Alabama Crimson Tide: Florida Atlantic Owls

Editor's note: We’re taking steps to get you ready for every one of Alabama's regular-season opponents. Every Friday we'll go through each week of the schedule, starting with the season-opener against West Virginia and closing with the finale against Auburn. This week, we highlight the Florida Atlantic Owls.

The rundown
2013 overall record: 6-6
2013 Conference USA record: 4-4, fourth in the East Division
Record all time against Alabama: 0-1
Last meeting: 40-7 in 2012

Starters returning
Offense: 6; Defense: 6; Kicker/punter: 2

Top returners
DT Brandin Bryant, TE Alex Deleon, WR William Dukes, QB Jacquez Johnson, LB Andrae Kirk OL Braden Lyons

Key losses
LB Adarius Glanton, DE Cory Henry, C Mustafa Johnson, LB Randell Johnson, WR Daniel McKinney, DB D'Joun Smith

2013 statistical leaders (* returners)
Rushing: Jaquez Johnson* (772 yards)
Passing: Jaquez Johnson* (1,876 yards, 12 TD, 8 INT)
Receiving: Daniel McKinney (615 yards)
Tackles: Andrae Kirk* (84)
Sacks: Cory Henry (7.5)
Interceptions: D’Joun Smith (7)

What they're saying:
“What this program accomplished in the last four games in what was a very turbulent time is very impressive. That’s a start. I see some mental toughness. I see some coaches that bought in and did a great job. Now what we need to do is continue to build the foundation.” -- Charlie Partridge, shortly after being hired as head coach of Florida Atlantic.

Three things to watch:

1. Partridge era begins: That last quote was something of an understatement. Turbulent? Try disastrous. When your former football coach is escorted out of the building by police for reported drug use, that’s kind of a big deal. Carl Pelini ultimately resigned, opening the door for Partridge, who comes by way of Arkansas and Wisconsin. The 17-year college football veteran has strong ties to the state of Florida, though. A native of Plantation, he knows the areas high schools well. According to the Palm Beach Post, Partridge has convinced 15 high school football players from Broward and Palm Beach County to play for either Wisconsin or Arkansas since 2008, most notably standout freshman running back Alex Collins and offensive lineman Denver Kirkland.

[+] EnlargeJaquez Johnson
Michael Chang/Getty ImagesFAU QB Jaquez Johnson, the Conference USA Newcomer of the Year last season, showed he can make plays both passing and running the ball.
2. Jaquez Johnson: The 6-foot-1, 225-pound junior is a handful under center. Last season, he led FAU in rushing with 772 yards. But more importantly, he seemed to develop some as a passer toward the end of the season. Over his first 10 games, he threw six touchdowns and six interceptions, completing roughly 57 percent of his passes for an average of 132.6 yards per game. But in his final two games, he settled in nicely, completing 61 percent of his passes for 539 yards, six touchdowns and two interceptions. All that was enough to earn the former junior college transfer Conference USA Newcomer of the Year honors.

3. Strong secondary: Alabama shouldn’t have any trouble running on Florida Atlantic’s front seven. The talent disparity is as noticeable as the physical disparity. The Owls’ top three offensive linemen -- Braden Lyons, Dillon DeBoer and Isaac Edwards -- average 273 pounds. A'Shawn Robinson, Alabama’s versatile sophomore defensive end/tackle, for comparison’s sake, is a hefty 320 pounds. But setting aside the front seven, and the Owls do have a strong secondary. Safety Damian Parms returns to campus, as does cornerback D’Joun Smith. If you did a double take on Smith’s name, it’s with good reason, as the soon-to-be senior ranked second in the nation in interceptions (7) and third in passes defended (13) last season.

