FAU’s running game was nearly non-existent with the absence of Conference USA MVP Devin Singletary, who remained sidelined with a hamstring injury. The defense swarmed to the ball on every run play, consistently gang tackling ball carriers right at the line of scrimmage.
Coach Lane Kiffin wasn’t worried about his offense’s performance – or lack thereof – because of key injuries and not having a full contact period.
“Well that No. 5 didn’t play, he is a pretty good player – that would help.” Kiffin said of the missing Singletary. “When you don’t go live [tackling] that helps the defense because the guys never miss a tackle so they are always spotted down where they are touched.”
The FAU defensive line continued to impress, penetrating into the backfield often and wrecking the flow of the offense. The ability to go two-deep on the defensive line will be vital in the fall, but makes it difficult for FAU’s over-matched second offense to find a rhythm this spring.
There is a clear talent disparity between the second-team offensive and defensive lines, which Kiffin expected, affecting his Class of 2018 recruiting strategy around.
“We are short, you know, that is why we signed six, maybe ended up being seven offensive linemen because that was an issue there.” Kiffin said. “We do not have much depth there.”
Three of the offensive line signees are junior college players who could contribute immediately. The Owls are also pursing Florida graduate transfer Antonio Riles.
The Owls also lack depth at the skill positions. Along with Singletary, D’Anfernee McGriff didn’t partake in the scrimmage because of an undisclosed injury.
Pico Harrison, a potential starter at wide receiver, also wore a black “no-contact” jersey on Saturday, and in previous weeks starters DeAndre McNeal and Jovon Durante did as well.
“What everybody’s not realizing is that we don’t have a lot of depth in our offense,” Johnson said. “You look around, everyone is in black jerseys. So we don’t have the rotation that those guys have. Our receivers are dead [tired]. Our offensive line is dead. They’re giving all they have.”
Out of Johnson’s two touchdowns, his first of the afternoon stood out. He lofted a 50-yard bomb over the top of double coverage to Durante who hauled it in over his shoulder down the left sideline.
“Making big plays, you can say that’s my middle name,” said Durante, who worked with the scout team last season after transferring from West Virginia. “In a scrimmage mindset, I’m going to treat that as if it’s a game,”
Big plays are becoming a constant from Durante, who Kiffin said is replacing Kalib Woods as FAU’s main deep threat. Woods averaged a whopping 25.8 yards per catch in 2017.
“Probably has had the most big plays out of the receivers including Willie [Wright] in camp.” Kiffin said.
Johnson’s final touchdown resulted from one of the defense’s only mistakes of the day. Silver Saunders split out to the right sideline and was left uncovered, Johnson quickly recognized the defensive breakdown and connected with the running back for an easy 60-yard score.
Chris Robison was hot-and-cold in Saturday’s scrimmage, making a few nice throws on the run but also showed inconsistent accuracy. He started the scrimmage under throwing his receivers then began to overcompensate with his arm, sailing passes over their heads.
Robison did, however, lead the only sustained drive of the day. He capped the march by play-faking a run to the right, rolling to the opposite direction and tossing to a wide-open Jacob Wilson for the score.
Saturday marked the second time FAU practiced in Hadley Park, located in the Liberty City region of Miami. FAU also traveled there last fall.
Practicing in Miami gives many FAU players a chance to play in front of hometown fans. It also exposes FAU to a new potentially new fan base.