BOCA RATON, Fla. – Willie Taggart watched his new team from his new home stadium Saturday afternoon. He must have liked what he saw.
Florida Atlantic scored two touchdowns with less than a minute remaining in the first half and never looked back on the way to routing Southern Methodist 52-28 in the Boca Raton Bowl.
The Owls (11-3) led 28-14 at halftime and surged to a 45-14 lead, holding SMU (10-3) scoreless in the third quarter.
Tied at 14 late in the second quarter, the Owls took the lead on a 15-yard run by James Charles with one minute remaining in the second quarter. It was his second of two touchdowns, having already scored on a 1-yard run to give FAU a 14-7 lead.
FAU linebacker Rashad Smith intercepted SMU quarterback Shane Buechele on the Mustangs’ first possession after the score, giving FAU the ball back at SMU’s 13-yard line.
Then FAU quarterback Chris Robison connected with receiver Brandon Robinson on a 13-yard touchdown with 36 seconds left before halftime.
The Owls hung two more scores on the Mustangs in the third quarter. John Raine, filling in for tight end Harrison Bryant, scored on an 18-yard touchdown, and linebacker Rashad Smith scooped up the loose ball on a fumble and returned it 34 yards for the score to pull ahead 42-14.
Robison was offensive MVP, throwing for 305 yards and two touchdowns. He connected on 27 of his 37 pass attempts.
Led by interim coach Glenn Spencer, FAU won 11 games for the second time in three years and improved to 4-0 all-time in bowl games.
The Conference USA champions won 11 of their final 12 games and seven in a row to finish the season.
Taggart, fired by Florida State in less than two seasons and recently hired to replace Lane Kiffin at FAU, said he believes the Owls deserve to be ranked in the top 25.
“Absolutely,” Taggart told Local10.com during the game. “You know, I mean, you’re watching what they’ve done to a team that’s been in the top 25 all year long.”
Spencer said he believes the 2019 Owls are even better than the 2017 team that won 11 games and the C-USA title in Kiffin’s first season.
“They are the greatest team that FAU has ever had,” Spencer said.
Perhaps more impressive was how FAU seemingly scored at will and dominated the Mustangs despite the loss of four starters, including three on offense.
Wide receivers Deangelo Antoine and Tavaris Harrison and linebacker Keke Leroy were held out because of academic suspensions. Bryant, who won the John Mackey Award as the nation’s top tight end, was battling illness and also didn’t play.
Bryant, Antoine and Harrison were the team’s top three leaders in receiving yards. Leroy leads the team in both tackles and forced fumbles.