Alabama 2014 schedule
vs. West Virginia (in Atlanta)
vs. Florida Atlantic
vs. Southern Miss
vs. Florida
at Ole Miss
at Arkansas
vs. Texas A&M
at Tennessee
at LSU
vs. Mississippi State
vs. Western Carolina
vs. Auburn


The Early Offer is RecruitingNation's latest feature, giving you a daily dose of recruiting in the mornings. Today's offerings: Notre Dame losing ESPN 300 running back Elijah Hood stings but things will be just fine, could Cameron Sims pull the recruiting shocker of the year and turn down Ole Miss and Alabama, and how are some non-BCS programs that are in talent-rich areas doing on the trail.
For the first time ever, the SEC had five different teams last season to win 11 or more games.

Two-time defending national champion Alabama won 13. Georgia won 12, and Florida, South Carolina and Texas A&M each won 11.

Obviously, the SEC expanding by two teams helped. Previously, only one other time had as many as four teams in the league won 11 or more games in a season, and that was 2011. LSU won 13 that year, Alabama 12 and Arkansas and South Carolina each 11.

With five SEC teams cracking the top 10 in the preseason coaches' poll, it's possible that five could hit the 11-win mark again this season, although the odds are probably against that happening for a second straight season.

SportsNation

Which of the SEC teams that won 11 or more games last season is most likely to take a step back in 2013?

  •  
    4%
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    30%
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    10%
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    12%
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    44%

Discuss (Total votes: 17,850)

Chances are somebody's going to fall off.

Who's that going to be? We'll let you make the call.

So go to our SportsNation poll and vote on which of the 11-win teams from a year ago is most likely to take a step back this season.

For what it's worth, of the five teams that won 11 or more games last season, Florida probably has the toughest schedule. The Gators have to face Georgia, LSU and South Carolina all away from home. They also have to travel to Miami the second week of the season and face Florida State at home to close the regular season.

Georgia also faces a tough slate, especially with the season opener at Clemson. The Bulldogs, though, get LSU and South Carolina at home and face Florida like they do every year in Jacksonville.

Alabama's schedule is probably the easiest of the five. The Crimson Tide open the season against Virginia Tech in Atlanta, but avoid Florida, Georgia and South Carolina in the East. They also get Ole Miss at home for the second straight season, and LSU has to come to Tuscaloosa this season.

Texas A&M's nonconference schedule is the easiest in the league, but the Aggies have to play at Ole Miss and at LSU. The biggie is Alabama at home the third week of the season.

We'll give you a few days to vote in our poll and will review the results next week.

Coveted OLB names a top five 

March, 14, 2013
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ATHENS, Ga. -- Outside linebacker Jacob Pugh (Tallahassee, Fla./Godby) isn’t exactly sure of how many offers he has. The 6-foot-3, 220-pound junior has not counted them. Once he had received over 30 offers to the top programs in the nation, there really seemed no point in doing so. Pugh is more concerned about the five that he has on top.


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Second look: Bama 40, FAU 7 

September, 23, 2012
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TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- After 24 hours of digestion, analysis of No. 1 Alabama's 40-7 win over Florida Atlantic:

On offense ...
Doug Nussmeier absolutely gouged the FAU defense with crossing routes. The UA receivers showed their speed and ability to get yards after the catch on Saturday.

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Lacy finding comfort in the backfield

September, 22, 2012
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TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- For the first time in a while, Eddie Lacy is feeling comfortable again. The surgery and nagging injuries had slowed him down. Now, Alabama's star tailback is digging into the turf with full force, and it shows.

"He's starting to get the little wiggle," Alabama receiver Kenny Bell said after the game. "He's coming to be the Eddie Lacy of last year."

Lacy averaged 7.1 yards per carry against the Owls, putting up 107 yards on 15 attempts. He spent the second half watching the game from the sidelines as the rest of the Alabama running backs racked up the yardage. All told, the Tide rushed for 256 yards, with all four running backs averaging more than 6 yards a carry.

But after the game, the story was all about Lacy. He said his patented spin move was "a bit slow, but it's picking back up."

"I'm getting there," he said. "I feel like it was slower than I would normally do it, but I did it and it worked. It's all right in my book."

