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Opinion: FAU Football is on the road to improvement

After facing one of the most lopsided defeats in program history, FAU Football looks to capitalize on the changes it has made.

FAU+redshirt+junior+quarterback+Jason+Driskel+%2816%29+passes+the+football+off+to+sophomore+running+back+Devin+Singletary+%285%29.++Joshua+Giron+%7C+Staff+Photographer
FAU redshirt junior quarterback Jason Driskel (16) passes the football off to sophomore running back Devin Singletary (5).  Joshua Giron | Staff Photographer

FAU redshirt junior quarterback Jason Driskel (16) passes the football off to sophomore running back Devin Singletary (5). Joshua Giron | Staff Photographer

FAU redshirt junior quarterback Jason Driskel (16) passes the football off to sophomore running back Devin Singletary (5). Joshua Giron | Staff Photographer

Ryan Lynch, Business Manager

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A lot can change in one year. Just ask FAU football about the time that’s passed since last Homecoming.

In the 2016-17 season, the Owls had a game they and their fans would like to forget. Sitting at 1-6 in the standings and without a conference win, the Owls were set to face the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers.

Instead of giving the crowd a reason to cap off the week with a celebration, the team shat the bed in a 52-3 loss for what is the worst home defeat in program history. The defeat continued what became a seven-game losing streak and led to the eventual dismissal of former head coach Charlie Partridge.

The team is changed though. With a new head coach in Lane Kiffin and a team sitting with a 3-3 record coming into the game, the Owls are in a much better place than they were since that time.

How much better you ask? Here are a few things they’re not messing up anymore.

Succeeding in conference

After years of struggling in conference play, the Owls came out of the gates flying and picked up their first one of the year versus Middle Tennessee and another versus Old Dominion. They are already up to the three wins that would tie the highest mark Partridge hit while he was coach, and that’s only midway through Kiffin’s first season.

Part of the problem last year was their inability to hold off opponents late in games. FAU lost four of its eight conference games by a touchdown or less, leading many to wonder what would have happened if the team salvaged those wins.

This year, the Owls have kept the lids on most victories, with a shootout against Buffalo representing the only game where they missed a chance to pick up a victory.

The Owls have never come close to sniffing a Conference USA championship, let alone an appearance in the game. After winning their first and only title as a member of the Sun Belt in 2008, they still have plenty of work to do.

If Kiffin and company can prove they play close games more like versus Middle Tennessee than Buffalo, they’ll be on the right track. If anything, the football will at least put more butts in the seats.

Better quarterback play

Redshirt Junior Jason Driskel had not started a game since 2016 and was not firmly planted in the discussion for the quarterback battle during the fall. After struggling at points last year during the 3-9 season, it was easy to see Kiffin wanted to give redshirt sophomores Daniel Parr and De’Andre Johnson a chance.

Instead, Johnson ended up in the hospital with blood clots in his arm, unable to play, and Parr was inconsistent through the first couple of games. In stepped Driskel to start the Buffalo game, with a whole lot of uncertainty surrounding how he would perform.

While Driskel was far from perfect, going 17-of-28 for 150 yards and an interception, he showed potential. That potential reared its face in the next game versus MTSU as Driskel looked more comfortable running the offense than he has in past years.

Even though he only passed for 187 yards and a touchdown, Driskel has shown the quarterback job could end up as fully his once again. That was a far cry from when he started last year’s Homecoming game and went 10-of-24 with 52 passing yards and an interception.

“Today, obviously I did not play well,” Driskel said after the WKU game. “Didn’t put the ball in the right spot for the guys, It was just inexcusable as a [Division I] quarterback, I got to do better.”

So far he has done better. But he has to continue to prove he can let the offense flow consistently instead of playing like they’re in traffic on I-95.

Back to the backs

After being used sparingly in the first two games of the season, running backs Devin Singletary and Greg Howell have found their place as the backbone of the offense.

Howell had only one carry in the first game of the season against Navy, but had 21 carries in his last game versus Old Dominion. The sophomore Singletary also has seen more reps, going from eight in the first game to 26 versus ODU.

In general, both are having a turn from last year’s struggles.

As a freshman, Singletary had 1,021 yards of rushing and 12 touchdowns. A year later, he looks poised to knock both figures out of the water only halfway through the season, racking up 686 yards and 11 touchdowns.

Singletary also looks more comfortable running at the FBS level. Against Middle Tennessee, the back danced around multiple defenders on the west sideline to score the first one of a game he would dominate.

Howell has changed his role to provide a different, power-based look for FAU. Working as the primary back for much of his career, Howell has split carries with Singletary this year, and the altered workload has paid dividends.

In 2016, Howell only averaged five yards per carry while taking the brunt of the carries for much of the year. This year, he’s averaging 7.2 yards per carry on fewer chances, making the most of the opportunities he is currently given.

The use of both backs will be key to helping set up opportunities for the pass game and keep the whole offense moving at its high tempo. If they can’t, the pass game alone is too inconsistent to rely all on them.

Ryan Lynch is the business manager of the University Press. For information regarding this or other stories, email ryanmlynch77@gmail.com or tweet him @RyanLynchwriter.

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