free ncaaf picks Florida Atlantic at U-A-B 9-2-10

September 2, 2010

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The Owls of Florida Atlantic take on the UAB Blazers in a non- conference battle at Legion Field on Thursday night.

Florida Atlantic is coming off a 5-7 season in 2009. The Owls ended the year on a positive note by coming out victorious in three of their final four matchups. FAU fared quite well in the Sun Belt Conference by going 5-3, which was good for a third-place tie last year.

The UAB Blazers fell to UCF by a score of 34-27 in their finale last season, making them losers of their final two games. The Blazers finished 4-4 in Conference USA action and 5-7 overall. UAB won three of their five contests in front of the home crowd, but struggled on the road with a 2-5 record.

Last November marked the second showdown between these two teams in a four- game series that will conclude next season in Boca Raton, Florida. Like Thursday’s game, last year’s battle took place at UAB as the Blazers defeated the Owls rather convincingly, 56-29.

Florida Atlantic brings to the table a solid offensive attack almost every time out, both on the ground and through the air. Last season, the Owls received over 1,800 rushing yards leading to 17 touchdowns on 4.2 yards per carry. Running back Alfred Morris was the go-to guy on the ground, logging 1,392 yards, averaging 5.3 yards per carry and punching in 11 touchdowns. The passing game was efficient last season as FAU quarterbacks averaged just a shade under 280 yards per contest. Rusty Smith and Jeff VanCamp split time under center to help the Owls connect on 26 passing touchdowns, while the offense averaged around 432 yards each time out in 2009.

The coaches at Florida Atlantic realize that the majority of the improvement must come from the defensive side of the ball if they hope to contend in the Sun Belt this season. In 2009, the Owls gave up over 100 points in all but the fourth quarter (77). In other words, the defense put the offense in a sizeable hole from the get-go. The pass defense, although not overly impressive, is far from the problem, letting up an average of 233 yards per game and 17 touchdowns last year. However, the run defense is the issue as foes were able to score a whopping 34 times in 2009 on the ground. Even more alarming is the fact that opponents averaged over 220 yards on the ground each time out.

The Blazers boasted one of the best rushing attacks in the country last year, averaging almost 230 yards per game while scoring 17 touchdowns, good for seventh nationally. UAB’s leading rusher was quarterback Joe Webb, who has graduated. The Blazers will now turn to sophomore RB David Isabelle to handle the load in a more conventional fashion. Isabelle seems up to the challenge as he rushed for 290 yards on 32 attempts last season, averaging a stout nine yards per carry. The passing game was mediocre at best, averaging a mere 197 yards per game. However, the offense did muster 22 touchdowns via the air, showing some promise as this new campaign is set to begin.

If the Blazers hope to rise to the top of their conference any time soon then they’ll have to follow suit with Florida Atlantic — get better defensively. With the departure of Webb at QB, the offense may quite possibly take a significant step backwards. This doesn’t give an already poor defense much room for error. In 2009, the Blazers gave up 455.2 yards per game to opponents, ranking them 114th in the country. It was especially hard to watch when UAB’s opponents would go to the air, as quarterbacks would throw for over 311 yards per game on the Blazers, garnering 27 passing touchdowns on the year. The rushing defense could use improvement as well, but in the long run it’s solid enough to come out on top at the end of the day, allowing 144 rushing yards per game last season.

Expect UAB to ride the home field advantage to a narrow victory on Thursday night behind a strong rushing attack.

Sports Network Predicted Outcome: UAB 42, Florida Atlantic 38


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