FAU defeats FIU in Shula Bowl college football game in Miami – Palm Beach Post

Zach Weinberger  |  Special to The Post

MIAMI — Some things change – and then there’s the Shula Bowl.

Florida Atlantic crushed Florida International 52-7 in the 21st Shula Bowl Saturday night.

The victory was the sixth straight for FAU (5-5, 4-2 CUSA) in the rivalry against FIU (4-6, 2-4) and gives the Owls a 16-5 mark against the Panthers. The 45- point win was the largest margin of victory in Shula Bowl history.

FAU head coach Willie Taggart said the Owls had their best performance of the season in all phases of the game.

“They all came in and took what our coaches gave them during the bye week and executed it really well.” Taggart said.

FAU’s win Saturday was also its first road win of the season.

With two games left in the season, FAU is one win away from bowl eligibility and is waiting to see how the rest of Conference USA plays out in the hope of a conference title. The Owls travel to face Middle Tennessee next Saturday.

Here are three takeaways:

Great starts sets the tone

Any chances of a competitive game were quickly erased as FAU got off to a hot start in the first quarter. On the first play from scrimmage, FIU quarterback Grayson James was picked off by linebacker Jaylen Wester. 

The offense took advantage of the takeaway as Owls quarterback N’Kosi Perry rushed in for the touchdown. As the defense got two three-and-outs, the offense went on to have two more touchdowns. Perry connected with receiver Je’Quan Burton and the quarterback rushed for another score. 

“We needed to start fast and our guys took advantage defensively with the three and outs. We wanted to dominate this game and it was good that they came in with that mentality,” Taggart said. “Wester set the tone, it really just got everybody going from that standpoint.”

Initial worry on N’Kosi Perry

Taggart confirmed post-game that the sixth-year quarterback sustained an injury on his throwing hand, causing him to miss practice Wednesday. 

The head coach even said they were a little nervous going into the game because of the injury, but was impressed with how he played against FIU. Perry threw for 104 yards and two touchdowns while also recording two rushing touchdowns. 

Perry confessed that there was some doubt heading into the game, even said that he couldn’t throw a spiral.

“I know it was a huge game for this program so I wanted to do everything that I can to make sure that I was able to play,” Perry said. “The way I was feeling coming into the game, to be honest, I wasn’t sure. I was a little nervous. I wasn’t sure how it would be once I took some contact, but as the game went on I got used to it.”

Receiver LaJohntay Wester said he respects Perry for showing no signs of weakness and leading the team, even with the injury.

The Jaylen Wester show

The freshman linebacker has been a total standout as he’s playing more due to the season-ending injury to Eddie Williams. 

He showed out against UAB and it was no different Saturday night, starting with the huge interception that set the tone for the game.

“It’s amazing as a young guy to get that play, because we practiced that over and over, like every day of the week,” Wester said. “Coach [Taggart] came up to me and told me that ‘you’re gonna get one today,’ so it was a good experience.”

Taggart said it’s not a shock that Jaylen Wester is playing well with extended time.

“I knew coming in what kind of player he was in high school and then everyone else on the staff started to see it in training camp,” Taggart said. “The kid comes to work every single day with the same attitude, he’s always enthusiastic. He brings that energy and it’s contagious. I think he’s going to be one of the best to play here.”

Besides the interception, he recorded four total tackles, two for a loss, and one quarterback hit.