Offense propels FAU in win over UAB

Palm Beach Post Staff Writer

Saturday, September 06, 2008

FORT LAUDERDALE A week after a blowout loss to Texas, Florida Atlantic could have used a breather before playing Michigan State next week.

Instead the Owls were breathing a sigh of relief after outlasting UAB in a 49-34 victory Saturday at Lockhart Stadium.

"I'm certainly glad we were able to win it, because to lose it would have certainly been a tough thing to deal with," FAU coach Howard Schnellenberger said.

The shootout may have been fun for the announced crowd of 15,143 fans in attendance, but not for Owls quarterback Rusty Smith who had to watch from the sideline as the FAU defense held the Blazers out of the end zone with the game on the line late in the fourth quarter.

"When you score a lot of points it's very exciting or the fans, but to be completely honest with you, I don't enjoy those kinds of games at all, " said Smith, who threw for 325 yards and three touchdowns.

"It's nerve-wracking to know you have to be on your toes every single down."

The Blazers, picked by many pre-season publications to finish last in Conference USA, were supposed to provide an easy opponent sandwiched between the Owls' two toughest games of the season.

While FAU played one of its best offensive games in program history, its porous defense allowed UAB, whose offense entered the game ranked No. 104 in the nation, to nearly tie the game with less than a minute to go.

The Owls (1-1) roared out to a 21-3 lead on a 5-yard touchdown run by senior running back Charles Pierre on the first play of the second quarter and led 28-17 at halftime.

But FAU's defense had trouble containing the Blazers - or at least junior quarterback Joe Webb, who threw for 326 yards and ran for another 66 yards as UAB began chipping away at the Owls' lead.

After UAB (0-2) cut its deficit to 42-34 on a 10-yard run by Justin Brooks, the Owls' offense was forced to punt for the first time in the game and the Blazers took over with 4:29 remaining in the game at their own 19-yard line.

Webb drove UAB down to the FAU 27-yard line with less than a minute to go, but on fourth-and-3, Webb overthrew receiver Mike Jones, who had gotten by the FAU secondary near the goal line.

"I think we competed to the end, UAB coach Neil Callaway said. "We kept fighting. If we keep playing that competitive we will win some ball games."

FAU put the game away on the next play when Pierre scored on a 73-yard touchdown run, the longest run in FAU history - 5 yards longer than Rob Housler's 68-yard reverse against FIU last season - with less than a minute remaining that put FAU up by two touchdowns.

Pierre finished with 138 yards on 13 carries, the most rushing yards in a game by an Owl since Daveon Barron rushed for 147 against Morris Brown in 2002 and the most by an FAU player since moving to Football Bowl Subdivision (formerly Division I-A) in 2005.

FAU's offense showed marked improvement from its performance in last week's 52-10 loss to the Longhorns. The Owls racked up 554 yards of total offense, the second most in school history after a 591-yard performance against Florida A&M in 2004, and the most against an FBS program.

"The offense obviously had a stellar day," Schnellenberger said.

Unfortunately for the Owls, their defense didn't look much better than it did against Texas as UAB had 482 yards of offense.

"We have tons of work to do on the defensive side of the ball," sophomore cornerback Tavoris Hill said. "We had missed tackles and mental errors.

"We just have to tighten up."