HATTIESBURG, Miss. (AP) — Two games does not a season make, but Florida Atlantic has been as good as it can be with interim head football coach Brian Wright at the helm as he led Florida Atlantic to a 41-7 win Saturday over Southern Miss.
For Southern Miss, the misery continued as the Golden Eagles forged another link for the nation’s longest losing streak in the Football Bowl Subdivision at 22 games.
FAU (4-6, 3-4) notched back-to-back victories for the first time since the 2010 season, and improved to 2-0 since Wright replaced Carl Pelini, who was dismissed over alleged illegal drug use.
Jaquez Johnson and Jay Warren both rushed for more than 100 yards as Florida Atlantic piled up 333 yards on the ground in front of 20,802 at Roberts Stadium.
“The game plan was to run the football and our guys up front did a great job,” Wright said. “They led the way.”
Johnson, the Owls’ dual-threat quarterback, rushed for 111 yards and two touchdowns, while Warren tacked on 105 yards on 18 carries. Damian Fortner added 94 yards and two touchdowns on just 10 carries.
FAU attempted just 12 passes while averaging 5.6 yards per carry. Prior to this season, the Owls have never had two players top 100 yards rushing in the same game. Saturday marked the second time the Owls had turned the trick in five games.
“We told those guys, ‘Take care of the ball, make one cut, then go north,'” Wright said. “Our guys did a great job with that, and the guys up front really did a great job.”
“They run hard,” Southern Miss coach Todd Monken said. “On offense, their backs and quarterbacks will force you into missed tackles. They’ll test your manhood, how much you really want to take that on.”
“At times, I thought we didn’t do as good a job as we needed to. We allowed the ball to go downhill, and when you allow the ball to go downhill, you’re going to get gouged,” Monken added.
The Owls also took advantage of three Southern Miss turnovers in the first half, turning them into 13 points. A 61-yard interception return for a score by safety Christian Milstead at the end of the second quarter gave FAU a 27-0 halftime
Short scoring runs by Johnson and Fortner left FAU ahead 41-0 in the third quarter before Southern Miss averted its first shutout since 2003 on a 4-yard run by Nick Mullens with 10:57 to play.
It was just the second rushing touchdown by a Golden Eagle this season, and USM netted just 20 yards on the ground.
The lack of a running game made life miserable in the pocket for Mullens, the freshman quarterback making his fourth career start. He was sacked three times and decked a dozen others while throwing the ball away.
Mullens completed just 12 of 37 passes for 169 yards.
The Golden Eagles were limited to a season-low 189 yards total offense, its first game with less than 200 yards this season. Southern Miss netted just 20 yards rushing.
Southern Miss has committed 35 turnovers, and are last among FBS teams in turnover margin.
“The bottom line is, we’ve got to play better football,” Monken said. “Regardless of who takes the field, we need to make it look like how we want it to look, and that starts with me and the coaching staff.”
“Our kids have continued to work. They have continued to fight. But we’ve got to find a way to do it better, to coach it better and to execute it better. Otherwise, the result is going to be the same.”
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