Before the Cheribundi Tart Cherry Boca Raton Bowl game even started, we received some news that first-year FAU head coach Lane Kiffin, signed a 10-year deal with the Owls. After speaking with his father Monte Kiffin, I can tell you that he and his son are proud and excited about the future of this team.
One other pre-game decision was made on the other sideline by coach Terry Bowden who opted to start their athletic and elusive quarterback Kato Nelson instead of Thomas Woodson. That move didn’t pay off as the Akron Zips got smashed into submission by the Owls 50 – 3. Maybe his father, Bobby Bowden should have had some more input!
Now to the game itself! Kato Nelson did show his versatility early on as the Zips came out strong on their opening drive. They got deep into FAU territory but came up short and missed a relatively easy field goal. The Owls did the same thing on their first possession. Their no-huddle offense proved to be essential as Lane Kiffin put his foot on the gas and never let up. However, the Owls missed a gimme field goal as well leaving the scoreboard empty after each team’s initial drive.
Devin Singletary was the odds-on favorite to win the MVP of the Boca Bowl but the Zips did a great job stuffing him up early in the game. In fact, he was held in check for most of the first half. So, quarterback, Jason Driskel took it upon himself to take control of the offense. And what a job he did as he earned offensive MVP honors after throwing for 270 yards and two touchdown passes. In addition, Driskel carried the ball 13 times and gained 67 yards on the ground, hitting pay-dirt twice. FAU’s quarterback had a near perfect game.
I don’t think Lane Kiffin believes in punting the football. In the first quarter, Kiffin decided to go for a first down on fourth and two from their own 29-yard line! The gamble paid off as the Owls converted and eventually drove down the field hitting Willie Wright for a touchdown on another fourth down conversion. Maybe Lane Kiffin spent a lot of time in Las Vegas because he rolled the dice again by attempting an onside kick on the ensuing kickoff. Not every gamble works out as they failed the onside kick giving Akron great field position on FAU’s 45-yard line.
The FAU Owls were 23 point favorites which are the biggest point spread in college bowl history! It didn’t seem like the Owls would cover the points after only being up 7 – 0 after the first quarter. Heck, the way Akron was moving the ball, thoughts of an upset entered the minds of the people in the press box. Akron had a little luck as they called a timeout right before the Zips ran their next play which would have been a fumble recovery by the Owls for a touchdown. After escaping that potential disaster, FAU gifted the Zips a late hit penalty on third down giving them another chance. Akron was able to successfully kick a field goal by kicker Nick Gasser who ultimately scored the only points of the evening for the Zips. With 11:14 to go in the second quarter, Akron was looking decent enough to keep the game close. The score was 7 – 3 and Lane Kiffin said that’s enough!
The Owls were committing too many penalties that kept Akron in the game, especially down in the red zone. However, the Owls defense was stifling and let Akron quarterback Kato Nelson know that he’ll keep getting pounded every time he runs with the ball. Nelson ran the rock way too much and got beat up as a result of it. All that being said, I put the blame on Terry Bowden who sat back and watched a miserable offensive game-plan. No adjustments were made of any significance. When the Zips had the ball it looked more like a backyard game than a Bowl game!
Driskel was a bit off target to start the game but Willie Wright and Kalib Woods were helping their QB by making tough catches and keeping drives alive. Lane Kiffin’s offensive game-plan was to get to the line of scrimmage quickly with a no-huddle offense and keep the 96th rushing defense on their heels. On the Owls next possession, Driskel punched the ball in the end zone on another fourth and goal to go situation to take a 14 – 3 lead. Maybe Kiffin doesn’t like field goals either!
Before I knew it, the Owls scored a touchdown by Devin Singletary to go up 21 – 3. The drive took 58 seconds on only four plays. Kiffin’s no-huddle offense was in cruise control after that.
Down 21 – 3 at halftime, the Zips received the ball only to get stopped short on their own fourth-down attempt, giving FAU another opportunity with the ball at midfield. Devin Singletary found his groove in the second half and changed the dynamic of the game from there on out! The NCAA’s leading regular season rusher gained 124 yards on the ground and added three more TDs to his already incredible resume. Singletary even helped break the school for touchdowns in a season with the teams 84th trip to pay-dirt.
We wondered when and if Terry Bowden would try to save this game and switch up quarterbacks. He eventually did, benching Nelson for Robbie Kelley, but it was too little too late. The FAU Owls had their eyes wide open in the heat of the night and simply trampled all over the Zips offensive and defensive lines. The game got out of hand quickly in the 3rd quarter where the Owls were scoring on every drive.
We must give the defense a ton of credit. The defensive MVP Azeez Al-Shaair racked up 13 tackles, two for a loss and added a sack to his stellar performance. I spoke with defensive lineman Hunter Snyder after the game who had 1.5 sacks and smothered the backfield throughout the contest. Both he and Korel Smith told me that this game was won in the trenches and any smart football mind knows that the game begins and ends on the line of scrimmage.
By the middle of the third quarter, the Zips were waiving the white flag seemingly surrendering the Boca Bowl. Akron was simply outmatched on both sides of the ball. I mean 50 – 3, come on! No doubt that QB Jason Driskel was the catalyst for the Owls offense showing his sneaky scrambling ability while completing high percentage passes as FAU took complete control of the match-up.
Devin Singletary ended up with a great game doing most of his damage in the second half. The Owls completely wore down the Zips defense with their hurry-up offense and simply blew out an Akron team that truly had no business being there. I’d like to see FAU play some tougher opponents to gauge how they stack up with some of the big boys. With Lane Kiffin in the house and the unbelievable turn-around by this team, we can expect to see the Owls in bigger games on national television starting in the 2018 season. For now, the FAU Owls are the 2017 Cheribundi Tart Cherry Boca Raton Bowl champions. Try saying that three times fast!