Once again on Thursday night, a contest started off rocky for the visiting Owls. An early fumble inside Charlotte territory resulted in a 49ers field goal the other way.
However, this time they would use 31 unanswered points to upend 49ers.
FAU took the lead for the first time with an 8 yard touchdown catch to TJ Chase in the corner of the end zone.
The Owls’ 7-3 lead was short lived as the hosts marched downfield on a 17 play, 88 yard drive, capped off with a fourth down touchdown pass as the first half expired.
Charlotte’s Jonathan Cruz, the same kicker that nailed a 50+ yard field goal as time expired in the 2018 contest between the two teams, preventing the Owls from becoming bowl eligible, missed the following extra point attempt for a 9-7 ‘Niner lead at the break.
Willie Taggart’s Owls raced out of halftime with a four play, 65 yard touchdown drive. Johnny Ford got his first of two scores on the night with a 32 yard catch and run from a screen play to N’Kosi Perry’s left. This began the onslaught of 31 straight points for the Owls.
Malcolm Davison found paydirt for the first time of the season about five minutes later thanks to a nine yard scamper.
The Owls’ defense three turnover benchmark was hit, as a Caliph Brice fumble recovery in the second quarter was paired with back-to-back interceptions late in the third and early in the fourth.
Korrel Smith did well to jump in front of a Chris Reynolds pass, setting up Brandon Robinson for a 30 yard play-action pass today on the following play.
Ahman Ross got his first pick of his career just plays later. His return into Charlotte territory allowed Aaron Shahriari to knock in a 27 yard field goal.
Ford capped off the night with a one yard scoring run, fresh off the back of a 60 yard scamper the play before.
The victory moves the Owls (4-3, 2-1 C-USA) into first place in the conference’s East Division.
Here are our takeaways from the win:
- Ross Returns to Form - Senior veteran Ahman Ross had been relatively missing in action in the stats line for the last two contests. He had just a pass break up against FIU, and the following week against UAB just two assisted tackles. Coaches said this week that they were trying to find a way for him to contribute more, and that's just what happened. Ross made a spectacular shoestring tackle following an Owl punt deep inside 49er territory early in the contest in a special teams contribution and would finish the game with 7 total tackles, 3 solo, an INT and a QB hurry. The pick in the fourth quarter to further deflate a seriously trailing Charlotte club was the icing on the cake in his return to form.
- Tale of Two Halves Continues - Much has been said about the Owls' "slow starts", but all that matters when it's all said and done is how you finish. Despite managing just 133 total yards in the first half, wearing down the 49ers line during that span with continuous run plays likely contributed to a second half showing of 294 yards and the eventual win. Oh, and that run game kicked into gear as well.
- Sack Attack - The Owls had just six sacks on the season. Of note, Charlotte had surrendered just 10 total sacks for 49 yards heading into the night. Having registered three against a stingy 49ers front, FAU took serious strides forward in becoming a more consistent unit along the defensive line.
- Fumbling Under Center - For the second in as many games the Owls faltered away a likley score due to a fumble. This one wasn't on N'Kosi Perry however, as it appeared that James Charles was simply preoccupied with a blitz. However, later, another score was almost lost to a fumble as well. Fortunately, that time Perry was able to pull it back in. With Tronti in late in the 4th, the same number of miscues would be reach. This trend must be ended - quickly - to remain successful down the stretch of the schedule.
- Perfect Ending to a Perfect Day - Shortest takeaway ever: 1. Owls join The American. 2. Owls Win.
- Football, Family, Faith: It was great to see FAU student athletes play with their heart on their sleeves today. North Carolina native Caliph Brice had a career day with 20 family members in attendance. Ahman Ross finally gets his first interception of his career. Instead of doing a dance, he races to the other side of the stadium to give the ball to his mother. Johnny Ford, mourning the loss of a family member, was emotional postgame after hearing how his performance gave his family a much needed boost. Amongst the talk of wins, loss, conference realignment, petty Twitter arguments, those are the moments that truly matter.
- Taggart’s Scheme: All week long, Coach Taggart mentioned how he wanted to establish the running game this week. That, his team did. His workhorse of backs ran for 202 yards on the night against a lackluster 49er rushing defense.
- Pressuring Reynolds: Charlotte QB Chris Reynolds is one of the best in the league. He is smart, versatile, and gritty. As elusive as he is, we was not able to avoid a decent amount of pressure from the defensive line. That’s a nice change from FAU’s defeat to UAB.
FAU will have a few extra days to get ready for incoming UTEP, who is far outmatching season expectations at 6-1. The contest will kick-off Saturday, October 30th, at 6:00 PM and is currently slated to air on ESPN+.