BOCA RATON – On Saturday new FAU coach Lane Kiffin wants to see which Owls, especially on offense, can excel when the spotlight – as bright as can be produced in a spring game – becomes radiant.
To help ensure players aren’t entering the final practice of his first spring thinking and not reacting, Kiffin handed his players a scaled down list of offensive plays and defensive calls that will be used on Saturday.
“It’s more important to see OK, this is how you play in a game because you should have a really good grasp of the game – of what you have on the ready list for a game,” Kiffin said. “Scaling it down should be able to help those guys really have no excuses not to play really well.”
Kiffin will coach on Howard Schellenberger Field for the first time in the spring game. He’ll also employ a format similar to the one Schnellenberger did for his spring games.
The entire offense will be one team, the entire defense another. The offense scores six points for each touchdown, three for each field goal, two for a two-point conversion and one for an extra point.
The defense gets six points for a touchdown, five for a three-and-out, three for a drive and stop, and three for a turnover.
Gates open at 3 p.m., with the “kickoff” coming at 4 p.m. The scrimmage will be played in four 15-minute quarters, with the defense tackling ball carriers, except for quarterbacks, in the first two quarters. At halftime Kiffin will decide whether the Owls will tackle in the final 30 minutes.
“Hopefully we’ll have a lot of people come out,” Kiffin said of his fan expectations. “It’s free for a reason – because we want people to come out and see what we’re doing. Hopefully it will be exciting. We’ll try to make it exciting and it will be a great first experience.”
To get FAU fans ready for the spring game, our Chuck King, Jake Elman and Karla DeVivo offer their insights into Saturday’s game.
FAU SPRING GAME GUIDE
WHAT WE’RE WATCHING
King: The Quarterbacks. Early in the spring JUCO transfer De’Andre Johnson looked to have a firm grasp on the starting QB spot, but as the spring progressed incumbent Jason Driskel improved. Or did Johnson regress? Even though defenders only have to touch him to stop a play, Johnson has still proven difficult to “tackle,” extending plays with his legs. Johnson is still likely to exit spring as the leader in the battle. Could a strong spring game prompt Kiffin to name Johnson the starter entering fall camp? Probably not, but it’s not out of the question.
Elman: The Trenches. Kiffin has openly called the defensive line “our most concerning position” and it will be interesting to see how the pass rush looks as the fifth head coach in program history plays around with a unit that includes juniors Damian Horton and Steven Legget, in addition to sophomore Will Davis. As for the offensive line, Antonyo Woods has looked more comfortable at center than he did at the start of camp, but is the rest of that unit ready to go?
DeVivo: The New Look. The spring game will showcase new players, coaches, and a brand new offense. I’m watching to see if FAU can maintain its strong running game and add a passing unit for an offense that can score points. Overall improvement on the defense is necessary, especially in the pass rush.
OFFENSIVE IMPACT PLAYER
King: Kamrin Solomon. An up-and-down player throughout his career, the senior wide receiver has been a consistent standout this spring. Solomon’s been a wonderful fit in the slot for Kendal Briles’ Baylor offense. The Owls have found unique ways to get the ball to Solomon all spring. He should be good for at least a couple big plays on Saturday.
Elman: Kerrith Whyte. The redshirt sophomore has seen time at running back and in the slot this spring. There were flashes of brilliance last season and he starred in the 2016 spring game. A strong 2017 spring game would be a nice way to end what’s been a strong camp through the air and on the ground.
DeVivo: Kalib Woods-to-De’Andre Johnson. Woods was a key player for the Travis Trickett offense during the 2016 season and is a proven play-maker. With the addition of Johnson at quarterback, the pair creates a passing duo that should be exciting to watch.
IMPACT DEFENSIVE PLAYER
King: Hosea Barnwell. A couple of weeks ago no one had heard of Barnwell. Now, because of a rash of injuries both before and during spring practices, he’ll likely start at middle linebacker. Barnwell’s ascension isn’t completely explained by attrition. The true-freshman walk-on has been around the ball all spring.
Elman: Damian Horton. He was the final recruit to sign under former coach Charlie Partridge and sat out last year after transferring from West Hills Community College. The defensive end is making an early case to be an impact player on the defensive line this fall. Kiffin praised Horton’s athleticism, a trait Horton flashed while intercepting a Jason Driskel pass in the flat and returning it for a touchdown during Tuesday’s practice.
DeVivo: Shelton Lewis. Going into his third season with the Owls, Lewis, a cornerback, has recorded 40 career tackles. Lewis has enjoyed a strong spring, breaking up passes and even intercepting a few.
DEEP ON THE DEPTH CHART
King: LaDante Harris. The slot wide receiver has a tendency to drop too many passes, but once he does get a firm control of the ball Harris is both fast and elusive. Marcus Clark is fourth on the RB depth chart, but history suggests he should be good for at least one big play. Defensively, redshirt freshman cornerback Korel Smith has worked with the second string much of spring and seems to get his hands on the ball frequently.
Elman: Dominic Milanese. After redshirting last year, Milanese made several highlight catches this spring. Though Milanese hasn’t been getting the majority of his snaps against starters, a strong outing on Saturday could help boost the walk-on wide receiver’s stock for when practice begins again in August.
DeVivo: James Brunson. A slot receiver, Brunson made his first collegiate catch last season and saw plenty of action on special teams, but did not make any memorable plays. Brunson made a few big plays this spring, including a long touchdown catch-and-run on Tuesday. It will also be interesting to see whether running back-turned-linebacker-turned-tight end A.J. Turman can make an impact. Defensively, walk-on defensive end Anthony Bennett enjoyed a strong spring.
SPRING IS SUCCESSFUL IF:
King: The spring game actually generates excitement. Yes, on the schedule Saturday is FAU’s 15th and final spring practice. But for a program that’s been an afterthought at best in its hometown for so long, the Owls need electricity. That’s why FAU hired Kiffin. With the defense playing without at least four players who could potentially start the first game, the offense should be able to move up and down the field. For fans, offense will equate to excitement. Kiffin should open he playbook a little more than he would for most spring games. The Owls need all the buzz they can generate.
Elman: No one gets hurt. Further injuries, especially at the positions that are already struggling to stay healthy, could impact the start of next season. Injuries have put the Owls in a tight spot on the offensive line and at linebacker, especially. FAU cannot afford to lose another player – in the final spring practice, no less – at either of those spots.
DeVivo: FAU established a winning culture. Have the Owls done enough to garner support from the school and the community for the 2017 season? And will the actions taken this offeseason and spring lead to wins?