WKU looks to spoil FAU’s stadium debut Saturday

Sophomore fullback Kadeem Jones runs after a reception during WKU’s Oct. 6 win over Middle Tennessee State. The Toppers play Florida Atlantic at 3 p.m. Saturday in Boca Raton, Fla. 

Brad Stephens

Senior kicker Casey Tinius wants to ruin a party Saturday night.

He and the rest of the Topper football squad will be the opposition at 3 p.m. Saturday in Florida Atlantic’s first-ever game at their brand-new, 30,000-seat, on-campus facility, FAU Stadium.

Tinius, WKU’s senior kicker, said he wouldn’t mind the Toppers (1-4, 1-1 Sun Belt Conference) handing the league rival Owls a big “L” in their stadium debut.

“I’m expecting them to be pretty pumped up about that,” Tinius said. “They’ve got a whole lot to play for but at the same time we do too. We know we can win every game left on our Sun Belt schedule, so we’re going to try and spoil their little party down there.”

FAU’s battle with WKU will be its first home game of the season after playing its first five games on the road.

The Owls went 0-5 during those games, struggling in all phases of the game.

FAU has been unable to pass (143.2 yards per game, good for No. 112 out of 120 teams in the Football Bowl Subdivision), unable to run the ball (86.6 yards per game, No. 111) and unable to stop opposing offenses from doing either (36.6 points allowed per game, No. 114).

The Owls were especially anemic against Michigan State, achieving just one first down in a 44-0 loss.

But Head Coach Willie Taggart has said that when it comes to Owls, perhaps the stats have lied a little.

“They’re not an 0-5 football team. They had a really, really tough schedule,” Taggart said. “These last two ballgames they’ve played (a 37-34 loss to ULL and a 31-17 loss to North Texas) they could’ve easily won those games. 

“They’re going to be back home in their new stadium and their crowd will be into it. We’re going to get everything they have.”

FAU will open its new stadium with a first-time starting quarterback.

Redshirt junior David Kooi rose to No. 1 on the Owls’ depth chart after the team’s regular starter, Graham Wilbert, was ruled out of Saturday’s game with an arm injury.

Kooi saw significant playing time in FAU’s loss to the Mean Green, and is 9-of-14 on the season with one touchdown.

Junior cornerback Derrius Brooks said the key to shutting down Kooi will be to put pressure on the Owls’ receivers.

“Their receivers, I think they have pretty good size, but I think if we press them they’re not too good getting off the press,” Brooks said. “We’re trying to get that right, not playing off too far and giving up hitch routes and stuff.”

Saturday’s game will mark the last home opener in the career of Schnellenberger, a 77-year-old coaching legend who has announced this season will be his last.

Schnellenberger, an All-American tight end during his playing days at Kentucky, is famous for rebuilding Miami in the early 1980’s, winning the 1983 national championship and laying the groundwork for what became one of modern college football’s greatest dynasties.

Taggart said his first and memorable encounter with Schnellenberger came at a coaching conference soon after Taggart took the WKU head coaching job in 2009.

“The thing I remember the most is when I first met him, he asked me who I played for,” he said. “I think I’ll always remember that.”

With Schnellenberger in the midst of his final season and FAU opening a new stadium, the Toppers are expecting a festive atmosphere.

But junior defensive tackle Jamarcus Allen said the WKU players plan on ignoring the surroundings and taking care of business.

“It’ll be good for them to have a good stadium, but they’re going to take an ‘L’ that night,” Allen said. “That’s what we plan on doing, and that’s ruin their night by coming back home with a ‘W.’”