The Owls return home to take on LA Tech this Friday under the lights. Florida Atlantic Head Coach Lane Kiffin met with the media on Sunday for his Bulldog week presser. Below are the highlights from that session.
Azeez Al-Shaair update
Yeah, he is done. They usually wait a while to have surgery because it is an ACL/MCL. They usually wait a week or two, at least, before they have it.
Between all the injuries and the final result yesterday, how do you put this past week behind you and move on?
You have heard me mention before that last year was a very special year. We were very fortunate in a lot of areas. We stayed off the charts healthy, we had the same starting offensive linemen for … 14 games, and got a lot of breaks at times with things, a call here or there or stuff like that. We are kinda hitting the opposite end of that spectrum, especially within our two conference losses. Our injuries have mounted. We certainly not getting any breaks on calls and certain things. We have some plays that obviously we were making. By our count we have got three plays that are probably touchdowns that are drops in the game. It's just a case of not playing well and having a good amount of injuries and not getting any breaks. Like I said last year, everything went right. For other teams too … So sometimes good luck runs the other way.
You mentioned injuries, obviously injuries are a part of football but has it kind of surprised you how many guys have been hurt lately, because you guys were so healthy last year?
Yeah, talking to Charlie (Partridge) the year before and Charlie was here last week, he came to practice last week during their (Pitt) bye. I told Charlie he was bad luck. He actually came and within the first five minutes that he was here Azeez blew out his knee. I blame Coach Partridge for that. This has been an issue here for a long time, a lot of injuries and things. Like I said we were very fortunate last year. Now we're obviously not being as fortunate.
Coach on that injury front do you have updates on: Chris Robison, Jovon Durante, Dante Cousart, Jalen Young. A lot of them yesterday. Update on those guys?
Dante actually had to stay there. He broke his leg and had to have surgery. He can't fly I guess with that, so he has already had the surgery done there. Grateful to Marshall's doctor, one of Marshall's doctors did it. Very nice of him. But, awesome kid obviously. He was playing his tail off in the game. Had two huge blocks in the game, one on punt on a return and another one on offense. Tough deal for him.
Chris obviously didn't finish the game with his ankle. Hopefully he will play this week. Jalen didn't finish with his knee. Hopefully he will play this week. (Marcel) Southall didn't finish the game. Hopefully he will play this week. Durante didn't finish the game. Hopefully he will play this week.
Does the injury to Robison, does that make it … more imperative to take a look at the other guys in practice this week to make sure that one of them is ready if they are forced into the game as opposed to starting?
Both guys get reps in practice. We have struggled to separate them, whichever way you want to put it, they have struggled to separate themselves. That is why we have really tried to see them both too and why they both end up going in games is to try and see who is gonna operate the system and who is going to perform well when they get a chance in the game. Practice will be the same, obviously there is more reps if Chris isn't practicing.
How did the team react to the news on Azeez? The guys rally around him and what did he tell teammates him being a leader?
Well, he is a special kid. It was very hard on the kids. The freak deal. There wasn't any contact at practice. Running over to Kerrith Whyte on a flat route. Freak injury. So, you could tell right away that it was severe. He spoke to the team later in the week. Friday night there was still a lot of discussion about it amongst the kids. He is definitely the alpha dog, definitely was their leader from a whole team standpoint, not just defensively.
Has this season, just with the preseason expectations and how things haven't gone how they were planned or you would have liked, is it starting to feel like any of your previous stops? Just the feel of ok this is what the expectations were. We are getting close to November and the result isn't what you want.
No. I mean every year, every place has been different, good and bad. This one, obviously our goal is to win the conference every year. We played a really bad game yesterday. The first time in the conference that we've played (that bad). Only our second loss in the conference ever and the only one was by one point on a Hail Mary two-point play that we got covered or else this would be our first loss. Obviously felt that we should have won that game that we gave away 20 different ways. We would still be in decent shape here with one conference loss against a team that I have always said to me appears to be the most talented team, especially watching them warmup, in the conference. They look like an ACC team. They've (Marshall) got really good players, who when they put it together they are ready to play. They have played really, really well at times.
I know you like to take it one game at a time. You kinda focus that way, but now that the Conference USA repeat is probably out of the way, do you take a moment to remind the team that there is still plenty of stuff to play for this year. Kind of the macro look at it?
No, there is still plenty of stuff to play for, obviously bowl games and that stuff which a year and a half ago, before we started last season, that was what everyone around here, not ours, but everyone around here (their) dream was. Let's find a way somehow to get to a bowl game for the first time in years. So, obviously all that stuff is still alive, but I don't think the kids think that way. We've got to think about getting better each day and winning this week.
Another quick turnaround. You guys have done this before, Saturday to Friday turnaround. How is preparation different and how much does it help doing it once already, this season?
Sometimes you skip a day and make tomorrow (Monday) a Tuesday, which is harder day. We are not going to do that. We will basically, they will miss a Tuesday. Tomorrow will be Monday. The next day will be a Wednesday and then they will be back on schedule.
The third down conversions, what is going on when you guys struggle there? What are you missing do you think?
That is a good question. I would have thought that we would be a pretty good third down team with good running backs and a mobile quarterback, which is usually (what makes) a top third down team in the country. The quarterback has a lot to do with it, getting out of trouble making plays. I'm surprised. That third down / fourth down thing was a big part of the game. You look at a lot of the stats, like yards and stuff, we had more yards than they did. You have to remember that when you are not making all those third downs and three fourth downs you don't make, that's is the same as a turnover. They don't have any fourth downs that they didn't make. They don't turn it over. When you look at it that way, we basically exchanged eight times. It would be the equivalent of having eight turnovers. Five turnovers and three non-fourth down conversions. That is eight times a change of possession. They had zero of those.
The inexperience of Robison, is that one of the factors also?
That is usually the case. I have said it before Jalen Hurt's situation (is) very abnormal, that a freshman can do what he did. This is more normal. You see it in the NFL too. Look at Sam Darnold's numbers today. A lot of times, freshmen quarterbacks and rookie quarterbacks in the NFL they struggle, especially on third down.
He also seems to have his fair share of passes that are getting tipped at the line. Is that the way the throws it? The other team is getting penetration? Is that just something happening? Part of the game?
That's why in the evaluation you obviously look at his stat line. You have four picks in the game and really only one of them is a bad pick. The one he was throwing to (Dante) Cousart, he under throws it. It was going to be a big play because the corner actually falls down behind him. That one is a really bad pick. You have to look at the other three. The one (was a) desperation, almost like a Hail Mary at the end of the first half. He was throwing that up and the receiver was supposed to go to back to the post and he didn't. Then you have another one that hit (Devin) Singletary in the hands and the other one gets tipped. His play was not as poor as his stat line in that area.