Football: Boca Raton Bowl Preview Versus Akron

With a victory, the Owls would win their third ever bowl game and first since 2008


FAU sophomore running back Devin Singletary (5) rushes toward a North Texas player to gain some yardage during the first quarter. FAU went on to win 41-17 against North Texas for the C-USA Championship on Dec. 2. Alexander Rodriguez | Photo Editor

Matt Brown, Contributing Writer

After a 41-17 victory over North Texas to win the team’s first ever Conference USA championship, Florida Atlantic will take on Akron in the Cheribundi Tart Cherry Boca Raton Bowl.

The Owls (10-3, 8-0 C-USA) are playing in their third ever bowl game and first since the Motor City Bowl in 2008. They are 2-0 all time in bowl games, winning in both 2007 and 2008.

They are currently riding a nine-game win streak, a program high since joining the FBS in 2004.

The Zips (7-6, 6-2 MAC) are coming off of a 45-28 loss to Toledo in the MAC championship game. They are playing in their second bowl game in three years, but just the third overall since becoming a division one program back in 1987.

They have a 1-1 record in their previous two bowl games, having won their most recent in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl 23-21 against Utah State in 2015.

The Owls have won more games this season than the previous three combined (nine). In his first season, Florida Atlantic football head coach Lane Kiffin already has the second most wins in program history, trailing only program creator Howard Schnellenberger’s 58.

“It’s been an awesome year.” said Kiffin. “The people have been unbelievable, the support, the energy around. Like I said we’re just getting started. This is what our expectation was. I know that’s probably strange to hear. We expected to win the conference championship. We expected to be in a premier bowl like this and so this is just the beginning.”

The Owls offense is averaging 39.8 points per game this season and over 45 points per game in the current nine-game win streak. They have scored over 30 points for the 11th straight game, which is second most behind the UCF Knights, who have done it for 12 straight games.

Sophomore running back and Conference USA MVP Devin Singletary is coming off of his 11th straight game rushing for over 100 yards. He is fourth in the nation in rushing yards (1,796) and leads the FBS in rushing touchdowns (29) and total touchdowns (30).

He has run for two or more touchdowns in the past four games and nine of the past ten. He needs just one more rushing touchdown to break the Conference USA single season record set by former UCF Knight and current FAU running backs coach Kevin Smith back in 2007.

“It’s been great to be in great company.” said Singletary after the title game. “I couldn’t do it without my teammates. How hard we push each other when we are going against the defense… guys get better every day. It’s just a great feeling honestly.”

Last week redshirt junior quarterback Jason Driskel was 15-of-27 for one touchdown and 269 passing yards, his second highest of the season and most since throwing for 357 in the team’s first matchup against North Texas on October 21.

He has thrown for over 200 yards the past four games after only throwing for 200 yards or more once in his first nine games. He has thrown more touchdowns this season (13) than his previous two combined (12). He has also thrown 11 less interceptions.

In the last game, redshirt senior, wide receiver Kalib Woods caught six balls for 206 yards, an FAU single game record. Despite not being active in the team’s first six games due to suspension, and not recording any catches until the team’s ninth game, he is second on the team in receiving yards (540) and tied for second in receiving touchdowns (four).

“I don’t think about that.” said Woods referring to his suspension after the conference championship game. “…I am just happy for everybody, for the team in general. Me dealing with what I dealt with is nobody else’s problem. Us winning is the biggest thing.”

Conference USA first team member junior safety Jalen Young recorded seven tackles and two interceptions in the conference championship game victory. He now has the most interceptions in Conference USA (seven). The team has the most interceptions in FBS with 20, which is also a single-season program record.

Fellow first team member junior linebacker Azeez Al-Shaair had 11 tackles last game. He leads the conference in solo tackles (72), total tackles (134) and tackles per game (11.2).

“For us nobody to pick us to finish as the conference champion and everything that we had against us…everything schematically says that we shouldn’t be here.” Al-Shaair said after winning the C-USA championship. “Everything that anybody knows about football or anything like that from what people hear from the outside from the media and stuff like that we shouldn’t be here… a lot of these guys that’s the story of this team. That’s a whole bunch of guys who have been told all of their life that they don’t belong and now that we are here it’s a blessing.”

The defense had a season-high nine sacks last game. It was also a Conference USA championship game record.

The Zips offense is led by quarterback Kato Nelson. The freshman has started the past four games after Thomas Woodson was suspended by Akron football head coach Terry Bowden.

He was 8-of-18 for 177 yards and two touchdowns last week. He has thrown for at least one touchdown in all four of his starts this season.

Before being suspended, quarterback Thomas Woodson threw for over 125 yards and one touchdown in seven of the team’s first eight games. He was 5-of-14 for 35 yards and an interception in relief of Kato Nelson last week.

Running back Manny Morgan leads the team with 393 rushing yards and is tied for first in rushing touchdowns (four). He had 11 carries for 51 yards and a touchdown last week. He also had two catches for a career high 17 yards.

Wide receiver Kwadarrius Smith had three catches for 114 yards last week, his second most of the season. He leads the team in receiving yards (726) and receiving touchdowns (seven).  

With a victory, the Owls would tie a program record for most wins in a season (11) set back in 2003. By winning, the Zips would tie the program record for wins in a season as a division one team set back in 2015 (eight).

The game kicks off on Tuesday Dec.19 at 7:00 pm at FAU Stadium.

Matt Brown is a contributing writer with the University Press. For information regarding this or other stories, email [email protected] or tweet him @mattyb407.