by: Alex Welch
The Florida Atlantic Owls travel to Bowling Green, Ky. Saturday for a 1:00 p.m. kickoff with the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers. CSS will provide the coverage of this Sun Belt Conference battle.
Both teams enter Saturday trying to pick up the pieces after suffering tough losses last week. FAU dropped a road matchup at Navy 24-17, while WKU gave up a late kick-return touchdown to let Middle Tennessee grab a 34-29 victory.
With their last loss, the Hilltoppers now slide down to second place in the Sun Belt standings at 4-1 in conference play. They're already bowl eligible, but with three games left on the schedule they surely have time left to move back into first place.
The Owls haven't endured the same luxury of success in 2012, now sitting at 2-7 overall on the year. FAU did manage a 34-27 win over Troy two weeks ago, though, and its game continues to provide close finishes each week.
Fortunately for the Owls, history lies on their side heading into the weekend. They lead the all-time series 3-1 over the Hilltoppers, winning both games played in Bowling Green in the past. Are we in for an upset on Saturday?
Let's take a look at what you need to watch for when these two teams face off.
1) We witnessed several positives in FAU's loss to Navy. The Owls jumped out to a 10-0 lead early in the second quarter. After a 15-play, eight-minute drive to put the first touchdown on the board, kicker Mitch Anderson nailed a 53-yard field goal, tying the school record for distance. The offensive output didn't sustain itself, but we know this team is capable of moving the ball well at times.
2) Quarterback Graham Wilbert completed 25 of 35 passes for 205 yards against Navy. He spread the ball around to nine different targets and raised his completion percentage to 66.1 percent on the year. Despite the efficiency, putting points on the board still proves to be an issue at times. He failed to move the sticks on several short third-down opportunities last week, an area that must improve against WKU.
3) Jonathan Wallace finished with a career-high 28 carries for 111 yards and two touchdowns against the Midshipmen. The junior running back is averaging a mediocre four yards per carry, but he has elevated his play in recent weeks. In the past three games, Wallace rushed for 299 yards and three scores on 73 carries. He needs to stay actively involved against the Hilltoppers 22nd-ranked run defense.
4) The Owls defense is hit the hardest when defending the run. They're hemorrhaging 206.7 yards per week to opposing ground games. Another difficult task awaits this weekend, as WKU is racking up 181.6 rush yards per game. FAU needs to figure out a way to stop the bleeding, or at least put a bandage over the wound.
5) Linebacker Andrae Kirk tallied up nine total tackles, one pass deflection and a fumble recovery last week at Navy. The Owls defense is in desperate need of playmakers, so another solid outing from the sophomore will be heavily praised. FAU is giving up 30.3 points per game.
6) Despite outgaining Middle Tennessee by nearly 100 yards last week, WKU still found a way to lose after coughing up two turnovers and only completing 36 percent of its third-down situations. Improvement among these two facets will put the Hilltoppers in position to win this weekend.
7) Quarterback Kawaun Jakes has thrown 18 touchdowns and just six interceptions in nine games this season. The senior passed for 3-plus scores in five games this season, helping provide a balanced attack for the Hilltoppers each game. Jakes is tied for the single-season passing touchdown record in school history right now, and he can break that mark on Saturday.
8) Antonio Andrews hit his stride in the third week of the season, and he hasn't looked back since. The junior running back is on a torrid pace right now after rushing for 100-plus yards in each of his last seven games. He already broke the 1,000-yard mark in 2012, and he's on pace to finish with the seventh-most rushing yards in a single season for the Hilltoppers.
9) Quanterus Smith is one sack away from tying the all-time Sun Belt record of 24. He's recorded 11.5 sacks in 2012, and is also just 1.5 sacks away from matching the single-season conference record as well.
10) The Hilltoppers average seven minutes more than their opponents in time of possession each game. With Andrews continuing to pound the ball on the ground, the offense is able to keep the clock rolling. Ball control is an added bonus when you're averaging over 400 yards of offense each game.