Looking Ahead: FAU

Florida Atlantic struggled mightily in their 2012 season opener on Saturday, but the Owls rallied in the second half to give new head coach Carl Pelini a victory in his head coaching debut. Now Florida Atlantic is looking ahead to their conference opener against Middle Tennessee. Luckily, BlueRaiderZone is here to give you an early look at the Owls. Keep reading for more …

As bad as Middle Tennessee looked in their opener, Florida Atlantic arguably looked worse. Luckily for the Owls, they won the one stat that matters in college football: the final score. Still, they did so in ugly fashion, only managing to gain a total of 86 yards in the first half against Wagner.

At the same time, it's hard to gauge just how good or bad this Owl team will be in 2012 based on their opening performance. If one had to guess, it'd be easy to pick this team to be on the South side of a .500 season, but beyond that there's not much else to gather from their first matchup of the year.

Starting quarterback Stephen Curtis went 4-for-10 for 37 yards and added 26 yards on the ground before being pulled at the half. Curtis was a backup last season who ended up winning the starting nod just two days before the opener, but Pelini obviously felt the offense wasn't working with the sophomore at the helm. As a result, he made the change to last year's starter Graham Wilbert.

After a disappointing 2011 season that saw him complete just 52% of his passes and put up a woeful 7-to-15 touchdown to interception ratio, Wilbert came in and led the Owls to their lone score of the game. In a word, Wilbert's performance was impressive. He went 10-for-13 and threw for 126 yards (39 of them on the touchdown pass).

According to the Sun-Sentinel, Wilbert has been named the starter for this Saturday's conference opener at Middle Tennessee. That should come as comforting news to Blue Raider fans eager to start conference play on a positive note. Last season, Wilbert had a tough go of things against the Blue Raiders, going 10-for-24 for 104 yards, one touchdown and one interception. He was also sacked four times and fumbled the ball once.

Elsewhere on the offense, the Owls got a solid performance from newcoming running back Martese Jackson, who ended the game with 99 yards rushing on 21 carries. Jackson is a JuCo transfer, who spent his first two years at Fort Scott Community College where he ended up with 1,100 yards rushing and five touchdowns in just eight games played, so he has some major big play ability.

Additionally, his 4.7 yards per carry average should be concerning for Blue Raider fans, who watched as McNeese State racked up an average of 5.8 yards every time they rushed the ball. This could prove to be a tough matchup for the Blue Raider defensive front, but it seems the Owls are lacking on running back depth.

In fact, Jackson wasn't even listed on the two deep for FAU's game against Wagner. Instead, redshirt Juniors Damian Fortner and Travis Jones topped the depth chart, but only Jones showed up in the box score Friday night, getting seven carries for only 16 yards.

Redshirt senior Byron Hankerson led the Owl receivers in every relevant category. The former walk-on had a break out performance hauling in five passes for 93 yards and the lone touchdown of the game. Considering he had never registered a single collegiate reception heading into this game, it's hard to gauge whether he stands to be a legitimate threat to Middle Tennessee, although he is the number one X receiver on FAU's official depth chart.

The most experienced starter at WR heading into the 2012 season was r-So. Marcus Cunningham, who started eight games in 2011 and finished the season with 18 receptions for 257 yards. Another wideout worth noting is DeAndre Richardson – who currently sits behind Hankerson on the depth chart. Despite the fact that he isn't the starter, Richardson was one of FAU's best receivers last season and has 12 starts in his career.

The Owl offensive line is sort of a hodgepodge of experience. Right tackle Joseph Bailey has 11 career starts and left guard Andrew Czuprynski has an impressive 24 starts in his career. Unfortunately for FAU, they were the only two lineman to have actually started a game before last Friday. Still, the relatively young line managed to band together and hold Wagner to only one sack on the night – although it's hard to tell whether that's a compliment to the Owl line or a statement on their opponent's skill set.

On paper, the Owl defense looks stout after only giving up 215 total yards and three points in their season opener. Realistically, they're going to have a very tough time going up against an FBS opponent – even one with an offense as inconsistent as Middle Tennessee.

Their most experienced unit on the defensive side of the ball is far and away their linebacking corps. Between Randell Johnson, Andrae Kirk and David Hinds, the Owls have a combined total of 33 career starts. Hinds returns as the leading tackler from the 2011 season when he wound up with 110 on the year – including double digit tackles against Middle Tennessee. Johnson and Kirk were also big time contributors last season as they finished second and third on the team in tackles.

Despite the linebackers' experience, the defense is still an enigma. Even though this FAU team has already played a game in 2012, there just isn't much to be told about them. Middle Tennessee will certainly be an early indicator on the Owls ability.

Of course the same could be said when the situation is reversed. Middle Tennessee will find out just what they're capable of when they face off against FAU in the Sun Belt opener this Saturday at Floyd Stadium. The home crowd will be eager to see how well head coach Rick Stockstill can rally the troops and tweak his team's performance in a game that shouldn't be this crucial this early.

Make sure you keep it tuned to BlueRaiderZone.com right up until kickoff for the best coverage of Blue Raider football anywhere on the web!

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