Thursday, November 8, 2012

Revenge of the Owls: FAU will get payback on WKU for last season's shutout

Western Kentucky shutout the Owls 20-0 last season in the first game at FAU Football Stadium. Photo courtesy of Melissa Landolfa.

By Rolando Rosa

It's one thing to lose Game One in your new stadium. It's a total other thing to get shut out in that game. 

When the Owls take the field this Saturday for their final road game of the season, the memory of Western Kentucky's 20-0 rout last season at the inaugural game at FAU Football Stadium should still be a painful memory.

The Hilltoppers (6-3 overall record, 3-2 conference record) pose a challenge to FAU because of their physicality. FAU head coach Carl Pelini had high praise for his opponent.

"Very well coached, very disciplined on both sides of the ball," Pelini said to the Sun-Sentinel of WKU. "They have a true identity on both sides of the ball...they enjoy being physical I think."

However, after six straight losing weeks, the Owls appear to be turning things around. The previously stagnant offense has responded by averaging 28.3 points per game in the last three weeks. FAU is now clicking to the point where they finally feel they have the ability to compete in any game. 

Despite bringing a 15-game road losing streak into Bowling Green, the Owls will carry their positive vibes from a close loss to Navy to end their road slate with a win. Pelini just wishes this momentum could have been sparked a little sooner.

"We're a play or two away from being a five-win team," Pelini said to the Palm Beach Post. "Really if you look at South Alabama, Navy or North Texas, we're one big play away in those games and being in a very different spot."

The spot they're in now is spoiler, something the Owls should cherish with games left against FIU and ULL. 

Oh, and by the way: the last time FAU won a road game? Nov. 6 2010 at Western Kentucky.

Johnathan Wallace earns spot as No.1 running back

Owls running back Johnathan Wallace ran for a career high 111 yards to go along with two touchdowns in FAU's 24-17 loss at Navy. Photo courtesy of Owl Pix.

By Rolando Rosa

Earlier in the season when the Owls were employing a "running back by committee approach", running backs coach Kerry Dixon had this to say of Johnathan Wallace:

"He's a strong runner. He just likes to run over people," Dixon said. "He's not really going to try to make a juke move in the open field. He's just going to try to bull you over."
 For the past three weeks, that's exactly what he's been doing to opposing defenses.

Wallace has racked up 299 rushing yards in his last three games. He began the season hampered by a hamstring injury, but now that he's healthy, Wallace is showing why he's emerged as the main man of the ground game.

"Johnathan isn't flashy, but he's a workhouse," Owls head coach Carl Pelini said to Owl Access. "He finds holes, he gains positive yards, he's strong and he doesn't fumble the ball. He blocks well, he protects well, and does everything we ask him to do."

Last week against Navy, Wallace rushed for a career-high 111 yards on 28 carries. Despite his downhill approach, in the last three games Wallace has had carries of 21, 24, and 28 yards.

Even though he's now a prominent player for the Owls offense, Wallace is remaining humble and deflecting the praise to his teammates and coaches.

"As a skill guy, I want the ball in my hands," Wallace said to Owl Access. "The coaches have been doing a great job of just scheming and play calling. It just seems like everything they call is the right play at the right time...The offensive line is blocking and the receivers are blocking downfield. I'm just one person and there are 10 other guys out there doing their job."

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Hurricane Sandy misses Maryland, game at Navy still set to be played

FAU is 16-point underdogs against Navy this weekend despite quarterback Graham Wilbert passing for 825 yards, seven touchdowns and no interceptions in October games. Photo courtesy of Owl Pix.

By Rolando Rosa

Hurricane Sandy won't ruin the momentum of FAU's victory last weekend over Troy. The Owls match up at Navy is still scheduled to be played this Saturday at 3:30 p.m. 

"There attitude was just business as usual," FAU head coach Carl Pelini said to the Sun-Sentinel of the Naval Academy. 

The school cancelled classes on Monday and Tuesday as a precaution, but appear to have missed the brunt of the storm.

"They weren't concerned about it," Pelini said. "We communicate each day about it, but at least their feeling was that they were going to be far enough away from the eye that it wouldn't be much of an issue."

After weeks of struggling to score points, there appears to be no more issues with the Owls offense. Quarterback Graham Wilbert, statistically the worst quarterback in the country last season, has bounced back in recent weeks with career-high performances.

Last weekend Wilbert passed for four touchdowns, including the game-winner with 17 seconds left to wide receiver William Dukes.

Pelini initially listed Wilbert No.3 on his depth chart in the summer but isn't surprised by the strides he's made.

"He's really, really improved his game," Pelini said to the Sun Sentinel. "His knowledge of the offense and the way he manages the offense is complete efficiency."

FAU's 2013 non-conference schedule released, to include games vs Miami, South Florida, and Auburn

The Shula Bowl will not be played in 2013 because FIU is moving to Conference USA. The Nov. 16 match up this season may be the last one in awhile. Photo courtesy of Owl Pix.

By Rolando Rosa

FAU's non-conference schedule has been released and there's some pretty interesting contests up coming. 

However, one team FAU won't face anytime soon is long-time conference rival FIU. The Golden Panthers are joining Conference USA after this season and there's no more scheduled games between the two.

According to Owl Access, next season FAU will have a home game with New Mexico State, along with road games against Miami, South Florida, and Auburn. In 2014, the Owls face Wyoming, Nebraska, and Alabama on the road.

