O-line gets credit for run­ning game’s suc­cess

Sun Sentinel Broward Edition - - SPORTS - By Shan­del Richard­son Staff writer

BOCA RA­TON — The Florida At­lantic of­fen­sive line doesn’t have a sta­tis­ti­cal cat­e­gory to track its suc­cess.

The names of the starters won’t ap­pear next to any na­tional rank­ings. What they can do is look at how op­po­nents are do­ing ev­ery­thing pos­si­ble to stop the Owls’ run­ning game. They can find sat­is­fac­tion in be­ing part of the rea­son for the rush­ing suc­cess.

“I think of it as a tar­get on our back,” tackle Reg­gie Bain said. “They’re go­ing to try to stop our run.”

While Devin “Mo­tor” Sin­gle­tary has grabbed the head­lines, the of­fen­sive line has played a just as im­por­tant role in the record-break­ing sea­son. Sin­gle­tary is lead­ing the na­tion in rush­ing touch­downs, while the run of­fense is ranked sev­enth in yards, fifth in yards per carry and eighth in yards per game.

“Hon­estly, it’s O-line,” backup run­ning back Gre­gory How­ell Jr. said. “They’ve got their stuff to­gether to where they know what they’re do­ing each and ev­ery play. They’re call­ing out their keys. It’s the same guys. … It’s re­ally up to them. If they don’t do their job, it’s not go­ing to fit.”

The Owls’ of­fen­sive line has cre­ated holes all sea­son de­spite the op­po­si­tion know­ing what is com­ing. Coach Lane Kif­fin has made no se­cret of the of­fense play­ing to­ward its strength, es­pe­cially since the pass­ing game strug­gles with in­con­sis­tency.

“We’re all just com­mu­ni­cat­ing,” guard Ro­man Fer­nan­dez said. “We’re all just do­ing what we’ve got to. It’s good to see we’re hav­ing suc­cess in the run game. We re­ally don’t have to pass the ball much. Just run­ning and run­ning, it’s build­ing an iden­tity for us.”

Sin­gle­tary has run for at least 100 yards in eight con­sec­u­tive games. He’s topped at least 200 twice dur­ing the Owls’ six-game win­ning streak. Sin­gle­tary has gone un­touched on sev­eral of his long scor­ing runs, so he al­ways makes a point to thank the of­fen­sive line.

“The backs al­ways have a big run and they come on the side­lines and they give us our praise,” Bain said. “They tell us to keep go­ing and don’t be sat­is­fied.”

The big­gest rea­son for the pro­duc­tion is con­ti­nu­ity. The Owls have used the same of­fen­sive line in ev­ery game this sea­son. Last year, that was hardly the case. In­juries forced them to use five dif­fer­ent line­ups through five games.

Last week’s op­po­nent, Louisiana Tech, has al­ready used five of­fen­sive line com­bi­na­tions this year. Two weeks ago, the Owls faced Mar­shall with­out that team’s start­ing guard.

“That’s a big stat,” Kif­fin said. “We’ve been very for­tu­nate, and hope­fully we’ll keep be­ing for­tu­nate. It’s eas­ier to plug in a skilled player when some­one goes down be­cause they can come do their own thing ver­sus the of­fen­sive line that works to­gether.”

The of­fen­sive line still has plenty of mo­ti­va­tion for the re­main­der of the sea­son. Sin­gle­tary, at 1,360 yards, is clos­ing in on the school’s sin­gle-sea­son rush­ing record (1,392); Mar­shall’s Con­fer­ence USA team mark of 3,807 set in 2014 could also fall. The Owls are just 1,057 yards shy, but po­ten­tially have four games left if they earn a berth in the league cham­pi­onship game. They are av­er­ag­ing 275 yards per game, so they are on pace to break the record in their bowl game.

“Up front, we just do what we’re told to do,” cen­ter Antonyo Woods said.

JOEL AUERBACH/GETTY IM­AGES

“I think of it as a tar­get on our back,” tackle Reg­gie Bain (58) said. “They’re go­ing to try to stop our run.”

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