TAMPA — In a game with two of the nation’s worst offenses squaring off, someone was going to have to score points, so the FAU defense took it upon itself.
FAU defenders forced three turnovers Saturday, scoring on two and setting up the go-ahead touchdown with the other to lift FAU to a 28-10 win at USF.
The win was FAU’s first of the season and coach Carl Pelini’s biggest in his two seasons at FAU, as it was his first over an opponent from a BCS automatic-qualifying conference.
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- Florida Atlantic Owls
- South Florida Bulls
“Sometimes the formula is different,” Pelini said “Maybe for a while, until we develop offensively, the formula needs to be play great defense, play great special teams, manage the game and look for your opportunities on offense.
“We talked about it as a staff this morning — rarely does it play out the exact same way you talked about it, but that's how it played out.”.
The Owls had strong play from the quarterback position for the first time this season in the win. After rotating series with freshman Greg Hankerson in FAU’s first two games, Jaquez Johnson was the only quarterback to play Saturday. The sophomore’s numbers were not gaudy, but he was effective. He completed 10-of-17 passes for 98 yards with 55 rushing yards and a touchdown on the ground.
The Owls (1-2, 0-1) were 1-26 against automatic-qualifying conference opponents heading into Saturday’s game, the lone win prior to Saturday coming against Minnesota in 2007.
“Obviously, that's big for [our] program to show we can compete with them on the field,” Pelini said of beating the in-state rival. “[It gives us] adrenalineand a bit of the justification for our program and how we're doing things. In every way, shape and form it was an important win for us.”
USF (0-3) hardly looked the part of favorite in Saturday’s contest. The Bulls pulled their starting quarterback, Bobby Eveld, on their fourth offensive series of the game and only managed 285 yards of total offense in the contest — a number that was a result of both the FAU defense and USF’s offensive futility.
FAU’s offense entered Saturday’s contest struggling, and even on the unit’s first touchdown — a score that would prove to be the deciding factor in the game — came on a broken play.
The Owls took a 14-10 lead with 35 seconds left in the first half when Johnson botched a read-option run play to Jonathan Wallace on the USF 4-yard line. Running into his tailback, Johnson bounced out to the left side, trailing Wallace, and scored without further incident.
The touchdown was FAU’s first rushing score of the season and Johnson’s first as an Owl.
The Owls furthered their lead to 21-10 on a 1-yard touchdown run by Wallace, ending a seven-play, 39-yard scoring drive.
FAU started that drive after cornerback D’Joun Smith recorded a sack and a forced fumble on a blitz of Steven Bench.
Smith would later seal the victory with a 75-yard interception return for a touchdown with a little more than three minutes remaining in the contest.
FAU took its first lead of the season in the first five minutes of the game when USF running back Marcus Shaw ran into starting quarterback Bobby Eveld, forcing the ball out of the quarterbacks hands. Cory
Henry picked up the ball and ran it 10 yards into the end zone.
The lead was FAU’s first since it held an advantage against FIU in last season’s finale.
The defensive touchdown was the first since FAU since Keith Reaser returned a fumble for a 9-yard touchdown against Western Kentucky last November.
USF took a first-quarter lead after Taggart benched Eveld in favor of Penn State transfer Steven Bench.
Bench sparked the sputtering USF offense, and with 50 seconds remaining in the first quarter, he found Ryan Epps for a 25-yard score, giving the Bulls a 10-7 lead.