The Florida Atlantic football team wasted no time displaying what their offense is capable of with head coach Tom Herman leading the way, scoring six touchdowns en route to a cruising 42-20 victory over the Monmouth Hawks at Howard Schnellenberger Field on a pristine Saturday evening to kickstart the 2023 campaign.
"The way we started, I was really happy with. I felt we took the last nine months and really applied everything that we have been teaching and everything that the young men have learned," Herman said.
"Having done this over 25 years and now eight years as a head coach, the difference in terms of teams getting better from week one to week two, you just cannot simulate the four hours that we went through tonight. We have a lot of film that we can learn from and there is no doubt in my mind that these guys will be better for having gone through a bit of a rollercoaster of a game like this."
Quarterback Casey Thompson did not disappoint in his FAU debut. He threw for 280 yards and five touchdowns, the latter tying the program record for most passing touchdowns in a game. He joins Rusty Smith, Chris Robison, and N'Kosi Perry as the quarterbacks to achieve that feat.
FAU began their offensive onslaught less than four minutes into the game with a six-yard rushing touchdown from running back Larry McCammon III, who wound up finishing with 125 yards on 13 carries. This marked the fifth time that McCammon reached at least 100 rushing yards in a game.
Then the receivers came to play. For the remainder of the first half and the entire third quarter, Tony Johnson, Je'Quan Burton, and Lajohntay Wester (pictured) got their share of the pie by scoring five touchdowns combined on 14 receptions. Both Johnson and Burton saw career-highs in receiving touchdowns in a game with two each, as the former also achieved a career-high in receiving yards with 91.
Thompson was more than happy to assist them, completing 20 passes on 25 attempts with two of them being a 35-yard receiving touchdown to Burton and a 72-yard receiving touchdown to Johnson.
"Our job was to spread out and distribute the football and be a point guard for the team and make good decisions. I felt for the most part, I did a good job of that. I didn't realize and lost track toward the end of the game and they were each counting touchdowns they had apiece," said Thompson, finishing with a spectacular quarterback rating of 232.1.
"I try to focus on one play at a time, but I am really happy for the guys. We have a really talented receiving core and a really good running back room as well. I'm happy to get the win, but I'm happy for the guys too."
Despite conceding 20 points, mainly from two passing touchdowns from quarterback Marquez McCray as he threw for 249 yards, the Owls' defense succeeded in stopping Monmouth's run game. They particularly limited their star rusher Jaden Shirden to 66 yards on 24 carries, as Herman touted that as something worthy of praise.
"The run defense was impressive. When you jog the nation's leading rusher in an 11-game season, that certainly had our ears perked up for the entire couple weeks of preparation…to hold the nation's leading rusher to 2.8 yards a carry, that's a pretty good day in the office," Herman said.
Linebacker Jackson Ambush stood out from the Owls' defense. Transferring from FCS program Albany over the summer, Ambush made a team-high seven tackles (five solo) in his debut to prevent Monmouth from creating any momentum early on in the game. The last highlight for FAU came from inside linebacker Jarrett Jerrels near the end of the third quarter, making an interception in his first career start for the Owls.
"I felt like everybody who went in on defense played with relentless effort. We have things we need to work on and fix during the week, but overall the pursuit to the ball, I think it was a great night," Jerrels said.
The Owls will next face the Ohio Bobcats on September 9th at 6:00 PM, also taking place at Schnellenberger Field. It is expected to be a payback game for FAU, following last season's heartbreaking 41-38 defeat at Athens.
Ohio is coming off a 27-10 victory against Long Island last night as they await the status of quarterback Kurtis Rourke, who sustained an apparent leg injury in last week's season-opener against San Diego State.