BOCA RATON, Fla. — A year ago, Chris Robison was a redshirting freshman throwing passes to the practice squad guys for FAU coach Lane Kiffin. On Saturday, he was breaking school records.
Robison completed 33 of 40 passes for a school-record 471 yards and three touchdowns and FAU notched its first victory over a service academy, beating Air Force 33-27 in the Owls' home opener.
FAU had lost to Navy twice, the only other times the Owls played a service academy.
With the Air Force defense focusing its sights on Heisman Trophy candidate Devin Singletary, Robison quietly settled into a rhythm that the Falcons could never disrupt. He spread the ball around economically to his receivers, with his favorite target, Jovon Durante, hauling in 12 passes for 174 yards and a touchdown. Travis Harrison added seven receptions for 138 yards.
“I think he’s very talented and we saw it last year on the service team,” Kiffin said. “It was good to see it come together and as crazy as it sounds, 471 yards, and he left some out there.”
The previous record of 463 yards was set more than a decade ago by Rusty Smith against Minnesota on Sept. 15, 2007.
The Falcons had success running the ball out of their triple option formation, rushing for 209 yards on 56 carries and two touchdowns, and quarterback Isaiah Sanders also surprised the Owls in the passing game with some deep throws. But it wasn’t enough to slow down the home team in a game that was delayed 80 minutes by lightning.
“Whether you win or lose, missed opportunities are missed opportunities,” said Sanders, who completed 8 of 13 passes for 164 yards, one touchdown and an interception on his last throw of the game. “It kind of stinks when you know that you could have made a play here or made a play there and I could have made a throw here or a made a throw there or pushed the ball better, especially in a game this close.”
Singletary had a 36-yard touchdown run in the first half and had a 75-yard touchdown run called back on a holding penalty in the second, but overall he had a quiet afternoon, finishing with 16 carries for 57 yards and the one touchdown.
Kiffin said he expects defenses to challenge Robison to throw and crowd players in the box but he joked that some of Singletary's struggles might have to do with the Heisman billboards that have been put up around town.
A late blocked punt recovered in the end zone for a touchdown by Air Force put a scare into the home crowd, especially after the Falcons recovered the onside kick and had enough time on the clock to take some shots downfield. But the Owls held on.
THE TAKEAWAY: FAU found its quarterback of the future in Robison with a stellar performance all afternoon. He had the Air Force defense on its heels with his play-action fakes, made accurate throws and showed no fear in throwing the deep ball. Head coach Lane Kiffin’s fast-paced offense suits Robison well as several of his big gains came on shovel passes to Durante and Willie Wright, who caught two of Robison’s touchdown passes.
THIRD-DOWN DELIGHTS: In close games like these, third- and fourth-down conversions are crucial and FAU won that battle on both sides of the ball. The offense was 7-of-13 on third down conversions while the defense held Air Force to just 2-of-11. The Falcons also gambled on fourth down four times and succeeded only once, that being a 7-yard touchdown run by Taven Birdow in the third quarter.
DEFENSIVE RECORD HOLDER: Owls linebacker Azeez Al-Shaair entered the game needing just one solo tackle to tie the career record held by Frantz Joseph (183) and he finished with five, giving him 187.
UP NEXT: Air Force has a bye and FAU hosts Bethune-Cookman next Saturday.