UCF Knights (American Athletic Conference 1-1, 0-1) vs Florida Atlantic Owls (1-1, 1-0 Conference USA)
Date/Time: Saturday, September 17, 7:30 PM EDT
TV: CBS Sports Network (Play-by-Play: Chris Lewis/Analyst: Danny Kanell)
Radio: WMEN Fox Sports 640 South Florida (Play-by-Play: Ken LaVicka/Analyst: Kris Bartels)/WYGM The Game 740AM/FM 96.9 Orlando (Play-by-Play: Marc Daniels/Analyst: Gary Parris/Sidelines: Scott Adams)
Location: FAU Stadium, Boca Raton, FL
Betting Line: UCF -9 O/U 61.5
All-Time Series Record: UCF leads all-time series 3-0 (UCF won last meeting 48-14 in 2019)
*Odds/lines subject to change. T&Cs apply. See draftkings.com/sportsbook for details.
Florida Atlantic’s 42-9 win over Southeastern Louisiana isn’t the most moving of a win on paper. However, Willie Taggart’s club responded to a disappointing loss at Ohio by resoundingly defeating a top-25 FCS opponent without several of its key players.
Running back Johnny Ford, receiver Je’Quan Burton, defensive linemen Evan Anderson and Jaylen Joyner and safety Teja Young didn’t play in the win. Wideout Jamahl Edrine, who was coming off of a nine-catch, 105-yard, two touchdown performance at Ohio was limited.
The losses of those players gave several others a chance to contribute, notably running back Zuberi Mobley, who led all rushers with 20 carries for 146 yards and a touchdown in the win over the FCS opponent. The Owls’ leading receiver last year, LaJohntay Wester had a breakout game by hauling in eight catches for 140 yards and two scores last Saturday. These are notable because in order for FAU to have a chance at pulling off the upset against UCF, they’ll need to play their most consistent game of the year — and exhibit great depth — which they weren’t able to show at Ohio.
Some #FAU injury updates, per HC Willie Taggart:— Kevin Fielder (@TheKevinFielder) September 15, 2022
-RB Johnny Ford: "good probable"
-WRs Je'Quan Burton/Jahmal Edrine: "Questionable
-DBs Teja Young/Smoke Mungin: "Questionable"
We'll see how the list shakes up on Sat.
Taggart noted that Burton, Edrine, Young and Joyner should be back in the lineup for FAU this Saturday.
FAU senior quarterback N’Kosi Perry is off to a hot start to the season and that continued in last week’s win, throwing for 259 yards and three touchdowns. On the season, the Miami transfer has thrown for 879 yards with nine touchdowns and two interceptions. Running back Larry McCammon, who earned the RB1 duties in the fall rebounded from a subpar performance at Ohio, topping the 100-yard mark in the victory over SE Louisiana. Keep an eye on how Taggart works both he and Mobley into the mix against the Knights, as McCammon looks noticeably quicker than previous years in which he battled several injuries.
While the FAU defense should get the aforementioned players back, arguably the best Owl on defense won’t be available against UCF. 6-3, 340-pound nose guard Evan Anderson will be out for at least a few more weeks, as stated by Taggart. Anderson is one of the top defensive linemen in C-USA and his presence will be missed against a UCF offense that will look to get its backs going following the loss to Louisville.
Linebacker Eddie Williams will be tasked with picking up some of the slack of playing the run up the middle in Anderson’s absence. The junior linebacker is making the most of finally getting a full-time starting role — racking up 26 tackles including four tackles for loss and two sacks in the first three games.
Young is also among the best defensive players in Conference USA, should he not be to play with his neck injury, look for Amari Wansley to play in his absence.
Like Florida Atlantic, UCF has also suffered a disappointing loss following an excellent start to the season. The Knights’ 20-14 loss to Louisville induced upset stomachs for UCF fans for a myriad of reasons, all of which may have been summed up on the team’s final two offensive drive.
After driving inside the Louisville 10-yard-line, UCF had four tries to take the lead, but were unsuccessful as the drive ended with an interception.
On the game’s penultimate drive that began near midfield, the UCF offense proceeded to go on a five-play, 20-yard drive that saw the team turn the ball over on downs after four incompletions and quarterback John Rhys Plumlee under duress throughout the drive. The Ole Miss transfer went 16-of-31 passing for 131 yards with one interception and was sacked four times.
The Knights’ rushing attack was solid via Plumlee and backs Isaiah Bowser and Johnny Richardson. In total, the team rushed for 208 yards and two scores, led by Plumlee’s 83 yards on 15 attempts. Against FAU, look for the inside run game to be established early with FAU’s Evan Anderson sidelined.
Through the air, UCF will look to return to form via Plumlee and wideouts Javon Baker and Ryan O’Keefe. Baker, an Alabama transfer, along with O’Keefe make up one of the more dynamic receiving duos in the American — although O’Keefe’s status is in the air for the game.
All things considered, the UCF defense kept one of the nation’s top dual-threat talents in Louisville quarterback Malik Cunningham relatively in check. While the unit did allow 121 yards on the ground to Cunningham and 226 overall, they forced the Cardinals’ quarterback to a 14-of-29 day passing and got off the field on third downs, stopping Louisville 10-out-of-14 tries.
FAU’s N’Kosi Perry isn’t the running threat that the ultra-dynamic Cunningham is, but he is elusive and is a more polished passer.
Keep an eye on the UCF special teams as well. Knights’ senior kicker Daniel Obarski missed a 32-yard attempt in the second quarter, prompting UCF head coach Gus Malzahn to state during the week that the position would be looked at leading up to Saturday’s contest.
While both teams would have liked to enter this matchup undefeated, the contest is still very important for both teams. Florida Atlantic enters a stretch where they face arguably the most notable home opponent in program history in the UCF game, followed by a road contest at Purdue before resuming C-USA play at a surging North Texas team. For the Knights, a second-straight loss, especially against an in-state foe that’s considered to be lesser than wouldn’t do Malzahn any favors.
Despite not entering the game at full strength, FAU will be bolstered by the returns at receiver and on defense. If they can establish their backs and Perry catches rhythm early as he did in the Charlotte and Ohio games, the Owls’ offense has enough fire-power to keep up with UCF.
Defensively, cornerback Smoke Mungin and the rest of the FAU secondary will be tasked with shadowing the UCF wideouts and the defensive line will need to replicate what Louisville did a week ago. Joyner, defensive end Jaden Wheeler and rush-end Chris Jones will match-up with Knights’ tackles Tylan Grable and Ryan Swoboda.
For UCF, Plumlee’s ability to use his legs to extend plays and gain yards should be an advantage against a talented, sum-of-all-parts FAU defense, especially with Anderson out. Additionally, they’ll need to get Bowser and the backs going to stay in favorable down-and-distance situations to avoid asking too much of Plumlee, who’s still developing as a passer. If the Knights’ defense can rise to the occasion and play similarly to the way they did against Louisville, but play the run better, they’ll have no issues picking up the win.
Final Score: UCF 31, Florida Atlantic 21