BOCA RATON – While deficiencies in the passing game receive most of the criticism over the past couple of weeks from those surrounding the FAU football program, Lane Kiffin understands the Owls have to fix a problem on defense that may be equally as vexing.
FAU is once again struggling to tackle ball carries.
“I wish we were better at it,” Kiffin said.
FAU is entering the bye week allowing 225.8 rushing yards per game – No. 112 nationally out of 129 teams.
Many of those yards, came after contact. For proof, the Owls need only look to last week’s performance by Old Dominion, when Jeremy Cox ran over and through potential tacklers for 202 yards and two touchdowns.
On Monday Kiffin announced a renewed emphasis on tackling during the current bye week’s practices.
An issue the last few seasons, Kiffin isn’t certain why Owls continue to struggle at one of the most basic aspects of football.
“I don’t know,” Kiffin said. “I think our linebackers have been OK at it. It’s kind of been, our secondary has been a lot of the issue.”
After opening the season with Navy’s and Wisconsin’s run-heavy offenses, the Owls primarily faced spread offenses over the four most recent games. To counter the extra receivers opponents employ on offense, FAU adds a defensive back, usually a corner, and removes a linebacker from its base 4-3 scheme.
“It’s definitely a fixable thing,” starting cornerback Raekwon Williams said. “I feel like we’re getting better at it every day. We’ve just got to continue to just run our feet. We stop our feet a lot. We’ve got to continue to run our feet and take great angles.”
Williams’ 25 tackles are fifth most on the Owls this season. Linebacker Azeez Al-Shaair leads FAU with 46 despite missing one game. Safety Jalen Young is second, four back. Rashad Smith, another linebacker, is third with 39.
Two true freshmen, safety Zion Gilbert and nickel Quran Hafiz rank fourth and sixth, respectively.
Combined, Williams, Shelton Lewis and Chris Tooley – the Owls’ three primary cornerbacks – are credited with 56 tackles this season.
“They do come up and tackle but they’ve missed some tackles,” Kiffin said.
Williams believes the Owls are preparing to tackle too early, rather than running through the ball carrier to make a tackle.
“It’s more of a, we’re breaking down too early, waiting for the running back to cut or make his extra move,” Williams said. “We’ve got to take the extra step because we know that everybody’s flying to the ball, so we’re going to have help no matter if we miss the tackle or we make the tackle.”