FAU overcomes errors to beat UAB

Steve Irvine, The Sports Xchange
The SportsXchange

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. -- Special teams made it tougher than perhaps it needed to be, but Florida Atlantic still found a way to win a Conference USA game for the first time.
The Owls missed two extra points and a pair of field goals but had enough offense and timely defense to knock off UAB 37-23 on Saturday at Legion Field before a crowd of 11,319.
"I hope it is a watershed moment for us because we really made a lot of mistakes today," FAU coach Carl Pelini said. "I told them after the game, 'Wins aren't always perfect.' We did make a lot of mistakes today, but what was different this week is we had guys step up and make plays when we needed them to.
It was certainly a welcome afternoon for a Florida Atlantic team that was coming off three consecutive hard-luck C-USA losses. This time, though, FAU quarterback Jacquez Johnson made sure the outcome was more pleasant for the Owls (2-4 overall, 1-3 C-USA). Johnson completed 23 of 36 passes for 299 yards and two touchdowns and rushed 19 times for 105 yards.
Johnson's 5-yard yard pass to William Dukes with 1:22 left in the game, followed by a 2-point conversion pass to Dukes, provided the final points of and finally put the Blazers away. The touchdown was set up by a 54-yard run by Johnson on a perfectly executed read option.
"(Johnson) is really becoming an experienced signal caller," Pelini said. "He is a rock out there. He makes good decisions and takes care of the ball."
The Owls' offense gained 579 yards on 82 offensive snaps, and running back Jonathan Wallace rushed for 117 yards on 19 carries. Wallace and Johnson became the first two runners in FAU history to gain at least 100 yards in the same game.
The success started in the first half as the Owls showed little sign of their recent offensive problems, partly thanks to poor defense by the Blazers (1-4, 0-1).
Johnson, showing no rust after sitting out last week, was 13 of 20 for 153 yards with a touchdown pass before halftime. He also had 48 yards rushing with another touchdown.
By halftime, the FAU offense, which came in averaging 328 yards and 19 points per game, had 273 yards and four points more than its average. The Owls were 6 of 9 on third-down conversions and punted just once.
UAB scored the first 10 points of the second half, tying the score at 23 on Ty Long's 30-yard field goal. Long's field goal was preceded by a 29-yard scoring pass from quarterback Austin Brown to Jamari Staples on the opening drive of the second half.
But the Blazers were held scoreless for the final 20 minutes as they were unable to get the ground game moving. The Blazers gained just 51 yards on 25 carries, with leading rusher Darrin Reaves managing just 48 yards on 16 carries.
Florida Atlantic got the lead back quickly, moving 75 yards on five plays for the go-ahead score. The drive was sparked by a 53-yard run by Wallace that set FAU up at the UAB 6-yard line. Three plays later, Jay Warren burst in from three yards out, but the lead remained at six points when the extra point was blocked by UAB's Shaq Jones.
UAB never got the ball past midfield the rest of the way.
"Timely defense toward the end there," Pelini said. "They are a very versatile offense and every week we saw a different emphasis on offense, so we knew it would be a game that would take adjustments.
The Owls played much of the fourth quarter with starting cornerbacks D'Joun Smith and Keith Reaser on the sideline with injuries.
"Reggie Brown came in and played like a man, then Sharrod Neasman came in and played like a man," Pelini said. "It is one reason, especially in those skilled positions, where I do believe in playing young guys on special teams. In a big game like this, with a six-point lead, you throw them out there and they are not awestruck."
A frustrated UAB coach Garrick McGee apologized for his team's performance.
"I'm embarrassed about what happened," he said. "I'm embarrassed for our fans. I'm embarrassed for the city of Birmingham. I want to apologize to the UAB fans. This performance isn't acceptable."

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