ORLANDO – FAU fared better on Friday against No. 16 UCF than the Owls did at then-No. 7 Oklahoma earlier this season, but still left the mouse city looking for their first win over a ranked team in program history. After looking like they might get blown out early, FAU raced back to make a game out of it, even taking a 17-14 lead late in the first half before watching the game slip away. Each week our Chuck King and Wajih AlBaroudi analyze the previous day’s FAU game, examining the good, the bad and the curious in our Four Down Territory segment.
Chuck King: FAU showed resiliency by battling back to take a 17-14 lead after falling behind 14-0. The first quarter had the feel of another blowout – similar to what happened in the season-opening loss to Oklahoma. But FAU found stability in the running game and battled back. No, the Owls didn’t win the game, but after pretty much blowing everybody out last season, it’s good to know FAU has the ability to take a punch and respond.
AlBaroudi: The special teams unit got its act together. After starting the season with two straight games of having a punt blocked and nearly a third last week if not for a heads-up play to dodge the rush from punter Sebastian Riella, the Owls special teams unit looked shaky at best heading into a tough matchup with UCF. They showed major improvement on Friday night. The Owls blocked effectively in the return game, received strong snaps and protection on punt team, kept UCF from breaking any long runbacks in kickoff coverage, and Vladimir Rivas nailed all his attempted kicks – a 32-yarder and three extra points.
King: Devin Singletary. By adding three more touchdowns against UCF, Singletary became the first player in the NCAA this season to reach double digits in rushing scores. Really wanted to put quarterback Chris Robison here on the strength of his punting alone (averaged 52 yards on two attempts), but 124 passing yards and three interceptions simply doesn’t cut it.
AlBaroudi: Kerrith Whyte is proving to be an excellent complement to Devin Singletary in the FAU backfield. A multi-faceted weapon, Whyte gained over 100 all-purpose yards for a second straight game, making plays both out of the backfield and as a receiver. He scored twice against the Knights, the first coming on a wheel route down the left sideline where, after briefly pinning a Robison pass to his helmet before securing the catch, he cut right off his receiver’s block and hit pay dirt from 23 yards out. The second score was a 40-yard scamper where he burst through the line and won a foot-race with the speedy UCF backfield to the endzone. His impact was felt as on special teams as well, the explosive back giving his offense great field position on his kick returns all game.
King: FAU fell victim to several controversial calls by officials on Friday. Twice the Knights were called for targeting penalty – with the hit delivered to Harrison Bryant, which caught him in the facemask, being particularly brutal – only to have the calls overturned. UCF benefited from multiple pass interference calls, including one where Michael Colubiale actually caught the ball well out of bounds after he seemingly discarded FAU corner Chris Tooley. Shortly thereafter FAU didn’t get a call when Jovon Durante, coming back after an under-thrown Robison pass, was run over by Kyle Gibson, who was not looking for the ball. That call in particular didn’t sit well with FAU coach Lane Kiffin.
AlBaroudi: The officials not calling targeting on UCF defensive back Richie Grant after he blasted a defenseless Harrison Bryant. Grant ran full speed and decked Bryant as he was reaching in the air to grab an overthrown pass, sending him to the turf in vicious fashion. Multiple officials threw their flag on the play to take an extra look at the hit, but the penalty was negated after review. It was a questionable decision at the very least, as Bryant was blindsided by Grant who seemed to have led with his helmet while delivering the blow.
King: Robison showed his toughness at quarterback on Friday. The second target call against UCF mentioned above was a blow to Robison’s head while the quarterback awkwardly attempted to slide. He also drew a 15-yard face mask penalty on a scramble and absorbed several big hits in the pocket. Robison doesn’t have the wheels or the moves of De’Andre Johnson in open space, but he should continue to improve as a weapon in the ground game. Jason Driskel wasn’t fast last year, but he made timely runs to keep drives alive.
AlBaroudi: FAU showed growth and maturation by fighting back from two scores down to take a 17-14 lead late in the first half. A Chris Robison interception and two McKenzie Milton touchdowns in the first few minutes made the game look eerily like the opener against Oklahoma, a 63-14 loss, but the Owls refused to lay down. FAU stayed committed to the run despite the deficit and pounded UCF for two Devin Singletary scores in the half, then kicking a field goal to get a lead. While it didn’t culminate in a win, the fact that the Owls came back and made it a game against one of the nation’s best speaks volumes on how their mental fortitude has strengthened since Week 1.