Auburn Football: Previewing The Florida Atlantic Game

Matthew BrennanCorrespondent IISeptember 21, 2011

Auburn Football: Previewing The Florida Atlantic Game

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    The Auburn Tigers return home for their fourth game of the season, when they face the Florida Atlantic Owls. Kickoff is scheduled for 6 p.m. CT Saturday evening, and the game will air on Fox Sports South.

    The Tigers are looking to bounce back after a loss on the road to Clemson, which ended their 17-game winning streak.

    The Owls are 0-2 on the season and return to action after a bye week.

The Opponent: Florida Atlantic

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    The Owls have suffered a rough start to the 2011 season after a 4-8 campaign in 2010. They have been dominated on the road by ranked opponents in both of their games, falling to Florida 41-3 before dropping a 44-0 contest to Michigan State.

    Florida Atlantic ranks dead-last in the FBS with only 92.5 yards per game of total offense and one field goal in two games. The defense is giving up 451.0 yards per game, checking in at No. 106 in the nation.

    Junior Graham Wilbert, in his first year as the starting quarterback, is 18-36 for 122 yards after two games with no touchdowns or interceptions.

Tigers vs. the Sun Belt

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    This will be the first meeting between the Tigers and Florida Atlantic, who started football in 2001 and entered the FBS in 2004.

    The Tigers are 16-0 against opponents from the Sun Belt and have won those games by an average of 33 points. Last season they defeated Sun Belt foe Louisiana-Monroe 51-3.

    Auburn is also putting another streak on the line, as they look to win eleven in a row at Jordan-Hare Stadium. The Tigers are also 22-4 in night games at home since 2000 and have won their last 13 home games against non-conference opponents.

A Good Chance for Auburn Defense to Shine

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    The Tigers’ defensive woes continued against Clemson with over 600 total yards by Dabo Swinney’s club.

    The current numbers paint an awful picture, with Auburn currently ranked fifth from last in the FBS with 266.0 rushing yards per game and 100th with 268.3 passing yards. Auburn has given up 36.7 points over their first three games.

    They’ll have a golden opportunity to improve those numbers against Florida Atlantic, who enters Saturday’s game with the worst offense in the nation.

Michael Dyer in Line for a Big Season

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    Sophomore running back Michael Dyer was expected to carry the Auburn offense this season, and he is living up to expectations. After three games, Dyer is 10th in the nation with 350 yards and has reached the end zone six times.

    Dyer has already topped his touchdown total from last season and should be in line for a second straight 1,000 yard season if he stays healthy. His role is expected to expand in the coming weeks after only 16 carries against Clemson (for 151 yards).

    “He’s running fresh and well and you can expect him getting the ball more as we move forward,” Chizik said to the Columbus (Ga) Ledger-Enquirer.

    He’ll have another good chance for big numbers against Florida Atlantic, who is giving up 192.5 yards rushing per game. Despite the Owls’ struggles, Dyer would be the first player to run for over 100 yards this season against Florida Atlantic.

National Champion Coaches Meet

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    Saturday’s game is a rare meeting as both head coaches have won a national championship during their careers. Gene Chizik will match wits with veteran coach Howard Schnellenberger, who led Miami to the national title in 1983.

    Schnellenberger is the only head coach in FAU history and has compiled a 57-65 record with the Owls after serving as a head coach with Louisville, Oklahoma and Miami. He also won three national titles as an assistant to Bear Bryant at Alabama.

    Chizik and Schnellenberger are two of only nine active head coaches to have won a national title during their careers.

Owls Need Alfred Morris to Start Running

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    The Owls looked to have at least one playmaker heading into the season in senior running back Alfred Morris. Morris was Second Team All-Sun Belt last season after rushing for 928 yards and seven touchdowns.

    Unfortunately for the Owls, Morris has gotten off to an awful start this season with only 25 yards on 24 rushing attempts.

    Auburn’s run defense has been awful this year, so it will be now or never for Morris to gain some momentum before the Owls begin conference play. If the Owls continue to struggle on Saturday, it can give the Auburn defense some confidence after their issues during the first three games.

Kiehl Frazier Starting to Earn More Time

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    Junior Barrett Trotter has been effective over his first three games as a starter, but the coaching staff is also looking to get true freshman Kiehl Frazier more involved. The highly touted recruit is a dual-threat passer who challenged for the starting job before losing out to Trotter in training camp.

    “We’ve got a lot of games left,” Chizik said in his weekly press conference. “Him expanding the role in the offense is something we certainly want to be able to do."

    Frazier, who had his first rushing attempt against Clemson, should see more action against Florida Atlantic, especially if the Tigers jump out to a big lead.

Auburn Offense Looking to Spread the Wealth

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    A focus for Saturday’s game should be getting more players involved in the offense besides Michael Dyer. Few other players made much of an impact last week in the loss to Clemson.

    Emory Blake continued his streak of having a touchdown catch, but he managed only one reception for the game. Philip Lutzenkirchen did not record a catch at all, while second running back Onterio McCalebb only managed 34 yards rushing.

    Look for the coaching staff to try to get some of these talented players looks against Florida Atlantic. The Tigers’ offense will be much more dangerous if defenses don’t only have to focus on Dyer. 

Tigers Try Not to Look Ahead

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    The Tigers will be expected to easily handle the Owls on Saturday, but Auburn must not look past Florida Atlantic as they will need all the momentum they can get over the next stretch of games.

    After Saturday, the next four teams on Auburn’s schedule are currently ranked in the AP Top 25. To add to the challenge, three of the games will be on the road.

    The Tigers visit No. 12 South Carolina on October 1, followed by a trip to No. 14 Arkansas. Auburn then faces No. 15 Florida at home before heading to No. 22 LSU.