Prior to the start of the season, FAU coach Lane Kiffin noted that many of the Owls’ best athletes at each position hail from Alabama.
Following Saturday’s 34-17 victory over Southern Miss, maybe it’s time to give Georgia some recognition.
Begin with linebacker Keke Leroy, an Albany, Ga., native who intercepted two passes, forced a fumble with a sack and led the Owls with 11 tackles. Afterward Kiffin reiterated his belief that if the 5-foot-11, 235 pounder were an inch taller he’d be playing in the SEC.
Offensively, Harrison Bryant, a Gray, Ga., native who played high school ball at John Milledge Academy, caught three passes, turning all three into touchdowns. One of three finalists for the Mackey Award, presented to the nation’s top tight end, Bryant now leads the Owls with six touchdowns and 965 receiving yards.
Leroy doesn’t often get to watch Bryant’s game performances from the sideline – he’s usually huddling with the defense on the sideline – but when he does he’s as impressed as anyone else. Perhaps more.
“Harrison though, I can appreciate every bit of effort he gives his team,” Leroy said. “He’s a hard body. Plus he’s from Georgia. Hey, where am I from? I love it, man.”
Quarterback Justin Agner, who began the season as the Owls’ second stringer before battling an illness all season, and reserve running back Daniel Leconte also hail from the Peach State. True freshman wide receiver Xavier Roberts-Donaldson, a Rome, Ga. product, showed promise in fall camp.
And while cornerback Meiko Dotson is from Daytona Beach, he did start his college career at Georgia Tech. With two more interceptions against Southern Miss, Dotson set the FAU single season record for interceptions with eight – and he still has two games remaining.
One final odd note from Saturday’s win: Nearly every big play FAU produced came from a player who has ties outside the state of Florida.
Texas native Chris Robison threw those three touchdowns caught by Bryant. North Carolina native BJ Emmons led the Owls in rushing and scored FAU’s lone rushing touchdown.
GameBrowser: FAU (9-3, 7-1) 34, Southern Miss (7-5, 5-3) 17
Southern Miss employed a successful fake punt, a wide receiver pass and benefited from what could generously be called a controversial pass interference call to march 70 yards and eat 8:10 off the clock late in the third quarter, cutting FAU’s lead to 24-17 and setting an uneasy mood throughout the stadium. Five plays later, Robison found Bryant for a 22-yard touchdown pass, and the Owls led by at least two possessions the remainder of the way.
- CB Meiko Dotson isn’t only wreaking havoc with opposing quarterbacks, he’s doing so at crucial times. His two interceptions on Saturday were both in the red zone, including one at the 1-yard line. Dotson is now FAU’s single-season interception leader with eight.
- While Harrison Bryant only had three catches he still tallied 75 yards and three touchdowns. Bryant doubled his season touchdown total to six. He’s 35 yards away from 1,000 yards on the season. Bryant is averaging an amazing 15.8 yards per catch. Combined with John Raine, FAU tight ends now have 11 TD receptions – one fewer than the receiver spot.
- The Owls’ constantly unstable kicking situation appeared to take another turn for the worse on Saturday. Vladi Rivas missed two field goal attempts, and after missing the second one badly, he limped off the field apparently injured. Back up Aaron Shahriari attempted the Owls’ final field goal of the game, connecting from 31 yards.
- The way FAU finished the regular season, losing only one game during Conference USA play – that one coming in controversial fashion against Marshall – makes 2018’s 5-7 record seem more like an aberration. Kiffin has brought a winning culture to FAU. The Owls won nine total games over the three seasons prior to Kiffin’s arrival. They’ve won 25 – and could reach 27 – during his first three years. Power 5 schools are taking notice. Should Kiffin stick with FAU, he could be in for a substantial raise.
- FAU’s late surge won’t be enough to make the Owls the Group of 5 representative in a New Year’s Day bowl, but it should be enough to keep Florida Atlantic from playing in the Bahamas Bowl. It’s highly unlikely Conference USA would send a potential champion to the Bahamas Bowl, which presents a logistical nightmare for schools and is not considered one of the conference’s most desirable bowls.
2 – Amount of C-USA East titles FAU has since joining the C-USA.
4 – Interceptions by the Owls, a season high.
5 – Total turnovers forced by FAU. The Owls only turned the ball over once, increasing their turnover margin to plus 19.
7 – Tackles for a loss by the Owls.
12 – First Downs for the Owls. The Golden Eagles managed 17.
19.5 – Average yards per completion for the Owls.
38:10 – Time of possession for Southern Miss. FAU controlled the ball for only 21:50.
60 – Rushing yards for Southern Miss.
156 – Passing yards for FAU QB Chris Robison, moving him past the 3,000 yard mark for the season and into third place on the Owls’ single-season list.
198 – Total passing yards by Southern Miss
- Matt Wilson contributed to this report