The Owls led 17-0 in the first half and 24-10 late in the third quarter before the Golden Eagles twice trimmed that deficit to one touchdown.
“It was just an eerie game that way,” FAU coach Lane Kiffin said. “To me, it felt like, Hey we’re going to blow this thing open, but we couldn’t. They kept holding the ball.”
Ultimately FAU pulled away, claiming its spot in the C-USA title game with a 34-17 victory. Now Kiffin and the Owls turn their attention to UAB, which will travel to Howard Schnellenberger Field on Saturday for the C-USA title game.
Before that happens, however, let’s take one final look back at FAU’s win over Southern Miss. Each week we examine the good, the bad and the curious from the previous day’s FAU football game in our Four Down Territory analysis.
FOUR DOWN TERRITORY: FAU (9-3, 7-1) 34, Southern Miss (7-5, 5-3) 17
Chuck King: Keke Leroy. The Owls’ junior linebacker did a little bit of everything on Saturday, intercepting two passes – nearly returning one for a score – forcing a fumble on a sack that the Owls recovered, and leading the Owls with 11 tackles. Meiko Dotson and his two picks deserves some consideration here, too. And offensively Harrison Bryant is a man among boys. All three of his catches went for touchdown – the first three touchdown game he ever remembers having.
King: Chris Robison became gun shy after throwing his fifth interception of the season in the second quarter. All year Robison’s been walking a fine line between playing smart and being aggressive. After throwing Saturday’s pick – an ill-advised throw into traffic across the middle of the field – Robison became too cautious. Several times after leaving the pocket Robison – who only completed two second-half passes – fired the ball into the stands rather than chance getting the ball to open receivers down field. Generally speaking, avoiding turnovers is a positive, but if the Owls needed Robison to make game-winning plays late in the fourth quarter, would he have mustered the confidence to do so?
King: Facing a second-and-13 midway through the first quarter, Southern Miss QB Jack Abraham lofted a pass toward the visiting sideline that fell incomplete. FAU CB James Pierre appeared to have perfect coverage on the play and replays showed what could barely be described as incidental contact, yet officials flagged Pierre for pass interference, helping to extend a drive that ended with a Southern Miss touchdown.
King: Could Saturday’s Conference USA championship game feature two teams playing under interim coaches? It’s possible, but not likely. UAB’s Bill Clark continues to receive praise for the job he’s done reviving UAB’s program after the university briefly dropped football. His name has been mentioned as a possibility for some current jobs. And Lane Kiffin’s name is always being thrown around, although this time Florida State is sounding like a more serious suitor than originally thought, and what Arkansas lacks in lifestyle it may be able to make up for with dollars. With the regular season already concluded for most teams that will make a coaching change, events can move pretty quickly this week. FAU won’t be able to match financial packages Power 5 schools can offer Kiffin, but the Owls should already be pursuing a good-faith raise for Kiffin.