It was the type of win that could save a season.
FAU entered Saturday night searching for answers, and left with the program’s second win over a BCS automatic-qualifying conference opponent.
Cornerback D’Joun Smith forced two turnovers and Jaquez Johnson ran in a score, as FAU beat USF 28-10 on the road. Carl Pelini collected his first victory over an automatic-qualifying school and the Owls secured their first win of the season.
“It wasn’t perfect, but our defense played awfully well and we just kept fighting,” Pelini said.
Smith – who entered the night with five pass break ups – was exceptional on defense and helped FAU turn three turnovers into three touchdowns. With the Owls leading late in the fourth quarter, Smith (pictured) intercepted an errant pass from Steven Bench and raced 75-yards for a touchdown to preserve the win.
“We came in with the expectation that we needed to make plays,” Smith said. “We wanted to be the best defense we could be, and we had to make turnovers and capitalize on the opportunities we where given.”
FAU took advantage of every opportunity USF gave them, starting with a loose ball early in the first quarter. Defensive end Cory Henry hit the quarterback from behind and returned a fumble 11-yards for a score to give the Owls a lead.
The Bulls responded with ten quick points, but Johnson and the offense would have an answer.
Johnson – who was given control of the offense for the first time all season after splitting time in the huddle – orchestrated an eight-play drive that spanned the length of the field and ended with a 4-yard touchdown run. The Owls clung to a four-point advantage at halftime, and knew that it was going to take another series of plays to hold onto the momentum.
Smith opened the second half with a hit in the backfield that caused a fumble and gave the offense a short field to work with. Johnson would then go to work, as running back Jonathan Wallace found the end zone on a 1-yard touchdown run to give the Owl’s a three score lead.
USF battled back late in the fourth quarter, but that’s when Smith made the play of the game. Bench floated a ball deep over the middle and Smith was in the right place at the right time to grab the interception.
“Sometimes the formula is different,” Pelini explained. “And our formula for a while until we develop offensively needs to be play great defense, play great special teams and manage the game and look for your opportunities on offense. We expect DJ [Smith] to make those plays and our defense was great tonight.”
The Owl’s were able to effectively move the ball between the tackles against the Bulls, and it was Johnson who was the workhorse. The quarterback finished the night with a team-high 18 carries and 55 yards rushing, but was more importantly able to control the game while the defense went to work.
Smith tallied four tackles, a sack and a pass breakup while linebacker Randell Johnson record eight tackles with three of those coming for a loss.
The win gives FAU their first victory over USF in four meetings, and comes before next weekend’s home opener against Middle Tennessee State.