BOCA RATON – Lane Kiffin accomplished in three-quarters of a season what no single coach at FAU has been able to do since program founder Howard Schnellenberger last did it in 2008.
Nine games into the Kiffin era, FAU is bowl eligible.
The Owls won their sixth game of the season on Friday night, hanging on to beat Marshall 30-25 to take control of the Conference USA’s East Division.
“Obviously an exciting time for these players, for the university for all of our former players,” FAU coach Lane Kiffin said. “Anytime you do something that hasn’t been done before as far as beating Marshall for the first time ever, it’s exciting.”
FAU won bowl games in 2007 and 2008, but hasn’t been to a bowl since. The Owls were last bowl eligible in 2013 when Carl Pelini led FAU to two wins before interim coach Brian Wright piloted the Owls to four consecutive wins to end the season. The Owls were bowl eligible but did not receive a berth.
“It’s just unreal just thinking about what we’ve been through the last three years – the last three years I’ve been here,” said safety Jalen Young, who tied a program record with three interceptions. “Now we’re going bowling. We beat Marshall. It’s so surreal.”
To earn bowl eligibility on Friday the Owls needed to slow a Thundering Herd squad that two weeks ago was 6-1 and widely considered Conference USA’s best team. Now the Owls hold a two-game advantage over Marshall plus own the tiebreaker with only three games remaining.
Prior to Friday night FAU (6-3, 5-0) had never beaten Marshall (6-3, 3-2) in four tries. The Owls finally broke through by following the same formula that allowed them to enter the showdown riding a four game winning streak – give the ball to running back Devin Singletary and let the defense get the ball back.
Conference USA’s reigning Offensive Player of the Week, Singletary darted his way to his second-consecutive 200-yard rushing evening. He only found the end zone once on the ground, but the back nicknamed “Motor” caught a nifty 60-yard touchdown on a double pass from wide receiver Kamrin Solomon that snatched momentum back for FAU moments after Marshall tied the game at 16 with 13 consecutive points to start the second half.
“That’s a three-play series actually,” Kiffin said. “The kids did a great job. They memorized it. It’s going to be three really fast plays. You have the reverse first. Then you have the reverse pass that makes a great thrown [from quarterback Jason Driskel] and make a great catch [by tight end Harrison Bryant] on the sideline. Then we figure that point they’re going to be set on the side and they are going to play Cover 4, which is their call they usually go to, and there’s going to be no safety in the middle. Players executed it very well. Two great throws and a great catch on the play. That’s exactly what we needed right there because it was going the other way,”
No one appreciated the play more than Driskel.
“That was cooler than any touchdown pass I’ve ever throw in my career – just to get to sit and watch that ball in the air,” Driskel said. “In pre-snap I knew if we could get the ball to Kam and Motor got though the line cleanly it was a touchdown.”
Young’s second interception of the night came early in the fourth quarter, setting up Singletary’s 13-yard touchdown run.
Leading 30-16, FAU struggled to put Marshall away. The Thundering Herd responded with a 14-play, 75-yard touchdown drive that cut FAU’s lead to 30-23 with 5:21 remaining.
The Owls picked up a first down on the ensuing drive and forced Marshall to use all three of its timeouts before punting the ball back to the Herd.
Four plays later Young hauled in his program record-tying third interception of the night, all but sealing the victory with 2:30 remaining.
Only it didn’t.
FAU miscalculated the amount of time it could run off the clock and called for quarterback Jason Driskel to take a knee on the first play.
“They told me to go out there and take a knee and I went out there and took the best knee I could,” Driskel said.
After realizing they couldn’t burn all the clock, the Owls told punter Ryan Rickel run around in the offensive backfield on fourth down before racing to the back of the end zone and taking a safety.
“That wasn’t very good,” Kiffin admitted afterward. “We were off on our chart upstairs by like 12, 14 seconds. From upstairs we were being told OK, three knees and it’s over. I kept saying guys I ain’t real good at math but that ain’t looking like it’s over.”
FAU squib-kicked to Marshall with 8 seconds remaining. Using laterals the Herd made it all the way across the field to one sideline, then back to the other before finally being swarmed under, ending the game.
The Owls are now 5-0 in conference play for the first time ever, and will hold at least a one-game lead over FIU heading into next week’s game at Louisiana Tech.
GameBrowser: FAU (6-3, 5-0) 30, Marshall (6-3, 3-2) 25
TALKING POINTS: Marshall scored the first 13 points of the second half and owned all the momentum when the Owls called for a double pass. Wide receiver Karmin Solomon caught the Jason Driskel toss, then heaved it down field to a wide open Devin Singletary, who eased into the end zone. The touchdown put FAU up 23-16 and the Owls never trailed again.
- Can anyone stop Devin Singletary? Motor rushed for 203 yards and one score. He also caught a 60-yard touchdown. FAU barely gave him the ball early in the season, but now he’s rushed for 100 yards in seven consecutive games. The 1,256 rushing yards he’s amassed thus far is the second-most ever by an Owl, and he should pass Alfred Morris next week. Only a sophomore, Singletary keeps getting better.
- Safety Jalen Young vaulted to the team interception lead, his three picks on the night giving him five for the year. Corners Shelton Lewis and Chris Tooley are close behind with four. As a team the Owls now have 18 interceptions, one off the program’s high for a season.
- In nine games, Lane Kiffin has six wins. That matches the Owls’s win totals for the past two seasons combined. If FAU can reach the Conference USA championship game, which now seems likely, and a bowl game, which seems all but certain, Kiffin could match or surpass previous coach Charlie Partridge’s three-year win total of nine, doing so in a single season.
- Special Teams weren’t all that special for the Owls. Greg Joseph missed an extra point and Marshall pulled off a surprise onside kick. Fortunately for FAU, Marshall experienced its struggles, too, missing an extra point and a field goal.
3 – Pass break-ups and an interception credited to Shelton Lewis, who rebounded from a tough game at WKU with a stellar effort on Saturday.
4 – Ryan Rickel punts. All four were downed inside the 20.
13 – Tackles for FAU LB Azeez Al-Shaair, most in the game.
16 – Points off turnovers for FAU. The Owls’s offense didn’t turn the ball over.
60 – Passing yards for FAU WR Kamrin Solomon. FAU QB Jason Driskel only managed 104.
15,880 – Announced attendance for the game. The actual attendance appeared much lower.
UP NEXT: FAU gets an extra day of rest before hitting the road to play Louisiana Tech on Saturday.