By AJ Johnson
A much improved effort by the FAU Owls came up a little bit short on Saturday in Champaign against the Fighting Illini dropping their third straight game 23-17.
FAU started quickly and jumped out to a 10-0 lead after the first quarter. The Owls stopped Illinois on downs on their opening drive and recovered a Luke Altmyer fumble on the next Illinois possession when the QB was sacked by Xavier Peters, Jayden Williams recovered the football at the Illinois 28-yard line.
Owls quarterback Daniel Richardson immediately connected with LaJohntay Wester for a 21-yard gain to the 7, but the Owls only came away with a 22-yard field goal by Logan Lupo to take a 3-0 lead with 3:14 left in the opening quarter.
Richardson was making his first start at QB for FAU after Casey Thompson was lost for the season with a torn ACL in last Saturday’s loss to Clemson.
FAU’s next possession started at the Illinois 38 after a 20-yard punt return by Wester that included a roughing penalty on Illinois. Three plays later, Richardson connected with Wester for a 19-yard touchdown score on the final play of the first quarter, extending the Owls lead to 10-0.
The second quarter belonged to Illinois on the scoreboard with two touchdowns while holding the Owls scoreless for a 14-10 lead at the half.
While the Illinois offense began to click in the third quarter, the Owls had the ball in the red zone two times, but were stopped on downs the first time and Richardson was intercepted in the end zone on the second drive.
Trailing by two scores in the fourth quarter, FAU began a 97-yard drive. Redshirt Senior Je’Quan Burton stretched a short catch into a 34-yard pickup, followed by a Larry McCammon 25-yard run, and then a nine-yard touchdown to B.J. Alexander got the Owls within one score 23-17 with three minutes remaining. The TD run was Alexander’s first as an Owl.
That would be the final score as Illinois was able to run out the clock on their final possession after the Alexander touchdown.
FAU individual game stats:
Richardson, the junior transfer from Central Michigan, had a final stat line of 28 of 49 passing for 256 yards with two touchdowns and an interception.
Wester, the Owls’ career reception leader, had 13 catches for 137 yards and a touchdown, and added 32 yards on punt returns for a total of 169 yards from scrimmage.
Senior RB McCammon carried the ball 17 times for 89 yards
Redshirt Sophomore CB Jayden Williams came up with two fumble recoveries
Head Coach Tom Herman said after the game “I think we definitely played hard enough, that hasn’t been the issue over the last two weeks. I told the team after the game, I said for 10 months we have been asking you as a team, as players, to have faith. The definition I know for faith is belief without evidence. I really do believe that now we have gone from not having evidence to having evidence. Now it is a matter of trusting that evidence, trusting the fact that we just took a 97-yard drive when we had to have it down two scores and punched it in the end zone on the road versus a Big Ten team. Trust the evidence that we had some big stops on defense when we needed to, we had turnovers. There is plenty of evidence that showed what we can be and now it is our job as coaches and our jobs as players to figure out the mechanism here in the next week of how we get that not just 60 plays in a game, but 80 plays in a game…This program has two conference championships and both of them started with three losses to open the season. We know we have a really difficult schedule, I think we were down a little bit there toward the end, especially defensively, but that is what happens when you play back-to-back Power Five teams on the road. But we have a lot to build on and we know that even though the American Conference is not easy by any stretch of the imagination, there are a lot of guys that understand that this was a very winnable game that we let ourselves beat ourselves, but a lot less than previous weeks. Guys can feel and see that improvement and I know we are going to be better for having played these last two games when we do hit conference because of the speed and physicality of what we have gone through in the past two weeks.”
The game started and ended with strong performances from Owls on both sides of the ball, and the late 4th quarter rally made the game exciting until the very end. It also gave FAU something to feel really good about going into a bye week before their next game on Oct. 7th against Tulsa at home.
It takes time, hard work, patience and a few lumps here and there to create a new culture. I think everyone around the Florida Atlantic Owls are feeling the change more and more everyday