Florida Atlantic Owls (5-1, 4-1 C-USA) vs. Middle Tennessee State Blue Raiders (3-6, 2-4 C-USA)
Date/Time: Saturday, November 28, 3:30 PM EST
TV: CBS Sports Network (Play-By-Play: John Sadak/Analyst: Randy Cross)
Radio: WMEN 640 AM The Hurricane Fox Sports Radio Palm Beach (Play-by-Play: Ken LaVicka/ Analyst: Kris Bartels)/WPRT The Game Nashville 102.5 FM/97.5 FM, WGNS Murfreesboro 1450 AM/100.5 FM (Play-By-Play: Chip Walters/Analyst: Wes Counts/Sidelines: Wayne Groce)
Location: Floyd Stadium, Murfreesboro, TN
Betting Line: Florida Atlantic -6.5 O/U 48.5
All-Time Series Record: Middle Tennessee leads 12-5 (Florida Atlantic won the last matchup 28-13 in 2019)
Florida Atlantic Preview
In what’s been a season reminiscent of stop-and-go traffic on I-95, FAU seems to have found the fastlane entering the home stretch of the 2020 campaign. After having their first four contests postponed or cancelled due to COVID-19 and enduring a 21-day layoff between games in October, the Owls are riding a four-game win streak into Saturday’s game at Floyd Stadium — a venue that FAU hasn’t won at since the first term of George W. Bush’s presidency. For the Owls to win in Murfreesboro, they’ll need consistency out of redshirt freshman quarterback Javion Posey. The Alabama native won Shula Bowl MVP honors in his first career start against rival FIU, but his efficiency as a passer regressed in last week’s win over lowly UMass, going 13-for-27 with 203 yards through the air.
However, he has established himself as a true dual-threat option, rushing for 332 yards and three touchdowns in his three games this season. Against an MTSU defense that’s allowing 238 yards per game on the ground, Posey should have chances to exploit the struggling unit with his legs. In addition to Posey on the ground, head coach Willie Taggart will look jumpstart a deep and talented Owls’ backfield held to 51 yards on 22 carries last week. Running backs James Charles, B.J. Emmons and Malcolm Davidson all have at least 40 carries and 225 yards on the season. If neither of the backs are available, look for redshirt junior Daniel Leconte and sophomore Glover Cook to see action.
Clemson transfer T.J. Chase leads FAU in catches and receptions, while redshirt junior Brandon Robinson has caught a touchdown pass in each of the last two contests.
Defensive coordinator Jim Leavitt has the Owls’ defense playing its best football of the season entering the MTSU game. FAU’s defense had a nine-quarter stretch without allowing a touchdown earlier in the season and has allowed two touchdowns in their last 16 quarters of play. Rush ends Jaylen Joyner and Leighton McCarthy have flourished in Leavitt’s 3-4 system, combining for 12.5 sacks in FAU’s five contests. In the secondary, cornerback duo sophomore Romain Mungin and redshirt senior Zyon Gilbert have been among the best in Conference USA. Gilbert leads the team in pass breakups with four, while Mungin has held his own, despite being targeted the most by opposing teams.
Middle Tennessee Preview
In a contest that only the peculiar circumstances surrounding college football in 2020 could provide, Middle Tennessee played Troy for the second time this season — beating the Trojans 20-17 last Saturday. The victory came in large part to the performance of Blue Raiders’ quarterback Asher O’Hara. The redshirt junior combined went 19-of-23 for 210 yards through the air and added 86 yards on 25 carries as a rusher. O’Hara’s performance atoned for his subpar effort during the two teams’ prior meeting — a 47-14 throttling of the Blue Raiders that saw O’Hara benched in the second half.
O’Hara leads the team in rushing with 601 yards, while veteran running backs Chaton Mobley and Jayy McDonald combine for 513 yards and four touchdowns on the ground. Establishing the rushing attack will be key against an FAU defense that’s among the top-30 teams in the nation in fewest passing yards allowed per game.
Through the air, redshirt senior Jarrin Pierce has emerged as the go-to guy in the MTSU passing attack. The Los Angeles native leads the team in receptions (59) and receiving yards with 589. Junior Yusef Ali is second on the team with 37 catches for 457 yards and is coming off a seven-catch, 90-yard performance in last weekend’s win over Troy.
Defensively, the Blue Raiders are coming off what’s was easily their best outing of the season. They allowed a season-low 17 points and forced two Gunnar Watson interceptions in the victory. Star safety Reed Blankenship is leading the team in tackles with 76, while fellow safety Gregory Grate Jr. is having an excellent season notching 74 tackles and four interceptions on the year. The veteran safeties, along with senior linebacker DQ Thomas will be tasked with stopping the FAU running game from picking up extra yards after contact.
In the kicking game, senior Crews Holt is having an uncharacteristically subpar season, going 7-of-13 on the season — down from his career 76.8 field-goal percentage entering the year.
Middle Tennessee are coming off their best team performance of the season and have won two out of their last three outings. O’Hara has rebounded from a shaky start to the year, throwing for 1,960 yards and a 67% competition rate through nine games. Of most importance, he’s cut down on the turnovers having only thrown one interception in the last four games — opposed to the seven thrown in the first five contests.
Floyd Stadium has been a difficult place for Florida Atlantic to win as the Owls have never beaten the Blue Raiders as an FBS team. However, Taggart’s team enter Saturday’s game as the better team and playing excellent defense. Expect O’Hara’s heroics to make it an exciting game, but FAU’s rushing attack will prevail in the end.
Final Score: Florida Atlantic 27, Middle Tennessee State 17