Kiffin, Bowden match wits as Florida Atlantic faces Akron in Boca
They play the Sun Bowl in El Paso, Texas. But in Boca Raton, Florida, they are playing the “Son” Bowl.
The official name for Tuesday’s postseason matchup may be the Cheribundi Tart Cherry Boca Raton Bowl, but the lineage of the two coaches offers the much easier-off-the-tongue subtitle.
Akron’s Terry Bowden is the son of Bobby Bowden, the man who made Florida State a two-time national champion. Florida Atlantic’s Lane Kiffin is the son of Monte Kiffin, recognized as one of football’s most creative defensive minds in the game and the father of the “Tampa Cover 2” defense.
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“I’m old enough to put in Tampa-2 and had teams that began to use the defenses that he made legendary,” the younger Bowden said of the older Kiffin. “The impact he has made on college football, the NFL and college football, still is prominent today.”
In fact, Bowden will be up against Kiffin’s defense when his Zips (7-6) take on the Owls (10-3) at FAU Stadium. Monte Kiffin serves as the defensive coordinator for his son, who took over a team that was 3-9 in 2016 and hadn’t played in a bowl since 2008 and won a Conference USA championship in his first try.
The two legendary figures in the game do share something in common: their passion for the game.
“They weren’t just walk-around coaches,” Lane Kiffin said. “They were very hands-on. Players loved playing for them, and coaches loved coaching for them.”
This game will present an interesting contrast in styles.
After losing three of its first four outings, FAU won its last eight games of the regular season and capped that off with a 41-17 victory over North Texas in the league title game. Sophomore running back Devin Singletary rushed for 1,796 yards and an FBS record-high 29 touchdowns (he also had a touchdown reception) to earn C-USA Most Valuable Player Award honors.
“I don’t think it’s a surprise he won it if you look at the stats and how he played,” Kiffin said. “But you’ve got to remember he’s doing that as a true sophomore. … Pretty amazing what he’s done.”
Bowden’s Zips, who lost the Mid-American Conference title game 45-28 to Toledo after winning the league’s East Division, are among the team leaders in several defensive categories. They are tied for second in interceptions (19) and ranked seventh in defensive touchdowns (four), No. 16 in turnover margin (0.77), and No. 25 in red zone defense (0.776). Free safety Jordan George is No. 8 in interceptions (5) and linebacker Ulysees Gilbert III is ranked No. 18 in tackles per game (9.8).
“That keeps you in ballgames, That’s going to be one of our hardest jobs — slowing down that offense that he’s got at Florida Atlantic,” Bowden said, referring to Kiffin. “They’re playing phenomenal football.”
In addition to Singletary, quarterback Jason Driskel, a returning starter who opened the season No. 3 on the depth chart, has been a key figure in FAU’s closing rushing. Given his job back when Kiffin decided to make a switch after a 1-2 start, Driskel has completed 65.6 percent of his passes for 1,977 yards and 13 touchdowns against only 4 interceptions.
Bowden also credits a late switch at quarterback, turning the job over to redshirt freshman Kato Nelson late in the season, for rejuvenating Akron’s offense.
“He has kind of been the difference for us the last two or three games,” Bowden said.
His statistics are pedestrian — 61-of-125 for 909 yards with eight touchdowns against two interceptions — but he also had two wins to get the Zips in the MAC title game and to bowl eligibility.
Akron is making its second bowl appearances the last three years but only the third in program history.
“Our team has not been the most dominant team at times,” Bowden said, “but our team has been this season one of my favorite teams in 24 years as a head coach, a team that fights and finds a way to win ballgames that many think they can’t win.”
For the younger Kiffin, success has come a lot quicker than expected — except for Kiffin himself.
“This is what our expectation was,” he said. “I know that’s probably strange to hear. We expected to win the conference championship, and we expected to play in a premier bowl like this. This is just the beginning.”