Owls shut out Sun Belt champs

Smothering defense yields just 104 yards

By Ted Hutton
South Florida Sun-Sentinel
Posted October 29 2006

FORT LAUDERDALE Florida Atlantic didn't just win a game Saturday. It made a loud statement by shutting out Arkansas State 27-0, a result that will reverberate throughout the Sun Belt.

"They have let the cat out of the bag and we know they can play winning football against the best in the conference," said FAU coach Howard Schnellenberger.

FAU (3-5, 2-1) dominated the defending Sun Belt champions behind a smothering and opportunistic defense, snapping the Indians' four-game win streak.

Arkansas State (5-3, 3-1) came into Saturday's game at Lockhart Stadium with the Sun Belt's leading offense, averaging 338.9 yards per game, but left bruised and battered after gaining 104 yards, including just 6 rushing, while turning the ball over six times.

"When we go out there it is 11 hungry dogs after a meal. It is like sharks and blood after a while," said FAU defensive lineman Josh Pinnick, who had two sacks.

FAU's first-team defense has not allowed a touchdown in the past three games and has shut out the Indians for eight quarters, going back to last year's 3-0 overtime loss.

"FAU played great. They played a heck of a game," said Arkansas State coach Steve Roberts.

The Indians had the No. 1 running back in the conference, but Reggie Arnold, who was averaging 91.9 yards per game, was held to 35 yards on 11 carries.

"We saw [FAU] on film and we knew they were big, fast and physical. The looked even better live than they did on film," Arnold said.

The first two series established the pattern for all that would follow.

Arkansas State received the opening kickoff and punted after gaining 3 yards on three plays.

FAU's offense was still stinging from its performance in its last game, a 6-0 loss to Louisiana-Lafayette, and proved right away it was a different unit. The Owls marched down the field on a 21-play drive that covered 79 yards and ate up 10:06 before settling for a field goal and 3-0 lead.

The Owls started the drive with 11 straight runs, most right at the Indians.

"We wanted to let them know we were coming at you, we're not going to beat around the bush," said FAU running back Charles Pierre, who had a career-high 122 yards rushing, third best in Owls history.

Not much changed after that, as FAU's defense continued to frustrate the Indians and the offense kept the ball for most of the first half while taking a 13-0 lead.

"I think this helped us a lot mentally," said FAU quarterback Sean Clayton. "It also helped physically, to show we can play power football and have a great offensive line."

With their running game grounded, the Indians were forced to pass, and FAU responded with five interceptions, three by defensive back Corey Small.

"This was a total win by a group of players that have fought a very uphill battle, who haven't quite been able to put it together in full fashion but did in this game," Schnellenberger said.

The Owls face another challenge Saturday when they play Middle Tennessee in Murfreesboro. The Blue Raiders (5-3, 4-0) lead the Sun Belt after beating Louisiana-Lafayette 34-20 Saturday.