BOCA RATON – FAU and the Lane Train jumped back on a winning track Saturday with a 52-33 victory over Old Dominion. FAU’s offense came to life early as quarterback Chris Robison looked downfield more frequently in the passing game, and running backs Devin Singletary and Kerrith Whyte did damage late.
Defensively, the Owls played aggressively and intercepted ODU quarterback Blake LaRussa twice (three times if you count the two-point conversion), allowing FAU to extend its home winning streak to 10 games.
Each week our Chuck King and Wajih AlBaroudi review the good, the bad and the curious from the previous day’s game. With the Owls’ record (3-3, 1-1) now even on the season and in Conference USA play, the good greatly outweighed the other categories on Saturday.
King: FAU incorporated tight end Harrison Bryant more into its offense. It’s not so much of a surprise that Bryant had a big game. The surprise is that it took so long for the Owls to utilize Bryant more effectively. Bryant is weapon, the best tight end in Conference USA, and a future NFL player. The Owls made a conscious effort to get him the ball downfield starting with the first play from scrimmage – a 44-yard gain. Bryant finished with six catches for 133 yards and his first two touchdowns of the season. The kind of production could foreshadow a big second half for Bryant.
AlBaroudi: FAU’s cornerbacks were ballhawking for the first time this season. It had been a tough year for the Owls’ secondary in creating turnovers before last night, going pickless as a unit heading into its matchup with Old Dominion. It sure made up for lost time. Shelton Lewis and Chris Tooley each had an interception in FAU’s win, and Lewis added another pick on an Old Dominion two-point conversion attempt that went unaccounted for in the box score. The coverage was leaky at times as Old Dominion receivers Jonathan Duhart and Travis Fulgham combined for 18 receptions, 251 yards, and two touchdowns, but the turnovers Lewis and Tooley provided were momentum-swinging plays as the Owls scored touchdowns off of both of them.
King: This one goes to a unit, not a player, and that unit is the Owls’ offensive line. The front five paved the way for 266 rushing yards and five rushing scores. They also did a fantastic job in pass protection, limiting the Monarchs to only one sack. Tackle Brandon Walton in particular deserves accolades for controlling defensive end Oshane Ximines, a potential first round draft choice. Kerrith Whyte could easily have claimed this award, as could Harrison Bryant, Chris Robison or Devin Singletary. Defensively, it was good to see a healthy Jalen Young playing like Jalen Young again.
AlBaroudi: Harrison Bryant. The 6-foot-5 tight end was a focal point in FAU’s offensive game plan, as he was involved from the first play – a 44-yard catch-and-run – through the rest of the night. He served as Robison’s safety valve over the middle and in the flat. Bryant hauled in 133 yards receiving against the Monarchs, nearly matching the 167 yards he amassed over the first five games combined. The two touchdowns Bryant corralled from Robison – FAU’s lone passing scores on the night – helped the signal caller get into a rhythm that saw him throw for 339 yards on an efficient 21-of-32 passing.
KING: Leading 12-0 early in the second quarter, FAU elected to try to pick up a first down on a fourth-and-3 from its own 44. The Owls’ defense was finally looking reliable, and with Robison behind center, the punting game has been strong. FAU players and coach Lane Kiffin said all week it didn’t want to take its foot off the gas, but pinning the Monarchs deep was probably the smart call. Ximines deflected Robison’s pass intended for Kerrith Whyte on the play. ODU took over possession and three plays later the Monarchs had their first points.
AlBaroudi: The targeting penalty that led to Azeez Al-Shaair’s ejection. After coming free on a blitz through the middle of the Old Dominion line, Al-Shaair decked quarterback Blake LaRussa, who ducked his head in anticipation of the oncoming hit. A flag was immediately thrown for targeting, and after video review the penalty was confirmed to force Al-Shaair out of the contest. Old Dominion would score two plays later. It was a lose-lose situation for Al-Shaair, as if he hit LaRussa low he could have caused an injury, and hitting high resulted in his disqualification from the game.
KING: The targeting call against Azeez Al-Shaair was unfortunate, but it also was the proper interpretation of a bad rule. Al-Shaair did make contact to the head of LaRussa, but that was only because the ODU quarterback ducked his head moments before Al-Shaair attempted to plant a shoulder in his chest. Al-Shaair didn’t intend to deliver a blow to LaRussa’s head, but the way the rule is written, intent doesn’t matter. Allowing that the officials got that call correct, however, doesn’t get C-USA officials off the hook for the lousy job they’ve done this season. Their issues continued on Saturday when they nearly let the game get out of hand but not penalizing ODU players for the extra-curricular activities that went on after tackles. And, apparently, ODU offensive linemen, a group that allowed nine sacks last week to East Carolina, didn’t hold even once on Saturday, regardless of what our pictures and videos seem to indicate.
AlBaroudi: Splitting the rushing workload early paid dividends with a big second half from the Owls’ backfield. FAU distributed the ball evenly between its running backs in the first half, Singletary touching the ball 11 times to Whyte’s eight. That kept the pair fresh and helped them pick up steam while the ODU defense was losing its legs as the game progressed. The backfield tandem scored two touchdowns a piece in the second half and all were on chunk gains – three of them on 30-plus yard runs and Whyte added an 100-yard kickoff return in the third quarter that took the air out of Old Dominion’s comeback efforts.