It didn’t take long for Willie Taggart to embody the spirit of the Shula Bowl rivalry.
Coming off a 10-6 win over Western Kentucky to stay undefeated at FAU Stadium, the first-year Florida Atlantic coach and FAU Owls have turned their attention to their 19th game with their main rival, the FIU Panthers.
Even though he hasn’t taken part in the matchup yet, Taggart knows to expect one of the most intense games the Owls will play.
“All I need to know is we don’t like each other,” said Taggart, with FAU fans using the hashtag “#FIUHateWeek” on social media leading up to the matchup. “Everyone let me know from day one that one of the most important games on the schedule is that game.”
The Owls have dominated the rivalry, especially recently.
They’ve won the past three matchups against Florida International and have a 13-4 all-time advantage in the rivalry (FIU’s 2005 win was vacated).
“You can throw the records out when it comes to this game, you’ve got to be the best team on game day,” Taggart said. “There’s going to be a sense of urgency around here like none other because of how important it is to win this ball game.”
FIU (0-3, 0-1 C-USA) will be playing for the first time in three weeks by the time it kicks off the game against FAU on Friday at Riccardo Silva Stadium.
The Panthers have only played one game in the past month. They didn’t play their Nov. 7 matchup against UTEP (canceled) and Oct. 30 matchup against Marshall (postponed) because of the Panthers' lack of available scholarship players. FIU last played on Oct. 23 in a 19-10 loss to Jacksonville State — an FCS program.
Taggart said he hasn’t heard an update on whether FIU will have enough players for Friday’s matchup.
“I’ve just been focused on our guys, our testing and making sure we’re good,” he said, adding that the Owls didn’t have any positive COVID-19 tests in their latest round of testing.
Open quarterback competition
While the Owls are expecting a fierce battle with the Panthers, they haven’t decided who’ll be their starting quarterback for the matchup.
Javion Posey replaced Nick Tronti as FAU’s quarterback on the team’s first drive of the fourth quarter versus Western Kentucky and led the Owls to a game-winning drive in the closing minutes.
Tronti was 7 of 16 for 108 yards through the game’s first three quarters. He’s 47 of 87 for 490 yards, three passing touchdowns and an interception on the season.
“It’s always open,” Taggart said about the quarterback competition. [Posey] made it a lot more interesting now."
Posey’s rushing ability gave the Owls the offensive boost they were lacking for most of the game against the Hilltoppers. The redshirt freshman finished with a team-high 60 rushing yards on nine attempts and scored the game-winning touchdown on the ground.
The Owls, who finished the game with 273 yards on 62 plays, had 123 yards on 22 plays in the final quarter under Posey.
“He brought a rushing element to the game and some energy to our offense and it made a big difference,” Taggart said about Posey. “Both series he was in, we moved the ball pretty easily. We didn’t ask him to throw, but he’s going to have to do that and I think he’ll do a great job of it when we ask him to do those things.”
Taggart said who practices the best this week will determine who’ll be the starting quarterback against FIU.
“Overall, whether it’s Javion or Nick, we need consistent play out of that position,” Taggart said. “And we need to score touchdowns. It all starts with the quarterback and holding guys accountable for doing their jobs. Right now, we’re not scoring. We know we have the talent to score so we have to find a way to do those things.”
Matt Hayball was named the C-USA Special Teams Player of the Week on Monday.
The redshirt sophomore punter had five punts for 229 yards against Western Kentucky, including a 70-yarder — the second-longest of his career.
Three of Hayball’s punts forced the Hilltoppers to start their possessions from inside the 20.
“I said to our team he was the MVP of the game on Saturday," Taggart said. "He’s a weapon for us and can change the field position, which he did a great job of. We need him to continue to do that.”
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