FAU coach Carl Pelini leads the Owls on the field earlier this season. (Photo courtesy of Owl Pix)
Last of the first
Florida Atlantic's first season under coach Carl Pelini comes to an end Saturday vs. Louisiana-Lafayette.
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BOCA RATON – With one more game in the 2012 season, Florida Atlantic coach Carl Pelini will worry about Conference USA later.
Despite FAU's announcement Thursday that it is moving to Conference USA in 2014, Pelini is more concerned with Louisiana-Lafayette, at 3 p.m. Saturday at FAU Stadium.
FAU is 3-8 heading into the season-finale against the Ragin' Cajuns, who lost to Florida earlier this month 27-20 on a last-second blocked punt. A victory over Louisiana-Lafayette would give FAU three victories in its last five games.
“This is the last one,” Pelini said. “We've had 14 weeks to get our stuff straight and need to put on our best performance.”
After winning just one game in 2011 under Owls coach Howard Schnellenberger, who retired at the end of the season, FAU's has already shown some improvement.
“I think we got our systems established and the expectations of the program established,” Pelini said. “I think the players have been engaged the whole season and we have continued to progress and get better. I think we were very successful at laying foundation established and it will lead to good things in the future.”
FAU will lose 16 seniors from this year's team including linebacker David Hinds and quarterback Graham Wilbert. However several freshman saw significant playing time this season and Pelini has given them more playing time in the last few weeks to prepare them for the future.
“I got thrown into the fire considering my first college game was against Georgia but it was exciting and crazy at the same time,” said FAU true freshman safety Cre'von LeBlanc, who has started eight games this season. “It's going to be wild to come back next year as a sophomore and show what I learned.”
Pelini believes the experience those younger players received this season will be beneficial as he tries to build his program.
“Hopefully the level of recruiting is improving where we can play 15 true freshmen each year,” Pelini said. “If you recruited them and they are on scholarship, they should at least be on special teams or backup role players.”
The season was difficult for Pelini as the Owls lost six of their first seven games. But Pelini continuously preached to his team to keep getting better each week, and showed some momentum in the second half of the season.
“There's going to be a time soon when the wins have to happen, and have to happen every week,” Pelini said. “But to keep perspective, I think, was the hardest thing this year. ...I think in the end we handled it pretty well.”
Louisiana-Lafayette (7-4, 5-2 Sun Belt)
at Florida Atlantic (3-8, 2-5 Sun Belt)
Key For FAU
Running down: The Owls rushed for minus-12 yards in their 34-24 loss to FIU in their last game and need to be balanced vs. ULL.
Key For ULL
Stay motivated: The Ragin' Cajuns know they have already been invited to the New Orleans Bowl regardless of the outcome. Will they be able to stay motivated vs. the Owls in what could be considered a meaningless game.
ULL DB Rodney Gillis vs. FAU QB Graham Wilbert: Gillis ranks No. 2 in the Sun Belt and No. 20 in the nation With four interceptions this season. Wilbert has only thrown four interceptions this season, but one of those came in the Owls' last game.
12 – Sacks given up by the Ragin' Cajuns, the 18th lowest total in the nation.
35 – Consecutive starts by FAU senior OL Andy Czuprynski, who is playing his last game
334.5 – Average yards per game for FAU's offense, the worst in the Sun Belt.