Owls look to keep momentum going against No. 14 Kentucky
 
Published Friday, September 28, 2007

 
By Mario Sarmento
SPORTS EDITOR

Florida Atlantic faces its toughest challenge yet this season Saturday, as the Owls travel to Lexington to take on the No. 14 team in the nation, Kentucky.

It will be a homecoming for Owls coach Howard Schnellenberger, who starred at UK from 1952-1955 and was a first team All-American tight end.

“To get back to your own alma mater is a thrilling thing,” he said.

The Owls face a potent Kentucky offense shorthanded, as starting defensive linemen Josh Pinnick and Josh Savidge were lost for the year to knee injuries suffered in last week’s 30-20 win over North Texas.

The loss of Pinnick is particularly tough because he is one of the emotional leaders of the FAU defense. Having redshirted as a freshman in 2003, the injury will probably end Pinnick’s college career.

The Owls will turn to sophomore Jermaine Council to replace Pinnick, and fellow sophomore John Mertilus will take over for Savidge.

Kentucky runs a pro style offense that runs and passes with equal efficiency.

Quarterback Andre’ Woodson hasn’t been intercepted this season and has tossed 11 touchdown passes and completed 64.2 percent of his throws. Woodson enters the game with an NCAA-record 296 consecutive passes without an interception, having broken Trent Dilfer’s record set in 1993.

“It’s a good challenge coming up,” FAU cornerback Tavious Polo, the nation’s interception leader, said. “He’s a very smart quarterback, he throws the ball very well and the receivers run pretty good routes.”

Polo picked off two passes last week against North Texas to follow his three interceptions versus Minnesota the week before. The freshman, who said he never intercepted a pass in high school, now has six to his credit through four college games.

Woodson’s top receiver is Keenan Burton, who has caught 24 passes for 322 yards and scored four TDs. The Wildcats can also run the ball, as evidenced by their 227.3-yard average, fourth-best in the SEC.

Rafael Little is the team’s leading ground-gainer with 438 yards and three TDs, and Tony Dixon is second with 219 yards and three more scores.

Defensively though, the Wildcats are suspect against the run, ranking 108th in the NCAA in yards allowed at 223.2 per game.

Of course, last week the Owls had a favorable matchup against North Texas, but FAU could only muster 84 yards on 28 carries.

So the onus will probably fall on FAU quarterback Rusty Smith and the passing offense.

Smith too has a mistake-free streak going, having thrown 110 straight passes since his last interception against Oklahoma State (an FAU record).

Smith has thrown for 1,105 yards and eight TDs through four games, and he is coming off of a 21-of-45, 322-yard, 1 TD performance against North Texas.

Wide receiver Cortez Gent had the biggest play of the game, a 74-yard TD that put the Owls ahead to stay 23-20 in the fourth quarter.

The Owls have been short on receivers all season long, so Gent will have to step up and produce against a Kentucky secondary that ranks 29th in the NCAA.

“They’re real aggressive,” Gent said. “They like playing man-to-man so that’s showing us that they feel like they can show us down. We’ll find out Saturday.”

Kickoff is at 1 p.m. and the game will be televised on the ESPN Game Plan pay-per-view package