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FAU Beats SMU in 2019 Boca Raton Bowl After Lane Kiffin's Departure for Ole Miss

Rob Goldberg@TheRobGoldbergFeatured ColumnistDecember 22, 2019

Florida Atlantic quarterback Chris Robison throws a pass against Ohio State during the first half of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Aug. 31, 2019, in Columbus, Ohio. (AP Photo/Jay LaPrete)
Jay LaPrete/Associated Press

Florida Atlantic rallied around interim coach Glenn Spencer to win the 2019 Boca Raton Bowl on Saturday.

Chris Robison threw two touchdown passes in a 52-28 win over SMU in front of the home crowd at FAU Football Stadium.

Head coach Lane Kiffin left the Owls for the same job at Ole Miss, but they didn't need him to finish 11-3 with their seventh straight win. The team is 4-0 all-time in bowl games since it joined the FBS in 2004.

SMU (10-3) had a disappointing finish to 2019 after an 8-0 start, losing the final game by four touchdowns. Still, the program is heading in the right direction in the second year under Sonny Dykes.

      

Notable Stats

Chris Robison, QB, FAU: 27-of-37, 271 passing yards, 2 TDs

BJ Emmons, RB, FAU: 17 carries, 72 rushing yards, 1 TD

Brandon Robinson, WR, FAU: 5 catches, 78 receiving yards, 1 TD

Shane Buechele, QB, SMU: 27-of-47, 303 passing yards, 1 TD, 1 INT

Xavier Jones, RB, SMU: 12 carries, 27 rushing yards, 2 TDs

Kylen Granson, WR, SMU: 7 catches, 93 receiving yards

      

Florida Atlantic Thrives Despite Short-Handed Lineup

The team that won six straight entering the day was not the lineup that was there against SMU.

Not only was Florida Atlantic without its head coach after he took another job, but several players were unavailable because of academic suspensions.

Joseph Goodman @JoeGoodmanJr

Wow, so apparently FAU is without 11 players today due to academic ineligibility. Not exactly a great sign for Lane Kiffin. On the other hand, FAU is playing pretty well against SMU despite the suspensions.

This included the team's top two wide receivers, Deangelo Antoine and Tavaris Harrison. Meanwhile, tight end Harrison Bryant was out with an illness after leading the team in receiving yards, and top running back Malcolm Davidson was out with an undisclosed injury.

It left an offense that was mostly Robison and a bunch of unknowns.

However, this didn't seem to matter to the Owls.

After a slow start, Florida Atlantic scored four first-half touchdowns, including on three straight possessions in the second quarter.

Stewart Mandel @slmandel

FAU looks really sharp. Interesting to be playing a bowl game two weeks after the championship game. It’s like their regular season never ended.

Nicole Auerbach @NicoleAuerbach

FAU has players missing due to suspensions and the head coach just left ... and the Owls are crushing SMU so far. Exhibit #34893 of bowl games being impossible to predict.

Jeannine Edwards @jeanninee12

This is a fairytale ending for @FAU_Football after all the drama and uncertainty of the last week. Terrific execution and outstanding effort. And @OfficialChris_R (Robison) is a stud

The offense was methodical with four touchdown drives of over 70 yards, while the defense was opportunistic with game-changing plays.

It eventually turned a close game into a blowout:

Tim Reynolds @ByTimReynolds

FAU has opened up a can of whup. Four-touchdown lead over SMU.

The game showed the resolve from those on the active roster as well as the depth of talent available throughout the lineup.

        

SMU Miscues Turn Game into Blowout

Buechele had at least two touchdowns in each of the last 11 games, but he wasn't quite as sharp in this game. He completed just 57.4 percent of his passes and didn't throw a touchdown pass until just over a minute left in a blowout.

However, this game could have still been closer than the final score if not for several key mistakes.

One huge turn of events occurred in the second quarter, as it led to a 14-point deficit going into halftime.

Damon Sayles @DamonSayles

Three plays -- back-to-back-to-back -- have turned this game, once 14-14, to a #FAU 28-14 lead. @BocaBowl

RedditCFB @RedditCFB

Interception! FAU's Rashad Smith picks off a pass that bounced off an SMU receiver's hands and ran it back 22 yards to the Mustang 13 yard line. And one play later, the Owls convert the turnover into six. They're now doubling up SMU 28–14 with 36 seconds left in the quarter.

SMU had been running stride for stride with the Owls, but the interception changed the game.

The 28-14 score held until late in the third quarter when a fourth-down pass interference extended a Florida Atlantic drive. Robison threw a touchdown pass on the next play, further extending the lead.

On the next possession, the Owls virtually sealed the win with a fumble returned for a touchdown.

ESPN College Football @ESPNCFB

FAU's defense has put the Boca Raton Bowl on 🔒 https://t.co/DiNQZzbJkH

Suddenly a few mistakes turned what might have been a competitive game into a rout.

SMU had what it takes to win this game, but the small problems were enough to cost this team its potential first bowl win since 2012.

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