Howard Schnellenberger Field at FAU Stadium is undefeated. Whether it's the hellacious humidity of south Florida, the small, but ferocious home crowds, or the aura of Lord Schnelly himself, the Florida Atlantic Owls play their best ball in Boca Raton. That passion and mystifying atmosphere was evident on Saturday as FAU came from behind to beat WKU, 45-38.
Now first, I want to talk about the defense. These guys get glossed over every week, but this performance was solid across the board. From Trevor Coley's huge sacks near the end of the game to Andrae Kirk doing everything to Sharrod Neasman doing everything Kirk didn't do to TREY HENDRICKSON: THE DEVOURER OF SOULS AND/OR QUARTERBACKS. Every position unit was well-represented on defense and although WKU came into the game with a highly-acclaimed offensive attack, the Owls stepped up to the challenge.
That's not to say that the Hilltoppers didn't impose their will in the first half. Every Western Kentucky play worked with relative success and the Owls were caught playing catch-up early after a quick 14-0 lead for the Hilltoppers. I cannot stress enough how well WKU looked right out the gate. They appeared to execute their initial play-calling script to near-perfection and Brandon Doughty, from nearby Davie, FL, entered the half with 256 yards and three touchdowns.
When I heard that Leon Allen would be healthy enough to play Saturday, I was fearful of what might happen to the FAU defense. Allen, from Bradenton, FL, is a terrifying runner that racked up two touchdowns for the Hilltoppers, but was mostly stopped en route to only 58 rushing yards. This was a great performance by FAU's defensive line that saw WKU manage less than 100 yards rushing on 26 carries. You would think that Western Kentucky's coaches would see how much the Owls have struggled against the run and change their game plan, but 99 second-half yards later and here we are.
In a football climate as stale as South Florida's currently is, the Owls are a team that actually makes these halftime adjustments. That first half was a whole mess of trying to stop the Hilltoppers, while the second half saw FAU attack WKU and expose their putrid defense. Lucky Whitehead and Greg Howell touched the ball much more and Martese Jackson was run into spots on the field that only he could turn into positive yardage. It was great to see so many new faces get involved offensively and Jackson benefitted from his newfound usage.
Speaking of cool offensive stuff... SUCCESSFUL FAKE PUNT!
But seriously, can we talk about Jaquez Johnson for a second? I don't think I've ever seen someone pick up one yard so effortlessly and struggle in the open field so much. To start the final scoring drive for the Owls, Quez found himself with nothing but lush Boca Raton greenery in sight, but was tracked down by a WKU defender. It was definitely a hot one on Saturday, so I'll excuse Johnson's lack of speed this time. When it came to just about every other part of his game, though, Quez looked like one of the best quarterbacks in the conference. His throws were great, but his decision-making was even better. I am absolutely loving his season so far and if C-USA didn't have a ranked team (see you guys next week), we would be looking at the first-team all-conference QB in Johnson. Quez finished the game with 325 yards and three touchdowns. Add two more touchdowns on the ground and 95 rushing yards and Johnson had himself quite a day.
This victory was excellent and most importantly, it came at the perfect time. Tough games against Marshall and MTSU are approaching and the Owls will need to make up ground wherever they can if they want to achieve bowl eligibility for the second straight season. If FAU can string together a few more performances like this one, #OwlNation can start getting their schedules ready for postseason play.
Now all they need to do is just win one on the road.