The Longhorns are building for the future on the offensive line, with several young players getting key minutes. They'll face an Owl defensive line that has struggled mightily against the run, but has been able to get to the quarterback at times. Texas's best chance to play well offensively this game will be to run the ball well and protect quarterback Garrett Gilbert to allow him time to make his reads. Conversely, stopping the run and harassing Gilbert on long situations will be the goal of the Owl defense.
Texas running backs vs. Florida Atlantic linebackers
The Owls are allowing more than 190 rushing yards per game, with opposing runners averaging 4.6 yards per carry. But is Texas equipped to take advantage of the Owls' biggest weakness? Cody Johnson and Chris Whaley are Texas's top two backs if Fozzy Whittaker, who is a game-time decision, can't go. That means Texas won't have the option of testing the defense to the sides, meaning they'll be running right into the heart of the Florida Atlantic defense, pro prospect Michael Lockley, who at 245 pounds, has the weight and strength to hold up against a direct attack.
Texas linebackers vs. Florida Atlantic tight end Rob Housler
The Longhorns have the secondary to cope with Florida Atlantic's receiving corps, even with playmaker Lester Jean. The bigger problem with tight end Rob Housler, a 6-foot-5, 230-pound receiving target who can cause issues on third downs. Not simply a safety valve, Housler averages 15.2 yards per catch and can test defenses across the middle. Texas's linebackers can run, but they haven't faced a tight end threat like Housler this season. Housler is especially dangerous off play action when the linebackers get sucked up to play the run.
Kheeston Randall and Alex Okafor have been getting better by the week, and this week they'll face an undersized interior offensive line that hasn't done well against great interior threats. It will be a nice change for Okafor, who is currently playing between 265 and 270 pounds, and who is used to being massively undersized in the middle. The linemen he's facing this week will only outweigh him by an average of 10 pounds or so. After facing 315-330 pound behemoths, it will be interesting to see what Okafor does when facing guys his own size.
Texas quarterback Garrett Gilbert vs. Florida Atlantic safety Marcus Bartels
Texas's only real chance to lose this game comes at the quarterback position. If the Longhorns can hold onto the ball and execute, this should be a win. That brings us to Gilbert, who protected the ball against Baylor and Oklahoma State, but turned it over in bunches against Kansas State. If Gilbert is at his best, testing the defense with his legs, making simple reads, this one should go the Longhorns' way. If he is running well, Bartels will likely get called up to try and take him on as a runner, opening up chances for the big play.
It seems like this is the X-factor every week for the Longhorns. But this week it's especially prevalent in that the Owls don't necessarily have the weapons offensively to put up big plays that have plagued the Longhorn defense. That means that Texas will need to eliminate any other ways for the Owls to get easy points. No easy Owl points should equate to an easy Longhorn win.
This is a game that the Longhorns should win going away, even with the way Texas is playing. Florida Atlantic is somewhat lucky to be sitting at 4-5, winning three games by one point, and those three wins — UAB, Western Kentucky and Louisiana-Lafayette — didn't exactly come over world beaters. Expect a somewhat conservative gameplan. If the Longhorns protect the ball and don't make mistakes, this should be one in the W column.
Florida Atlantic 7