Facing fourth-and-goal very early in a scoreless game, Lane Kiffin did not even hesitate in his call to leave his Florida Atlantic offense on the field.
What a rebel.
No, really. He’s off to Ole Miss — to coach the Rebels.
FAU turned that decision into a touchdown and kept rolling from there, going on to a surprisingly easy 49-6 win over UAB in the Conference USA championship game on Saturday. Chris Robison threw for 267 yards and four touchdowns, BJ Emmons ran for a pair of scores and the Owls — in Kiffin’s finale — sent their coach off with his second league title in three years.
Kiffin resigned shortly after the game, and Mississippi announced his hire minutes later.
“Coach Kiffin deserves our thanks and a great deal of credit for continuing to build our football program to high levels of success,” FAU athletic director Brian White said.
Malcolm Davidson rushed for 128 yards and Deangelo Antoine had five catches for 112 yards and a score for the Owls (10-3), who led 35-6 at halftime and had no trouble with the league’s top-ranked defense. UAB (9-4) allowed a season-high in points and a season-high 585 yards.
It was a matchup of the last two Conference USA champions — FAU in 2017, UAB in 2018 — and it was never in doubt.
“Hats off to FAU for a great performance today,” UAB coach Bill Clark said. “Very complimentary of them. Obviously, they’ve got a very good team.”
So FAU got to celebrate a title.
The other schools in Conference USA get to celebrate as well, with Kiffin now leaving. He went 20-6 in league games with the Owls, including a pair of romps in conference title games.
“They're champs again," Kiffin said. “That trophy is back here. That's pretty neat.”
And if he was distracted in any way by all the buzz surrounding his next move — Ole Miss tweeted out cryptic references to him Saturday afternoon, and FAU football highlights were shown on the jumbotron at the Rebels’ basketball game — Kiffin hid it all well.
When UAB jumped early on fourth-and-inches from its own 35 early in the second quarter, Kiffin threw both fists over his head then clapped for several seconds. A UAB penalty a few moments later had him punching the air again.
And when FAU blocked a punt for a touchdown and a 28-3 lead midway through the second, Kiffin took off in a 40-yard sprint, leaping several times along the way. The rout was on, and the farewell was already becoming a celebration.
FAU got a restart when Kiffin arrived in 2017. UAB actually restarted its program the same year, after a brief hiatus.
Clark tipped his cap to Kiffin afterward.
“I think for our program, to be where we are, I humbly say how proud I am of coaches and players,” Clark said. “And then on the other side, same thing for him. To be two-time conference champs out of three years says a lot about them.”
UAB: The first half was most uncharacteristic for UAB from a defensive standpoint. UAB came into Saturday having allowed 11.3 points per game in first halves this season — but this one was over by intermission. It was only the second time since the Blazers brought their program back in 2017 that they allowed 28 points by halftime. North Texas scored 30 in the first half on UAB back on Sept. 23, 2017.
FAU: Kiffin improved to 26-13 in his three seasons with the Owls. In the eight seasons before he arrived, FAU went 28-68. And in his time with the Owls, Kiffin had more 10-win seasons — two — than he had in his five years combined at Tennessee and USC. He went 10-2 with the Trojans in 2011.
SUNSHINE STATE SUCCESS
There are seven FBS schools in the state of Florida — and Florida Atlantic is one of only three with multiple 10-win seasons since Kiffin took over as coach. UCF has two and could get to three if the Knights win their bowl game. Florida has two, FAU now has two. Miami and South Florida have one each, while Florida State and FIU have none in that span.
Both teams will learn their bowl destinations on Saturday.