Panthers back on the map after first win against FAU

Peter Holland Jr. // Assistant Sports Director

The Panthers gained their first win of the season against their rival Florida Atlantic University at the 15th Annual Don Shula Bowl.

Junior quarterback Alex McGough returned to the starting lineup after being benched last game against University of Central Florida. Despite throwing two interceptions, one ended in a pick six, and completing 50 percent of his passes, the Tampa native recorded three total touchdowns.

Two of his touchdowns were on the ground in the seven carries he attempted.

“It feels great, the atmosphere of everybody and the coming after the coach change,” said McGough. “Coach Cooper came in here building up the confidence in us.”

The Panthers’ defense got off to a shaky start after FAU’s starting running back Greg “Buddy” Howell ran 68-yards for a touchdown on the second play of the opening drive. Howell finished the game with 12 carries for 101 yards and one touchdown.

But defense contained the Owl’s passing game, only giving up 93 yards. Cooper praised the secondary coach Bobby Babich for calling all the plays for the first time on defense all night.

“I turned it over to him. I only made a couple suggestions,” said Cooper. I put him upstairs and took his emotions out of it. He did a good job regrouping the guys. I knew we had to do well on third down. I thought we handled them pretty well.”

The  Panthers running game led the way on offense, rushing for the total of 270 yards. Both junior Alex Gardner and sophomore Anthony Jones rushed for 209 yards combined and one touchdown.

“Me and Gardner feed off [of] each other,” said Jones. “As he gets going, I know that when he gets tired, I got fresh legs. I just got to do the same thing he’s doing. Make the big run that coach expected us to make, and the team expected us to make.”

Gardner won MVP in the Shula Bowl with his 119 rushing yards. This is his third 100-yard game on the ground, and seventh in his career. Jones’ 90-yard rushing and one touchdown were a career high for the Miami native.

“We wanted to run the ball, we got a great offensive line,” said Gardner. “We felt like our strength was running the ball so we knew we had to get out there and execute running the ball, and it will open up the passing game.”

With their first win of the season, the Panthers are 1-4 (1-0 in Conference-USA). The next two conference games will be on the road. The team will travel to face University of Texas-El Paso on Oct.8 at 8 p.m. The next home game will be on Saturday, Oct. 22 against Louisiana Tech at 7 p.m.

The post-game interview with Interim Head Coach Ron Cooper can be found here: