BOCA RATON, Fla. (AP)Chris Robison passed for 305 yards and two touchdowns and Florida Atlantic scored two touchdowns in a 24-second span late in the first half to take control on the way to beating SMU 52-28 in the Boca Raton Bowl on Saturday night.
It was FAU’s first game since Lane Kiffin left the Owls to take over at Ole Miss – and the Conference USA champions, playing on their home field, didn’t miss a beat under interim coach Glenn Spencer.
James Charles ran for two touchdowns for FAU (11-3), which tied a school record for wins in a season and improved to 4-0 in bowl games. The first of Charles’ scores came with a minute left in the first half to break a 14-14 tie, Robison found Brandon Robinson for another touchdown 24 seconds later after an SMU interception and the Owls were off and running.
Rashad Smith ran a fumble back for a score in the third quarter to help FAU blow the game open. Robison completed 27 of 37 passes for FAU.
Shane Buchele completed 27 for 47 passes for 303 yards for SMU (10-3). The Mustangs were seeking their first bowl win since 2012, this game coming a day after they gave coach Sonny Dykes – who has gone 15-11 in his first two seasons with the team, including the 2017 Frisco Bowl loss – a contract extension.
Xavier Jones had a pair of rushing touchdowns for SMU. James Proche, who entered as the NCAA’s active career leader in receptions and receiving yards, had nine catches – giving him 301 for his career – for 86 yards and a score for the Mustangs.
Kiffin tweeted congratulations to his former team near the end of the game. ”This was awesome!! 11 wins again so proud of you guys and the coaches!!” he wrote.
Now Spencer cedes control of the Owls to Willie Taggart, most recently the Florida State coach who was fired there midseason and hired at FAU earlier this month as Kiffin’s replacement. Taggart was at the game Saturday, has been around practices and said he’s thrilled by what he’s seen to this point.
”Practice has been a joy to watch these guys compete,” Taggart said. ”This is a football team that loves to compete and you can tell it’s a team that’s really close to one another. To listen to those guys, how they coach each other up on the sideline and things of that nature is really impressive.”
SMU: This was a breakout year for the Mustangs by any measure. They were ranked for the first time since 1986, had a double-digit win year for the first time since 1984, got off to an 8-0 start for the first time since 1982 and set a slew of school records – including points (537) and points per game (41.3), sacks (50) and rushing touchdowns (35).
Florida Atlantic: The Owls played without All-America tight end Harrison Bryant, who wasn’t expected to participate in the game and had been ill in recent days anyway. They were also without three starters – top receivers Deangelo Antoine and Tavaris Harrison, along with middle linebacker Akileis Leroy, all suspended for academic reasons. Taggart said for the Owls to endure those losses, combined with a coaching change, ”says a lot about this football team.”
SMU had the 26th-most points in the most recent AP Top 25 poll, so the Mustangs would have had a chance at being in the season’s final poll for the first time since 1984. FAU was 29th in the last regular-season poll, and now will see if 11 wins gets the Owls into the Top 25 for the first time.
SMU: Scheduled to open the 2020 season on Sept. 5 at Texas State. The Mustangs won the first-ever meeting between the schools 47-17 back on Sept. 14.
Florida Atlantic: Scheduled to open the 2020 season on Sept. 3 at Minnesota in what will be Taggart’s debut with the Owls. The Owls beat the Gophers in 2007.
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