Photo Credit: JC Ridley/FAU Athletics
Florida Atlantic’s defense came to play on Saturday, leading FAU to a 24-3 win over UTSA.
The defense, which has been exceptional all season under defensive coordinator Jim Leavitt, held UTSA’s offense to just 230 yards of total offense, including just 126 yards through the air. UTSA’s offense finished just four drives in FAU territory and had five three-and-outs.
Led by redshirt sophomore Jaylen Joyner, who finished with three sacks, FAU’s defensive line was critical in the victory. Quarterbacks Frank Harris and Jordan Weeks were under distress for a majority of the day, being hurried a total of six times. As a unit, the defense produced 10 tackles for loss and seven sacks.
Joyner’s biggest play came right before halftime. With UTSA lined up in FAU’s red zone, Joyner ripped through the UTSA offensive line for his second sack of the day. The sack, which ran the clock down to halftime, preserved FAU’s lead at 17-3.
“Basically, it was the gameplan. All throughout the week, coach was telling us that they slid from the running back,” Joyner said of the sack. “They called a play where I went straight through the A Gap, and I knew that he would slide away from me. So, I just shot through and ripped up and (got) the sack.”
Joyner’s first sack came earlier in the quarter, forcing a UTSA punt. On the following drive, quarterback Nick Tronti led the FAU offense 80 yards on nine plays. The drive concluded with a two-yard touchdown run by Tronti.
“[Jaylen Joyner’s] big for our defense,” head coach Willie Taggart said. “The energy that he brings every day, whether it’s practice or game, he brings that juice. I think his personality fits exactly what Jim [Leavitt] wants to do defensively. … Just being athletic, just playing upfront, that helps when you’re going up against big o-line.”
Freshman Chris Jones also had a strong day on FAU’s defensive line. Jones finished with two tackles for loss and one quarterback hurry in limited action. Jones’ biggest play also came on a third down, when he sniffed out a UTSA reverse for a four-yard loss. While the ensuing field goal was good, it kept UTSA’s offense away from the endzone in a critical part of the half.
“We’ve been talking as a staff that he’s going to be a great one,” Taggart said of Jones. “It’s good to see young guys out there making those plays. [Chris] is playing with a lot of confidence right now. … You just hear him talk more, it’s just like he’s been here for a while.”
The defensive line’s biggest victory came on the ground, where they held UTSA running back Sincere McCormick in check all night. McCormick finished the game with just 54 yards on 16 carries. The performance came immediately after McCormick ran for 165 yards and three touchdowns a week prior.
“Anybody would obviously want to play with a defense like that,” Tronti said about the defense. “It’s a great thing to go out and know that your defense is going to play well.”
Although FAU’s offense struggled for most of the second half, quarterback Nick Tronti bounced back after facing pressure. Tronti completed 11 of his 19 passes for 136 yards, including a 27-yard touchdown pass to Aaron Young. The redshirt junior also added 32 yards and a touchdown on the ground.
Malcolm Davidson made the start at running back and was arguably the offense’s most explosive player. Davidson finished with 115 yards on just 14 carries. The junior also added a 14-yard reception.