So long as he held onto the ball, coach Nick Saban was OK with it, too. When asked about Lacy's return to form against FAU, the sixth-year coach of the Crimson Tide bristled, pointing out that he thought he looked just as good against Arkansas the week before, rushing for 55 yards and three scores.

"I thought he ran really well last week," Saban said. "Eddie has had a toe operated on, a hamstring in camp, missed some time in camp, had an ankle sprain, so he has really had to fight through a lot. I think that he really didn’t get back in shape because of some of the time that he missed. I think now he is starting to get there.”

The jukes weren't executed perfectly, but to Lacy, it was all about feeling comfortable on the football field again. With the right state of mind, he seemed like himself again.

"Just being able to go out there, you don’t worry about your nagging injuries or nothing like that," he said. "You just go out and do what you’re capable of doing. So far, that’s what I’m doing, and it feels good."
Eddie LacyJohn David Mercer/US PresswireTide running back Eddie Lacy wants the offense to be better in the red zone.

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- In the first three games, the University of Alabama performed like a well-oiled machine once it got in the red zone. The Crimson Tide had scored touchdowns on 11 of the 12 trips in the red area and converted every opportunity into points.

On Saturday, the touchdowns were harder to come by.

Although Alabama won convincingly over Florida Atlantic, 40-7, the Tide crossed the goal line on just half of their six trips inside the Owls’ 20-yard line. They had to settle for three every other time.

“We certainly stalled out today,” UA head coach Nick Saban said. “How many times did we kick field goals today? Was it four? In those kind of situations, we are happy to get the points, and we are pleased that the field goal kickers are delivering for us, but at the same time, we would like to finish some of those drives with a little better execution.”

Junior running back Eddie Lacy led the Tide on the ground with 15 carries for 106 yards, but after scoring three touchdowns a week ago, he failed to hit pay dirt against Florida Atlantic. In fact, freshman Kenyan Drake was the only back to score in the game.

“We just have to execute,” Lacy said. “There were a few plays where the defense just got us. We basically have to go and watch film to see what they did and see what we have to do in order to stop that from happening next week.”

At the end of the first half, Alabama’s first unit showed signs of what it had been able to do all season. After executing an efficient two-minute drill, quarterback AJ McCarron finished the drive with a four-yard touchdown pass to Christion Jones.

“It’s always big anytime you can punch one in right before half,” McCarron said. “The biggest thing in that situation is communication. Everybody has to communicate and execute on the run, and I felt like we did a great job of that.”

Still, the junior signal caller, who has now thrown for 10 touchdowns and no interceptions through four games, wasn’t happy with the team’s execution.

“We left a lot of points out there,” he said. “We can do better.”

Instant Analysis: Alabama 40, FAU 7

September, 22, 2012
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TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- Florida Atlantic may have thought Alabama ‘ain’t what people think,’ but the Crimson Tide proved why they are still the No. 1 team in the country with a dominating 40-7 win over the Owls on Saturday.

The offense finished with more than 500 total yards as UA quarterback AJ McCarron was 15-of-25 passing for 212 and three touchdowns, and running back Eddie Lacy carried the ball 15 times for 106 yards in the first half alone.

The late touchdown by Florida Atlantic was the first score the defense had allowed since the season opener against Michigan. Surprisingly, Alabama didn’t force a turnover in the game after forcing five the week before.

It was over when: Florida Atlantic defensive end Cory Henry didn’t do the Owls any favors when he ran his mouth before the game, and it took just three plays for Alabama's McCarron to connect with junior wide receiver Kenny Bell on an 85-yard touchdown pass to put the Tide on the board. There was no coming back from the early blow.

Game ball goes to: Lacy looked like himself again last week in the big win over Arkansas, and he followed it up with another solid performance on Saturday, carrying the ball 15 times for 106 yards in the first half. Although he didn’t get in the end zone, Lacy showed the burst, the power and the elusiveness that makes him great. He even threw in his patented spin move.

