Lane Kiffin and the Owls control their championship destiny after demolishing UTSA in the Alamodome on Saturday. Going into the week, the Owls were tied with Marshall at 5-1 in C-USA, with Marshall holding the tiebreaker after beating FAU earlier in the season. While Marshall suffered a tremendous upset to the now bowl-bound Charlotte 49ers, quarterback Chris Robison and the FAU offense enjoyed a field day at UTSA’s final home game of the year.
Robison was all over the place, completing 27 passes to seven different targets for 336 yards and a touchdown. Ten of those receptions came from freight train tight end Harrison Bryant, who was indomitable over UTSA from start to finish. Not one - nor several at once - of UTSA’s defenders was capable of bringing down Bryant as he enjoyed 182 yards and several spirit-shattering broken tackles. He was several notches ahead of what UTSA Defensive Coordinator Jason Rollins was prepared for, as there were about three instances where his receptions came without a single defender in a five-yard radius. Even if there was, they were unable to tackle the Mackey Award finalist.
Check out our tight end Harrison Bryant. FAU Football !! pic.twitter.com/4N81R93RO1— Dr. Richard Staller (@Dr_Staller) November 24, 2019
Bryant will be a force at the professional level. He was a man amongst boys out there, though UTSA’s lack of tackling mechanics doesn’t help their case much. Weak arm tackling attempts; a failure to get low, square, and wrap up; no attempt to lead with shoulder; all of these issues have plagued this defense all year long. Fundamental tackling habits just aren’t present.
It’s no slight to the raw power of the unit, because there’s been enough talent and energy on UTSA’s defense to give teams issues, but they have been easily exposed against powerful ball carriers throughout the year. Another example: FAU backfield duo BJ Emmons and Malcolm Davidson, who respectively averaged 5.3 and 7.6 yards per carry and combined for 106 yards and three touchdowns.
Between Robison finding Bryant and a multitude of other wide open receivers, and the ferocious running attack, there was only so much UTSA’s defense could do. Also, the Roadrunner offense did their teammates no favors.
A botched snap to a completely unprepared UTSA quarterback Lowell Narcisse was the first play of the game. It would essentially set the tone for the offense, who despite earning 401 yards had three turnovers while converting a mere four of 14 third down attempts. It was rough, especially as the UTSA defense settled down after some long drives to start the game and managed to keep the halftime score just 17-3. Chance after chance that UTSA got, they fumbled away - literally.
Starting running back Sincere McCormick had two fumbles, both recovered by FAU and both occurring at the most inopportune times. The first on a 28 yard dart downfield while UTSA was down only 10-3 in the first quarter. The second, UTSA’s first drive of the second half, right after the defense held FAU to another field goal.
McCormick ran the ball well but the fumbles caused his reps to be halted and sophomore Brenden Brady getting the lion’s share of the totes, 15 for 86 yards (5.7 avg) to McCormick’s 12 for 76 (6.3 avg). Collectively UTSA had 192 yards rushing.
UTSA moved the ball well until they couldn’t. Again, see four for 14 on third down conversions. At least that was the case until Narcisse threw an interception early in the fourth quarter. Divine intervention kept Meiko Dotson’s return from being a pick-six, as the pile-on appeared to cause Dotson to fumble before crossing the goal line and creating a touchback. Backup quarterback Jordan “Jojo” Weeks entered the game, and opened some big play action out the gate, unlike anything UTSA’s offense has seen all year.
Back-to-back touchdown drives led by Weeks included completions from 40 and 24 yards, with Weeks lasering some gutsy passes and finishing eight of 11 for 123 yards, a touchdown and a tuck-and-run two-point conversion. Albeit not against the entirety of FAU’s starting defense, Weeks brought something different to the Roadrunner offense they hadn’t had all game.
The Roadrunners are now mathematically eliminated from bowl contention and haven’t yet lost a game within a single-digit scoring margin. Each loss has been by at least 14 points or more. Each win has been against a bottom-feeder opponent. Fan interest has gone completely down the drain for what was once a conference leader in attendance with now two straight sub-500 seasons. Tack on leading C-USA with 78 penalties on the year and there are obvious issues this staff can’t seem to correct. It’ll be interesting what changes (or remains the same) for UTSA this offseason. They finish their season in Ruston next week against LA Tech, who’s trying to fight for their championship booking in a race against UAB.
As for Kiffin, FAU could be taking the Lane Train back to the conference championship, what would be their second in three years. Robison is going to be a problem for C-USA for the next two years, and Malcolm Davidson three. They’ll need to beat a strong Southern Miss team next week to cement their first place in the east.