FAU Road Win

With the bye week behind the FAU football program, they now focus on earning their first road win of the season as they travel to North Carolina to face the Charlotte 49ers

While in a usual week the upcoming Thursday contest would give them a few days to practice, the luxury of the bye week prompted more time for FAU to prepare. 

All three of FAU’s losses have been on the road, a pattern that the coaching staff and players don’t want to see anymore. FAU head coach Willie Taggart says that becoming better fundamentally will get them out of these road woes. 

In preparing for the 49ers, the Owls used the bye week to clean up the mistakes they’ve made so far this season and get back to basics.

“We used last week to work on basics and fundamental things that we did all the way back in training camp,” Taggart said. “We looked back at the games that we didn’t play well and a lot of it is fundamentals. We used last week to get back to those things, knowing that we have to be so much better.”

Taggart goes into what his biggest concern is for the team going into Charlotte:

“Biggest concern is us being on our ‘A’ game. It is not about our opponents, which we respect all of them, it is more about can we go out and play consistent football,” Taggart said. “Can we go and play with the energy and focus that we need to have away from Boca. It is great to get back on the road to see if we can go get it done, knowing that we have to get done on the road against a good football team.”

As we do every game, we’ll go over both sides of the ball and at the end, give final score predictions. Let’s get started! 

OFFENSE

The quarterback situation continues to go through a rollercoaster as the health of starting quarterback N’Kosi Perry was in question. Taggart said during the bye week that he won’t be participating in drills and he’ll rest some days. On Sunday, this is what he said about him and Nick Tronti:

“Yes, they will be out at practice.”

Attending Monday morning’s practice Perry wasn’t participating in play-action drills and was light on others. A disclaimer here is that the media gets a 15 minute time window during practice. 

In Taggart’s Tuesday pre-game presser, he clarified Perry’s status, saying he’s ready and will start Thursday. News that should be relieving for Owls fans. 

When it comes to the 49ers, their defense has shown to be vulnerable through the air and on the ground. They’ve allowed 223.3 passing yards and 176.3 rushing yards per game. 

Facing FIU last week, they let the Panthers stay in the game, scoring 33 points with 20 in the fourth quarter. Charlotte got the win at the end, but if it showed anything, they can be scored on. 

Putting it in simple terms, if FIU can score 33, FAU definitely can.

Though a trend in the Owls’ wins this season has been the effectiveness of the run game.  In the Owls’ three victories, they averaged 246 yards on the ground. In the losses? 93 yards.

If the run game is successful, it opens up for the passing attack to be explosive. Taggart agrees and talks about why it’s important to have a presence on the ground.

“When we run the ball and stop the run, we win ball games, it’s a pretty simple formula. Again, we know what it takes to win and we got to do it on the road. We’ve put ourselves behind the eight ball early in games and kind of gotten us away from the things we like to do. You get down so much, it’s hard to just run the football like you want to and then you start playing left-handed, so starting fast helps with a lot of things, and helping our offense to get going is key and I think when it comes to the run game as well, it’s being good on first down. The last time out, we sucked on first down and this is tough to do anything, obviously when you’re not winning the first down. So, like I mentioned, we know what we have to do, it’s just a matter of going out and doing it.”

Offensive coordinator Michael Johnson talks about Charlotte and what could make them a challenge to the Owls on defense.

“They are aggressive, and they play hard. They are well-coached. They are good at what they do, and they are a team that plays well together,” Johnson said. “They fly around, run to the ball and do certain things that cause you problems. They do a great job of playing defense collectively. We will have to match their intensity and play just as hard as they do or better.”

For wide receiver Brandon Robinson, he’s looking for his second touchdown of the season after catching one against the Gators in the first game of the season. On the season, he has 18 catches, 224 yards, and the one score. 

At the end of the day, his main goal is for his team to get the win, especially on the road since that’s been evading the Owls. With his experience against the 49ers, Robinson talks about what makes them tough on defense.

“Defensively, they have bigger guys in the box,” Robinson said. “Being able to take control of that box and being able to move them out of the way, so that the running backs can hit the open lane would be the biggest thing for us to control going into this game.”

DEFENSE

As for defensive coordinator Mike Stoops, he has to prepare for an offense that, to him, throws a lot of formations to throw off the defense. He talks about preparing against Charlotte:

“Having a little extra time, I think it’s been good. As we prepare for Charlotte, they do a lot of different things offensively. A lot of formations, a lot of movements,” Stoops said. “There’s a lot there. I think the extra time has benefited us, just in our preparation for the multiple looks that you get from them.”

The 49ers’ offense averages 400 yards per game and within it, 229.8 passing yards per game and 176.3 rushing yards per game. With the Owls’ opponent showing they can move the ball at will, Stoops talks about the challenges they bring:

“In this era of football that we’re in, you’re always going to see a lot of shifts, trades, motions with a lot of their personnel. A lot of their two tight end stuff they give you multiple formations and adjustments and it’s just something you all have to be on the same page defensively. If one guy doesn’t see it the right way, they can get you out of gaps and create running lanes and those are things that can create big plays.”

The 49ers are led by quarterback Chris Reynolds who has been very good this season in his senior year. So far, he’s thrown for 1314 yards, 15 touchdowns, and only three interceptions. Known as a dual-threat quarterback, he has also run for 199 yards with three scores. 

A key position group in stopping Charlotte, especially since their run game has proven to be effective, is the linebackers. Akileis Leroy has been stepping up recently and showed some flashes of his 2019 self where he put up over 100 total tackles and 7.5 sacks. Even himself acknowledges that he feels himself coming back.

“I feel it. Yesterday was one of my best practices. It was a motivation for me. It was like a confidence booster. The plays are starting to slow down a lot more. I’m starting to see everything I need to do,” Leroy said. “Now I’m getting to the point where I can communicate more. Communication comes with confidence. The more confident I am with the plays in our scheme, the more I’ll be able to be a more vocal leader in the way I was in 2019.” 

Leroy speaks on Charlotte and what he’s looking for on the field:

“That goes with knowing what they do out of those formations. They do a lot of RPOs. Charlotte runs almost everything that you can think of when it comes to offensive formations,” Leroy said. “At the end of the day, we know exactly what they like to run, and we know what we have to do in our certain defenses. We just have to be consistent and be precise in every tackle, every coverage defense.”

Taggart touched on Leroy and how seeing him come back to form is huge for the Owls’ defense.

“It’s great. You have another player that can play at that elite level, it’s always good. It’s good to see Keke [Leroy] starting to get back in football shape, he’s been away for a while and didn’t have spring ball and then came into training camp and tried to learn the defense which is not easy,” Taggart said. “But, you can see now he’s getting comfortable and a lot more sure about what he’s supposed to do and I think more importantly you watch him play lately, he’s playing more instinctively, not like a robot, and that’s from just having more reps and a better understanding what’s going on.”

PREDICTIONS

There are no excuses this time for FAU. If they want to keep their conference championship hopes alive, they have to win on the road. 

A storyline to watch will be the offense as they’ve been unable to get out of their own way. This was apparent against UAB, as they gave up 17 points off turnovers, seven coming from a pick-six. 

FAU’s offense can be explosive. We’ve seen it before, but again, the argument can be made for the competition, which is why this game is important. 

The Charlotte offense can move the ball down the field with Reynolds having weapons like receiver Victor Tucker or running back Shadrick Byrd. Though, if the Owls can make Reynolds uncomfortable in the pocket, it can be a long day for them.

I’m going to pick the Owls here to win and get their first road victory of the season, but I can’t say I’m confident. This team needs to show that they’re capable of playing competently in a venue that isn’t Howard Schnellenberger Field. If this continues to be a trend, we need to start some dialogue.

The Owls will be hoping to celebrate two events tomorrow: a road win against Charlotte and the official announcement about their move to the American Athletic Conference.

Final Score: FAU 31 – Charlotte 30

Photo courtesy of FAU Athletics. 

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Zachary Weinberger
I'm an avid sports watcher of the big three teams based in Miami, Florida: Dolphins, Heat, and Marlins. Also, love professional wrestling! At Lemon City Live, I'm a beat writer for the FAU Football team.

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