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2023 MAC Football Week 2 Game Preview: Ohio Bobcats @ Florida Atlantic Owls

The Bobcats head to Boca Raton for round two of a competitive matchup.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: DEC 03 MAC Championship - Toledo vs Ohio Photo by Scott W. Grau/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

When the ‘Cats (1-1) met FAU (1-0) last season, sparks flew in an exciting contest that came down to the wire.

Last year’s battle was in front of a near-sellout, raucous Ohio crowd hungry for the win. The squads duked it out in a shootout, combining for 79 points and almost 1,000 yards total offense. The game was decided by a fourth-quarter flurry where 35 points were scored and Ohio ultimately secured the three-point win on a defensive stand on the game’s final drive.

Some other important factors in Ohio’s victory were a 2-0 turnover advantage coupled with FAU’s self-inflicted wounds with almost 100 yards in penalties.

This week’s contest concludes the home-and-home series, featuring some significant changes mostly to FAU’s coaching staff and starting quarterback.

As usual, we take a look at each squad heading into the contest and offer our prediction.

Game notes

  • Time and date: Saturday, September 9th, 2023 at 6:00 p.m. ET
  • Network: ESPN+ (a valid subscription is required fpr viewing)
  • Location: Howard Schnellenberger Field at FAU Stadium in Boca Raton, Florida
  • Gambling considerations: Per DraftKings, FAU -5 with an over/under of 58.5
  • Last Time: Ohio triumphed in a 41-38 instant classic in 2022.
  • All-time series: Ohio is 1-0 all-time

Getting to Know The FAU Owls

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: AUG 27 Charlotte at Florida Atlantic
FAU’s wideout Je’Quan Burton (#8) in action in the 2022 season opener versus the Charlotte 49ers.
Photo by Jason Mowry/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The Owls revamped their coaching staff after the 2022 season which saw FAU finish with a 5-7 record, good for fourth in Conference USA play. FAU replaced head coach Willie Taggart with Tom Herman, who brings a track record of proven coaching success as both an offensive coordinator and head coach. When he was Ohio State’s OC in 2014, Herman led the Buckeyes to over 45 points per game and a national title.

Herman’s head coaching experience includes two years with the Houston Cougars where he dominated the competition in his first year en route to a 13-1 record and an eighth place AP poll finish. Following the success at Houston, Herman became frontman for the Texas Longhorns for four years with a 32-18 record while winning four straight bowl games.

FAU’s new offensive coordinator Charlie Frye is a guy intimately familiar with the MAC with significant success as a player and coach. As the Akron Zips quarterback in the early 2000s, Frye set dozens of program records including career passing yards (11,049) and touchdown passes (64).

Joining the Central Michigan Chippewas in 2019 as offensive coordinator, Frye was integral in a historic turnaround which saw the Chips rebound from a 1-11 campaign in 2018 to an 8-6 record in 2019 and a MAC West title. The 2019 Chips scoring offense was massively improved from 2018, doubling its average points per game from 15 to 30 in Frye’s first year.

FAU’s offense is off to a fast start as it demolished its week one opponent Monmouth Hawks (FCS) 42-20, rolling up almost 500 yards total offense in the process.

Running the show on the field in 2023 is Nebraska transfer quarterback Casey Thompson, who can run but has been primarily a pocket passer to this point in his career. The former Cornhusker is an experienced option with nearly 600 career passing attempts, completing 64% for over 5,000 yards and a 52:20 touchdown to interception ratio.

Thompson’s transition to FAU should be fairly seamless as the new signal caller played for Herman for two years as a backup in Texas before ultimately transferring to Nebraska. Thompson’s Week 1 performance supports the prior statement, as the FAU QB completed 80% of his passes in week one against Monmouth (FCS) for 280 yards and five touchdowns.

Should Thompson need to be spelled against Ohio, the Bobcats are familiar with the Owl’s number two man, gunslinger Daniel Richardson, who transferred from Central Michigan for 2023.

The Owls should spread things out and throw, giving the Bobcats secondary its best test of the young season by far. Ohio should be familiar with the key Owl receivers as they return from last year.

Wideout LaJohntay Webster is an electric playmaker who the Owls will get the ball to in every way imaginable including through the air, ground, or on kickoff and punt returns. Webster did some damage versus the ‘Cats last year by returning a punt 41 yards to setting up his own seven-yard touchdown reception.

WR Je’Quan Burton is lightning-fast and an NFL prospect, having been named to the 2024 Reese’s Senior Bowl watchlist. Burton was a playmaker versus Ohio last year with five grabs for 115 yards and a score.

If the offense is anything like prior Herman iterations, the Owls will be committed to establishing a running game.

FAU features all-CUSA running back Larry McCammon III, who had a breakout campaign in 2022 with 1,004 yards rushing and seven rushing scores. McCammon III picked up in week one where he left off last season, running for 125 yards and a score against Monmouth while catching four passes for 61 yards.

