Two weeks into the season, FAU coach and offensive guru Lane Kiffin is still perplexed by the Owls’ offensive struggles.
“This was actually supposed to be more of an offensive team with more returners over there,” Kiffin said following FAU’s 31-14 loss at No. 9 Wisconsin.
After allowing 14 quick first quarter points the Owls responded well, playing the Badgers nearly evenly for the final three quarters.
But FAU couldn’t get anything going in the second half offensively to challenge Wisconsin, stalling potential drives with penalties and miscommunication.
“You are not going to beat a Top 10 team in the country when you come in here and have 50 yards of offense and two first downs in the second half,” Kiffin told ESPN West Palm’s postgame show.
Big plays still plagued the Owls. Wisconsin running back Jonathan Taylor gashed the Owls for a 64-yard touchdown run up the middle early and brushed off five potential tacklers for a 29-yard TD not to long after, but the defense did stiffen.
FAU stopped Wisconsin with a goal line stand in the second quarter and won the turnover battle 2-0 thanks to an interception by defensive end Leighton McCarthy and a Shelton Lewis forced fumble that Raekwon Williams recovered.
“To play like that at times on defense – make the goal line stands, some short yard stands – I thought we played well enough on defense to win the game if we would have done some stuff on offense,” Kiffin said.
Daniel Parr made his second consecutive start at quarterback. With quarterback De’Andre Johnson not making the trip because of a medical condition, Parr went the entire way behind center, completing 9-of-19 passes for 142 yards and a touchdown.
His 63-yard completion to DeAndre McNeal put FAU on the scoreboard, cutting the Badgers’ lead to 14-7.
A 14-yard Parr to Harrison Bryant pass set up the Owls’ second TD – a one-yard run from Devin Singletary.
Parr and the Owls struggled in the second half, though, managing only two first downs over the final 30 minutes.
“I think we definitely got better from last week,” Kiffin said.
Kiffin attributed Johnson’s absence to a “medical condition” and did not know when he would be able to return to the field.
“We had plans to play him in the game but the medical situation made it so that he could not play and could not travel either,” he said.
FAU now faces the uncertainty created by Hurricane Irma. The Owls will spend at least one night and likely more in Madison before returning to South Florida. Wisconsin has made their facilities available to FAU, giving the Owls a place to practice and paying for their extended hotel stay.
“I’m proud of our guys,” Kiffin said. “There’s a lot of stuff going on, a lot of distractions, some guys not even wanting to come here. We got them on the plane. They came up here. I just think we really could have won the game if we just did a few things better.”
GameBrower: No. 9 Wisconsin 31, FAU 14
TURNING POINT: Daniel Parr’s 63-yard touchdown pass to DeAndre McNeal turned momentum in FAU’s favor and after Devin Singletary’s score the Owls only trailed Wisconsin by a touchdown at the half. Wisconsin’s defense adjusted during halftime and completely shut down FAU’s offense in the second half.
- An extended absence from quarterback De’Andre Johnson would leave FAU in the same quandary it faced last season – whether to play Daniel Parr or Jason Driskel. Parr looked good at times on Saturday, but the Owls aren’t going to win many games completing only nine passes.
- The Owls started the game with a five-man defensive front, using Leighton McCarthy and Hunter Snyder at the ends, and Steven Leggett, Jeremiah Taleni and Haiden Nagel in the middle. They crowded the line of scrimmage much of the afternoon, but Wisconsin was still able power through them early.
- Missed tackles continue to be a problem for FAU. Luckily for the Owls, they won’t see many backs like Jonathan Taylor the remainder of the year.
- The Parr-to-McNeal connection connection is becoming a true big play threat. McNeal caught three passes for 10 yards on Saturday.
- FAU’s trouble snapping the ball migrated from the offense to special teams. Antonyo Woods performed better using the dead snap technique, but J.R. Clancy skipped one snap to punter Ryan Rickel and produced another wayward snap on a field goal attempt, resulting in a turnover.
- The Owls converted only two of 14 third down chances. It’s tough to consistently move the ball without converting on third downs.
3 – Carries for FAU running back Buddy Howell, who gained 23 yards. On the season he’s averaging a little less than 8 yards per carry.
29 – First downs for Wisconsin, 20 more than FAU managed.
38:34 – Time of possession for Wisconsin, compared to 21:26 for FAU.
104 – Career extra points by Greg Joseph, who made two on Saturday to break a tie with Mark Myers for the most in program history.
135 – Rushing yards for Jonathan Taylor on 11 carries in the first quarter along. He finished with 223 yards, making it the second consecutive week the Owls have allowed a ball carrier more than 200 yards.
1.2 million – Dollars the Badgers paid FAU to come to Wisconsin. Remove the travel costs accrued by FAU and that this game alone pretty much pays Lane Kiffin’s $950,000 salary for the year.
UP NEXT: FAU is scheduled to return home to face Bethune-Cookman on Saturday at Howard Schnellenberger Field for a 6:30 p.m. kickoff. We’ll see what Irma has to say about that.