Quarterback De’Andre Johnson came off the bench to spark FAU to a 49-14 road blowout over FIU, the Owls’ first Shula Bowl win in Miami since 2009.
With the game tied at seven midway through the second quarter, FAU (4-5, 2-3) pulled quarterback Chris Robison in favor of Johnson, and the former ‘Last Chance U’ star immediately injected the offense with energy.
“I was able to come out here and showcase what I can do and contribute to the team to the best of my ability,” Johnson said of his performance.
Johnson ran for a 29-yard gain on his first play, then led the Owls down the field on a scoring drive which gave them a 14-7 lead heading into the half.
FAU stuck with Johnson out of the break and kept surging, outscoring the Panthers (6-3, 4-1) 28-7 in the game’s final 30 minutes. Johnson finished 4-6 for 67 yards and two touchdowns through the air and added 50 yards on the ground.
“That’s how we should have been playing all year long,” FAU coach Lane Kiffin said.
As the closing seconds ticked away, FAU players lined up along their sideline as though they were in starters blocks for the race to claim the Shula Bowl trophy.
Senior tackle Reggie Bain and injured senior linebacker Azeez Al-Shaair – among others – paraded the trophy around Silva Stadium after handing FIU its first loss in C-USA play this season.
Most of the Owls’ offensive explosion came on the ground, where they ran for 439 yards on the night. Devin Singletary and Kerrith Whyte were nearly untackleable, rushing for 184 and 165 yards respectively and combining for four touchdowns.
“We emphasized that all week,” Singletary said of his team’s steady commitment to the run. “We knew we had to run the ball better, so it was just a mindset.”
When the game was tightly contested in the first half, a pair of goal line fumbles were indicative of things to come.
On the Owls’ first possession of the game, Devin Singletary coughed up the ball on his way into the endzone, but he fell on it himself for a score.
The Panthers weren’t as fortunate.
Looking for a response to FAU’s opening score, FIU tried a quarterback sneak on the goal line but the ball came loose and was recovered by linebacker Rashad Smith.
“It was huge,” Kiffin said of the two fumbles going his team’s way. “Some things bounced our way, finally. It’s been just a crazy year of bad luck, whether we put it on ourselves or things that are out of our control we just haven’t gotten breaks. So it was good to get some.”
The FAU defense suffocated a high-throttle FIU offensive attack, holding the Panthers to less than three yards per carry and snagging two interceptions.
Safety Jalen Young highlighted the strong defensive effort, notching eight tackles and an interception in the Owls’ victory.
FAU’s bowl hopes stayed alive with its big rivalry win. It will hope to bring that momentum back home against Western Kentucky on Saturday. Kickoff at FAU stadium set for 5 p.m.