James Proche

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Florida Atlantic notches school record-tying 11th win in Boca Bowl blowout of SMU

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The 2017 bowl season saw Florida Atlantic cap the best season in school history by blowing out Akron in a home-game Boca Raton Bowl while SMU was blasted in its bowl game. The 2019 season saw history repeat itself on top of each other.

FAU closed a season in which it won its second Conference USA title by matching the 2017 team’s 11-3 record, running away from an overmatched SMU team in the Cheribundi Boca Raton Bowl, 52-28.

After five punts to begin the game, Florida Atlantic opened the scoring with a 13-play, 74-yard touchdown drive capped by a 1-yard BJ Emmons plunge.

When Kevin Robledo missed a field goal for SMU (10-3), Florida Atlantic had a chance to take control of the game, but Owl receiver Brandon Robinson fumbled at his own 29 and the Ponies capitalized with a 1-yard Xavier Jones rush.

A pair of punts later, FAU nudged back in front with a 1-yard James Charles rush to cap a 57-yard drive, but SMU responded with a 55-yard drive where Jones again scored from a yard out, knotting the game at 14 with 2:12 left before the break.

That would be the peak for SMU.

Florida Atlantic answered that answer with an answer of its own: a 75-yard touchdown drive punctuated by Charles’s second touchdown rush of the day, this one a 15-yard burst with a minute left in the half. Then, Shane Buechele was picked on the next play from scrimmage off a tipped pass intended for James Proche but caught by Rashad Smith, who zigged and zagged and zigged some more for a 22-yard return back to the Mustang 13. Chris Robison found Robinson one play later, giving the Owls their second touchdown in three snaps.

The Owls then added two more touchdowns in the third quarter, an 18-yard toss from Robison to Chris Raine, then a return of a Ke’Mon Freeman fumble nine yards for a touchdown, staking the home team to a 42-14 lead at the 4:05 mark of the third quarter.

SMU added two fourth quarter touchdowns, but not until the game was well in hand. Both squads threw for around 300 yards, but Florida Atlantic out-rushed SMU by 102 yards and did not turn the ball over, while SMU’s two turnovers turned into 14 Owl points.

The loss dropped SMU to 0-2 in bowl games in the Sonny Dykes era, with both losses coming in decisive fashion.

Florida Atlantic has now won two straight, with the obvious difference from 2017 being that Lane Kiffin has cashed in the Owls’ success to take the Ole Miss job. The Willie Taggart era of FAU football begins now, and the new leader was on hand to watch the team on Saturday.

Florida Atlantic leading SMU as Boca Bowl enters Phase II

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At the half in Boca Raton, Florida Atlantic leads SMU 28-14 in its hometown bowl game.

After five punts to begin the game, Florida Atlantic opened the scoring with a 13-play, 74-yard touchdown drive capped by a 1-yard BJ Emmons plunge.

When Kevin Robledo missed a field goal for SMU, Florida Atlantic had a chance to take control of the game, but Owl receiver Brandon Robinson fumbled at his own 29 and the Ponies capitalized with a 1-yard Xavier Jones rush.

A pair of punts later, FAU nudged back in front with a 1-yard James Charles rush to cap a 57-yard drive, but SMU responded with a 55-yard drive where Jones again scored from a yard out, knotting the game at 14 with 2:12 left before the break.

Florida Atlantic then answered that answer with an answer of its own: a 75-yard touchdown drive punctuated by Charles’s second touchdown rush of the day, this one a 15-yard burst with a minute left in the half. Shane Buechele was picked on the next play from scrimmage off a tipped pass intended for James Proche but caught by Rashad Smith, who zigged and zagged and zigged some more for a 22-yard return back to the Mustang 13. Chris Robison found Robinson one play later, giving the Owls their second touchdown in three snaps.

FAU will receive to open the second half.

Memphis, Navy headline AAC football award winners

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Ahead of the American Athletic Conference’s championship game this weekend, one of its participants is, not surprisingly, well-represented in the latest league to release its postseason award winners.

Very late Wednesday afternoon, the AAC announced the winners of its five major awards based on regular-season play.  Memphis, which will square off with Cincinnati in the league’s title game Saturday, claimed two of those honors, as did Navy.

