Owls aim to keep build­ing mo­men­tum af­ter FIU win

Sun Sentinel Palm Beach Edition - - SPORTS - By David Furones

Florida At­lantic had its best game of the sea­son last week when it knocked off ri­val Florida In­ter­na­tional, which was pre­vi­ously un­beaten in Con­fer­ence USA play, 49-14 in Mi­ami.

It was a per­for­mance FAU coach Lane Kif­fin said should have been the way his Owls (4-5, 2-3 C-USA) should have been play­ing all year in a sea­son that has seen a dip from 2017, where the team romped through the con­fer­ence for the C-USA ti­tle and a Boca Ra­ton Bowl vic­tory.

Play­ers said the week of prac­tice lead­ing up to the Shula Bowl dom­i­nance over FIU was likely the best they had all sea­son. While it’s eas­ier to get up for the ri­val Pan­thers, es­pe­cially with a chance to blem­ish their up­start sea­son, FAU now needs to find that same mo­ti­va­tion to face a 1-8 West­ern Ken­tucky team and build mo­men­tum over the fi­nal three games of the reg­u­lar sea­son.

“Be­cause it’s ri­valry week, you prob­a­bly had the ex­tra lit­tle juice,” red­shirt se­nior left tackle Reg­gie Bain said. “You just got to find stuff I need to keep work­ing on. Like [of­fen­sive line coach John] Gar­ri­son says: I’m an old dog, but you know I got to find new tricks.”

Added cen­ter Ju­nior Diaz: “Don’t get com­pla­cent. Stay hum­ble. Keep work­ing hard. Keep strain­ing to fin­ish. That’s what we’re do­ing this week in prac­tice. Cor­rect­ing the lit­tle things, so hope­fully we can have the same out­come.”

Kif­fin says the big­gest take­away for the Owls from that win is the con­fi­dence that they can play that way.

“It’s just a con­fi­dence that they saw it. They had fun. They saw play­ing re­ally well,” Kif­fin said. “They saw when you win the turnover bat­tle, when you run the ball and stop the run, you win games pretty hand­ily. Like we used to.”

Aware his team could’ve pro­duced at that level – out­rush­ing FIU 439-96 and win­ning the turnover bat­tle 3-0 – all along, it was dif­fi­cult for Kif­fin not to think back to con­fer­ence losses against Mid­dle Ten­nessee State, Mar­shall and Louisiana Tech.

“You can’t go back­wards. That’s the frus­trat­ing thing in your head that you had to fight,” he said. “There’s no rea­son, with our per­son­nel, that we should have this record.”

Bain said the Owl ap­proach is that FIU wasn’t their best game, but that their best game is still ahead of them.

“We still didn’t play our best game,” he said. “That’s what you need – af­ter you have a good per­for­mance like that – you fo­cus on what you did wrong.”

A sto­ry­line to watch de­velop is whether FAU rolls out red­shirt ju­nior quar­ter­back De’An­dre John­son again af­ter his im­pres­sive per­for­mance against FIU, when he was in­serted in the sec­ond quar­ter. John­son’s du­althreat abil­i­ties opened run­ning lanes for backs Devin “Mo­tor” Sin­gle­tary and Ker­rith Whyte. John­son threw a pair of touch­down passes to Jovon Du­rante dur­ing a 42-7 scor­ing run for the Owls af­ter he en­tered the game.

Kif­fin has not com­mit­ted to stick­ing with him over red­shirt fresh­man Chris Ro­bi­son, who has started ev­ery game ex­cept for when Rafe Peavey took the start against Louisiana Tech with Ro­bi­son out due to an an­kle in­jury.

“I don’t know [who will start]. We’ve given most of the [first­team] reps to De’An­dre and Chris and we’ll fig­ure it out,” said Kif­fin, who does want to set­tle the quar­ter­back sit­u­a­tion at some point. “You don’t play as well un­til you find your guy that plays well and the team knows it’s their guy.”

The Hill­top­pers have seen a ma­jor dropoff the last two sea­sons af­ter be­ing a peren­nial con­fer­ence con­tender. Last year, they were 6-6 be­fore los­ing their bowl game. In 2016, they went 11-3.

The one win for the Hill­top­pers this sea­son came at Ball State on Sept. 22. Had a few plays gone their way, their record could be much dif­fer­ent. They lost to Maine, Louisville, Mar­shall and Old Do­min­ion by 3 points each.

“We know they’re go­ing to come in like it’s their cham­pi­onship, so we’ve got to come pre­pared,” Sin­gle­tary said.

JIM RASSOL/SUN SEN­TINEL

FAU as­sis­tant coach Wil­son Love and the Owls look to con­tinue work­ing to­ward bowl el­i­gi­bil­ity Sat­ur­day against West­ern Ken­tucky.

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