By Rob Shumay
FAU 20 – Tulsa 17
FAU returned home after 2 tough road losses. The Owls braved Hurricane like conditions to blow the Tulsa Golden Hurricane off course.
The game started off a repeat of the Owls performance against Illinois. FAU started off well and held on for a 20-17 win.
The win kicked off FAU’s inaugural season in the American Athletic Conference.
Watching the offensive and defensive lines in pre-game drills gave an indication of what was to come. Both were aggressive and it carried over into the game.
The Owls (2-3 overall) needed this game “immensely” in head coach Tom Herman’s own words, as FAU snapped a three-game skid and started a new chapter of Owl Football on the right foot.
“This was a big game,” Herman said. “And I don’t want to make it bigger than it being the next one, because it never is. But for us to have those tangible results was really important for us moving forward because these guys have worked harder than they’ve ever worked … all of it had been on blind faith and trust up until this point.”
FAU’s run run game came through for the Owls, especially when the clouds opened and delivered hurricane like rain in the second half. Both Larry McCammon (130 rushing yards and two touchdowns on 26 touches) and Kobe Lewis (87 yards on six touches) registered single-game career highs in the backfield.
Just as in the Illinois game, the Owls got off to a quick start. Jayden Williams reeled in an interception on the Golden Hurricane’s opening drive that set the table for a 10-play, 85-yard touchdown drive McCammon capped off with a 3-yard touchdown carry.
McCammon punched in his second touchdown of the night on the Owls’ next trip into the end zone just five minutes later with a 10-yard touchdown carry that extended the lead to 14-0.
FAU place kicker/punter Logan Lupo delivered one of the key plays of the game. Lupo nailed near perfect 71-yard punt late in the fourth quarter that forced Tulsa (3-3) to start a potential game-winning drive at its six-yard line.
FAU’s offense led the way in the first half and the defense led the way in the second half. The linebacker core was effective at filling the gaps allowing FAU’s secondary to pick off two passes. Desmond Tisdol registered a career-high eight tackles.
FAU won’t get any style points for the win, thanks in part to the hard rain that came down in the second half. In fact, the rain all but put a stop to the FAU offense, as it struggled to move the chains in the second half, scoring three points and gaining 164 yards.
Quarterback Daniel Richardson was held to just 36 yards on 6-of-9 passing in the second half, and finished 12 of 18 for 144 yards and one interception. Stepping in to shoulder the load was McCammon and Lewis, who both responded with career nights.
“They couldn’t stop the run,” McCammon said. “Our O-Line wanted to run the ball, they literally kept saying ‘let’s run the ball,’ so why not?”
Richardson said it was like playing backyard football.”It was actually fun for a minute,” Richardson said. “At the end of the day as a quarterback, protecting the ball was the biggest thing. Just getting the ball into the running backs’ hands. The running backs made a lot of great plays today, and the offensive line played a hell of a game.”
With the run game firing on all cylinders, it opened up receiver LaJohntay Wester for an extremely efficient night as well. Wester finished with 98 receiving yards on 9-of-11 targets. It’s amazing how everyone knows the ball is going to Wester and teams still can’t stop him.
FAU’s defense stymied Tulsa all game, thanks in large part to a swarming defensive front that collapsed the pocket with ease. Adding to a strong effort up front were the linebackers, who contributed to the six tackles-for-loss and two sacks the Owls had in the winning effort.
The secondary was active as well, helping contain Golden Hurricane quarterback Cardell Williams to 120 yards on 10-of-20 passing while reeling in two interceptions.
Tulsa made a switch under center to Braylon Braxton in the fourth quarter and he took off on a 46-yard rush that set up a 20-yard touchdown pass. The score shrunk the Owls’ lead to 20-17. After another three-and-out from the FAU offense, the defense had to rise to the occasion once again.
“Once we gave up that touchdown, we just came to the sideline and said we’ve still got to keep going no matter what the score is, we’ve got to keep playing,” Tisdol said. “I feel like in the past, we kind of hung our heads when we gave up stuff like that, but this group is definitely maturing.”
Lupo’s 71-yard punt to Tulsa’s six-yard-line certainly helped FAU’s situation. But the Golden Hurricane had just marched down the field on their previous possession, and they appeared poised to do it again after a few strikes from Braxton moved them to midfield.
On fourth-and-eight with just over one minute to play, Jackson Ambush broke through the line and brought Braxton down for a game-clinching sack.
“I was really confident,” Herman said. “Our defense has been playing great, save for those two drives … we found a way to bow our backs up a little bit and dig our cleats in the ground. I thought it was a really, really good call from Coach Roc [Bellantoni, defensive coordinator] at the end there to bring five and pressure the quarterback.”
An impressive stat: the Owls finished the night with one penalty, and went nearly 50 minutes without any after a false start in the first quarter.
“The only long-term goal we had was to be competing for championships in late November and early December and we’re still on track to do that,” Herman said. “But we’ve got to make the same kind of improvements week over week that we’ve made here in the last few weeks.”
The Owls look to improve to 2-0 in the AAC when they travel to South Florida next week in Tampa.
“Today was a statement game for us,” McCammon said. “To tell everyone we can run the ball, which we can do. I’m super excited for another game on the road. Another statement game for us so we’re going to celebrate the small wins today and throw it behind us tomorrow and get back to work.”