Who: FAU v. SOAL
When: Saturday, Oct. 20, 3:30 p.m.
Where: Ladd-Peebles Stadium
All-time series: First meeting
Prediction: Owls 16-14
One week after getting blown out by The University of Louisiana at Monroe, 35-14, the FAU Owls (1-5), losers of five straight games, head to Mobile, Ala. to face a newcomer to the Sun Belt conference, the University of South Alabama Jaguars (1-5).
As the records indicate, this is a tilt between a pair of teams that mirror each other, almost identically. Both are winless in conference play (FAU: 0-3 SOAL: 0-2), both are looking to snap losing streaks (South Alabama has dropped their last four consecutive games) and, as you might’ve guessed, both hover in the same statistical range.
The proof is in the numbers.
Thus far this season, FAU is averaging 13.2 points per game (123rd overall) while allowing 30.8 points per game (89th overall). Conversely, South Alabama is averaging 16.0 points per game (119th) and allows 27.3 points (70th). These are two teams that don’t score a lot, but tend to let the opposition light up the scoreboard. Consider this; both teams have given up a combined 349 points in just five games, an astonishingly high number.
The Jaguars are coming off a close loss to Arkansas State, 36-29. Unlike their previous defeats — three of which were decisive blow outs — this was a good showing by head coach Joey Jones’ bunch, especially from quarterback Ross Metheny, who threw for 241 yards and three touchdowns. South Alabama employs a dual-quarterback offense, with Metheny and C.J. Bennett. Each signal-caller has completed over 50 passes this year, and thrown for a combined 1,138 yards, seven scores and eight interceptions. Bennett, in particular, is an intriguing player, having also rushed for 134 yards on 28 carries — a very respectable 4.8 yards per carry average.
South Alabama likes to spread the field, using a varied grouping consisting of leading receiver Jeremé Jones, Corey Besteda, Greg Hollinger, Bryant Lavender and T.J. Glover. Those five players have accumulated 848 yards through the air and five touchdowns.
While there’s little question South Alabama has the prominent aerial attack, FAU features better skill-position players. Quarterback Graham Wilbert has single-handily thrown for nearly the same amount of yards (1006) and touchdowns (6), but possesses a higher completion-percentage (65.2 percent) and less interceptions (6) than the duo of Metheny and Bennett.
In the ground game, the combination of running backs Damian Fortner (250 yards, 2 TDs) and Jonathan Wallace (194 yards, 1 TD) figure to find success against a soft South Alabama defensive front.
The real key for FAU, though, will be getting the ball to its playmaker, receiver William Dukes. The 6-foot-4 sophomore turned in an excellent showing last week, recording five catches for 96 yards, highlighted by a spectacular 45-yard grab. He now has 320 receiving yards, and hauled in at least five catches in four of FAU’s games this season. Dukes needs to be targeted early and often as he matches up with the Jaguars’ undersized defensive backs. If he’s covered well or cannot separate, Byron Hankerson (15 receptions for 209 yards and two touchdowns this season) might be relied upon.
This won’t be a shootout by any means, but the Owls simply cannot leave plays on the field or miss any scoring opportunities. South Alabama presents exploitable weaknesses, and is a definite step down in competition from the likes of Louisiana-Monroe and North Texas. However, if the Owls continue to shoot themselves in the foot with senseless penalties (11 last week), turnovers and sloppy play, the result is likely to be the same and a sixth loss will be awaiting them. Seeing as how this is the first meeting between both teams — it also being South Alabama’s Homecoming game — the Jaguars will have all the incentive to topple the Owls.
Assuming FAU can get out of their own way, ideally establish a running game to take the pressure off of a sometimes-shaky Wilbert and reasonably contain the Jaguars’ spread attack, they stand a good chance to stop the figurative bleeding and pick up that much elusive second victory.
It’s not going to be pretty, but an equally-struggling squad should be the cure for what ails Carl Pelini’s club.