Redshirt sophomore quarterback headlines five ways Florida Atlantic can record its first-ever win against a ranked opponent
BOCA RATON — Florida Atlantic has faced a Top 25 team every year since 2011 and it hasn’t been pretty.
There's been an upset bid here and there — 2015’s overtime loss to Florida in Gainesville, anyone? — but FAU emerged from last week's 45-21 loss to fifth-ranked Ohio State with an 0-14 record against ranked FBS teams across that span.
So what should give anyone the impression FAU can take down No. 18 Central Florida on Saturday? Especially when the Knights haven’t lost a regular season game since 2016 and beat FAU in Orlando last year?
"They are a great team, great program and have been winning for a long time," FAU head coach Lane Kiffin said. "They have done it over decades, had great teams and great runs. We haven't yet."
Saturday's home opener isn’t just an opportunity for an upstart Owls team to record its first-ever victory against a ranked opponent at the FBS level. It provides FAU — which outscored Ohio State 21-17 across the final 50 minutes — with a possible blueprint of how to get back to its winning ways.
Five things to watch Saturday night:
1. Can FAU feed off the crowd? FAU tweeted Thursday night only 400 tickets remain for Saturday's game. The student section, which is now located behind the visitors bench, has 10,000 allotted tickets instead of 5,000 — and with tailgate lots opening six hours before kickoff, the students will bring an energy not seen or heard at FAU Stadium in years.
FAU had a sold-out crowd against Miami in 2015 and came close for Kiffin's debut versus Navy two years later. Saturday might be the game where FAU, which is 11-3 at home under Kiffin, finally comes through in front of a packed home crowd.
New lights, who’s this? 😏🏟 pic.twitter.com/6Pqn1gSRPW— FAU Football (@FAU_Football) September 5, 2019
2. Chris Robison, home warrior: Robison completed 70 percent of his passes for nearly 1,500 yards, eight touchdowns and two interceptions at home last season. Those numbers were significantly better than his 56.6 completion percentage and 4-10 TD-INT ratio on the road.
Robison said facing UCF for the second time — he threw three interceptions in last year's loss — has played a role in his preparation. He also won't have to worry about a short leash, especially not after Kiffin spent the week praising Robison for his effort and sharp play against the Buckeyes.
3. How will FAU handle UCF's two-quarterback system? Heisman contender McKenzie Milton's recovery from a gruesome knee injury means Notre Dame graduate transfer Brandon Wimbush will start Saturday night; talented true freshman Dillon Gabriel also is expected to play in the first half.
Wimbush was 13-3 as a starter at Notre Dame but has a career 50.6 completion percentage. He was 12 of 23 for 168 yards and two touchdowns in last week's 62-0 rout over Florida A&M. Gabriel threw three touchdowns off the bench against the Rattlers, though he's playing his first career road game. Both are at UCF for a reason, yet Wimbush's struggles and Gabriel's inexperience could spell early trouble for the Knights.
4. Will the Owls’ running game rebound? FAU totaled 22 rushing yards on 33 carries last week, though those numbers are slanted by Robison's -24 yards on the ground. Redshirt junior James Charles (25 yards on 10 carries) and true freshman Larry McCammon III (22 yards on 11 carries and a touchdown) should receive more carries after BJ Emmons suffered a broken ankle.
"He can really do anything in our offense that we need him to," Robison said of McCammon. "He can block, he can run, he can catch the ball."
5. Players to watch:
John Mitchell, WR: Although Mitchell only finished with one catch for 12 yards against the Buckeyes, he had a key drop, which would have amounted to a big gain. Mitchell is one of FAU's top receiving threats when healthy and he should have no shortage of chances to impress Saturday night.
Malcolm Davidson, RB: Emmons’ injury means potentially more carries for Davidson, who teammates nicknamed "The Stallion" for his electric speed. Davidson was stopped for a loss of yardage on his lone carry last week.
Vladi Rivas, K: Rivas hit both of his field goals — each from 28 yards — against Ohio State. Can Rivas, who battled self-esteem issues last season, build off that strong start and have an efficient game against the Knights?
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