TAMPA (AP) – Florida Atlantic beat the struggling University of South Florida Bulls 29-10 Saturday night.
Cory Henry scored on an early 10-yard fumble return and Jaquez Johnson led two long touchdown drives.
Turnovers undermined South Florida (0-3) in double-digit losses to McNeese State and Michigan State, and they got off to another sloppy start when quarterback Bobby Eveld fumbled faking a handoff to Marcus Shaw and Henry scooped up the loose ball to score less than five minutes into the game.
“We continue to turn the ball over … I’ve never been a part of something like this,” USF Coach Willie Taggart said. “Not only are we turning the ball over, we’re turning it over for points. It’s frustrating.
“You’ve got to take care of the football,” Taggart added. “We’re not a good football team right now because we’re not taking care of it. I thought our defense played well. I thought our special teams played well. Again, it’s our offense. We’ve got to find a way to create some offense and create some points. We’re not doing that now. We’re giving them points rather than getting points.”
Unlike the previous two weeks when they were unable to overcome mistakes, the Bulls looked like they might be able to rebound with Penn State transfer Steven Bench replacing Eveld and possibly setting himself up to be South Florida’s third starting quarterback in four games.
“We’re 0-3 and we’re past that,” Bench said. “We’ve got nine to go. We’re going to take it one game at a time.”
Matt Floyd won the position battle in August but was benched during the Bulls’ 53-21 season-opening loss to McNeese State. Eveld started against Michigan State and retained the job heading into Saturday night, despite completing just 6 of 25 passes and throwing an interception that was returned for a touchdown last week.
Bench completed 9 of 23 passes for 134 yards, one TD and an interception. The sophomore from Bainbridge, Ga., used a 44-yard run by Shaw to set up a first-quarter field goal, then converted DeDe Latimore’s interception at the FAU 27 into points with a 25-yard TD pass to Ryan Eppes that gave USF a 10-7 lead.
“Turnovers kill an offense and hurt a defense, too,” Bench said. “They put everyone in a bad situation, and of course we turned the ball over too much. I turned the ball over tonight. It’s on everybody and we’ve got to get it corrected or it’s not going to turn around.”
Shaw rushed for 153 yards on 21 carries for South Florida.
The Owls (1-2) sputtered offensively to begin the season with lopsided losses to Miami and East Carolina. However, Jones shrugged off a first-quarter interception to get them into the end zone on marches of 80 and 93 yards to stop a four-game losing streak.
Jones scored on a 4-yard TD run that gave FAU a 14-10 lead just before halftime. Jonathan Wallace added a 1-yard scoring run in the third quarter, and D’Joun Smith finished the rout by returning an interception 75 yards for the fifth defensive TD scored against South Florida in three games.
FAU had lost four straight dating to last season and hadn’t won under second-year coach Carl Pelini since beating Taggart-led Western Kentucky on the road last Nov. 10.
The USF coach left Western Kentucky in December, inheriting a team that dropped nine of 10 following a 2-0 start last year under former coach Skip Holtz.
Johnson, who shared playing time with Greg Hankerson in FAU’s first two games, was 10 of 17 for 98 yards and one interception. The sophomore also rushed for 55 yards on 18 attempts.
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