Roc Bellantoni returns to FAU as the defensive coordinator in 2023 after serving the same role for the Owls in 2014-16.

The defense under new DC Bellatoni got off to a good start in week one. Focusing on stopping the run against Monmouth’s RB Jaden Shirden who rushed for 1,722 yards last season, it was mission accomplished as Shirden recorded only 66 yards on 24 carries.

Looking at this year’s matchup with Ohio, FAU returns several of the same defenders who played in last year’s contest with a few notable changes.

The big change in FAU’s favor this year is the return of nose tackle Evan Anderson, who missed last year’s contest with an injury. Anderson is also on the 2024 Reese’s Senior Bowl watchlist and for good reason. At six-foot-three, 356 lbs., Anderson is an absolute load but, more than size and strength, he has good agility and quickness.

The Owls may be missing one of their leaders on the back end of the defense as defensive back Armani-Eli Adams was injured in the first half of last week’s contest and didn’t return. His status is unknown at this time but he is an important contributor with 48 appearances as an Owl and a 2022 CUSA honorable mention nod to his credit.

Getting to Know The Ohio Bobcats

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: SEP 10 Ohio at Penn State
Ohio’s Bryce Houston (32) in action last year against Penn State. Houston was named MAC East Defensive Player of the Week last week.
Photo by Gregory Fisher/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The ‘Cats head into this early-season contest with more known about the state of the defense than the offense.

Offensively, Ohio finished with 390 total yards a piece in their first two games of the season, airing it out more against San Diego State while leaning on the rushing attack against Long Island.

In Week 0o, Ohio battled SDSU in a highly physical game against one of the more talented defenses the Green and White will probably face this year. The ‘Cats quarterback Kurtis Rourke looked crisp early on, hitting 8-of-10 passes for 75 yards, but Rourke left at the end of the first quarter with an undisclosed injury and did not return. Ohio finished with 13 points and three interceptions versus the Aztecs.

Last week versus the LIU Sharks, four offensive starters were in street clothes to begin the contest including Rourke, wideouts Sam Wiglusz and Jacoby Jones, and tight end Tyler Foster. Ohio controlled the contest on the ground behind the offensive line and running backs O’Shaan Allison and Sieh Bangura. Bangura eclipsed the century mark in rushing yards in route to MAC East offensive Player of the Week honors.

Ohio showed their depth with third-team quarterback Parker Navarro returning from a 2022 injury to throw two touchdown passes, one a piece to back up tight ends Bryce Butler and Freshman Mason Willams.

Ohio threw only five passes in the first half versus LIU but wideout Tyler Walton was notable leading the club with four catches for 36 yards and a three-yard touchdown reception. On the season, Walton is Ohio’s leading receiver with ten catches for 92 yards.

Head coach Tim Albin indicated the players who sat last week were on track to be ready for this Saturday versus FAU. Ultimately, we will see who is back shortly before kickoff after the week plays out.

Having Rourke and company back would be an obvious boon to the offense in this one as Ohio passed for a then eighth-best single game program record in passing yards last year versus FAU with 345 yards.

Defensively, the Bobcats produced solid results the first two weeks of the season against the LIU Sharks (FCS) and San Diego State allowing just 15 points and 257 yards per game on average while creating three turnovers. The defense might have shut out LIU after the Sharks missed a 31-yard field goal in the first quarter but some offensive turnovers created field position near and in Bobcat territory which led to ten points.

Ohio will face its best competition so far this week as FAU presents a well-balanced offense led by a talented, experienced quarterback with a solid offensive line and experienced playmakers at every position.

Leading the ‘Cats front seven against the Owls are three of its five captains in linebackers Bryce Houston and Keye Thompson and defensive linemen Rodney Mathews. Houston has dazzled in the first two weeks, recording 24 stops with a sack and an interception.

The back end of the defense will be a key to the Bobcats success given FAU’s threats like WR Webster and Burton. Ohio has two corners playing their best football in Justin Burchette and Roman Parodie to counter the Owls.

The group should be bolstered by the return of corner Torrie Cox Jr., who was working his way back from a camp injury and saw some reps last week against LIU.


Both FAU and Ohio will take a significant jump in competition this week with the Owls facing a significantly better defense while Ohio’s defense faces a balanced, talented, and well-coached Owls offensive attack.

While Ohio may not need to score 41 points to win this year as they did last year due to the ‘Cats stout defense so far in 2023 but the Green and White may need to score around 30 as the Owls’ offense is still very potent.

Assuming Rourke and company can play this week, Ohio should secure a tough win, 31-28. While the Owls get a key defender in NT Anderson back for this year’s contest, Ohio showed it can put up points against FAU’s defense behind Rourke and should still be able to do the same this year.