Despite some explosive plays through the air, the official, on-the-field beginning of the Lane Kiffin era for Florida Atlantic did not match the hype last Friday night.
Quarterback Daniel Parr threw for 281 yards and completions of 95 and 62 yards that went for touchdowns, but the FAU offense sputtered to a total of 326 yards against Navy in Boca Raton. The defense was the concern, surrendering 526 yards—416 on the ground—in the 42–19 loss.
Now Kiffin, who replaced former Wisconsin defensive coordinator Charlie Partridge upon joining FAU, will head to Madison with his Owls looking for an upset on Saturday morning.
It wasn’t the debut Lane Kiffin wanted in Friday’s 42–19 loss, but what has he done in terms of putting his imprint on the program early on?
In terms of putting his stamp on the program and making it his own, I’d say the openness to accept talent via P5 and JUCO transfers. Having the best recruiting class in Conference USA in 2017 shows that the players love him, and believe he’s capable of helping them become successful players. He’s also a great promoter. People no longer confuse FAU for FIU now and that’s largely because Kiffin is the head coach.
How’s the injury situation for the Owls? Defensive tackle Ray Ellis appears out for the year again. And quarterback De’Andre Johnson isn’t 100 percent?
The injury situation is pretty miserable right now due to Ray Ellis being done for the year. He was a body the Owls could not afford to lose on the d-line. De’Andre Johnson’s lower body appears to be fine. In limited action, he ran the ball a few times and had a great burst, but he has some sort of undisclosed upper-body injury preventing him from throwing the ball to the best of his capabilities. Johnson’s been dealing with this injury since the middle of fall camp. Other than those two, everyone else is good to go.
How does Johnson, of Last Chance U fame, fit in (or could fit in, since there’s just one game to go off of)? Who should Badgers fans keep an eye on?
Johnson is the ideal fit for Kendall Briles’ (yeah, I wish he wasn’t here but alas) spread offense. He has great speed, and has the best arm between Jason Driskel, Daniel Parr, and himself. The FAU offense immediately becomes more explosive with him on the field. Johnson’s issue (and the rest of the quarterbacks on the roster for that matter) has been consistency. I expect FAU to play two quarterbacks for the second straight game. Driskel is more of a bruiser as far as running the ball and is quite capable of running out of the pocket and getting a few yards. He’s not a great passer, though. Daniel Parr was a pretty touted kid as a recruit but has had trouble adjusting to the speed at this level. Parr played well last week but wasn't on the same page with a few of his receivers at times. Kiffin hasn’t named a starter, but my guess is it’ll be Parr again with Johnson in on running packages.
Other than the quarterbacks, offensively the Badgers should watch for DeAndre McNeal at receiver and Devin Singletary at running back. McNeal was a former Texas receiver way-back-when and had an impressive debut with four catches for 88 yards and a touchdown. At 6’1, 215 pounds, McNeal is one of FAU’s bigger receivers. Singletary, a former Illinois commit, had a quiet opener due to Briles deciding to call nothing but pass plays. Singletary only had six rushing attempts for 27 yards. Singletary is by far FAU’s most explosive player on offense and after Lane Kiffin expressed after the game how he would have liked it if he got the ball more, expect Singletary to be featured heavily this Saturday.
Defensively, Florida Atlantic gave up 416 yards on the ground to Navy last week. What could be the strengths to this unit, and where can it fall short?
Chris Kiffin (Lane’s brother) is the coordinator and runs a 4-2-5 defense. FAU has tried to improve the talent on the d-line by plugging in JUCO and P5 transfers. Right now, the biggest issue is a lack of chemistry between the group and depth. Jeremiah Taleni started a few games at Pittsburgh last season at nose tackle and has the same role at FAU. He was decent last week but didn’t get much help. A lot of the guys FAU wants to rely on just came in for fall camp. During conference play, I expect this group to turn the corner, but right now expectations are low. Azeez Al-Shaair had a great game at linebacker against Navy. If there’s a tackle for loss, he’s more than likely the one who made the play for the Owls.
What are the keys to the game for FAU to give Wisconsin a shocking upset loss in Week 2?
The biggest key for the offense will be running the ball effectively. Devin Singletary is really, really good and I don’t know why he didn’t get more carries last week. Backup running back Greg Howell is also good. Both combined to rush for nearly 2,000 yards last year and are by far the most reliable players on FAU's offense. Giving them more touches and keeping whomever the quarterback is from obvious passing downs will improve FAU’s chances immensely as the receivers are still hit-or-miss in this spread offense. Defensively would be turnovers. They only got one turnover last week and seeing as how Wisconsin should move the ball at will on the ground, getting a few turnovers will go a long way in keeping the Owls in this one.
What’s your game prediction?
I thought FAU would lose last week but was optimistic the Owls could keep it close. Not this time. Wisconsin 54, FAU 17