OWLACCESS.COM SUPERLATIVES: OFFENSIVE MVP | DEFENSIVE MVP | OFFENSIVE PLAY OF THE YEAR | DEFENSIVE PLAY OF THE YEAR | OFFENSIVE NEWCOMER OF THE YEAR | DEFENSIVE NEWCOMER OF THE YEAR | BIGGEST SURPRISE OFFENSIVELY | BIGGEST SURPRISE DEFENSIVELY | BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT OFFENSIVELY | BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT DEFENSIVELY
BOCA RATON – FAU’s defense entered 2016’s fall camp with several holes to fill. Defensive tackles Brandin Bryant and Trevon Coley had moved on to NFL camps. So had safety Sharrod Neasman. Not to worry, though, right? The Owls’ defensive unit was loaded with young players, many of whom played key roles in 2015 as true freshman. Like the offense, the defense didn’t live up to expectations. What was the biggest surprise on the defensive side of the ball? Let’s tackle that question. Joining our Chuck King and Jake Elman in offering their superlatives are three colleagues from ESPN West Palm: FAU play-by-play man Ken LaVicka, analyst Kris Bartels and producer (and host of OwlTalk) Brian Rowitz.
Chuck King (OwlAccess.com): The return of Trey Hendrickson, the program’s all-time sack leader, meant the Owls should once again have the ability to dominate the line of scrimmage. With defenses sending two, sometimes three, blockers to take care of Hendrickson, fellow defensive ends Hunter Snyder and Haiden Nagel figured to be the main beneficiaries. That promise never materialized. Injured most of the year, Snyder managed only two sacks. Nagel started the season strong but faded down the stretch. Hendricskon finished the season with 9.5 sacks. All other defensive lineman combined for seven. FAU’s pass rush came almost exclusively from Hendrickson. When he didn’t get there, quarterbacks pretty much did whatever they wanted.
Brian Rowitz (ESPN West Palm): The step back taken by the defense. Youth was talked about all season long on the defensive side of the ball but the numbers given up were still a huge surprise. Many of the names that were learning the D all season were the same names that made huge plays last year as true freshmen. The defense which could have been a strength of the team allowed far too many yards all year and found themselves on the wrong end of the FAU record books.
Jake Elman (OwlAccess.com): FAU’s secondary was burned almost every game this year, but safety Jalen Young really made strides in his sophomore season. Though Young’s statistics did take a slight dip in 2016, the Seminole Ridge product led Conference-USA with 67 solo tackles and picked off two passes. Of Young’s 100 total tackles, 52 came during a four game stretch against Ball State, Florida International, Charlotte, and Marshall.
Kris Bartels (ESPN West Palm): For a defense that had 23 takeaways in 2015, I expected the 2016 version of the Owls’ defense to have a lot more. With only 15 takeaways, the defense did not create enough turnovers for the offense to take advantage of. What is even more surprising is the lack of production from a defense which had the same defensive coordinator for three years.
Ken LaVicka (ESPN West Palm): Safety Richie Kittles. A name that wasn’t heard much after his commitment to FAU, the sophomore, despite only starting three games, made his presence felt in the final month of the season. He had one tackle for loss and an interception. He’s a play-maker and we were able to see that.