When Lane Kiffin was first introduced as the Florida Atlantic football coach, he said he saw "something really special" at the program.
A year later, he proved that by leading the Owls to the best season in school history. After three consecutive 3-9 seasons, they ended 11-3 and won their first bowl game since 2008. The Owls just narrowly missed their first top-25 finish but had plenty to boast about their breakthrough season, which featured tying or breaking 45 individual school records. Here's a look at a few statistical categories that played key roles in the huge turnaround.
Kiffin arrived with a reputation as one of the top offensive minds in college football. The addition of offensive coordinator Kendal Briles to the staff just made things more dynamic. After struggling in early-season losses to Navy and Wisconsin, the Owls hit their stride with a 45-point outburst against Bethune-Cookman. It was the start of an 11-game streak of scoring at least 30 points, topping 50 four times. The highlight was a 69-point, 804-yard performance against North Texas.
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The Owls led Conference USA and ranked eighth nationally with 40.6 points a game. That was a 14-point improvement from last season.
So how was it done? With a fast-paced approach. The Owls simply had opponents playing catch-up for the entire game because of their quick strikes led by the ground game. With running back Devin "Motor" Singletary piling up a nation-leading 32 touchdowns and a school-record 1,920 yards, it only opened up the passing game. Quarterback Jason Driskel, who didn't become the starter until the fourth game, led an efficient attack. He threw played the final three games without a turnover.
When the Owls reached inside the 20-yard line, it was basically a given they would produce points. They ranked eighth nationally by scoring on 94 percent of red-zone opportunities, a 12 percent hike from last season. Most importantly, the Owls weren't mostly settling for field goals.
They scored 50 touchdowns on 65 attempts inside the 20. Two years ago, the Owls had just 22 touchdowns in 51 red-zone attempts.
Third-down, fourth-down success
It was the opening drive against Louisiana Tech and the Owls were facing a fourth-and-1 at their 21. Instead of punting, Kiffin opted to go for it. They converted, and it led to the Owls' first touchdown on the way to a 48-23 victory.
The fact Kiffin was willing to gamble on third- and fourth-down situations created more scoring opportunities. The Owls improved their third-down efficiency by six to 40 percent. They led the nation in fourth-down conversions (24) and attempts (39). A fake punt against Western Kentucky in the fourth quarter was arguably one of the most key plays of the season. The Owls were ahead by seven but the conversion allowed them to close out the two-time defending conference champions on the road.
The Owls never created a "Turnover Chain" as their counterparts at Miami coined, but this area played a role in the turnaround. While defense wasn't consistently dominant, it always found ways to make plays at important times.
The Owls were second in the nation with 20 interceptions. Junior safety Jalen Young, who had a team-high seven picks, was among eight Owls players to record at least one interception.
In all, they forced 26 turnovers during the season, which doubled last year's total.
No close games
In 2015 and 2016, the Owls lost a combined eight games by a touchdown or less. It got to the point players would often expect defeat when involved in close games. The rising amount of narrow losses ultimately led to the firing of former coach Charlie Partridge.
Under Kiffin, the Owls rarely had to worry about folding in tight games, because there weren't many. All but one of the victories during the 10-game winning streak were by double-digits. Seven of the games were won by 18 points or more, including three 30-point victories.
The Owls went the last 61/2 games without trailing.