Contributed by: LA Tech Athletic Communications
RUSTON – Florida Atlantic continued its perfect run through Conference USA play as the Owls defeated Louisiana Tech 48-23 before 16,511 fans at Joe Aillet Stadium Saturday afternoon.
Despite recording more than 500 yards of total offense on 96 offensive plays and controlling the football for 40 minutes, the Bulldogs (4-6, 2-4 C-USA) couldn’t score red zone touchdowns against FAU (7-3, 6-0 C-USA) and it ultimately cost them.
Tech’s struggles in the red zone led to four first half field goal attempts by Jonathan Barnes and put the Bulldogs behind the eight ball in the game and on the scoreboard.
“We came in at halftime and had 24 more plays at halftime, and I thought this had the makings to be a really competitive football game, but two things happened in the first half that got us down a little bit,” said Tech head coach Skip Holtz. “We gave up two big plays in man coverage, double pass on one of them, and then we moved the ball well, but again, we sputtered at times. We were just very inconsistent in what we were able to get done (in the red zone).”
Sophomore quarterback J’Mar Smith recorded arguably his most complete performance, passing for 326 yards and one touchdown while adding 78 yards rushing on 17 carries. Smith completed 30-of-51 passes despite scrambling much of the day without throwing an interception. It marked only the second time this season that FAU hasn’t recorded at least one interception in a game (the Owls entered the contest leading the country in interceptions).
Teddy Veal (6-112, 1 TD), Rashid Bonnette (6-81) and Adrian Hardy (6-76) all had productive days in the Tech passing game, but the Bulldogs couldn’t overcome their inability to produce touchdowns in the first half in the red zone.
Tech recorded four double digit play drives (10, 11, 16 and 13) in the opening two quarters with each one stalling inside the FAU 10-yard line. Barnes connected on field goals of 26, 24 and 22 yards while missing a 26-yarder, which accounted for all nine points. Tech trailed 20-9 at the break despite outdoing FAU in first downs (20-10), plays (52-28) and time of possession (22:30 to 7:30).
While Tech struggled to score touchdowns, FAU hit paydirt three times in the opening two quarters, including a 77-yard pass from Jason Driskell to Kalib Woods on a double reverse and a 33-yard strike from Driskell to Harrison Bryant on a pump fake on a wide receiver screen that the Bulldog secondary bit on. Devin Singletary added a 3-yard TD run, the first of his three rushing scores on the day.
Any chance of a Bulldog comeback was doused in the opening five minutes of the second half. Tech’s special teams were the culprit this time. FAU’s Kerrith Whyte returned the opening kickoff of the third quarter 98 yards for a touchdown to push the lead to 27-9.
After Tech failed to pick up a first down on its first possession of the third quarter, a 12-yard punt gave the Owls the football on the Tech 43. It only took FAU seven plays to score as Singletary recorded his second rushing TD of the night.
“I hate it because our special teams have played really well,” said Holtz. “Then the punts just really, you’re in the third quarter and it just takes the wind out of your sail when you have a five-yard punt or whatever it was that we had there in the third quarter. It just takes some of the wind out of your sail.”
The Bulldogs were able to score a pair of second half touchdowns. Smith hit Veal on a 34-yard strike with 4:21 to play in the third quarter and Boston Scott added a five-yard run with 9:51 to play in the game. Scott rushed for 87 yards on 19 carries in the loss.
Tech returns to action Saturday when it travels to El Paso to face UTEP.