Owls host strugglng UMass on Friday night in final home game of 2020
Familiar faces will meet on Friday night as UMass makes the long trip to South Florida to take on Florida Atlantic. This game was put together just a few weeks ago as both UMass and FAU have dealt with schedule changes due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The two head coaches — Walt Bell for UMass and Willie Taggart for FAU — were at one point, part of the same staff. Bell was Taggart's offensive coordinator in 2018 when the two were at Florida State.
After a second Conference USA title in three years last season, FAU is in the midst of another strong campaign under its first-year head coach. The Owls will come in with a record of 4-1. The Minutemen have played just a pair of contests but were outscored by Georgia Southern and Marshall by a combined 92-10 margin.
UMass at Florida Atlantic
Kickoff: Friday, Nov. 20 at 8 p.m. ET
TV: CBS Sports Network
Spread: Florida Atlantic -32.5
When UMass Has the Ball
UMass has managed just 10 total points in two games after ranking 126th out of 130 teams in total offense last year and 118th in scoring offense. Averaging less than 200 yards per game, there doesn't seem to be any real strength for UMass. If anything, the Minutemen did get a spark from freshman quarterback Will Koch against Marshall. Koch was 12-for-18 passing with 99 yards and threw the only touchdown of the year for the Minutemen.
The Minutemen lost both their leading rusher and receiver from last season. UMass has made a concerted effort to get the ball to Samuel Emilus, a junior speedster. Emilus has 10 catches this season, but for only 57 yards and the team’s lone touchdown.
Despite a ton of attrition from last season's team, defensive coordinator Jim Leavitt has worked miracles for the Florida Atlantic defense. The Owls will enter Friday night's contest ranking in the top five nationally in scoring defense (13.0 ppg) and in the top 20 for total defense (323.2 ypg). The biggest reasons for the Owls' success has been the ability to get after the quarterback. Leighton McCarthy and Jaylen Joyner have recorded seven and six sacks, respectively, and currently rank first and second in Conference USA.
FAU hasn't shown much of a weakness against the run or the pass. The Owls allow just 3.4 yards per rush and 6.1 yards per pass attempt. No opponent has scored more than 20 points against FAU yet this season. Linebackers Chase Lasater, Caliph Brice and Ahman Ross all have at least 30 tackles. Zyon Gilbert also is a hard hitter from his safety position.
When Florida Atlantic Has the Ball
For most of the season, offense has not been a strong suit for Florida Atlantic, but it has seen a spark since making the move to put Javion Posey at quarterback. In last week's 38-19 win over in-state rival FIU, the Owls rushed for nearly 400 yards and put up a season-high 462 yards of offense. Posey has a cannon for an arm, but at this point in his career, is a bigger threat with his legs.
FAU is built to be able to run the football effectively. Malcolm Davidson and James Charles have been a solid 1-2 punch for the Owls thus far this season. Among Conference USA teams, only North Texas averages more yards per game on the ground. In the passing game, Clemson transfer TJ Chase has been the focal point. Chase leads the team with 13 catches for 195 yards.
As bad as the UMass offense is, the defense may be worse. Last season, the Minutemen allowed more yards and points than any team in the country. That hasn't changed this season as only three teams (Akron, Kansas, Bowling Green) are giving up more than the 46 points per game the Minutemen have surrendered thus far.
The top two players for the UMass defense so far this season are linebacker Mike Ruane and safety Tanner Davis. The two each have one sack. Ruane leads the team with 17 total tackles. Ruane finished second on the team last year with 66 total stops.
Friday night's contest will be the final game at home for FAU during this COVID-19-shortened campaign and should serve as little more than a tune-up as the Owls prepare to make a run at a third Conference USA title in four years. UMass has yet to be competitive with either Georgia Southern or Marshall. Not much will change in Boca Raton.
Prediction: Florida Atlantic 52, UMass 7
Podcast: Week 12 Preview and Predictions
— Written by Mike Ferguson, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Follow Mike on Twitter @MikeWFerguson.
(Javion Posey photo courtesy of @FAUFootball)