BOCA RATON – Circumstances certainly have changed around the FAU football.
After entering the season as the favorite to repeat as Conference USA champions the Owls are now in danger of completely missing the postseason. After Friday night’s 21-13 loss to La. Tech, FAU must now win three of its final four games simply to become bowl eligible.
Behind reserve quarterback Rafe Peavey, FAU started quickly – taking a 10-0 lead over the La. Tech after one quarter. The Owls managed only a field goal the rest of the way, falling to 3-5 on the season.
Each week our Chuck King and Wajih AlBaroudi examine the good, the bad and the curious from the previous day’s game as part of our Four Down Territory analysis. The confounding performance against La. Tech provided plenty to ponder.
King: Eight games into the season, FAU keeps repeating the same mistakes. Teams don’t frequently win games in which they commit 11 penalties. Two huge special teams failures, both penalties, allowed La. Tech to extend drives. FAU constantly fails to extend its one drives offensively on third down, and the defense can’t make important stops on third down. When defensive linemen do finally apply pressure, all too frequently opposing quarterbacks slip through their arm tackles. The defense doesn’t generate turnovers, while the offense constantly does. The sidelines continue to look chaotic. This FAU team isn’t improving. If anything, it’s devolving.
AlBaroudi: Jovon Durante having a quiet night. Ranking No. 4 in Conference USA in both receptions and receiving yards, Durante has been sensational as FAU’s top outside target. But the Owls’ struggle to throw the ball down field took a hit to his production. After clearing seven catches and 100 yards in each of the past two games, Durante was held was to three receptions for 27 yards against Louisiana Tech. The yardage was a season-low. A player of Durante’s caliber needs the ball in his hands as much as possible – even if it has to be on short passes and jet sweeps. Those opportunities simply never arose.
King: Devin Singletary. It’s getting repetitive leaning on Motor in this spot, but there’s really no other choice. Singletary rushed for 171 yards and scored a rushing touchdown, which moved him into a tie for No. 11 in NCAA history with Colin Kaepernick and Eric Crouch. Defensively, Jalen Young recorded nine tackles.
AlBaroudi: Devin Singletary. FAU’s two-headed monster of a backfield was about the only thing working offensively last night. Singletary single-handedly outgained his team’s total passing yards (121). He and Kerrith Whyte did everything they could to compensate for what was an anemic air attack. Singletary ran for 100 yards in the first half alone, finishing the game with 171. And he did it all on a whopping nine yards per carry. With his first-quarter touchdown, Singletary jumped Clemson’s Travis Etienne to retake his throne as the nation’s leader in rushing scores (15), at least for the time being.
King: For some reason this season, FAU absolutely refuses to throw the ball down field. As a team, the Owls have yet to produce a single play from scrimmage that covered 50 yards or more. The Owls completed four passes against La. Tech that either gained no yardage or lost yards. Too often FAU is attacking third-and-10 situations with passes at or behind the line of scrimmage, which is a major reason the Owls went 1-for-11 on third downs against the Bulldogs. Opponents have picked up on the tendency, and Willie Wright isn’t nearly as explosive as he was last season. Over their last two games, FAU is 4-for-28 on third down. Curiously, FAU converted 2-of-3 fourth down chances. How often do you see a team convert more fourth downs than third downs?
AlBaroudi: Going back to Chris Robison in the fourth quarter as opposed to De’Andre Johnson. Late in a game where Rafe Peavey was struggling and Robison was less than 100 percent, it seemed there was no better opportunity for Johnson to show what he could do than at that time. But FAU coach Lane Kiffin thought otherwise. Robison – who has the best pure arm talent of the three quarterbacks – was inserted into the game instead of Johnson, completing both of his two passes but failing to move the sticks on what ended up being a scoreless drive.
King: Forget for the moment that FAU had two players wearing No. 5 on the field at the same time and consider this: What in the world was Devin Singletary doing on the field as punt returner in the first place? Yes, Dante Cousart, FAU’s primary punt catcher the past few games, is out for the year. But Cousart only took over that role after Jalen Young suffered a knee injury at safety. Young likely didn’t reclaim the position because the Owls were concerned about re-injury. Why expose Singletary to the potential of a cheap shot while fielding a punt? Additionally, Singletary’s ineffectiveness in the passing game is his biggest shortcoming. He’s caught five passes all season and has two of the most devastating drops – one a would-be touchdown at MTSU, the other a ball batted in the air and intercepted at Marshall. There has to be someone else who can catch punts. Remember when the Owls had a whole bunch of wide receivers? And about that penalty for having two players wearing the same number on the field at the same time, it’s somewhat surprising that doesn’t happen more often to FAU. Too many key players for the Owls wear duplicate numbers. It’s another avoidable mistake.
AlBaroudi: FAU needs to start limiting penalties if it wants to get back to its winning ways of a season ago. Kiffin said it best in his postgame press conference, comparing the flags to turnovers. And he wasn’t wrong. The Owls committed 11 penalties against Louisiana Tech, resulting in a loss of 77 yards. One of those flags took away FAU’s chance at a late game-tying drive, as Tyrek Tisdale’s leaping the shield call on a Bulldogs’ punt gave them the ball back with a chance to run out the clock. The Owls’ 63 penalties on the year is the most in Conference USA. It’s tough to win games when a team is gifting free yards to that extent.