With Hurricane Dorian still menacing Florida’s east coast, the Owls couldn’t overcome the four touchdowns they surrendered in Columbus during Saturday’s first 10 minutes.
“That first quarter was like a hurricane,” FAU coach Lane Kiffin said.
Ohio St. scored on its first four possessions, with no drive needing more than four plays. After that, FAU actually outscored Ohio St. 21-17 over the final 50 minutes.
“Two different games, obviously,” Kiffin said. “We started off really poor – start 28-0 like that in a half-of-a-quarter, about as bad as you can in all phases of the game – and then played a lot better after that.”
The early defensive ineptitude reminded Kiffin of the Owls’ shortcomings in their 31-14 loss at Wisconsin in 2017 – a season that concluded with a Conference USA-championship and a Boca Bowl title – and their 63-14 loss at Oklahoma in last year’s 5-7 season.
“Fortunately we started to play better like we did the Wisconsin game which gives me hope that this will be more like that team we were two years ago than the team last year at [Oklahoma] when we just stayed that way,” said Kiffin.
Chris Robison drew the start after winning the FAU quarterback battle, but it didn’t really appear to matter who lined up behind center in the first half.
Sacked three times during the first 30 minutes, Robison barely had time to find receivers. When he did, those pass catchers rarely helped him out. Tight end Harrison Bryant, an NFL draft prospect, dropped the first two passes thrown his way.
Completing eight of 12 pass attempts in the first half, Robison only tallied 10 passing yards – averaging 1.25 yards per reception.
Robison and the Owls played like a different team in the second half. With the time to look downfield and receivers able to finally find some space, Robison completed 14 of his 22 second-half passes for 168 yards and a touchdown. Perhaps most importantly, he did not commit a turnover.
After FAU floundered its way to negative 14 yards of offense in the first half, Robison and the Owls scored on three second-half drives, twice with touchdowns.
True freshman Larry McCammon gave the Owls their first touchdown of the season with a three-yard plunge early in the fourth quarter. McCammon carried the ball 11 times for 22 yards in his first collegiate game. He’ll likely see even more carries in future games after former Alabama running back B. J. Emmons exited with what Kiffin said appears to be a broken foot.
Robison found John Raine all alone in the end zone for a two-yard touchdown that capped the Owls’ scoring.
The Owls’ retooled defense couldn’t have made life easier for Ohio St.’s offense in the first quarter. On the Buckeye’s fourth play from scrimmage quarterback Justin Fields raced 51-yards virtually untouched through the middle of the Owls defense on a read-option for a score.
Two plays into the Buckeyes’ second drive, a possession set up by a 35-yard return of a Matt Hayball 37-yard punt, Fields found Jeremy Ruckert for a 25-yard touchdown strike. Fields would throw touchdown passes of 32 and 29 yards on the ensuing possessions, putting Ohio St. up 28-0 with 6:50 remaining in the first quarter.
On all three touchdown passes there wasn’t an Owl defender within the cone of probability.
“The speed of their receivers, we probably can’t duplicate that in practice and it showed up early,” Kiffin said.
Led by James Charles’ 25 yards on 10 carries, FAU managed only 22 rushing yards on the afternoon. After a tough first half, tight end Harrison Bryant ended the afternoon with six catches for 79 yards, leading the Owls in both categories.
FAU must rebound quickly as the Owls prepare for one of the most anticipated games in program history. No. 17 UCF visits Howard Schnellenberger Field on Saturday for a game that, entering the weekend, is about 1,000 seats away from being a sellout.