Last year Florida Atlantic
went 2-9 and ranked near the bottom in many statistical categories, including
sacks, where the Owls were last among the 119 Division I-A teams.
"We couldn't get anywhere near the quarterback," FAU defensive coordinator Kirk Hoza said. "That's how you end up dead last."
But Saturday, an important ingredient in FAU's 29-0 upset of Arkansas State
was the three sacks and constant pressure put on the Indians' freshman
quarterback, Corey Leonard.
"The quarterback got clobbered a few times, so he was anxious to get rid of it when he saw someone flash around one of their blockers," FAU coach Howard Schnellenberger said.
The result of that anxiousness was that Leonard threw five interceptions as FAU (3-5, 2-1) gathered up six turnovers on its way to the shutout.
After getting just seven sacks for minus 23 yards in 11 games last year, the Owls have 14 for minus 92 yards in eight games this season.
In its past two games, FAU's defense held Louisiana-Lafayette to two field goals and 228 total yards, and Arkansas State to no points and 104 yards of offense.
Leading the way for the defensive line has been junior end Josh Pinnick, a three-year starter who had two sacks against Arkansas State.
"Up front I think we might have the best defensive line in the conference. We can really get after the quarterback. We have been practicing at a new tempo," Pinnick said.
Pinnick is the oldest and most experienced player on the line, which also has sophomores Jervonte Jackson, Randy Hunter and Robert St. Claire as starters.
"Pinnick is a vocal person and high energy and the younger players have to look up to him. He does become a leader out there," Schnellenberger said.
After getting pushed around last season, the line used the offseason to get stronger and quicker. That speed and strength are evident as they have been able to invade the backfield time after time.
"Last year we were young and made a lot of mistakes," Pinnick said. "This year we are making plays."
FAU faces its toughest challenge Saturday, when it travels to play Sun Belt leader Middle Tennessee (5-3, 4-0).
The Blue Raiders have averaged 34.8 points in their past three conference games and have a veteran offensive line that has done a good job of protecting senior quarterback Clint Marks.
"I can't wait for Saturday," Pinnick said. "It's another chance to go out there and drop that defensive card and show them what is up."