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2016 Week 4 Preview: Ball State Cardinals at Florida Atlantic Owls

Cardinals eat Owls. Science.

NCAA Football: Ball State at Indiana Marc Lebryk-USA TODAY Sports

Non-conference season is coming to an end football fans. Better go ahead and mentally prepare yourself for that.

BUT NOT UNTIL BALL STATE AND FLORIDA ATLANTIC DO BATTLE IN THE SUNSHINE STATE. Cardinals, Owls, the Mid-American Conference, and Conference USA. It’s game of the week in many circles.

FAU comes in licking its wounds. The Owls enter Saturday’s matchup on the wrong end of meetings with Power Five teams the last two weeks, most recently a 63-7 thrashing at the hands of Kansas State. It’s hard to find many positives from the game against the Wildcats, the Owls committed four turnovers and KSU held a four touchdown lead seven seconds into the second quarter.

Quarterback Jason Driskel was ineffective against Kansas State and was similarly sub par the week prior against the Miami Hurricanes. He has not thrown a touchdown pass since a season opening win against Southern Illinois. While many FAU fans are looking for a change at quarterback, the Ball State faithful can expect to see Driskel under center Saturday. Talking with the media on Monday, Florida Atlantic head coach Charlie Partridge indicated he does not think that Driskel’s backup, redshirt freshman quarterback Daniel Parr, is ready for the field yet.

“He’ll grow,” Partridge said. “Daniel’s a talented young man, but operating the offense is part of being quarterback. As he grows into that, then he’ll have a better chance of stepping out there onto the field.”

The Owls offense has scored six touchdowns this season. Running back Gregory Howell Jr. has four of them. So you should know that name. The 6-foot-1, 215 pound junior leads the team with 237 yards on the ground this season, and averages 4.8 yards per carry. Kalib Woods is Driskel’s favorite target, he has twice has many catches as any other FAU receiver. Woods has lots of big play potential and focusing on him will be key to rendering Driskel ineffective.

Defensively, the Owls aren’t as bad as the score against Kansas State might indicate. Turnovers and short fields made light work for the Wildcat offense. In fact, Florida Atlantic forced a pair of turnovers against Miami and were within two scores of the Hurricanes late in the third quarter on September 10th. Know the names Azeez Al-Shaair and Trey Hendrickson. Last season Al-Shaair was named a USA Today All-American after leading the Owls in total tackles as freshman. Hendrickson is a senior defensive end and the school’s all-time leader in sacks. He collected 13.5 last season, good for second in the nation.

The Cardinals did what they were supposed to do last week against Eastern Kentucky. Ball State built a 27-0 halftime lead and cruised to a 42-14 win over the Colonels. The only real negative to draw from the game was the pair of touchdowns BSU conceded with under 4 minutes remaining. Riley Neal finally found his rhythm. After a pair of disappointing games, the Ball State quarterback completed his first 17 passes against EKU. He finished with 238 yards passing a pair of scores. Expect to see a more comfortable Neal against FAU than was seen the first two weeks of the season.

Several Ball State running backs have seen a considerable number of carries early in the season. James Gilbert, Teddy Williamson, and Darian Green are the familiar names. They can expect to see plenty of work against the Owls. Malik Dunner offers the Cardinals another explosive option out of the backfield. Dunner did not carry the ball in the season opening win over Georgia State, but logged seven carries against Indiana, and nine carries against EKU last week.

The Ball State defense is much improved this year. Against the Colonels the Cardinals racked up 8 sacks. I think they should probably try to do that again against Florida Atlantic.

Boca Raton, baby, and this ain’t no bowl game! The Cardinals are aiming to start the season 3-1, and show that maybe that predicted 5th place finish in the MAC West is nonsense. Make it appointment television streaming this weekend! Ball State and Florida Atlantic kick off Saturday at 6pm ET from FAU Stadium.