The Owls’ much maligned offensive line consistently opened holes for the running backs and gave Chris Robison plenty of time to throw, resulting in a 45-27 victory over Charlotte in North Carolina.
“The line did a much better job,” Kiffin said.
Averaging 102 rushing yards during their first four games of the season, FAU surpassed that mark on the first drive of the second quarter. FAU ultimately rushed for 236 yards, led by Malcolm Davidson’s 83 yards and two touchdowns.
Robison didn’t quite match his performances from the past two weeks, but he didn’t have to, either.
The redshirt sophomore quarterback completed 20 of 27 passes for 312 yards and two TDs. Robison’s first-half interception, coming after Harrison Bryant tipped a high throw into the air, was his first in three games.
FAU amassed 557 yards of total offense and scored at least 40 points for the third consecutive game.
“Hopefully this is what it is going to look like in conference play,” Kiffin said.
FAU started quickly, scoring on three-yard runs by Larry McCammon and Malcolm Davidson on two of the Owls’ first three possessions.
Penalties and a missed field goal, what coach Lane Kiffin termed “self-inflicted wounds,” stalled the Owls’ offense on several first half positions, allowing Charlotte to pull to within 17-14, but a Robison-to-Pico Harrison 18-yard touchdown strike in the closing seconds of the first half sent FAU into the break up 24-14. For Harrison, the touchdown catch was his first since 2016.
The victory gives FAU a modicum of revenge over Charlotte. In last season’s final game the 49ers came from behind to defeat the Owls, eliminating FAU from bowl consideration.
FAU’s record (3-2, 1-0) is above .500 for the first time this season. The Owls open C-USA with a victory for the second time in Kiffin’s three seasons.
“I like where we’re at right now but we’ve got to keep moving forward,” Kiffin said.
GameBrowser: FAU (3-2, 1-0) 45, Charlotte (2-3, 0-1) 27
TURNING POINT: FAU’s offense stumbled after a fast start, but the Owls started clicking again on the final drive of the first half. FAU raced 75 yards on nine plays, aided by Pico Harrison’s first two catches of the game. The second catch, a leaping grab in the corner of the end zone, sent FAU to the locker room with a 24-17 lead. While the 49ers did cut the lead to a field goal early in the third quarter, the Owls were able to continue their offensive momentum rediscovered late in the second quarter and pull away.
- FAU’s offensive line will deservedly receive plenty of accolades for its performance on Saturday, but don’t overlook the job the defensive line did. Led by Ray Ellis’ two sacks, FAU applied constant pressure to Charlotte quarterback Chris Reynolds and the front seven limited running back Benny LeMay to 46 yards.
- A few times on Saturday Kiffin momentarily replaced Robison with second-string quarterback Nick Tronti, who ran what was essentially a wildcat offense. Tronti gives FAU a Tim Tebow-type look, mostly running something akin to a power wildcat formation. And Tronti is a threat with his arm, too. This new wrinkle should give opposing C-USA defensive coordinators fits in their weekly preparation.
- Asked earlier in the week whether this FAU team more closely resembled the 2017 team that won Conference USA or the 2018 squad that fizzled, Kiffin responded that he didn’t know. While it’s a small sample size, FAU’s offensive performance on Saturday was reminiscent of that championship squad. That should provide positive energy heading into the Owls’ bye week.
- Penalties and Special Teams continue to be a concern. FAU accumulated more than 50 penalty yards in the first quarter alone. Kicker Vladi Rivas shanked an extra point off the upright and pushed a 31-yard field goal wide. The one field goal he did make barely squeezed inside the left upright. And kick returner DeAngelo Antoine fielded the second half kickoff too close to the sideline, allowing his momentum to take him out of bounds at the 4.
2 – interceptions by cornerback Meiko Dotson, the first two of his FAU career. Dotson started in place of the concussed James Pierre.
5 – victories by the road team in the five-game FAU vs. Charlotte series.
7 – scores produced by FAU’s eight red zone trips.
8 – different pass catchers for FAU in the first half alone.
52 – rushing yards for Charlotte, which entered the game as one of the nation’s best running teams.
96 – Receiving yards by Harrison Bryant to lead FAU.
343 – total yards amassed by FAU’s offense in the first half alone.