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FAU tops Air Force 33-27: Punt block and onside kick not enough for Falcons to beat Lane Kiffin’s Owls

Although the Falcons were unable to get the win, most of the takeaways are positive

NCAA Football: Air Force at Florida Atlantic Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

If there’s such thing as a good loss, the Falcons executed it Saturday. With both the Air Force Falcons opening week 1 against the FCS Stony Brook Seawolves and the FAU Owls falling heavily in their away opener against Oklahoma, there was no real indication as to how this week’s matchup would turn out.

The game was delayed an hour and twenty two minutes due to weather, but FAU came out confidently, and although the offense wasn’t able to get into the end zone, they put points on the board early with a pair of field goals in the first quarter.

Air Force opted to start junior quarterback Isaiah Sanders in this game and there was no doubt that he is able to play just as well as the first game’s starter, Aarion Worthman.

Sanders stands tall to throw the ball and glides around the pocket. Although his first step on a draw might be visibly slower than Worthman’s, he is a capable runner who can take a hit. Sanders completed eight out of his thirteen passes and he threw 164 yards with a touchdown and a late interception. This was a tall order for an offense equipped for the triple option, but Sanders was able to deliver.

On defense, Air Force was simply outmatched. With senior starter Robert Bullard out for this game, stopping FAU quarterback Chris Robison proved to be a difficult task. Devin Singletary ran powerfully and capitalized on the line’s ability to contain Air Force’s linebackers and create holes. He was able to break free and run for a 36 yard touchdown in the second quarter.

Air Force felt the heat and immediately began testing the depth of the playbook. Sanders spread the ball out on the following drive, targeting Marcus Bennett and Ronald Cleveland to get the ball to the 10 yard line. Nolan Erikson was able to finish off the job on two runs to punch in a touchdown for the Falcons.

With 2:50 left on the clock in the second quarter, the Falcons needed to stop the Owls to keep the score at a manageable 13-6, but the defense was no match for the pin point accuracy of Chris Robison’s throws. Willie Wright caught a 17 yard touchdown pass with 0:27 on the clock to put the Owls up 19-6. After a failed two-point conversion, the half was over.

Coming out of the locker room to start the second half, it was evident that the Falcons needed to make adjustments on defense to stop the pass, while keeping their finger on the trigger on offense.

Air Force continued it’s uncharacteristically successful air assault with a seven play drive for 75 yards, ending in a 12-yard touchdown to Junior Kade Waguespack.

The rest of the third quarter seemed to be a back and forth struggle of controlling the clock. Lane Kiffin and his offensive staff was trying to open the floodgates quickly and put the game out of reach for Air Force, while the Falcons wanted to slow down their offense and keep the ball out of FAU’s hands.

The third quarter ended 20-25 and it seemed that neither team controlled the game.

The Owls marched down the field quickly and Robison connected on a 26 yard pass to Willie Wright for an FAU touchdown. With 10:41 left and a score of 20-33, all Lane Kiffin needed to do was shut down the Falcons’ passing and let the clock run down.

With 0:57 left in the game on a 3rd & 6 play on their own 28, FAU took a time out to stop the clock and think about the next play. The Falcons came up with a big stop, but with less than a minute, the game still seemed out of reach.

On the next play, a seemingly routine punt spelled disaster for the Owls as the monstrous linebacker, Garrett Kauppila, stepped up on the punt return team to break through and block the punt, allowing standout sophomore, Lakota Wills, to run in the ball for a touchdown. Now with 0:50 on the clock, Air Force would need an onside kick recovery to even have a shot at taking the lead.

Air Force Kicker Matthew Philichi sent an onside kick six yards long down the right lane and it slipped out of the hands of the FAU special teams, allowing Air Force to recover. With under a minute to play, Isaiah Sanders took the field without much success. A couple of penalties on both sides and a few plays allowed Air Force to advance the ball from their 37 yard line to the 46, before Sanders threw an interception to FAU’s Ocie Rose. From there, FAU was able to run out the clock to go on to win their first game of the season.

Despite the heartbreaking loss, Air Force fans should feel excited, maybe even grateful that the Falcons mounted such a great comeback. If there are any lessons to be learned, it’s that the Air Force roster is extremely deep and no one is giving up this year. Keep in mind that FAU had a record of 11-3 last season and that the Falcons went 5-7.

Although they don’t have the pedigree of Michigan, Notre Dame, Oklahoma, or other teams that Air Force usually plays as an out of conference game, the Owls are still very good.

From a statistics standpoint, Air Force did a great job of stopping the run game, holding FAU to 54 yards. Although the pass rush could have been improved, Chris Robison couldn’t miss today, throwing 33/40 for 471 yards. To hold them to 33 points is a fairly manageable score in a game like this.

Air Force had five different receivers catch for yards in the double digits, which is a testament to Sanders’s ability to spread the ball out and throw accurately to a lot of different players.

When Aarion Worthman is back to full health, I don’t necessarily see there being a battle for the starting spot. It seems that the Falcons may be in a situation similar to Alabama’s QB conundrum.

Today was exciting to see. If Air Force had another shot at FAU, perhaps later in the season, the game may be a different story. For now, there are a lot of positive takeaways and all the Falcons can do is leave the sandy beaches of Boca Raton and head back to thin air. On to Utah State.

Statistical Leaders:

Passing: FAU - Robison 33/40, 471 yards, 3 TDs; Air Force - Sanders 8/13, 164 yards, 1 TD

Rushing: FAU – Singletary 16 carries, 57 yards, 1 TD; Air Force - Fagan 16 carries 80 yards; Erikson 8 carries, 44 yards, 1 TD

Receiving: FAU- Durante 12 rec, 174 yards, 1 TD; Air Force - Bennett 2 rec, 87 yards

Upcoming Games:

Air Force have a week off, then plays at Utah State on 22 Sept

FAU will play Bethune Cookman University at home on 15 Sept