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Florida Atlantic (FAU) vs. Charlotte Football Prediction and Preview

N'Kosi Perry, Florida Atlantic (FAU) Owls Football

N'Kosi Perry and the Owls take on the 49ers in a key Conference USA divisional matchup on Thursday night

The Florida Atlantic Owls and Charlotte 49ers will meet Friday night at Jerry Richardson Stadium with an opportunity to move one step closer to bowl eligibility, as well as a stronger position in Conference USA's East Division. FAU enters with a 3-3 overall record, including a 1-1 mark in C-USA play following a 31-14 loss to West Division co-leader UAB on Oct. 9. Charlotte is 4-2 overall and 2-0 in conference, making the 49ers the lone undefeated team in the East. The 49ers beat FIU 45-33 in their last game on Oct. 2.

Florida Atlantic at Charlotte

Kickoff: Thursday, Oct. 21 at 7:30 p.m. ET
TV: CBS Sports Network
Spread: FAU -7

When Florida Atlantic Has the Ball

Quarterback play was a problem for the Owls in 2020, so head coach Willie Taggart brought in Miami transfer N'Kosi Perry to solidify the position. Perry has completed 60.4 percent of his passes for 1,471 yards with 11 touchdowns and four interceptions. He ranks fifth in Conference USA in passing (245.2 ypg) and sixth in yards per pass attempt (8.1), both of which rank in the top 40 nationally. That's a significant improvement for a team that ranked 117th in passing offense (144.4 ypg) and 118th in yards per pass attempt (5.6) last season.

LaJohntay Wester has been Perry's favorite receiver, and he leads the Owls with 31 receptions for 347 yards and three touchdowns. Je'Quan Burton has provided a big-play element with 263 yards and two touchdowns on 15 catches. Brandon Robinson (18 rec., 224 yds., TD) and John Mitchell (13, 178, 2) and running backs Johnny Ford (9, 130, TD) and Larry McCammon III (6, 110) add to the depth and are among 16 FAU players (including Perry) with at least one catch this year.

Ford, a transfer from USF, leads a deep rushing attack with 311 yards on 56 carries, including two touchdowns. Malcolm Davidson, who led the team in rushing in 2019, has shared the workload with 225 yards on 48 attempts. Kelvin Dean Jr. (111 yds., 2 TDs), McCammon (105, TD), and 2020 leading rusher James Charles (101, TD) provide great depth at the position, while Perry leads the team with four rushing scores among his 48 carries and 84 yards.

When Charlotte Has the Ball

Chris Reynolds made his 30th career start in the 49ers' win over FIU, and he contributed four touchdown passes to the cause. He also had four scoring strikes in the 42-39 victory over Middle Tennessee. With 15 through six games, he's on pace to shatter his single-season high of 22 set in 2019. The four-year starter has completed 65.2 percent of his passes for 1,318 yards and is averaging 8.2 yards per attempt. He has just three interceptions, one of the reasons he's third in Conference USA in passer rating (161.0). Reynolds also is tied for the team lead with three rushing touchdowns and ranks third with 199 rushing yards on 51 carries behind Calvin Camp (356 yds. 3 TDs) and Iowa transfer Shadrick Byrd (295, TD).

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Victor Tucker has long been Reynolds' favorite receiver and this year, he leads the 49ers with 31 receptions for 432 yards and two touchdowns. However, Grant DuBose, a transfer from Division II Miles College, has provided Reynolds with a second weapon at receiver that was often missing in previous years. DuBose leads the team with 466 yards and four scores among his 29 receptions. Freshman Elijah Spencer (10 rec., 150 yds., 3 TDs) is a rising star in the program, and Reynolds also has made good use of tight end Taylor Thompson (15, 111, TD) and Byrd (8, 92, 2) in the passing game as well.

Final Analysis

Both Florida Atlantic and Charlotte have made strides on the offensive side of the ball since 2020, and it has paid off. However, both have struggled defensively. The Owls had a top-25 defense last season, including a top-10 finish in scoring defense (17.4 ppg), but have allowed 23 points per contest this year (No. 54 nationally) and rank outside the top 50 in most advanced metrics, including No. 52 in success rate (40.5 percent), No. 66 in yards per play (5.73), No. 69 in points per drive (5.73), and No. 86 in EPA per play (0.139), all against FBS opponents in non-garbage time. The bright spot is a pass defense led by active defensive backs Teja Young and Zyon Gilbert, which has held FBS opponents to 6.5 yards per attempt, which ranks 27th.

But Charlotte has struggled more. Though the 49ers have done a better job of keeping opponents off the scoreboard in 2021, allowing 25.7 points on average compared to 32.5 last season, there are concerning signs in the advanced stats. Charlotte ranks 92nd in success rate (44.6 percent), 99th in points per drive (2.67), 124th in yards per play (7.51), 125th in EPA/play (0.281), and 127th in yards per pass attempt (9.9). In many ways, the 49ers have one of the worst defenses in the country.

With Perry providing a steadier hand at quarterback for the Owls, it's easy to understand why FAU is a road favorite. Expect a close contest, but for the Owls to pull even in the East and take another step toward the postseason.

Prediction: Florida Atlantic 29, Charlotte 27

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— Written by Nicholas Ian Allen, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and managing editor of CFBWinningEdge. Follow him on Twitter @CFBWinningEdge.