Photo Credit: JC Ridley/FAU Athletics
Florida Atlantic is set to play its fourth game of the season, as it will play host to Western Kentucky in a prime time Saturday match-up.
FAU has played Western Kentucky 11 times, beginning in 2008. The Owls, who won the first match-up, are 8-3 in the games.
The Hilltoppers’ last win in the series came in 2016, when quarterback Mike White led the Hilltoppers to a 52-3 victory. That game currently stands as the largest margin of victory between the two teams.
The Storyline to Watch
FAU head coach Willie Taggart is no stranger to Western Kentucky. The former quarterback played his college ball at Western Kentucky, where he became one of just four players to have his number retired. Taggart then became a wide receivers coach at Western Kentucky, before working his way up to head coach in 2010.
Although Taggart will coach against one of his former stops, the former Hilltopper doesn’t expect it to be any different from any other game.
“Just like any other ball game, to be honest with you,” Taggart told the media on Monday. “Done that before; it’s going to be like any other game. But I’m with the Owls, baby.”
FAU Keys to Victory
1. Stopping DeAngelo Malone: Western Kentucky defense end DeAngelo Malone is one of the best defensive ends in Conference USA. Malone has posted seven tackles for loss and two sacks over the Hilltoppers’ first seven games. With FAU’s offensive line still trying to gel, Malone is a player that coach Taggart believes FAU needs to keep an eye on.
“He’s a heck of an athlete,” Taggart said of Malone. “We gotta know where he’s at, at all times. The kid plays with admirable effort. I really think that’s a big part of his game. He plays so hard and he’s athletic, so he can make moves and do things that he needs to on offensive linemen at times.”
2. Quick Start, Solid Finish on Offense: The FAU offense got off to its fastest start of the season against UTSA, scoring 17 points in the first half. The Owls’ offense sputtered in the second half, however, as it failed to score in the second half until the final three minutes.
Taggart’s offense has the potential to score a lot of points but so far, that simply hasn’t happened yet. Against Western Kentucky, FAU will have to score quickly and get out to an early lead.
3. Can FAU’s Defense Create Turnovers?: FAU’s defense just hasn’t created turnovers in its first three games of the season, but it has certainly had chances. Cornerback Romain Mungin dropped two interceptions against Marshall and had an interception called back against UTSA after an offsides penalty.
Western Kentucky quarterback Tyrell Pigrome has yet to throw an interception this season, so the opportunity may not come often for an interception.
“We have to take the ball away when we can,” Taggart said. “When they do throw the ball, we have to do our best job to try and get it. If not, they’ve shown they’ve been able to put the ball on the ground; we gotta go after the ball.”
Players to Watch:
1. Safety Jordan Helm: While the FAU defensive line has taken the spotlight, safety Jordan Helm might be the defense’s best player. Through three games, Helm has 15 tackles, a pass breakup, and an interception, providing solid play for a relatively inexperienced defensive backfield. Helm’s Pro Football Focus grade of 82.8 is the team’s highest.
2. Quarterback Willie Taggart Jr.: Like any good magician, Taggart would not reveal his secrets on how his son, freshman quarterback Willie Taggart Jr., may be utilized. It is, however, clear that Taggart Jr. has a role in the offense. The Florida State High product saw two drives in the second half last week and they weren’t exactly gimmicks either.
3. The FAU Offensive Line: The FAU offensive line is still trying to find its footing together and that can largely be attributed to a lack of time together. The offensive line should continue to get better but with DeAngelo Malone eyeing them on the other side, it’s a tough match-up.
Numbers to Know
1. 4.33: The FAU defense averages 4.33 sacks per contest — good for fourth in the nation. Jaylen Joyner and Leighton McCarthy lead the way with five and four sacks, respectively.
2. 10: FAU’s offense has just 10 points in the second half in the last two games. The lone touchdown of the second half came against UTSA.
3. 5.1: FAU averaged 5.1 yards per carry last season against Western Kentucky. James Charles and Chauncey Mason led the way with 66 yards and 63 yards, respectively.