Below are those recipients:

AMERICAN ATHLETIC CONFERENCE OFFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE YEAR
Malcolm Perry, QB, Navy

AMERICAN ATHLETIC CONFERENCE DEFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE YEAR
Quincy Roche, DE, Temple

AMERICAN ATHLETIC CONFERENCE CO-SPECIAL TEAMS PLAYERS OF THE YEAR
Dane Roy, P, Houston
Antonio Gibson, WR/KR, Memphis

AMERICAN ATHLETIC CONFERENCE ROOKIE OF THE YEAR
Kenneth Gainwell, RB, Memphis

AMERICAN ATHLETIC CONFERENCE COACH OF THE YEAR
Ken Niumatalolo, Navy

The All-AAC teams were also unveiled, with just two players being unanimous selections — Memphis redshirt freshman running back Kenneth Gainwell, SMU senior wide receiver James Proche.  For the complete list of first- and second-teams as well as honorable mentions, click HERE.

Biletnikoff Award whittles hunt for nation’s top receiver down to 12

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The Biletnikoff Award on Monday announced its list of 12 semifinalists for the 2019 award. The award specifies that any player who catches a pass is eligible to win — not just wideouts — but only wideouts have won the award through its 25-year history.

And for what has to be the first time in Biletnikoff history, both LSU and Alabama have two semifinalists, including 2018 winner Jerry Jeudy.

The semifinalists are:

Rashod Bateman, Minnesota: 44 catches for 945 yards (21.5 yards per) and seven touchdowns
Omar Bayless, Arkansas State: 73 catches for 1,262 yards (17.3 yards per) and 14 touchdowns
Ja'Marr Chase, LSU: 57 catches for 1,116 yards (19.6 yards per) and 13 touchdowns
Antonio Gandy-Golden, Liberty: 64 catches for 1,244 yards (19.4 yards per) and eight touchdowns
Isaiah Hodgins, Oregon State: 73 catches for 1,021 yards (14 yards per) and 13 touchdowns
Justin Jefferson, LSU: 71 catches for 1,010 yards (14.2 yards per) and 11 touchdowns
Jerry Jeudy, Alabama: 64 catches for 867 yards (13.6 yards per) and nine touchdowns
CeeDee Lamb, Oklahoma: 44 catches for 983 yards (22.3 yards per) and 12 touchdowns
Michael Pittman, Jr., USC: 82 catches for 1,118 yards (13.6 yards per) and nine touchdowns
James Proche, SMU: 88 catches for 1,008 yards (11.5 yards per) and 12 touchdowns
Devonta Smith, Alabama: 56 catches for 1,026 yards (18.3 yards per) and 11 touchdowns
Sage Surratt, Wake Forest: 66 catches for 1,001 yards (15.2 yards per) and 11 touchdowns

The notable snub here is Devin Duvernay of Texas, who is one off the lead for catches (87) but could not crack the voters’ top 12. (Full disclosure: I am a Biletnikoff voter and had Duvernay on my semifinalist list.)

The 12 semifinalists will be chopped down to three next Monday, with the winner announced at the Home Depot College Football Awards on Dec. 12.

No. 16 SMU remains perfect with win at Houston

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No. 16 SMU’s perfect season lives for another week, barely. Sonny Dykes‘s Mustangs never trailed Thursday night in Houston, but two touchdown catches by Marquez Stevenson totaling 171 yards put the Cougars’ offense on the field with a chance to win the game — twice — inside the final three minutes. SMU’s defense held both times, and the Mustangs escaped with a 34-31 win.

SMU led 21-7 late in the first half before surrendering two late field goals, but the Mustangs wasted no time opening up their largest lead of the night when Patrick Nelson sacked Clayton Tune and forced a fumble, which SMU’s Richard McBryde recovered at the Houston 2-yard line. Xavier Jones pushed the Ponies’ lead to 28-13 one play later, but the 15-point cushion did not last long.

One play, in fact, as Stevenson caught the first of his two long touchdown passes, this one a 5-yard hitch at his own 30 that he raced 70 yards untouched to pull Houston within 28-20 at the 14:01 mark of the third quarter, 59 game seconds after the teams played a 21-13 first half.

