BOCA RATON – FAU rode a high scoring offensive show to an 11-3 record and the Boca Raton Bowl title during Lane Kiffin’s first season. With quarterback Jason Driskel electing to forego his final year of eligibility, the Owls knew they’d have to lean on their defense to repeat as Conference USA champs.
FAU’s 2018 defense featured plenty of talented players, but under first-year defensive coordinator Tony Pecoraro the defense as a whole never came together.
The Owls opened the season by surrendering 63 points to powerhouse Oklahoma, but the wins that followed over Air Force and Bethune-Cookman provided a reason to consider the opening week’s defensive performance an anomaly.
Once C-USA play began, it quickly became evident that something wasn’t right. The Owls weren’t horrible, but they weren’t very good either. FAU struggled to get off the field on third down. They couldn’t pressure the quarterbacks with their front four. They didn’t force turnovers.
Midway through the season FAU lost linebacker Azeez Al-Shaair, the program’s all-time leading tackler, to a season-ending knee injury. Safety Jalen Young never fully recovered from a knee injury incurred during the season’s second week against Air Force.
Needing one win over its final two games to secure bowl eligibility, FAU surrendered 41 points to North Texas and 27 to an often inept Charlotte squad, ending the season with consecutive losses.
FAU’s defense didn’t need to be spectacular, but the inability of the Owls to be anything more than mediocre led the dismissal of Pecoraro and defensive line coach Eric Mathies following the season.
What We Wrote about the FAU Defense
- Tackling The Problem
- Defense Digs In Against Air Force
- FAU Celebrates With Turnover Bat
- Midseason Review: FAU Defense
- Al-Shaair Out for Year
- Kiffin Makes Change at DC
- Spencer to Replace Pecoraro as FAU DC
Why FAU’s Defensive Struggles Are Important
It’s hard to believe how good FAU’s defense looked in the spring and during fall camp, and difficult to understand why the unit failed to produce in the fall. There wasn’t a faster defense in Conference USA last season. While undersized, FAU had enough quickness and strength up front to be disruptive.
All that talent simply never came together in games. Only three C-USA teams surrendered more than the 31.7 points per game the Owls allowed in 2018. FAU finished in the middle of the pack within the conference in both sacks and turnovers.
At one point the Owls even turned to a gimmick, the turnover bat, in an attempt to emphasize getting the ball back. It didn’t help.
As a result, Kiffin let Pecoraro and Mathies go, hiring veteran coaches Glenn Spencer and Lance Thompson at coordinator and D-line coach, respectively. The decision to remove Pecoraro leaves many veteran Owls working with their fourth defensive coordinator in as many seasons.
Kiffin believes Spencer brings with him a defensive scheme better suited to slowing C-USA’s spread offenses. He’ll drop a defensive end into coverage. He’ll bring pressure from the secondary.
The Owls didn’t pick up on the system as quickly as Spencer would have liked. FAU’s offense scored at will during the first spring scrimmage but the defense, working against two quarterbacks who likely would have entered the spring as backups if not for the suspension of incumbent Chris Robison, stiffened as the spring progressed.
The loss of defensive tackle Charles Cameron to academic ineligibility will hurt, but the Owls do have more depth at the position than in year’s past.
With FAU running the kind of uptempo offense it does, the Owls’ defense will always surrender points and yards. The offense either scores quickly or gives the ball back to the opponent, rendering the defense susceptible to fatigue and increasing the number of possessions to defend.
FAU’s defense doesn’t need to pitch shutouts, but it does need to make enough stops to give the offense a chance to win ball games. Last year it couldn’t do that.
COUNTDOWN OF 2018-19’s TOP FAU STORIES
No. 10: Kiffin Lands Top Recruiting Class
No. 9: Potent Transfer Portal Helps, Hurts
No. 8: FAU Makes Major Facilities Improvements
No. 7: FAU Plays in the CIT Postseason Tournament
No. 6: FAU Baseball Extends Its Excellence
No. 5: FAU’s Defense Disappears