Conference USA

Louisiana Tech Put Up Brave Fight Against Razorbacks; MTSU and FAU Win

Conference USA started Saturday strong with a couple of wins and a surprisingly competitive game.

Conference USA

Louisiana Tech led the charge on the first full Saturday of C-USA football of the season. The Bulldogs fought bravely on the road at Arkansas, but fell short in the final minutes, 21-20. In the east division, Florida Atlantic came back to defeat Southern Illinois, while Middle Tennessee fired out of the gates with a 55-0 drubbing of Alabama A&M behind 329 passing yards and five touchdowns by sophomore quarterback Brent Stockstill. 

Florida Atlantic 38, Southern Illinois 30
BOCA RATON, Fla. (AP) Jason Driskel passed for two touchdowns and rushed for another, and Florida Atlantic scored 17 consecutive points in the second half to beat Southern Illinois 38-30 in the season opener for both teams on Saturday.

Driskel's 2-yard run on fourth-and-goal capped a 12-play, 75-yard drive out of halftime and gave Florida Atlantic a four-point lead. After a Southern Illinois punt, Driskel found Tyler Cameron for a 4-yard score. Greg Joseph's 40-yard field goal made it 38-24 with 10:38 left.

Gregory Howell Jr. rushed for two TDs and 128 yards for Florida Atlantic.

Sam Straub, who replaced Southern Illinois starting quarterback Josh Straughan for one play when Straughan's helmet came off, made the most of his limited opportunity, finding Kyle Newquist for a 20-yard touchdown and cutting the Owls' lead to 38-30 with 2:41 remaining.

Southern Illinois fumbled on its next possession.

Straughan threw for 367 yards and one touchdown.

Middle Tennessee 55, Alabama A&M 0
MURFREESBORO, Tenn. (AP) Brent Stockstill passed for 329 yards and a career-high tying five touchdowns - all in the first half - and Middle Tennessee cruised to a 55-0 win over Alabama A&M in the season opener for both schools on Saturday.

Stockstill, who has thrown for at least 300 yards in six of his last seven games, completed 30 of 36 passes and the sophomore moved into eighth place (or higher) on the school's career lists for passing yards (4,375, eighth), completions (359, sixth) and touchdown passes (35, seventh).

Middle Tennessee scored touchdowns on each of its first six drives, forced Alabama A&M into five first-half three-and-outs and led 45-0 at the break. Fifteen Blue Raiders had at least one catch, led by Richie James who had eight receptions for 73 yards and a touchdown.

Alabama A&M was limited to 146 total yards.

It was Middle Tennessee's first shutout since a 48-0 win over Florida International on Nov. 9, 2013.

Arkansas 21, Louisiana Tech 20
FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. (AP) Trailing midway through the fourth quarter, Arkansas coach Bret Bielema wasn't all that concerned about style points or margin of victory.

Not with another shocking loss like less than a year ago to Toledo still fresh on his mind.

Behind a pair of fourth-down conversions in the fourth quarter, the Razorbacks (1-0) managed to avoid another early season disappointment to a non-Power 5 conference team on Saturday - rallying for a 21-20 victory over Louisiana Tech (0-1).

''I know everybody would have, including myself at the end of the day, would have liked to come out of here with a larger margin of victory,'' Bielema said. ''But ... I knew (the Bulldogs) were going to be a good football team, very well coached.''

The Razorbacks rallied thanks to a pair of nerve-wracking calls by Bielema, particularly with first-time starter Austin Allen under center for Arkansas.

Bielema's faith in his junior starter was rewarded, especially after Allen connected with tight end Jeremy Sprinkle from four yards out on fourth down to give Arkansas the 21-20 with 6:37 remaining in the game.

''I'm glad (Bielema) called it,'' Allen said. ''We'd been practicing that play all week, everybody knew what they were doing and we did it perfectly. It worked out for us.''

Despite the go-ahead touchdown, the Razorbacks didn't secure the win for good until another fourth-down call by Bielema with just over a minute remaining.

Facing fourth-and-inches at its own 37, Arkansas converted a first down with a power run by 240-pound running back Kody Walker - allowing the Razorbacks to run out the clock and exhale a welcomed sigh of relief following last year's early stumbles.

''You make the fourth-down decision looking to have success,'' Bielema said. ''The last one, it's just a gut feel. I just had a feeling we were going to have a nice push, and it ended up sealing the game.''

With 18 wins over the last two seasons, including a pair of bowl victories, Louisiana Tech didn't expect to enter Saturday as the usual kind of early season cupcake for the Razorbacks.

And the Bulldogs didn't play like it, either.

Freshman J'Mar Smith, playing in place of suspended starter Ryan Higgins, finished 19 of 31 for 212 yards passing for Louisiana Tech - helping the Conference USA school take a 20-14 lead in the third quarter after a 20-yard field goal by kicker Jonathan Barnes.

However, Barnes missed another kick off the left upright from 39 yards that would have put the Bulldogs up 23-14 in the fourth quarter.

That gave hope to Arkansas, which responded with a 13-play, 77-yard touchdown drive - capped by Allen finding Sprinkle on a throwback to the left side of the end zone.

Allen finished 20-of-29 passing for 191 yards and a pair of touchdowns in his debut as the Razorbacks starter, but he also threw a pair of first-half interceptions that led to Louisiana Tech touchdowns.

Rawleigh Williams led Arkansas with 96 yards rushing on 24 carries, including a touchdown.