BOCA RATON – Yes, there are were concerns about FAU’s non-conference performance, especially following blowout losses to Oklahoma and UCF, but most reasonable people expected the Owls to enter Conference USA play with a 2-2 record. That’s what happened. Unlike last season, when the Owls rallied from a 1-3 non-conference record to win the C-USA title, FAU didn’t fix their issues once conference play began. In a game that, at times, looked like FAU could run away with, the Owls’ ultimately fell to MTSU 25-24 behind a touchdown in the final seconds and a subsequent two-point conversion. Each week our Chuck King and Wajih AlBaroudi analyze the good, the bad and the curious from the previous day’s game in our Four Down Territory analysis.
King: FAU lacks leadership and cohesiveness on offense. We kind of expected the Owls to struggle offensively early in the season, but after five games those issued would have been worked out. Instead, Devin Singletary looks somewhat pedestrian, although he’s still scoring touchdowns. The quarterback play has been spotty not only from week to week, but from series to series. The third wide receiver to complement Jovon Durante and Willie Wright has yet to emerge. Maybe it is time for a new voice behind center. Maybe Rafe Peavey possesses the kind of leadership Jason Driskel brought to the Owls last season. Maybe De’Andre Johnson offers that kind of leadership, and adds a different dimension wit his running ability. Maybe the special teams will approach competency (feels like it’s too late for that). Maybe. At this point in the season, the Owls have far too many maybes.
AlBaroudi: FAU’s inability to defend a two-minute offense for a second-straight week. The Owls owned a commanding 21-3 lead with under three minutes to go in the first half, but, like their bout with UCF, they fell apart defensively by giving up an easy touchdown and the momentum right before the break. Middle Tennessee quarterback Brent Stockstill carved up the Owls on a scoring drive that spanned only 49 seconds, going 3-3 for 65 yards and a touchdown to bring his team within 11 heading into the half. Those points were the difference in the game, as the Owls went on to lose by one.
King: James Pierre led a hard hitting defense. The sophomore nickel back delivered the hit on MTSU QB Brent Stockstill that created the Owls’ first fumble recovery of the season. Pierre’s seven tackles on the night trailed only Zyon Gilbert among Owls. He was also credited with a pass breakup. Pierre exited the game late with an apparent forearm or wrist injury after making a tackle. If he has to miss time that would be a big loss for the Owls.
AlBaroudi: James Pierre. The versatile defensive back continued his strong sophomore campaign with another forceful effort in run support last night. His seven tackles was tied for second on the team, and his impact play in the third quarter stopped the Blue Raiders from driving in Owls territory. With his team down two scores, Stockstill took off out of the pocket for a first and looked to have room for more, but Pierre flew in and punched the ball out of his grips, forcing a fumble that was recovered by Ernest Bagner on the FAU 40 yard line.
King: With seven minutes remaining in the fourth quarter after a mostly stagnant second half, FAU’s offense showed life behind a 24-17 lead. A Robison run appeared to give FAU at first down, but a replay review moved the spot back one yard, forcing a fourth down. FAU elected to go for the first down with a quarterback sneak, but officials marked Robison short. Officials also went to replay to review this spot. Once again it didn’t work in the Owls favor. FAU turned the ball over in its own territory, and even though the defense ultimately forced a punt, FAU’s offense never mounted a threat again.
AlBaroudi: With less than a minute left in regulation, Middle Tennessee going for two when it could have tied the game with an extra point. The Blue Raiders had momentum on their side after rallying back from a 18-point deficit, and doubled down on it by going for the win over the defending Conference USA champion Owls instead of playing for overtime. The gutsy call paid off, as Stockstill ran a sprint-out to the left and fired a pass across to his body to Gatlin Casey, who made a leaping catch over cornerback Chris Tooley to give Middle Tennessee the win.
King: All is not lost for FAU. The Owls could still reach the C-USA championship game and win a second consecutive title. Even if the Owls don’t reach the title game, they are still likely to go to a bowl – an outcome FAU fans would have killed for two years ago. But this team can be frustrating to watch, and the frustration was evident in coach Lane Kiffin’s voice following Saturday’s loss. This will be a telling week for FAU.
AlBaroudi: Hunter Snyder’s return is a great sign for the FAU defense going forward. After missing time early in the year with an injury, Snyder came back to play a full allotment of snaps against the Blue Raiders and provided some of the pass rush FAU has been lacking in his absence. While he didn’t record a sack, he forced Stockstill out of the pocket and into quick decisions on multiple occasions with his pressure off the edge. Snyder also blocked a field goal on the night. Now that he has returned to the lineup, FAU can start to recreate the effective defensive line rotation it showed in camp when the line was at full strength.