Owls will keep tempo fast in season opener
BOCA RATON — There’s a certain aura of mystery surrounding Florida Atlantic’s football team ahead of its season opener against Navy on Friday night.
It hasn’t decided on a starting quarterback or even how many will play. Which transfers will have a significant impact is unknown. Even the offense — mostly offensive coordinator Kendal Briles’ scheme with some concepts from FAU coach Lane Kiffin — is something of a mystery entering the season.
Navy coach Ken Niumatololo said his staff has been studying both Kiffin’s and Briles’ history at schools such as Alabama, USC, Tennessee, Baylor and Houston.
“You just try to do your homework, try to see what people have done,” Niumatololo said. “Obviously, we’ve looked at Kendal Briles’ background, you look at Lane’s background and try to prepare for what you think they’ll do.”
Kiffin has ceded the playcalling duties to Briles, opting to act as a chief executive of the program instead of focusing on preparing the offensive game plan. FAU has installed Briles’ system, a spread offense that relies on pushing the tempo and running the ball.
Despite ranking fourth in the country in plays per game last year (85.2), Baylor possessed the ball less than all other Big 12 teams. The Bears ranked 111th in the country by averaging 27 minutes per game with the ball.
The up-tempo FAU offense, combined with Navy’s possession-heavy offense, creates an interesting proposition for the Owls. Should FAU slow down its attack to give its defense a chance to rest?
“I think you could do that if you knew you were good enough on offense to do that,” Kiffin said. “I don’t know that we are. I think we have to utilize what our offense is built on: different formations, speed, tempo. I don’t think slowing down would be in our benefit a lot.”
Under Niumatololo, Navy is 61-16 when it wins the time of possession battle. It is 16-26 when it loses it.
Kiffin hasn’t publicly announced a starting quarterback against Navy, with the FAU staff choosing from among Jason Driskel, De’Andre Johnson and Daniel Parr. Kiffin did not rule out a multi-quarterback system Friday against the Midshipmen.
Throwing in an additional wrinkle such as changing the tempo could disrupt an already unsettled quarterback situation.
Despite the potential additional time on the field for the defense, Kiffin said the game is not as tiring as when FAU will play against quicker offenses.
“It’s not an exhausting game defensively like some tempo games,” Kiffin said. “Your play count won’t be like playing really fast teams. Then, sometimes, you say we need to slow this down because our defense is just too tired because they’re going too fast.”
In addition to maintaining its fast tempo, FAU’s offense also won’t be hiding parts of its offense, Kiffin said. Some coaches and teams opt to roll out a vanilla offense in the season opener to conceal other formations or plays for later in the season.
But Kiffin said that won’t be the case Friday night.
“We want to win the game,” Kiffin said. “We’re going to have to move the ball. We’re going to have to score points. These guys score a lot of points and they hold the ball. I hope we don’t hold anything back. We’re going to try to win this game. We’ll worry about the next one after that.”
After Navy, FAU travels to No. 9 Wisconsin on Sept. 9.
Under coach Ken Niumatololo, Navy is 61-16 when it wins the time of possession battle. It is 16-26 when it loses it.