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Florida Atlantic at Kentucky -- Game Breakdown

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It's time at last to get to know our foe this week, the Florida Atlantic University Owls.  As you may have read by now, FAU is a Sun Belt Conference school and is coached by former Louisville head coach and Kentucky Wildcat end, Howard Schnellenberger. 

Schnellenberger was coach of the Cardinals from their recent historical nadir in 1985 until 1994, and in those 10 years he coached the Cards to 6 winning seasons, including a 10-1-1 campaign in 1990.  Schnellenberger, in my mind, is the father of Louisville's ascendancy in recent history from an utterly irrelevant program to a perennial contender in a fairly good football conference.  In other words, the guy can coach, so we had best beware.

First, let's take a look at our usual comparison of statistics between the Owls and the Wildcats:

Statistic UK Opponents Differential FAU Opponents Differential
Points / Game 47.00 23.30 23.70 26.30 28.80 (2.50)
Yards / Game 486.80 404.30 82.50 400.00 410.30 (10.30)
Rushing Yards / Game 227.30 223.30 3.90 111.30 137.80 (26.60)
Passing Yards / Game 259.50 181.00 78.50 288.80 272.50 16.30
Yards / Play 6.60 5.40 1.20 5.50 5.60 (0.20)
Rushing Yards / Carry 5.90 5.30 0.60 3.10 4.40 (1.30)
Passing Yards / Attempt 7.40 5.50 1.90 7.80 6.60 1.20
Passing Yards / Completion 11.70 10.50 1.20 14.60 10.40 4.20
Passing Completion % 63.60 52.70 10.90 53.40 63.60 (10.30)
Punt Return Average 7.40 6.30 1.00 6.50 13.40 (6.90)
Yards / 7 Points 72.50 121.70 49.20 106.70 99.90 (6.80)
Plays / 7 Points 10.90 22.40 11.50 19.50 17.70 (1.80)
Rushing Play % 52.40 56.00 (3.70) 49.50 43.30 6.20
Passing Play % 47.60 44.00 3.70 50.50 56.70 (6.20)
Turnovers / Game 1.20 2.70 1.50 0.70 4.00 3.20
Fumbles / Game 1.00 1.00 - 0.20 1.50 1.20
Intercept / Game 0.20 1.70 1.50 0.50 2.50 2.00
Turnover % 1.70 3.70 2.00 1.00 5.50 4.50
Fumble % 2.60 2.40 (0.20) 0.70 4.80 4.10
Intercept % 0.70 5.30 4.60 1.40 6.10 4.70

As usual, the yellow represents stats where UK has the upper hand, and the green indicates where FAU is superior.

Offense

As you can see, FAU is very much like Kentucky in that they try to balance the run and the pass.  This is a characteristic of Schnellenberger-coached teams that has apparently not changed much over the years.  FAU's leading ball carrier is Charles Pierre, who so far this year has rushed for an average of 4.7 yards/carry and 3 touchdowns.  Pierre is currently 8th in rushing in the Sun Belt.

We dominate the FAU team in the rushing statistic offensively, averaging 100+ more yards per game.  This is undoubtedly the area Brooks considers critical to our success against this team.  More on that when we get to the defense.

Through the air, the Owls are reasonably efficient, completing 53% of their passes.  FAU tends to complete passes for longer yardage than Kentucky, although not significantly so.  Their quarterback, Rusty Smith, has been accurate and efficient this year, throwing for eight touchdowns against only one interception.  His stats are very comparable to those of André Woodson, who has thrown for about the same yardage, 3 more touchdowns and one less pick.  The bottom line for the FAU offense is that they will test both our run and pass defense almost equally, but their success throwing the ball is much greater than running it.

Defense

FAU, once again, is very similar in style and substance to the Wildcats.  FAU ranks 79th in D-IA in total defense, and UK currently checks in at 73rd.  When it comes to scoring defense, we are considerably better, ranking 52nd to FAU's 73rd.  This is consistent with the kind of "bend but don't break" defense Kentucky has employed so far, particularly against Arkansas.

Against the rush, FAU has been solid, but they are coming up against a team with a much more formidable ground game than they are used to dealing with.  Note that Kentucky's defense gives up way more yards per game than FAU, but FAU isn't really equipped to deal with the 3- or 4-headed monster that is the UK rushing game.

Against the pass, FAU us far weaker, coming in 64th vs. UK's 15th.  That could spell disaster for the Owls.  Even though FAU has the #1 interception leader in the nation in Tavious Polo, they are giving up more yardage to the pass, on average, than Kentucky is producing.  This is always a bad statistic, and intercepting Woodson is about the only thing they can do to stop him.  Despite the presence of the deadly Polo, this could be the kind of game where Woodson's NCAA record attempt/interception streak finally ends, but en route to 400+ yards throwing the ball.

Special Teams and Intangibles

Kentucky came into this season with a much vaunted but so far disappointing special teams group.  Last year, we were very dangerous on kickoff and punt returns and lead the nation in turnover ratio.

FAU provides an opportunity for Kentucky to excel in the kicking game as they are next to last in the Sun Belt in kicking coverage and dead last in punt coverage.  However, they do lead the conference in blocked kicks and punts, and are second in field goals made.  Their kicker is currently the 14th best in D-1A.

On the intangible side, Kentucky is coming off a huge road win at Arkansas and FAU is coming off a disappointing defeat at Oklahoma State.  Kentucky has shown no propensity for coming into games unprepared this season, and their confidence is very high.  My feeling is the confidence the Cats are getting in their defense is a huge plus, and will more than offset a tendency to look past FAU in this game.

Conclusion

In the final analysis, our offense, as with Arkansas, is strong where FAU's defense is weak.  Worse, their offense is strong where Kentucky's defense is strong.  This combination is usually deadly, even though the Owls are a much more formidable foe than Easter Kentucky or Kent State.  This team has a winning record, a seasoned and excellent coach, and if Kentucky comes in swell-headed, FAU is certainly capable of bursting the Wildcat's bubble.

My prediction:  Kentucky:  44  Florida Atlantic:  20