Doing so by such a decisive margin is the biggest reason FAU (6-3, 4-1) emerged victorious against WKU (5-4, 4-2).
The Owls forced four Hilltopper turnovers on Saturday without committing one of their own. Many of those forced WKU miscues came at crucial times, with one producing points.
While it’s easy to fawn over the four turnovers forced defensively, the second side of the equation is as important. FAU quarterback Chris Robison played interception-free football once again. He’s now thrown 16 touchdowns against only four interceptions on the year. Saturday marked his fifth interceptionless game on the season. He’s yet to throw more than one pick in a game this year.
Robison is doing a better job of throwing the ball away this year as opposed to trying to force balls where they didn’t belong. He’d thrown a pick in each of the past two games, but there were mitigating circumstances on both ill-fated plays.
Last week at Old Dominion, on a flea-flicker, wide receiver Pico Harrison ran the wrong route, allowing his defender to slide into the path of Robison’s throw to James Brunson. The week prior, in a loss to Marshall, Robison forced a throw into coverage during the final minute of play when the Owls had little choice but to try to take some chances.
FAU’s running backs deserve recognition, too, for Saturday’s lack of game-altering miscues. James Charles, battling a shoulder injury, Larry McCammon, dealing with a lower leg issue, and Chauncey Mason, who hasn’t played much, combined for 28 carries without ever putting the ball on the turf. As a team the Owls have only lost two fumbles all season.
The Owls entered Saturday’s game tied with Middle Tennessee a top the Conference USA statistical rankings with a plus 7 turnover margin – 10th best nationally. With MTSU losing the turnover battle – and the game, for that matter, at Charlotte – FAU now sits alone atop C-USA and will be firmly among the Top 10 nationally in that category.
FAU earned bowl eligibility nine games into the 2019 season. Look no further than a plus 11 turnover margin to understand why.
Let’s stick with the turnover talk for the moment. Linebacker Keke Leroy’s devastating sack subsequently followed by Tooley’s 25-yard fumble return for a touchdown woke the Owls from their doldrums both offensively and defensively. It cut WKU’s lead to 14-7 and is the choice here. Though James Pierre’s second interception of the game, coming after WKU blocked a Vladi Rivas field goal attempt, prevented the surging Hilltoppers from completing a late run. It deserves notice, too.
- As noted above, winning the turnover margin can cover some ugly numbers elsewhere in the stat book. Particularly this one: FAU converted only two of 11 third down chances into first downs. Entering their penultimate drive, one in which the running game finally found traction, FAU was a paltry 1-for-9 on third downs. That lack of production will eventually bite the Owls.
- FAU’s late-game running back combo of Charles and Mason – and quarterback Nick Tronti for that matter – displayed determined running in the fourth quarter, but credit the Owls’ offensive line for opening some creases. The big guys up front also limited the Hilltoppers to one sack. DeAngelo Malone entered Saturday as C-USA’s sack leader. The Owls shut him out on Saturday.
- Punter Matt Hayball is a weapon. His 77-yard first half punt pinned WKU inside its own 5. He later kept the ball on a gutsy fourth-and-1 call from deep within FAU territory late in the game to extend a drive. Hayball averaged 50 yards on his five punts. Now, if FAU could only get some semblance of consistency from its field goal kicking unit…
- Depleted at running back, FAU made a concerted effort to get its best offensive player, tight end Harrison Bryant, the ball more frequently. He led the Owls in catches and receiving yards with six for 74. Bryant had his hands on a couple more passes but didn’t haul them in. Robison also misfired in Bryant’s direction a couple of times. Even if FAU gets healthy at running back, FAU would be wise to plan to get Harrison the ball as often as possible down the stretch.
1 – Rushing yard for FAU in the first quarter.
10:01 – Time of possession for FAU in the first half.
11:01 – Time of possession for WKU in the first quarter.
12 – Tackles by FAU LB Keke Leroy, leading all defenders.
41 – Passing yards for WR Brandon Robinson, who connected with QB Nick Tronti following a reverse.
64 – Rushing yards for WKU on the day.
77 – Yard punt from Matt Hayball, longest in FAU history.
107 – Receiving yards for WKU WR Lucky Jackson in the first quarter alone. He ended the afternoon with 194 on nine catches.