One of the consistent features of Alabama head coach Nick Saban's philosophy (aka "The Process") year after year is the concept of preparing for every game with the same enthusiasm and attention to detail regardless of the opponent. With that in mind, we are going to treat the Florida Atlantic Owls, who over their relatively brief history have been one of the worst teams in the Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS), as if they are a legitimate opponent. We will ignore the fact that FAU lost to Nebraska last Saturday by 48 points. We will dance past information that Alabama is a 40+-point favorite. And we will skim right over the fact that FAU will earn a cool million to take its beating in Tuscaloosa Saturday. We can do this because we have the heart of a champion.
FAU is breaking in a new coaching staff, with Charlie Partridge replacing Carl Pellini in an off-season that seemed better suited for a soap opera than an institution of higher learning. Partridge served as an assistant to Bret Bielema at Wisconsin and Arkansas, coaching the defensive line. This is his first head-coaching stint.
FAU led Conference USA in total defense in 2013 with 339.6 yards allowed per game and were 26th in FBS in points allowed per game (22.2). However, the defense took a big step back in week one against Nebraska. Giving up 784 yards to Cornhuskers is not all the fault of the defensive line, but given the fact that 498 of those yards came on the ground, it's clear that the Cornhuskers dominated the Owls' somewhat undersized line.
Unfortunately for the Owls, standout ends Martin Wright and Cory Henry (combined: 13.5 sacks in 2013) have moved on. Redshirt junior Robinson Eugene (6'5", 266 lbs.), who had 16 tackles last year, has the most experience at defensive end. Robinson played in every game last year and started against Auburn.
On the other side of the line, Trey Hendrickson saw his first start Saturday at end. The 6'4", 250-lb sophomore recorded two tackles and a quarterback hurry. Sophomore Denzel Whitfield and redshirt freshman Haiden Nagel will spell Eugene and Hendrickson.
At the defensive tackle position, Brandin Bryant, a 6'3", 290-lb redshirt junior, started every game for FAU in 2013 and was fifth on the team in tackles (28). He will see heavy action alongside junior Trevon Coley (6'2", 300 lbs), who has been a starter since his freshman year. Bryant and Coley will anchor the four-man defensive line, but expect to see Redshirt sophomore Shalom Ogbonda (6'4", 290 lbs) and freshman Jeremy Faulk (6'0", 267 lbs.) get into the action as well.
Alabama's offensive line played reasonably well against West Virginia last week, and while the Tide (unfortunately?) doesn't commit to the run like Nebraska, we expect T.J. Yeldon and Derrick Henry to give FAU's offensive line all they want on Saturday.
Senior FAU linebacker Andrae Kirk (45) tackles T.J. Yeldon in 2012's matchup against the Owls. Alabama won the game 40-7. via www.gannett-cdn.com
At linebacker, the standout returner is senior Andrae Kirk (6'2", 225 lbs.) at Mike. Kirk, who led FAU in tackles last season, was a second-team all-Conference-USA player in 2013 and the team's defensive MVP. A team captain and signal caller, his job will be to keep his inexperienced unit on the same page against the Crimson Tide.
Joining Kirk is sophomore Robert Relf (6'3", 220 lbs.), who drew his first start against Nebraska. Both players led the team with nine tackles each. Junior Freedom Whitfield (6'2", 200 lbs.) and redshirt sophomore Nate Ozdemir (6'2", 230 lbs.) played a significant role last week as well in relief of the starters.
The defensive secondary was the Owls' strength last season, and is the team's most experienced unit. Florida Atlantic allowed an average of 159.9 yards passing per game in 2013, and senior cornerback D'Joun Smith (5'11", 175 lbs.) and senior strong safety Damian Parms (6'2", 195 lbs.) both played a huge role in that success.
Parms was the team's second-leading tackler last season (77) while Smith contributed a respectable 34 tackles and gathered in a team-leading six interceptions. Parm had nine tackles last weekend against the ‘Huskers. Smith had five solo tackles, but somewhat surprisingly was thrown at successfully from the first series on.
Senior Cre'von LeBlanc (5'11", 175 lbs.) played rather poorly at corner last Saturday as well. He was blown up over the top repeatedly against Nebraska. LeBlanc should know better - he was a starter in five games last year.
At free safety, redshirt senior Christian Milstead (5'10", 190 lbs.) is the unit's most versatile player. He started six games in 2013 at four different defensive back positions and intercepted four passes. He also is one of only two players in school history to intercept a pass and return it for a touchdown. Milstead had five tackles against Nebraska and tallied a touchdown-saving pass break up.
For a team whose strength in 2013 was defense, the 55-7 loss to Nebraska was a major disappointment. To be sure, the Owls weren't likely expecting to beat the Cornhuskers, but the team had ended 2013 on a high note, winning four consecutive games after a loss to Auburn in October. Disruption on the coaching staff is likely a contributing factor, but the talent differential certainly plays a part. While the Owls might be competitive in C-USA play, Saturday should provide the Alabama with some much-needed experience on both sides of the ball. The Crimson Tide outmatches FAU at every position, and should win big this weekend.