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Heat, FAU’s quick pace will be big test for UB

BOCA RATON, Fla. – The heat will be on the University at Buffalo defense both literally and figuratively Saturday to hold up against a fast-paced Florida Atlantic offense.

Florida Atlantic has averaged 261 rushing yards and 32 points a game through the first two weeks of the season. The Owls’ offense will try to wear down UB in 89-degree heat and 65 percent humidity.

“They’re a no-huddle, up-tempo team,” said UB coach Lance Leipold. “I would expect them to play fast-paced. They wanted to play at noon. They want to play everything to their advantage.”

This will be the first “even test” for UB (1-1), which beat lower-division Albany and lost to Penn State. Florida Atlantic (0-2) plays in Conference USA with the likes of Marshall, Southern Mississippi and Louisiana Tech. Conference USA is about equal to the Mid-American Conference. Both UB and Florida Atlantic were picked in preseason to finish in the bottom half of their leagues.

UB might catch an injury break. Florida Atlantic senior quarterback Jaquez Johnson, a 250-pound running-passing threat, suffered an ankle injury early in last week’s loss to Miami. He was wearing a protective boot early in the week. FAU has been secretive about his status, calling him a game-time decision.

If Johnson can’t play, the Owls will start redshirt freshman Jason Driskel. He played reasonably well against Miami, keeping the Owls even (20-20) in the third quarter before Miami pulled away for a 44-20 win. But he’s not a bulldozing running threat like Johnson.

Nevertheless, the Owls have a lot of skill-position ability. Virtually the entire roster is from Florida, the mother lode of football talent.

“They challenge you with athleticism and do things in open spaces,” said UB defensive coordinator Brian Borland.

Florida Atlantic runs almost exclusively out of the shotgun formation and runs better than it passes so far. The Owls rushed for 300 yards on a low-ranked Tulsa defense in Week One, with 97 coming from the QB (Johnson). They gained 223 rushing yards on a pretty good Miami defense last Friday.

“They’re running a lot of zone-type plays,” Borland said. “They make you stay in your gaps, take care of your responsibility. If you don’t, they have enough athleticism and speed to make you pay. They’ve ripped off quite a few big runs the first couple weeks, and it’s basically guys not taking care of their responsibilities.”

UB’s run defense fared reasonably well in a 27-14 loss at Penn State last week. The Bulls held Penn State starter Akeel Lynch to 2.4 yards a carry but then yielded 9.6 a carry to speedier Saquon Barkley late in the game. Even Borland was eager to see if the Bulls would be overpowered at the point of attack by the Big Ten opponent.

“I thought we held up well,” Borland said. “I was wondering that myself going into the game. They really tried to knock us off the ball and see if we could do it. We showed we could. We got after those guys.

“But it’s different than last week. Where last week it was more they tried to hit you in the mouth, these guys are a little more finesse.”

Florida Atlantic rotates two backs, Greg Howell and Jay Warren. Howell gained 138 yards on Tulsa. Warren gained 132 on Miami before leaving the game with a torso injury.

The Owls’ top receivers are 5-9 slot threat Henry Bussey and 6-1 senior Jenson Stoshak.

email: mgaughan@buffnews.com