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Know Thy Opponent 2022: Florida Atlantic Owls

The Owls are a potentially tricky opponent.

Syndication: Gainesville Sun Doug Engle via Imagn Content Services, LLC

It is not often that you can say Purdue is undefeated against its entire non-conference slate, but that is what we have going into 2022. The Boilers are 5-0 all-time against Indiana State, 1-0 against Syracuse, and this will be the first time it has ever played Florida Atlantic. That is not a surprise, as FAU has only had a program since 2001.

The legendary Howard Schnellenberger was brought in to begin the program in 2001, and for three seasons they competed at the FCS level. They had almost immediate success, as in year three they went 11-3, qualified for the FCS playoffs, and advanced all the way to the semifinals before getting knocked off by Colgate. They jumped up to the FBS level a year later and went 9-3 in their first season there in 2004.

This is a program that has often been close to the bottom of FBS, but they have had some very good seasons utilizing the leftover South Florida talent. Schnellenberger won a pair of bowl games in 2007 and 2008. Lane Kiffin took over in 2017 and immediately went 11-3 with a Conference USA title and a bowl win. He did the same two years later, leading to his current job at Ole Miss.

This is a program that is a lot like a MAC team. They thrive on the scraps left over by the major conference programs around them and occasionally catch lightning in a bottle as a result. The overall record is just 113-140, but they have a pair of 11 win seasons in the last five years, which is two more than Purdue has in its history.

2021 Record: 5-7, 3-5 Conference USA

Bowl Result: None

Blog Representation: FAU Owls Nest

Series with Purdue: First Meeting

Last Purdue win: None

Last Florida Atlantic win: None

Head Coach: Willie Taggert (10-11 in 3rd season at FAU, 66-73 overall)

Last Season for the Owls

Florida Atlantic is in the middle of a reclamation project in more ways than one. After Lane Kiffin headed to Oxford, MS following the 2019 they brought in Willie Taggert. Taggert was the head coach at Western Kentucky from 2010-12 before Jeff Brohm. He then went to South Florida and had great success with a 10-win season before Oregon hired him away. He had one 7-5 season there before Florida State got him. Two losing seasons in Tallahassee got him a quick hook, so he headed to Boca Raton before the 2020 season.

Technically, Taggert has taken the Owls to a bowl game. A 5-3 season in 2020 led to the Montgomery Bowl, where they lost to Memphis (Ironically, a team Purdue was supposed to play in 2020). Last season they just missed a bowl at 5-7. The five wins came over Georgia Southern, Fordham, Florida International, Charlotte, and UTEP, which had them at 5-3 before and 0-4 November. They lost to Marshall, Old Dominion, Western Kentucky, and Middle Tennessee.

FAU is a bit of a grab bag team. Like many MAC schools, they have hungry players looking for their shot. They also have a number of transfers from power conference programs that were looking for playing time as talented guys.

Florida Atlantic Offense

If you’re a group of five program one way to set yourself up for success is to have a former Power 5 quarterback who was also highly regarded out of high school. Enter FAU quarterback N’Kosi Perry. Perry was a 4-star quarterback that started his career at the University of Miami in 2017, where he redshirted. In three years in Coral Gables he split time at quarterback, playing in 24 games and starting nine times. I watched a fair amount of those games since I also watch Miami every Saturday and he was very up and down. His best game was in 2019, where he threw for 422 yards and four TDs against Virginia Tech.

Unfortunately for him, the offense was often a complete shitshow because of their offensive coordinator, and he never really got into a rhythm. Let’s put it this way: Bob Diaco shut them out in a bowl game, which says more about how messed up their offense was than Diaco’s prowess. It is no wonder that he transferred to FAU. Last season he threw for 2,771 yards and 20 TDs against 7 picks. It was better than pretty much all three seasons he had at Miami combined. He can also run a little bit as he ran for 149 yards and four scores.

Perry is talented though, and he should be a big benefit to the Owls. Former South Florida running back Johnny Ford gives him a bit of a running game after he rushed for 861 yards and five touchdowns a season ago. He also has four starters back to run behind. The addition of grad transfer Brendan Bordner from Rutgers will help too.

LaJohntay Wester was their top receiver with 65 receptions for 702 yards and and four scores. Je’Quan Burton is also back as their No. 2 receiver after almost 500 yards receiving last year. This is an offense that has the potential to be pretty impressive if things work. That makes them a bit of a threat.

Florida Atlantic Defense

The defense wasn’t that bad a year ago. They gave up just over 25 points per game, giving FAU a point differential of only -4. Most of their numbers were pretty average, giving up about 150 yards per game on the ground and about 250 through the air. They will benefit from a pair of SEC transfers in Missouri’s Jamie Pettway and Tennessee’s Morven Joseph.

The line should improve. They have a massive tackle in the middle in Evan Anderson, who is listed at 356 pounds. He led the team with eight tackles for loss. Jaylen Joyner led the team in sacks, but only had three. Chris Jones and Eddie Williams are also experienced linebackers that should pair well with Pettway and Joseph.

The secondary will be challenged, and they have to replace a lot there. Safety Teja Young had 59 tackles and a team high three interceptions, but he is the only starter that is back. This is still a good team though. They are expected to be a bowl team and contending for the Conference USA title is not out of the question.

Florida Atlantic Special Teams

Matt Hayball was a great punter at over 45 yards yards per punt, but he is gone. Redshirt freshman Morgan Suarez should assume the full time kicking duties after going 2 of 2 as a true freshman last year. Their long as a team last year was just 38 yards.

The return game should feature both Burton and Wester from the offense. Wester averaged 6.9 yards per punt return last year and Burton was over 20 yards per kick return.

Game Outlook

I really like this game as a final tune-up before conference play. The Owls are a good team with several good players. They are one of the better Group of Five teams, so they will likely provide a good test. The offense has some weapons and the defense is decent. They’ll put up a much stiffer test than Indiana State.

This is probably a bowl team. Perry was in an inconsistent offense at Miami, but he is a talented, experienced quarterback that has played a lot of games. That can make things dangerous.

Way-Too-Early Prediction

This should be a competitive game at least for a half. It’s a night game at home, and it is homecoming. That in itself is rare. They will be up for it too since it is their marquee non-conference game. I think this will be closer than expected. Purdue 31, Florida Atlantic 24