Coming off a 55-7 thrashing by Nebraska, Florida Atlantic will look to get healthy and regroup quickly for their matchup against Alabama this weekend. The Owls were able to keep up with the Huskers in the first quarter, but an injury to starting quarterback Jaquez Johnson quickly derailed any momentum for FAU. Against the Crimson Tide, FAU coach Charlie Partridge will need to have his team do five things if he wants to keep Saturday's game close, or maybe even pull off an upset:
Establish The Tempo
West Virginia pressed Alabama last week with a high-speed, no-huddle offense. The Crimson Tide struggled initially with the hurried pace, but eventually found their groove and let their talent take over. Florida Atlantic went a similar route in their game against Nebraska and dictated their offensive rhythm on their first drive. Moving from hurry-up to deep-in-the-play-clock sets, the Owls kept the Husker defense on their heels all the way into the red zone. A mix of FAU’s power running game and well-timed bubble screens could help establish a tempo in the opening half.
Attack the Corners
If there was one glaring "flaw" in Alabama’s performance last weekend, it was the play of their defensive backs. Cornerbacks were slipping and arriving to the ball late and the Mountaineers continued to take advantage. Alabama will definitely have the speed and size advantage over the Owls this weekend, but FAU may be able to keep drives alive with well-timed passes to playmakers William Dukes and Lucky Whitehead. If the Owls are forced to start Greg Hankerson because of a non-throwing shoulder injury to Johnson, look for offensive coordinator Brian Wright to dial up passes on first and second down. The bubble screen set up West Virginia for success last weekend, and the Owls should look to call Whitehead’s number in a similar fashion on Saturday.
No Big Plays
Jordan Westerkamp and Ameer Abdullah made big play after big play last weekend. Between the highlight reel catches and Nebraska’s 10-yards-per-carry average, the Owls had no answer to the Huskers. If the Owls want to stay close to Alabama, they will definitely need to limit big plays. It’s as simple as that.
Make Them Throw
The Crimson Tide will be rolling out two quarterbacks against FAU this week, as Blake Sims and Florida State transfer Jacob Coker are still in a deadlocked race for the starting job — though Sims earned the start against last week and Coker only came in for some garbage-time action. Against the Mountaineers, Sims showed the capability to be the game manager Alabama needs, but really didn’t make all of the throws that were expected of him. With Coker at the helm, you can expect a more refined passing attack, but without the running threat of Sims. When Sims is in at QB, look for the Owls to stack the box and force him to move the ball through the air. Alabama does boast one of the best wide receiving corps in the nation, but if the Owls can force Sims to pass, expect FAU’s ball-hawking defensive backs to intercept one.
Stick to the Game Plan
Arguably, the most important thing the Owls can do against Alabama this weekend is stick to the game plan that won their final four games last season. FAU will need to not only extend drives (the Owls barely converted a quarter of their third downs against Nebraska), but reestablish themselves as a power running team. The passing game will open itself up if running backs Jay Warren and Tony Moore are given ample opportunities to run the ball. It is a tall task to ask any team attempt to push around Alabama’s defensive line, but with a committed game plan, the Owls may have a shot at upsetting the Tide.