The Owls are committing too many penalties. Wide receivers are dropping balls. FAU can’t seem to convert a third down when needed.
They are the kind of struggles that make coach Lane Kiffin long for the days not all that long ago when Jason Driskel ran the Owls offense.
“I think that we’re realizing, like I said before, even though Driskel wasn’t an NFL first-round type of talent, there were things that he did with the offense were very valuable.”
Driskel’s value wasn’t always evident to Kiffin. The redshirt junior lost a fall camp quarterback battle to Daniel Parr last season, only to assume the starting job for the Owls’ fourth game of the season.
The Owls lost the first game Driskel started before rolling to 10 consecutive wins, a Conference USA title and the Boca Raton Bowl title. An engineering major, Driskel used his intelligence, cunning, and above average athletic ability to move the Owls offense, ending the season with a 66.5 percent completion rate in 15 touchdowns against only four interceptions.
The flashy numbers went to running back Devin Singletary, who rushed for 32 touchdowns. Driskel limited turnovers while putting Singletary and the Owls in the position for such a record-setting performance.
“I think as you run that you realize there is a lot of value to the quarterback pre-snap and not the post-snap,” Kiffin said. “Pro style is more post-snap. Pre-snap is about getting the guys going, getting the right information because they’ve got to give the calls to the line – it’s not the old school way where you huddle. It’s very different from that aspect.”
Driskel surprised FAU coaches by electing to forego his final year of eligibility. His replacement, redshirt freshman Chris Robison, hasn’t been nearly as successful as his predecessor.
Through eight games, Robison completed 135 of 226 passes for 1,645 yards. He’s tossed 10 interceptions and only eight touchdowns.
Robinson’s looked timid at times while making reads and forced some passes in other instances that led to interceptions. The Owls’ uptempo offense has yet to play with the speed it showcased last season when Driskel quickly processed calls and made the right reads.
Redshirt sophomore wide receiver John Mitchell played with both Driskel and Robison and sees two players with similar skill sets. He believes Driskel may have been quicker at processing pre-snap information simply because, as redshirt junior, Driskel was more experienced overall than Robison.
“That will probably come with time,” Mitchell said. “I don’t really see too much of a difference, but if you do, it will probably come with time.”
Making the start in Friday’s loss to La. Tech because of an ankle injury to Robison, graduate transfer Rafe Peavey didn’t fare any better. After being credited with 51 passing yards on the first drive of the game, many of which coming on jet sweep pitches which qualify as passes but more closely resemble running plays, Peavey only threw for 82 yards the rest of the way before being replaced by Robison on the final drive.
FAU only converted one of its 11 third down attempts in the game, continuing an alarming trend of futility in those situations. Part of the reason the Owls are struggling this season is that they aren’t gaining consistent yardage on first and second downs, leaving far too many third and long situations.
In those spots, Peavey’s inexperience – it was his first career start – showed by reading the defense and incorrectly calling for running plays rather than passes.
“Unfortunately we read those wrong from the quarterback standpoint and obviously that resulted in not positive plays,” Kiffin said.
The Owls are only converting 33.3 percent of their third downs into first downs. Only 11 teams nationally own a worse conversion rate.
That statistic stands in stark contrast to last season, when the Owls converted nearly 40 percent of their third down plays, easily in the top half of FBS teams.