The 31-7 loss effectively ended the Owls’ hopes of repeating as Conference USA champions and continued a disturbing trend of road losses.
Marshall physically beat up the Owls, relegating quarterback Chris Robison, wide receiver Jovon Durante, safety Jalen Young, linebacker Akileis Leroy and punt returner Dante Cousart to the sidelines – or in Cousart’s case to the hospital with a broken leg.
While an already damaged defense played well, for the most part, without leader Azeez Al-Shaair, who tore his ACL during practice last week, FAU’s offense moved the ball but couldn’t produce points.
Each week OwlAccess.com writers Chuck King and Wajih AlBaroudi break down the positives, negatives and curiosities from the previous day’s FAU football game in our Four Down Territory breakdown.
King: The overall position FAU finds itself in. The 2018 Owls are as perplexing as the 2017 Owls were surprising. The defense returned nearly everyone, yet hasn’t been nearly as good, although five turnovers by the offense at Marshall set the defense up to fail. The offense is one dimensional – stop Singletary, stop FAU. Everything that went right for FAU last season – going for it on fourth down, trick play calls – is going wrong this season. The magic isn’t there at the moment. FAU’s sidelines look chaotic. Marshall was the better team on Saturday, which is why the Thundering Herd won. Decide for yourself whether you can take solace in that fact.
AlBaroudi: Marshall keeping Devin Singletary out of the endzone and under 40 yards rushing. While the Thundering Herd has been dominant against opposing rushing attacks this season, ranking No. 12 nationally in yards per carry allowed (3.0), Singletary’s immense talent has kept him matchup-proof for much of his FAU career. That matchup-proof status took a hit yesterday. Singletary had nowhere to run, Marshall’s sound gap integrity clogging the cutback lanes he usually takes advantage of. Adding to the confusion is that last season Singletary shredded Marshall’s vaunted run defense to the tune of 203 yards and a score. FAU’s inability to move the ball via the pass made a repeat performance impossible.
King: Andrew Soroh stepped up when the Owls needed him the most. Replacing Al-Shaair, Soroh led FAU with 13 tackles including a half sack, which it didn’t appear he needed to split. Three of those tackles went for a loss. The senior’s leadership will be needed the remainder of the way. Rashad Smith is a close second here. He continued a breakout season with 12 tackles, including one for a loss. Quiet by nature, Smith will be forced into more of a leadership role with Al-Shaair out for the year.
AlBaroudi: Quran Hafiz. FAU has played a bit of musical chairs at the nickel cornerback spot this season, mixing in multiple different players at that position trying to find the best fit. The sophomore Hafiz found his seat with a starting opportunity yesterday and looked the part. A bright spot in a game where there were few and far between, Hafiz notched four tackles and defended a pass against the Thundering Herd. He was also a factor as a pass rusher, blitzing off the edge to pick up half a sack and a hurry on the afternoon.
King: It wasn’t so much the decision to try to pick up a first down on a fourth-and- from FAU’s own 13, it was the play call. By now everyone should be accustomed to Lane Kiffin taking chances. Last season FAU would have picked up the first down and everyone would have hailed Kiffin as a daring genius. But after making the, albeit unorthodox, decision to go for the first down, Kiffin and offensive coordinator Charlie Weis elected to run the ball wide. Marshall’s speedy defense stopped almost everything wide – jet sweeps, read-options – all afternoon, and they smothered Kerrith Whyte for no gain. Next play? Marshall touchdown. FAU would have fared better had it kept the ball in quarterback Chris Robison’s hands. He had success all afternoon running the ball, and Harrison Bryant would have made an inviting target.
AlBaroudi: The Owls attempting a fourth-down conversion deep in their own territory midway through the third quarter. Down 10 with only seven minutes having passed in the second half, FAU was far from reaching desperation mode in a game where it was suffocating Marshall defensively. Its play call call sure made it look otherwise. Robison lined up under center at the FAU 13-yard line and pitched the ball to Kerrith Whyte, who was bottled up on the right sideline before he could move the sticks. Marshall saw blood in the water with its new short field, scoring on the ensuing play and deflating any hopes of an FAU comeback.
King: These past couple of weeks should give FAU fans added appreciation for what Jason Driskel accomplished last season. The senior took over the Owls and led them to 10 wins in 11 games and the C-USA title. FAU currently has at least four quarterbacks more physically gifted than Driskel, but the engineering major used his intelligence to process what defenses were trying to do against him, then dissected those defenses. FAU moved the ball at times on Saturday under redshirt freshman Chris Robison, and even out-gained Marshall on the afternoon. Under Driskel those drives would have ended in touchdowns. With Robison still growing into the position, those drives stalled, as they have all too often this season. Good quarterback play can mask mistakes by others. Robison has yet to consistently show the ability to turn bad plays into good ones. Too often, he’s turning bad plays into worse ones by turning the ball over.
AlBaroudi: The Owls defense played admirably in standout linebacker Azeez Al-Shaair’s absence. FAU had big shoes to fill in replacing its all-time leading tackler in Al-Shaair. The resilient defensive performance it put together showed the Owls were up to the challenge. Andrew Soroh picked up 13 tackles and half a sack in his place, and Rashad Smith added 12 stops of his own. The Owls defense held Marshall within reach for much of the game despite their offensive counterparts struggles; something worth building on in this final stretch of the season.