was a bounceback game. Kloss' missed field goal against McNeese State would have given the Bulls a two-score lead. He made up for it last week. Punter Mattias Ciabatti has consistently averaged 40 yards a kick and has been strong kicking the ball. The kick return area has improved for the Bulls as well. Hopefully, the Bulls will not need to depend much on Kloss and Ciabatti


Owls head coach Carl Pelini is entering his second season with the team, and has certainly struggled thus far in his stint with the team. However, Pelini is also dealing with an extremely young squad, and his struggles are almost expected. It is interesting to note that the last time Pelini's team got a win was against Western Kentucky and Taggart last year. FAU is in the retooling process, and though Pelini's 3-11 record is hardly impressive, his coaching skills are evolving along with the team. Willie Taggart is looking for a shot at redemption. The last time his Bulls team played at Raymond James Stadium, the first-year USF coach issued an apology to the fans for the lackluster performance. Taggart has admittedly not lived up to the expectations set before him by both fans and himself, and has noted that he was brought to USF to win. His ability to keep his players under control and positive despite these two setbacks shows the respect his players have for him, and more importantly, the belief they have in the process.



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