Maybe Lane Kiffin creates the chaos that seems to surface at every coaching stop he makes. Maybe the chaos naturally follows him and he has responded the only way he could: by learning to harness its power and ride it to the top of the list of college football’s most compelling characters. Either way, there’s something admirable about the consistency of the system.
Florida Atlantic’s 42–19 loss to Navy in Kiffin’s head coaching debut on Friday night was not unexpected, but in classic Kiffin fashion there was still plenty of weirdness to talk about—some incidental, most self-inflicted.
First and foremost, the self-inflicted: The game was delayed for 59 minutes by lightning at the end of the third quarter, resumed for six plays and 67 seconds of game time, then promptly sent into lightning delay again. (Within those six plays: an egregious FAU dropped pass that led to a turnover on downs, followed immediately by a 39-yard Navy touchdown pass, followed four plays later by a 62-yard Owls touchdown.) Just as that second delay ended, a third delay began, at which point the end of the night seemed to come into sight for all parties involved …
The Navy players are currently eating their postgame meal in the locker room.
— Navy Athletics (@NavyAthletics) September 2, 2017
… except, apparently, for Kiffin. As Navy’s official Twitter account so subtly pointed out, both teams needed to agree to cut the game short, and Kiffin elected not to let a 23-point deficit and an ominous overnight forecast keep him from playing the full 60 minutes of his home opener, no matter how petty it might have looked to everyone else involved.
Kiffin’s explanation to ESPN sideline reporter Tiffany Greene as the teams retook the field: “Quote me on this: We want to win this game, and that’s why we’re continuing.”
When play finally resumed at around 1:20 a.m. ET, Navy stuffed FAU’s two-point conversion attempt, then recovered an onside kick.
A sampling of the other oddities from Friday night’s action in Boca Raton:
– FAU’s first touchdown of the season was a 95-yard catch-and-run by freshman Willie Wright, the longest scoring play in school history. And of course Kiffin threw up a touchdown signal from the sidelines while the ball was still in the air, a habit he made famous as Alabama’s offensive coordinator. And of course the Owls were hit with a sideline warning celebrating the play. (Greg Joseph also kicked the longest field goal in FAU history, a 54-yarder, later in the first half.)
– FAU co-defensive coordinator Chris Kiffin elected to wear a sweatshirt on an early September night in South Florida, and he got as sweaty as you might imagine.
– De’Andre Johnson, the former Florida State quarterback who was dismissed for punching a woman at a Tallahassee bar and spent last fall playing at East Mississippi Community College as one of the central characters in the Netflix docuseries Last Chance U, led the Owls in rushing with 31 yards on four carries. Johnson only entered the game as a change-of-pace to Daniel Parr, who started the game after Kiffin had kept his QB plans secret all preseason.
– Midway through the fourth quarter, Navy kicked a field goal straight over the left upright that was questionably ruled no good and wasn’t reviewed.
In all, FAU looked like a 3–9 team that had been stripped down to the studs and rebuilt in one offseason. A handful of awful snaps cratered drives, and the Owls’ skill players struggled to make coordinator Kendal Briles’s wide-open offense work in anything more than brief sparks. Navy quarterback Zach Abey topped 200 yards on the ground, confounding FAU’s defense once the triple option clicked into gear. None of that deterred Kiffin from being unapologetically himself.
And although the number of fans still in the stadium by the end of the five-hour, 50-minute ordeal had dwindled to double digits, Florida Atlantic officially drew 28,481 fans, the third-largest crowd in school history. The system works.
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