Owls aim to keep building momentum after FIU win
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.
FAU assistant coach Wilson Love and the Owls look to continue working toward bowl eligibility Saturday against Western Kentucky.