F.A.U. Eyes the Wright Stuff on Offense
By Paul Myerberg // Jan 21, 2012
Brian Wright is familiar to fans in the hinterlands of college football, those in the Montana-Idaho-Dakotas region, but his name has never crossed the lips of football fans in the Sunshine State. Or hadn’t, before Carl Pelini named Wright, the former offensive coordinator at Montana State, to the same position at Florida Atlantic, where Pelini is preparing for his first season as Howard Schnellenberger’s successor. Now Wright has become a name to watch, perhaps the most important member of the new F.A.U. staff outside of Pelini himself, thanks to the Owls’ inability to achieve the most basic of offensive achievements in 2011 — you know, like first downs, field goals, touchdowns and the like.
Pelini’s staff is complete, and one thing is pretty evident: there are no worries on the defensive side of the ball. It may take time for Pelini to get the Owls to play defense in his image — snarling, biting, cruel and physical — but the staff is in place for F.A.U. to experience some early success on that side of the ball.
That’s one aspect of Pelini that’s intriguing, especially in the Sun Belt. As in the Pac-12, especially over the most recent hiring cycle, the Sun Belt has very much taken on an offensive feel. Gus Malzahn is the new coach at Arkansas State. Mark Hudspeth was a revelation during his first year at Louisiana-Lafayette.
Willie Taggart, a former offensive assistant under Jim Harbaugh at Stanford, has worked wonders at Western Kentucky. While the Trojans took a tough slide last fall, Troy has always been driven by its potent offensive passing game. Even Florida International, while not particularly know for its offense, has won games on the back of a few explosive skill players.
So Pelini’s defense-first mentality, as well as his accomplished track record and strong bloodlines, makes F.A.U. stand out, to a degree. While the recent trend has gone towards offense, the Owls made the decision to stand out on defense; at some point, the Sun Belt crown may come down to Pelini’s ability to stop Malzahn’s offense. Or Hudspeth’s offense, or Troy’s offense, or one of F.I.U.’s skill players.
And with Pelini in tow, along with defensive coordinator Marvin Sanders, the program has the makings of a defensive brain trust. Sanders’ career has experienced its share of ups and downs, such as when he inexplicably was dismissed from Nebraska following the 2010 season. If he had remained, there’s little doubt that Bo Pelini would have promoted Sanders, not John Papuchis, to be his coordinator once his brother left for Florida Atlantic.
But the coaching acumen has never been in doubt. And between Pelini and Sanders, the Owls have the two best defensive minds in the Sun Belt. And the program should adopt this pair’s mentality, focusing itself on and identifying itself with the way it plays defense. It’s actually exciting: it seems more and more rare to see a defensive coach land a head coaching opportunity at an underdog like F.A.U., so it’ll be interesting to watch the program develop over the next few years.
But it doesn’t matter how well the Owls play defense if they can’t get more from the offensive side of the ball. The offense was a disgrace in 2011, finishing 120th nationally — that would be last — in total offense and second-to-last in scoring. Watching F.A.U.’s offensive buffoonery was worse than watching paint dry; it was like watching milk turn, as the fan base can attest, and knowing it was coming every Saturday made the ineptitude all the more painful.
All the defense in the world might move F.A.U. from 1-11 to 4-8 in 2012, but the Owls won’t challenge for a Sun Belt title unless Wright can get things working in a hurry. And speaking of hurry, Wright’s offense will have the Owls getting in and out of the huddle, pushing the tempo and making the opposition race to keep up. That’ll be a change.
He was only at Montana State for two years, coming over from Youngstown State, but the results speak for themselves — the Bobcats reached the F.C.S. playoffs each year, and scored 415 points, the second-most in program history, in 2011. Whether Wright can duplicate that feat with the Owls might decide how successful the program can be under Pelini, especially with the defense in such solid hands.
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Tags: Brian Wright, Carl Pelini, Florida Atlantic, Florida International, Gus Malzahn, Mark Hudspeth, Marvin Sanders, Sun Belt, Troy
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