FAU SUPERLATIVES: Offensive Newcomer of the Year | Defensive Newcomer of the Year | Offensive Most Improved | Defensive Most Improved | Offensive Unsung Hero | Defensive Unsung Hero | Biggest Offensive Surprise | Biggest Defensive Surprise
BOCA RATON – Throughout spring of 2018 and even into fall camp, FAU’s defense dominated.
Once the season started, however, something unexpected happened: the defense dropped the ball.
That the Owls failed to slow high-powered Oklahoma in the season-opener wasn’t exactly a shocker. After all, Oklahoma ended the season where many expected the Sooners would – in the NCAA playoff.
But the Owls never seemed to recover from that performance, eventually leading to first-year defensive coordinator Tony Pecoraro being one-and-done at FAU, the Biggest Defensive Surprise of the season.
Pecoraro came to FAU from Southern Miss, signing a three-deal and becoming the highest-paid Owl assistant in program history. He promised an attacking scheme that would harass quarterbacks and create turnovers.
Neither of those outcomes materialized on a regular basis. The 14 turnovers FAU forced ranked No. 109 nationally. The Owls ranked No. 89 nationally in sacks per game, averaging fewer than two each week.
Determining which aspect disappointed most is bit of a chicken-and-egg argument. Pressure on the quarterback often produces ill-advised throws, which leads to interceptions. Good coverage down field gives offensive linemen and blitzers more time to get to the quarterback.
Either way, neither happened with great regularity.
And, yes, it’s hard not to factor in the loss of linebacker Azeez Al-Shaair to a season-ending knee injury at the year’s midpoint into the defensive struggles, but the Owls weren’t playing all that much better with the program’s leading tackler in there.
For our purpose, the fact that Al-Shaair’s final snap in an FAU uniform came on a play – the proper interpretation of the flawed targeting rule – that resulted in his ejection qualified for the discuss of the Owls’ biggest defensive surprise. He incurred the knee injury the following week in practice, but in the end the Owls’ issues went deeper than the loss of Al-Shaair.
Lane Kiffin expected the defense to be the heart of the 2018 club. That heart needed the defibrillator too many times. By parting ways with Pecoraro, Kiffin not only surprised most who followed FAU, he admitted to making the biggest – certainly the costliest – mistake of his FAU tenure.