Devin Singletary rushed for two touchdowns to move into sole possession of the sixth spot on the NCAA’s career rushing touchdown list, Harrison Bryant set a personal record with 138 receiving yards and the Owls’ defense intercepted North Texas quarterback Mason Fine twice – matching his total for the season entering the game.
Yet FAU still needed to turn a late drive into points, but couldn’t pull it off. Chris Robison’s second interception of the second half ended the Owls’ chances at a comeback victory, handing FAU a 41-38 loss.
Each week our Chuck King and Wajih AlBaroudi break down the previous day’s FAU football game, highlighting the good, the bad and the curious from what has become a tumultuous FAU season.
King: Robison, a redshirt freshman, played North Texas quarterback Mason Fine – one of the best signal callers in the nation – to a statistical tie. Robison completed 21-of-35 passes for 294 yards, throwing two touchdowns and two interceptions. Fine completed 22-of-33 passes for 295 yards, matching Robison’s totals of touchdowns and interceptions. Yes, Fine’s totals might have been greater had he not missed time because of an injury, but Robison’s totals would have been even more impressive had his receivers not dropped so many passes. If someone told FAU coaches before the game that Robison would essentially play Fine evenly, the Owls would have expected a win.
AlBaroudi: FAU snagging two interceptions on North Texas quarterback Mason Fine. Fine came into the game having thrown only two interceptions all season but the Owls doubled that last night alone. It was an extremely encouraging performance from the Owls defense, as its constant effort to get hands in the passing lanes forced tipped balls, leading led to timely takeaways from linebacker Rashad Smith and safety Ocie Rose. Those impact plays kept FAU in a game that could have gotten out of hand quickly given North Texas’ hot start.
King: It’s probably North Texas backup quarterback Quinn Shanbour, who replaced Fine and promptly ran for two touchdowns. On the FAU side, it’s hard to overlook Bryant’s big game. But let’s go with Smith. North Texas only credited Smith with two tackles, which seems light. (No FAU player had more than five, also odd.) Smith and Jalen Young arrived at Mason Fine simultaneously for the hit that temporarily knocked the Mean Green QB out of the game. He also became only the third player to intercept Fine this season, pushing his team lead to four.
AlBaroudi: Bryant. The Owls’ leading receiver on the night, Bryant paced FAU’s offense with both his big plays as a pass catcher and his bone-crushing downfield blocks in the run game. The junior hauled in 138 yards on six receptions, his 56-yard first-half score marking a career-long. FAU coach Lane Kiffin has brought up Bryant as an NFL-caliber talent in the past. Huge games like this one are exactly why.
King: Coach Lane Kiffin planned to give backup quarterback De’Andre Johnson a couple series, much like he did in the previous two FAU games, both victories, but when the time came Kiffin elected to stick with Robison. With fans clamoring for Johnson on social media, Robison quickly led the Owls to 21 points to get back in the game. Maybe Johnson would have rallied the Owls to victory in the second half. But Thursday’s loss can’t be pinned on Robison. And, yes, that roughing the passer call against Young was absurd.
AlBaroudi: The roughing the passer penalty called on Young. Smith flew in from left, Young from the right, the two converging on Fine to swallow him in the backfield for a huge sack. But par for the course, Conference USA officials had something to say about it; the play, which briefly knocked Fine out of the contest, was reviewed for targeting. Young was spared the targeting call, but was called – inexplicably – for roughing the passer. It was simply a ludicrous call considering Young made no contact to the head or neck area and didn’t deliver the hit late.
King: It’s time to retire the jet sweep to Willie Wright. Defenses have been prepared for it since the start of Conference USA play and it isn’t fooling anyone. Wright doesn’t appear to be as fast or elusive as the Owl coaching staff believes. On Saturday he caught three passes for a total of 12 yards, with a long of nine. North Texas also credited Wright with a run – which probably will be changed to a reception – that lost six yards. Add that play into his totals and Wright touched the ball four times offensively, excluding drops, and averaged less that two yards per touch. Why keep going to that well?
AlBaroudi: Credit to FAU for climbing back into the game when it looked bleak early on. North Texas was locked in from the opening kick, jumping out to a quick 17-point first-quarter lead before the Owls could mount a response. But they did. And their effort was valiant. Despite the three-score deficit, FAU stayed committed to its run-oriented identity and refused to let game flow change how it wanted to play. While moral victories don’t show up in the box score, the Owls certainly deserve one anyway for the composure they showed by turning a would-be blowout into a thriller.