Usually bouncing and boisterous, the calm in FAU’s locker room following the Owls’ 31-12 victory over Charlotte belied their accomplishment.
FAU completed an undefeated run through Conference USA play, but the Owls weren’t happy with the way they played – especially in the second half.
They would not dance following the victory, as is their custom. They didn’t even sing the fight song in celebration.
“I think it speaks volumes to the standards of the assistant players and coaches,” Lane Kiffin told ESPN West Palm.
Charlotte never truly threatened to knock off FAU, but misfire after misfire dismayed most everyone on the Owls sidelines.
“As painful as it was to watch, it was probably good for us for it to happen so you can have a reminder that plays don’t work just because you’ve got a better record than them,” Kiffin said. “You’ve got to execute. You’ve got to hold onto the ball. You’ve got to finish runs. You’ve got to get after the ball on defense and on special teams.”
Leading 24-6 at the half, FAU (9-3, 8-0) plodded through the final two quarters, claiming their eighth consecutive victory.
Devin Singletary’s second rushing touchdown of the day, this one from one yard out, came on the Owls’ first drive of the second half and gave him 26 on the season.
But Singletary, then Buddy Howell fumbled on consecutive drives. Howell’s fumble, coming on a play where he appeared to be down, set up Charlotte’s second touchdown – a seven-yard Hassan Klugh keeper.
Charlotte threatened to trim FAU’s lead to two possessions midway through the fourth quarter, but Herb Miller broke up Klugh’s pass in the back of the end zone to end the drive.
“The second half, we didn’t play very well,” Kiffin said. “Turned the ball over twice. Turned the ball over twice on downs. Get no turnovers.”
FAU built its halftime lead courtesy of two Jason Driskel touchdown passes – the first one to Kamrin Solomon covering 20 yards, the second a 40-yarder to Willie Wright.
“I felt like they played really well in the first half, we coached really well in the first half, and we played like a championship team,” Kiffin said. “The score at halftime was 24-6 on the road, so you’re headed in a good direction.”
The Owls won despite playing without starting tight end Harrison Bryant, who injured his left ankle against FIU the week prior. Without Bryant and John Raine, FAU started redshirt senior Dustin Bowens at tight end. When the Owls looked to throw to the tight end they inserted D’Anfernee McGriff, who caught three passes for 48 yards.
With the win, first-year head coach Lane Kiffin tied his predecessor, Charlie Partridge, for the second most wins in program history with nine.
“Hopefully this will be a distant memory for us some day, how poorly that we played, because we really have not played a bad half of football probably the entire conference season,” Kiffin said.
The game concluded FAU’s regular-season schedule, but the Owls still have two games remaining on the season. FAU hosts North Texas on Saturday in the Conference USA championship game on Saturday. Regardless of that outcome FAU will head to its first bowl game since 2008.
GameBrowser: FAU 31 (9-3, 8-0), Charlotte (1-11, 1-7) 12
TURNING POINT: After Charlotte halted FAU’s first possession with a fourth down stop, the 49ers tried their own fourth-down play – a pass off a fake punt – that failed, giving the Owls good field position. FAU quickly scored its first touchdown of the game and Charlotte never truly threatened.
- Down year for Conference USA? Maybe. But that doesn’t in any way diminish what FAU accomplished this season. Playing undefeated football within the conference schedule is never easy. FAU may not have played well at Charlotte, but the Owls excelled throughout the past two months. What they’ve accomplished is exceptional. The players and coaches deserve all the accolades they’re receiving.
- Having defeated arch-rival FIU the week prior and with the Conference USA title game coming next week, even Lane Kiffin mentioned during the week that the trip to Charlotte had the makings of a trap game. FAU played uninspired football on Saturday. That should change next week.
- D’Anfernee McGriff showed why the Owls were so happy in February that he signed with FAU. He looked powerful and elusive, and showed good hands catching the ball. McGriff’s move from wide receiver to tight end, which started long before Harrison Bryant’s injury, slowed his progress, but McGriff looks ready to contribute in the postseason.
- Where have all the turnovers gone? After being shutout in the turnover department once again, FAU has now gone three consecutive games without forcing a turnover. Maybe they’re saving them for the postseason?
3 – Touchdowns shy of the Conference USA single season rushing touchdown record for Devin Singletary, who scored rushing TDs No. 25 and 26 on Saturday. Kevin Smith, Singletary’s position coach, set the record while at UCF.
4 – Sacks by FAU, which, thanks to the magic that is the half-sack, were spread among five players.
5 – Drives to end the game that did not yield points for FAU.
7 – Tackles for Azeez Al-Shaair, which led the Owls but was one of his lowest totals in a while.
9 – Receptions for 103 yards and a touchdown by true freshman Willie Wright. He also carried the ball three times for 37 yards in his most complete game as an Owl.
10 – Completions for Jason Driskel on 13 attempts in the first half. Two of those went for touchdowns.
118 – Rushing yards for Devin Singletary, to lead the Owls.
294 – Total yards for FAU in the first half. The Owls held Charlotte to 146.
Up Next: FAU will play in a Conference championship game for the first time in program history. The Owls host North Texas on Saturday in the C-USA title game. Kickoff at Howard Schnellenberger Field is scheduled for Noon.