Stat of the game: Through three quarters, Alabama’s defense held Florida Atlantic to 41 total yards and one first down. The Owls put together a touchdown drive late in the fourth quarter but still finished with just 110 yards in the game.

Unsung hero: Alabama’s offensive line is considered one of the best units in the nation, but it still doesn’t always get the credit it deserves. On Saturday, all four Tide running backs averaged more than 6 yards per carry. As a team, Alabama rushed for 256 yards on 47 carries.

What it means for Alabama: The final score may have seemed a bit surprising given what the Tide did to Arkansas last week, but all three units looked sharp, and more importantly, the game gave Alabama a chance to play some of its reserves and get them game experience. It’s a long season, and it’s important to be prepared in case of injury.

What it means for Florida Atlantic: The Owls never had a chance, but the final score was closer than what many people expected. The positives for Florida Atlantic were ball security and its red zone defense, and it’s something to build on for the future.
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- No. 1 Alabama jumped on Florida Atlantic early and hasn't let off the gas at Bryant-Denny Stadium in Tuscaloosa, sprinting out to a 30-0 lead heading into halftime.

Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron found Kenny Bell on a crossing route for an 85-yard touchdown on the third play of the game. From there, the Crimson Tide have scored on every possession. Conversely, Florida Atlantic's offense has struggled mightily against the Alabama defense, registering just one first down in six possessions.

Stat of the half: Just how inept has the Florida Atlantic offense been? The Owls scraped together 23 total yards of offense and -1 yard passing.

Player of the half: Junior running back Eddie Lacy continues to show he's back to form after a big outing against Arkansas last week. Lacy broke the 100-yard rushing mark and is averaging more than 7 yards per carry.

What's working for Alabama: The defense has had no trouble getting into the Florida Atlantic backfield, pulling down Graham Wilbert for two sacks and totaling five tackles for a loss or no gain.

What's not working for Alabama: Holding onto the football has been a problem for the Crimson Tide. Christion Jones turned the ball over on a fumble inside the Alabama 30-yard line on a punt return. Also, true freshman tailback T.J. Yeldon fumbled the ball which was recovered by center Barrett Jones.

Five storylines: FAU at Alabama 

September, 20, 2012
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TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- It hasn't happened yet, but coach Nick Saban is still guarding against a let down with the University of Alabama host Florida Atlantic on Saturday.

The sixth-year head coach has stressed being prepared for every opponent and not letting adversity hit before there can be improvement. He wants to see the resolve even when the Tide are undefeated and dominating their schedule early on.

"It's human nature to get motivated when something bad happens," Saban said on Wednesday's SEC coaches teleconference. "But why do you need one of these 'I told you so' games and just respond by doing what you need to do to be the best that you can be."

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TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- It's wasn't that long ago that Cade Foster was the butt of jokes, widely viewed as the reason the University of Alabama didn't go undefeated in 2011. His three missed field goals against LSU on Nov. 5 nearly cost the Crimson Tide a shot at the national championship.

Clearly, Foster's errors in the kicking game weren't the death knell to Alabama's season. A 14th national title made its way to Tuscaloosa nonetheless.

Still, the junior kicker felt he had work to do after the season had ended. He had trust to rebuild and an attitude to redevelop.

(Read full post)

RB Camp Watch: Michel happy to be back 

August, 16, 2012
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Class of 2014 running back prospect Sony Michel (Plantation, Fla./American Heritage) surprised many when he jumped on the field for a full workout in June at the first session of camp at Florida State.

It was his first time on the field since suffering a torn ACL in August 2011, and it turned out to be his only workout of the summer. However, one workout was all anyone needed in order to see that the 5-foot-11, 205-pound junior was back.

"I had just planned to go to FSU and watch things since a couple of my teammates were working out," Michel said. "But I was sick of watching and I just needed to do something. It was time to come back."

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