From there, SMU’s shaky — the Mustangs came into Thursday night with 14 missed kicks — field goal unit came through with two field goals of 23 and 33 yards to give SMU a 34-23 lead with 8:56 to play.

When Rodney Clemons intercepted Tune — SMU’s third plus-territory takeaway of the game — the Mustangs had a golden opportunity to deliver a knockout blow. However, SMU could not move the ball and a 4th-and-8 completion to James Proche was called back for offensive pass interference, forcing a Trevor Denbow punt that was downed at the 4.

And for the second time of the second half, Houston needed only one play, one completion to Stevenson, to make it a game again, as Stevenson hauled in another short pass and raced all 96 yards for the touchdown. Tune’s pass to Christian Trahan brought Houston within 34-31 with 4:47 remaining. (Tune finished the game with 407 yards and two scores, both of the scorers and 211 yards — on five completions — were to Stevenson.)

SMU, which began the drive 1-of-6 on third down in the second half, converted a 3rd-and-7 from its own 16 but could not pull off a 3rd-and-10 from its 24, and the Mustangs punted the ball back to Houston with 2:21 left. Taking over at its own 24, Houston moved 20 yards in its first two snaps but advanced no further, as Tune fired incomplete on three straight passes to end the comeback effort 55 yards short of pay dirt.

SMU could not expire both of Houston’s two remaining timeouts, and Houston took over at its own 15 with 18 seconds and no timeouts. Tune hit Tre’von Bradley for 22 yards on the first play, and Jeremy Singleton for 18 yards on the second, taking the ball to the SMU 45 with four seconds left. On the final play of the game, a defense that came into the game second in the nation with 29 sacks recorded its seventh of the night, stripping Tune as time expired to secure the win.

SMU (8-0, 4-0 American) continues its best start since 1982’s 11-0-1 campaign and, perhaps more relevant and more impressive, matched the program’s most wins post-death penalty, pulling even with the 2009 and 2011 teams, both of which went 8-5. The victory also means SMU secured wins over TCU and Houston (3-5, 1-3 American) in the same season for the first time since 2005, and the second time since 1992.

The Mustangs accepted the ball to open the game and breezed down to a 1st-and-goal in just seven snaps, but then stalled out. Shane Buechele (20-of-38 for 203 yards with two touchdowns and one interception) threw incomplete on first down, and Xavier Jones (22 carries for 133 yards and two touchdowns) was stuffed for a 1-yard gain on second down from the Houston 8-yard line. Buechele found Kylen Granson for six yards on third down, taking the ball to the 1, where Dykes elected to roll the dice. Buechele hit Reggie Roberson, Jr., on a pick play, but Roberson dropped the ball and SMU came up empty.

The teams traded punts on the next three possessions before SMU finally broke through, moving 85 yards in seven plays — aided by 30 yards of Houston penalties — setting up a 3rd-and-10 strike from Buechele to Proche for a 15-yard touchdown.

Houston then raced down the field even faster than SMU, gaining 31-yards on a pop pass from  Tune to tight end Trahan on the final play of the first quarter and then a 44-yard run by Mulbah Car on the first snap of the second quarter. Car’s run was ruled a touchdown, but replay brought it out to the 1. Bryson Smith completed the 5-play, 88-yard drive with a zone read keeper one play later, tying the game at 7-7 at the 14:28 mark of the second quarter.

The teams exchanged three-and-outs before Jones zigged and zagged 62 yards for a touchdown, putting SMU up 14-7, and then the Ponies’ defense brought out the bottle service when they recovered a backward pass by Smith, which slipped out of his hands just behind the Houston 47 and was recovered at the Cougars’ 32. Buechele put SMU up 21-7 five plays later with an 11-yard scoring toss to Granson.

Just as it seemed SMU had control of the game, a long drive and a turnover put Houston back in the game.

The Cougars gobbled up 6:18 of the 8:14 remaining in the second quarter to set up a 25-yard Dalton Witherspoon field goal, pulling Houston within 21-10. Amaud Willis-Dalton picked Buechele at the SMU 46 on the next offensive snap, allowing the Houston offense to set up a 34-yard Witherspoon field goal as time expired in the half.