Florida Atlantic heads up north to West Virginia to take on Marshall this weekend. The Thundering Herd are coming off a big win in Miami over conference rival, FIU. The Owls are entering this game after a win, as well, having come from behind to defeat WKU in Boca Raton last Saturday. While the Thundering Herd are boasting an 11 game winning streak at home and have only lost one of their last 12 C-USA contests, FAU will enter the weekend looking to upset the #22 team in the nation. Here are a few keys to the Owls pulling off the upset and defeating their first ranked opponent of all time.
FAU has fallen behind to start all but two games this season. What is even more telling is that in their last two victories, the Owls have conceded at least two scores in the first five minutes. There is absolutely no way FAU can fall behind this early by such a wide margin and expect to leave Huntington with a victory. Rakeem Cato, Devon Johnson and the Thundering Herd will look to put this one away early. The Owls can keep Cato's weapons at bay with proper tackling and even if they do let up an early score, the offense has shown that they are capable of moving the ball (sans turnovers) against even the conference's best defensive units.
Control Time of Possession
While the Owls will hope to minimize Rakeem Cato's influence on the field, it will be much easier if the former Miami Central star is stuck on the sidelines. FAU held the ball for over 36 minutes last week against WKU and even though the Hilltoppers jumped out to a quick lead, the Owls had more than enough time to dictate the remainder of the game. Plain and simple, Florida Atlantic has to control the clock here. Every second on offense counts. Marshall has shown that they can score at a lightning pace and they know the Owls will only try to slow them down. Greg Howell and Tony Moore combined for 172 rushing yards last week and will need a similar performance if FAU wants to control the tempo of the game.
There is zero room for turnovers this Saturday. ZERO. No keepers by Jaquez Johnson poked out in the red zone. I don't want to see Lucky Whitehead slashing across the field only to have the ball stripped away. Greg "Buddy" Howell put the ball on the ground last week and if he does it again, it's back to square one for the whole unit. According to FAU Owl Access, the team has put an extra emphasis on holding on to the ball. Look for the Owls to push back on defense in an attempt to sway the turnover margin in their favor, no matter how many fumbles are lost. If the Owls can hold on to the ball and maybe even wreak a little turnover havoc of their own, they should still be in the game deep in the second half.
Nothing To Lose
Now, I say deep in the second half because this game will need a complete performance from all sides of the ball. The offense will have to move with their inconsistent pace, looking for the right moment to attack. The defense needs to make the initial tackle and contain Rakeem Cato. And on special teams, just make the field goals. While the Owls went 6 for 6 on fourth down last week, there is no way they can come close to that number against a drastically much better Marshall defense.
But that is where the game truly lies. In the fact that Marshall clearly knows that they're the better team. Every metric shows the Herd on top and with that fact, it is up to FAU to play like they have nothing to lose. I want to see fake punts, double quarterback sets, and going for the strip on every tackle. If there is a trick play that we have never seen before, it needs to be used on Saturday. This game definitely will not make or break FAU's season, but if they can pull out an upset here, the Owls will surely be a factor in postseason play.