Lane Kiffin has been kicked to the tarmac so many times that when he became Florida Atlantic’s head coach, you could see through his eyes a glimpse of man whose soul was starting to deteriorate.
Last we saw of Lane, he was leading one of the nation’s highest-octane offenses in Tuscaloosa before the soul collector, Nick Saban, split with him right before the final game of Alabama’s season — the National Championship, no less.
This was some weeks after Saban, furious because Alabama wasn’t beating Western Kentucky by 6,000 points, “ass-chewed” Lane on national television.
It’s not that hard to see why a man would be broken after a turbulent time like that.
The saga of Kiffin could have ended there.
Instead, in his first campaign piloting the Florida Atlantic Owls, he’s slowly making his climb back to the top.
The Owls, after starting with losses against Navy (fine), Wisconsin (fine), and Buffalo (not fine), rebounded with 47.4 points per game over a five-game streak.
Kiffin has brought his brand of fast-as-heck offenses to Boca Raton. FAU’s offensive S&P+ rank is 17th in the country, and its rushing attack ranks sixth overall. This is coming from the same team that was 75th and 105th offensively in 2016 and 2015. The turnaround has been swift, and the Owls have soared toward a possible Conference USA title.
The main thing I see when I watch film on FAU’s offense: It’s fun!
The man who had been crushed by the giants at USC, Alabama, and the Oakland Raiders is helping direct an offense that is a really good time.
Something that stands out is that they are running this “hybrid Alabama-with-Jalen Hurts slash Baylor” offense, but without anyone who can really throw the ball consistently or be an elite runner from the quarterback spot.
Their passing game is baaaaaad. The Owls’ passing S&P+ is 111th in the country. They started with Daniel Parr at quarterback, but they moved up Jason Driskel. Driskel has also not been effective, nor is he a very sophisticated runner. In fact, he reminds me of former Florida Gators quarterback Jeff Driskel.
North Texas, at one point, just said, “screw it, our safeties are now linebackers.”
There’s no one deep. Everyone is near the line of scrimmage. That still didn’t work. The Owls rushed for 447 yards and passed for 357.
How are they doing this without a passing game and without an elite running quarterback?
They play faster than anyone in the country (No. 1 in adjusted tempo), they have the best running back that you’ve never heard of, and their offensive line is a bunch of maulers.
The running back: Devin Singletary. The sophomore running back is averaging 160 total yards per game, and he is special.
*cues Drake* Jumpcut. Jumpcut. Jumpcut. That boy up to something. Woo.
The offensive line is very good. Everyone on the five-man unit can play.
Last year at Alabama, Kiffin ran a lot of inside zone with the Tide. This year, they often run an iso concept that Baylor (the OC is Kendal Briles, as unpleasant as that last name is) had been running. For me, the main difference is the the offensive tackles are not going to try to overtake or push their defensive line friends horizontally. If the defensive end wants to go outside, they let them go there and then lock them out.
You can see the left tackle on this play seal his man outside, allowing the running back a clear lane to head inside.
Often, the FAU running backs don’t get touched until they are already downfield.
The offensive line is the engine of this unit, but Kiffin’s extreme tempo is the propeller.
One aspect about the Kiffin offense that I’ve loved is that he has a pretty small base package of plays that he runs very often at high speeds, but every base play has a followup.
If there’s a jet sweep, there’s a jet-sweep reverse. If there’s an inside-zone read, there’s this:
I’ve seen Baylor and the Seattle Seahawks run this before. They show the inside-zone read, but the running back reverses his track and blocks for the quarterback. There’s always a progression, and when you go as fast as possible, the defense gets sucked into to all the misdirection.
Speaking of jet reverses:
Next, they fake the jet, get the safeties to come up, and Driskel hits a wide-open receiver:
Show a flare screen to the running back, but come back with the middle screen to the tight end:
And, of course, the jet reverse pitch back to the QB pass:
We’re having fun!
Another classic Kiffin-ism: Running the same play back-to-back-to-back in the name of WARP SPEED.
This is Alabama in 2016:
And this is FAU in 2017:
And for good measure, FAU ran the same play again, not that much later in the drive:
The most egregious example of this were two plays against Buffalo:
First, they put in John Franklin III, he of Last Chance U fame, to run a WildOwl quarterback zone play. Franklin, once a quarterback, is now a full-time receiver for Kiffin and co. All right, Franklin shows he’s got moves and picks up some yards. What do we do next? LET’S RUN THE SAME PLAY WITH JASON DRISKEL. I love it.
You can see how no-nonsense the FAU players are when someone gets tackled. Check out Singletary run back to the middle of the field after this shifty run:
They don’t mess around. They get to the line and snap the ball.
The running game is built on playing with tempo and fooling the eyes of linebackers and safeties. The passing game is built on creating easy throws for Driskel. It felt like 50 percent of all their passes were different styles of screen pass.
Here, the receiver comes across the formation from the backside and has three receiver friends blocking for him:
The receiver motions back into the backfield before bubbling out and having a lineman escort him:
The next one might look like a classic bootleg pass, but it’s a screen. You can see the two receivers blocking and not running routes:
This has helped Driskel keep the chains moving, because throwing down the field has been a bit of a crapshoot. Still, Driskel can throw one of the prettiest balls I’ve seen in college football this year. Look at this beaut:
Driskel has also been able to channel his inner Hurts at times and has been pretty effective when running inverted veer.
In my opinion, inverted veer is the best running play in football because it’s a power run in which you eliminate the biggest threat to power runs, the frontside end, by reading him. He can’t squeeze down and spill the play and be a cool guy. Look, bro, if you wanna squeeze, we have speed to the edge:
If you contain? WE HAVE DRISKEL IN THE HOUSE!
Even the Owls’ defense has gotten in on the act: The Owls have picked off opposing quarterbacks a nation-leading twice per game!
Still, the offense steals the show time and time again:
With players like the aforementioned Singletary and speedy receiver Willie Wright, this team is incredibly fun to watch.