Playing in front of a national audience on ESPN2, Florida Atlantic quarterback Daniel Richardson (photo above Bob Markey II) decided to have his best performance in an FAU jersey as the Owls dominated the South Florida Bulls 56-14 on Saturday afternoon at Raymond James Stadium.
With the win, their overall record improves to 3-3 and tightens their grip at the top of the conference standings with a 2-0 start in AAC play. This is the first road victory for the Owls since their 52-7 blowout over FIU in the 2022 Shula Bowl, which is also the last time FAU scored 50 or more in a game. The 56 points they scored today now stands as the program record.
"We got a ton of respect for Coach Alex Golesh and the program that he's building here. They are considerably better than what they've been in years past and that's a compliment to them and their staff and their program. But I think it just goes to the growth and development of our team," head coach Tom Herman said.
Richardson had a marvelous display, throwing for 382 yards and three touchdowns on 31 completions (all season-highs). He also finished with an outstanding quarterback rating of 186.8.
"The guys up front, shoutout to the O-line for giving me enough time, zero sacks tonight. And me just getting the ball to the playmakers' hands and making plays. What more can you ask for?," Richardson said.
He got things started for the Owls early on when he threw a short pass to tight end Zeke Moore to get on the scoreboard. It was a big moment for the freshman, scoring the first touchdown of his young career with the program.
FAU did even more damage in the second quarter. Quarterback Michael Johnson Jr., who came on occasionally for the team when they were close to the end zone, rushed for nine yards to score the touchdown. They would later convert another one when running back Larry McCammon III ran for three yards to have the Owls pass the 20-point mark. This was the most points they scored in the first half since the season-opener against Monmouth when they dropped 28 on the Hawks.
However, the USF offense started generating points on the board before halftime came around. Using the running game to their advantage in the quarter as they out-rushed the Owls 106-75, they scored two touchdowns to have the contest be a one-score game at 21-14.
The rest of the game turned out to be all FAU. The Owls scored 35 unanswered points in the second half as Richardson, Johnson Jr., wide receivers Lajohntay Wester (photo below Bob Markey II) and Tony Johnson, and running back Kobe Lewis got their piece of the pie with a multitude of touchdowns.
"That was very crucial because Coach Herman just preaching to keep your foot on their neck when we go back on and still we just hit a smart you know, just go down there and and execute and score right away. After we did that, I just felt that they went into shutdown mode and we just kept pushing," Richardson said.
Wester, in particular, had himself an astounding moment when he got a punt return and outran the entire USF defense for 67 yards into the end zone during the third quarter. The last time an Owl scored a touchdown with a punt return was Lucky Whitehead for 73 yards against Old Dominion in 2014.
The offense was dominant against the USF offense. They finished with 587 total yards (382 passing and 205 rushing) as they were a perfect 6-of-6 in scoring in the red zone and converted a majority of their third downs on 9-of-16 efficiency.
"It was critical because we stunk for the first five weeks of the season at that, but I think what everybody didn't look into that one number, and that one number, it'll tell you something, but the number that's more important is your first and second down efficiency and we stayed ahead of the chain," Herman said.
"Being able to run the football, I like that Coach Frye had a really good rhythm in the way that he called the game and kept us in third manageable. And obviously, the guys on the field went out there and executed on those critical situations and in the red zone too."
Wester and Johnson were the clear standouts from the receiving corps. Both players finished with over 100 receiving yards each (254 combined), the last time happening with Je'Quan Burton and Jahmal Edrine against Ohio last year, as they scored three all-purpose touchdowns as well. Devin Price also had his time to shine, gaining up to 60 yards on two receptions with one of them being a brilliant over the shoulder catch with one hand.
The run game also seemed to progress nicely for the Owls. Winning the rushing battle 205-138 against USF for the entire game, McCammon III and Lewis had 145 rushing yards and two touchdowns on 29 carries combined.
Linebacker Jackson Ambush continues to be tackling star for the Owls, leading the team with nine tackles (seven solo) including 1.5 for a loss of yardage. Linebacker Jaylen Wester comes second with seven tackles (four solo) and a sack, safety Jarron Morris had five tackles (three solo) and forced a fumble, and linebacker Desmond Tisdol finished with five tackles (three solo) and a sack as well as a pass breakup.
The defense can also take pride in their improved aggression against USF's offense, limiting their star quarterback Byrum Brown to 179 passing yards and a touchdown on 15 completions, as well as 46 rushing yards on 11 carries. They also made a season-high six sacks, as the last time FAU reached this mark was against UTSA with seven sacks in 2020.
Herman said it's important to note how FAU's 2-0 start in AAC play is significant to showcase the long-term potential the Owls have in the conference.
"They don't get easier. We're going to celebrate it but we know how hard next week is going to be just like every week," Herman said.
The Owls come back home to Boca Raton when they host UTSA at Howard Schnellenberger Field on October 21st at 6:00 PM, as it will be broadcast on ESPN+.