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Florida Atlantic vs. Nebraska: A Feathery, Friendly Q&A

In our ever-expanding efforts to learn about our feathery friends from Florida Atlantic, we took the opportunity to go straight to the source.

Cyrus Smith of the FAU fan site The Owl’s Nest took the time to answer a few of our questions so that Husker Nation can get an even better idea of what the scarlet and cream are going up against this Saturday.

Husker Corner: Tell us about what offense and defensive schemes Florida Atlantic uses.

Cyrus Smith: The Owls use an up-tempo spread offense but primarily is looking to run a zone-read offense rather than airing it out. Starting QB Jaquez Johnson threw 12 touchdowns versus eight interceptions while leading the team in rushing yards, attempts and touchdowns at 870, 152, and 10 respectively.

Despite a strong push by sophomore Greg Hankerson he will remain the starter. With head coach Charlie Partridge keeping offensive coordinator Brian Wright on staff from last year, Owl fans expect a potent and balanced offense with Johnson in his second year in the system.

Defensively is where we should expect to see changes. Last year under Carl Pelini, the Owls used a 4-2-5 defensive scheme and played a ton of press man-to-man coverage on the outside.

New defensive coordinator Roc Bellantoni is expected to use the same 4-2-5 set, but with a more balanced approach between zone and man schemes. He has an experienced secondary coming back led by senior corner D’Joun Smith who ranked number three nationally with seven interceptions.

No one expects the secondary to miss a beat no matter what the schemes are.

HC: Who are the major players on offense and defense that the Huskers need to worry about?

CS: A bit of foreshadowing with the previous answer but I’ll give you some more players Cornhusker fans should look out for. On the offensive side of the ball, senior wide receiver William Dukes compiled 553 receiving yards on 35 receptions last year while averaging 15.8 yards per catch.

Senior wide receiver Lucky Whitehead is another player to look our for as he has had an amazing camp, displaying blazing speed as he is finally healthy after being hampered by injuries last year.

On the defensive side of the ball look out for defensive captain and ball hawk Andrae Kirk, as he led the team in tackles last year with 84.

HC: What are the Owls’ major weaknesses heading into 2014?

CS: Their special teams play, particularly the place kicker. Last year’s place kicker Mitch Anderson had untimely missed field goals and extra points that costs the Owls a few games, going 11-17 for the year.

Coach Partridge and the staff brought in incoming freshman Landon Scheer to take over the duties but until he sees live action that position remains an unknown.

HC: What will the Owls likely be looking to learn about themselves against Nebraska?

CS: Whether or not Charlie Partridge and the coaching staff continue the momentum the Owls had ending last season with a four game winning streak and bringing in a great recruiting class.

Partridge had done great on the recruiting trail and has proved that his reputation as an ace recruiter was legitimate but now we get to see him prove his mettle on the sideline, something the Owl fan base is very anxious and excited to see to what he will be like.

HC: How’s the optimism for the season in the FAU camp?

CS: I have heard Owl fans and students expecting between nine to seven wins with a final record of 6-6 being a disappointment. Considering where we were a few years ago, is a great achievement for the FAU football program.

The Owls really let some games slip away last year and if they took care of business could have been playing in the Conference USA title game. For Owl fans, a conference title is definitely within reach this year.

HC: Should we expect to see Omaha native Brandin Bryant on the field much?

CS: If Brandin Bryant is not on the field something has gone wrong. The Omaha native will be a key cog in the defensive line. Look for him to start at defensive tackle and move to defensive end occasionally throughout the game as he is a disruptive pass rusher. Last year he had six sacks.

HC: What’s the feeling on starting the season both at Nebraska and Alabama?

CS: The FAU football program is used to the rigorous out of conference schedule that lay before them this year as they have played Auburn, Michigan State, Miami, Alabama and Florida at some point over the last few years.

Such will be the case for an athletic program with a small budget. Although many will have FAU pegged as considerable underdogs, the Owls will not go into Memorial or Bryant-Denny Stadium with a deer in a headlights mentality.

They have seen it all and although the fan base wishes for more out of conference home games they understand the process.

HC: How do you feel about Nebraska opening as a 24 point favorites?

CS: That spread is a bit high. Nebraska will be breaking in a bunch of new guys on the offensive line with Tommy Armstrong, Jr. still getting used to being the starter.

Although he started a few games last year in relief for Taylor Martinez, I was not completely sold that he will be able to move the offense through the air on a consistent basis to keep the defense honest.

Fortunately for him and the Cornhusker faithful, Ameer Abdullah is still in the backfield and even with eight in the box plus a completely rebuilt offensive line, it may not matter. Unless the defense and special teams is able to score and set Nebraska up with great field position, I don’t think the Cornhuskers cover the spread.

HC: What’s your prediction for the game?

CS: I am very anxious to see Charlie Partridge on the sidelines. The safe choice would have been to promote now offensive coordinator and last year’s interim head coach Brian Wright to head coach after closing the season on a four game winning streak despite the turmoil surrounding the program with Carl Pelini’s exit.

With Wright still calling the plays, I look for the Owls to have some success moving the ball through the air to try and take advantage of a talented but inexperienced secondary with their veteran receiving corps. However, the game will be decided when Nebraska has the ball.

If the Owls can bottle up the running game they will have an excellent shot at winning, but I just don’t see that happening as the Owls too, have to replace some key guys on the defensive line.

The game will be close throughout and will keep the folks in Memorial Stadium anxious for the better part of the game, but the Cornhuskers will use their strength in the trenches to overpower the Owls and prevail. 30-17 Nebraska.

We’d like to thank Cyrus and highly encourage our readers to pop on over to The Owl’s Nest to say hello.

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