The Nebraska game will be a reunion for Owls head coach Carl Pelini. Pelini arrived from FAU as the Cornhuskers defensive coordinator and his brother Bo is currently the head coach at Nebraska.

Here's some more non-conference games beyond 2014:

2015: vs Miami
2016: at Miami
2017: vs Navy

FAU travels to Annapolis, Md to play Navy on Saturday Nov. 3 at 3:30 p.m.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Homecoming game preview: Why the Trojans will send FAU alumni home disappointed

FAU lost 34-7 last season at Troy. The Owls are just 1-8 all-time against the Trojans. Photo courtesy of Zach Duarte.

By Rolando Rosa

In its last game, FAU offensive coordinator Brian Wright moved down from his regular position in the box to the sidelines to provide an emotional boost to his unit. For the most part it paid off, as the Owls (1-6 overall, 0-4 in conference play) racked up 34 points in the loss, their most all season.

Yet, unless Wright plans on taking the field for the Owls against Troy (4-3 overall, 3-2 in conference play), the losing streak is going to be extended to seven games. Troy's offense is extremely potent. The Trojans are No. 18 in the nation in passing yards per game (303.1) and No. 57 in rushing yards per game (167.7)

Trojans quarterback Corey Robinson was knocked out of their game last weekend against FIU but will be back in time to torment the Owls porous defense. Owls head coach Carl Pelini sees the challenges Troy provides with their versatility.

"They have a lot of speed, they can run, even their front guys can run," Pelini said to FAU Sports. "It's a great speed team and they're a physical football team."

The Owls and the Trojans were on opposite sides of comebacks last weekend. While FAU blew their 14-point lead to South Alabama, Troy stormed back from down 16 in the third quarter to upset FIU. 

Pelini knows his team needs to be extra prepared for the Trojans this week now that they have more confidence.

"I was reading about their game," Pelini said to FAU Sports. "They felt like that comeback against FIU kind of saved their season. It'll be a hard challenge for us. I think anytime you get an adrenaline boost like that, off a big comeback, it makes a team even more hungry the next week."

The Owls host Troy on Saturday Oct. 27 at 5 p.m. in its Homecoming game.

Pelini shocked by players positive attitude in practice after crushing loss to South Alabama

FAU head coach Carl Pelini is on a six-game losing streak but hasn't lost the respect of his players. Photo courtesy of Michelle Friswell.

By Rolando Rosa

When a team gifts a victory to an opponent in its Homecoming game, it wouldn't be unreasonable to feel dejected deep into the following week. However, after blowing a 14-point lead in last Saturday's 37-34 double overtime loss at South Alabama, FAU players returned to Boca with a positive attitude. 

This threw their head coach for a loop.

"I obsess over that all weekend and then we come out on Tuesday and have a great practice," Pelini said to Owl Access. "It's like they're bailing me out a little bit. I worry about how I'm going to get them back and keep their morale up and they come out and have a really good one."

Before they could refocus, the Owls had to let go of their disappointment. FAU seemed to finally be on its way to win No.2 on the season before imploding down the stretch with inept offense and sloppy, penalty-filled defense.

"It's terrible, it hurt a lot. It hurt real bad," senior linebacker David Hinds said to the Sun-Sentinel. "We didn't finish. We been so much better, so much harder, in the fourth quarter. We're hungry for a win. I'm starving for a win. I want one real bad. It hurts."

Yet, once the players headed home the pain began to dissipate, a sign of a team which is maturing even while riding a massive losing streak.

Hinds and Co. play their Homecoming game this Saturday against Troy. If they're going to have any chance at the victory in front of the alumni, not only will their spirits need to be high, but their execution will need to be as well.

The Owls host Troy on Saturday Oct. 27 at 5 p.m. in its Homecoming game.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Big Will Style: William Dukes emerges as FAU's No.1 receiver

Owls sophomore receiver William Dukes had a team-high five catches for 96 yards in last week's 35-14 loss to ULM. Photo courtesy of Ralph Notaro.

By: Rolando Rosa

Owls offensive coordinator Brian Wright is blunt in his assessment of the key ingredient a potent offense needs: dynamic play makers. While the FAU offense is hardly striking fear into opposing defenses, a pleasant surprise has been the play of sophomore wide receiver William Dukes.

Dukes currently leads the team with 23 receptions for 320 yards. Last week at ULM, he recorded a team-high five catches for 96 yards. Dukes is becoming one of quarterback Graham Wilbert's favorite targets.

"Me and Graham got that connection," Dukes said. "We've been working all summer. So he's going to throw those passes so I can go up there and get them."

Dukes explains how the chemistry with Wilbert started last season. He says even though he was a freshman taking limited snaps, Wilbert could already see the potential he had.

Wright would gladly welcome more steady production from Dukes to alleviate the burden the offense is carrying each week to perform.

"We have to be perfect at times in order to execute," Wright says. "And that's a tough way to live on offense."

So far, Dukes has been the only big-play threat on the team. He already has multiple catches of over 40 yards and averages just under 14 yards per reception. Against Georgia, Dukes hauled in a 48-yard catch. He wants fans to know his fearless approach to big games comes from his preparation level throughout the week.

"I had to let people know that it's not just in this conference. I can do it in any conference," Dukes said. "I work hard with my fundamentals so I don't worry about who's in front of me. I worry about what I have to do."

For more Owls news, check out Owl Access and the Sun-Sentinel.

FAU plays at South Alabama on Saturday Oct. 20 at 3:30 p.m.