AUBURN, Ala. – A slow start ruined Florida Atlantic's hopes of an upset against Auburn.
Now the Owls have to hope for a strong finish to preserve their slim bowl hopes.
Florida Atlantic was overwhelmed early as No. 11 Auburn scored the first 38 points and rolled to a 45-10 win over the Owls on Saturday night.
"We came out slower than we usually come out," said cornerback Cre'von LeBlanc. "We didn't come out fast enough, and they came out ready to play."
The Owls (2-6), who play Tulane next week, must win their last four regular-season games to become bowl-eligible.
Even after the lopsided loss to Auburn, Florida Atlanta coach Carl Pelini said a bowl bid remains a viable goal.
"We are capable of doing it," Pelini said. "I have been saying that all year. We are very capable of doing that as a football team, and that is what our goal is."
Jeremy Johnson replaced injured Auburn quarterback Nick Marshall early in the second quarter and threw two long touchdown passes to Sammie Coates, including one on his first snap.
Johnson, a freshman, took advantage of Coates' speed on scoring passes of 36 and 67 yards. He threw the 36-yarder to Coates on his first play after replacing Marshall, who was taken to the locker room with a shoulder injury early in the second quarter.
"Sammie is a speed guy," Johnson said. "He had one-on-one coverage, so I just gave him a chance, and he went and got it."
Marshall returned to the Auburn sideline, but not the game, as Johnson added another touchdown pass to Coates later in the quarter.
Auburn (7-1) avoided a letdown one week after a 45-41 win over then-No. 7 Texas A&M. The Tigers had 628 total yards, including 440 in a lopsided first half.
Florida Atlantic trailed 38-0 before quarterback Jaquez Johnson scored on a 29-yard run with less than 1 minute remaining in the first half. Mitch Anderson added a 31-yard field goal in the third quarter.
Auburn, which leads the SEC and ranks No. 8 in the nation in rushing offense, had 422 yards rushing. Cameron Artis-Payne led the Tigers with 93 yards rushing, including a 1-yard scoring run in the third quarter.
"They have a great running game," Pelini said. "We were not surprised at all. We knew they had a great game. They are strong and are very good up front. They have good speed on the outside. They beat you with their speed. You have to spread it out. They beat you inside. They are a good football team."
Jaquez Johnson completed 9 of 20 passes for 133 yards as the Owls were held to 247 total yards. He led Florida Atlantic with 58 yards rushing.
Florida Atlantic linebacker Freedom Whitfield was taken to a hospital after he was injured on a collision in the first quarter. Whitfield was back at the stadium by the end of the game. He wore a neck brace as he walked around the locker room following the game.
"It was great to see him walking back in that locker room, that is for sure," Pelini said.
Whitfield led with his helmet on a big hit against Davis. Whitfield's helmet appeared to hit Davis high on his chest. Part of Whitfield's helmet may have hit the lower facemask of Davis. Whitfield left the field on a cart, strapped to a stretcher.
"It shocked a lot of us because Freedom is like a brother to this whole organization," LeBlanc said. "To see one of our brothers go down like that, it could be anybody."
Jeremy Johnson completed 10 of 16 passes for 192 yards with two touchdowns and one interception. He threw four touchdown passes in his first start, leading Auburn to a 62-3 win over Western Carolina on Oct. 12.
Auburn coach Gus Malzahn provided no update on Marshall's injury after the game.
Coates had three catches for 113 yards and two touchdowns.
"I think it was pretty big tonight for me to go out there and catch the ball and show everyone I can still bring a lot to the team," Coates said. "Being a go-to guy, I think that we have a lot of guys who can make plays."
Big plays on offense, defense and special teams helped Auburn build a big early lead.
Marshall had a 46-yard run to set up Tre Mason's 8-yard touchdown run on Auburn's first possession.
On the Owls' fourth play, running back Jonathan Wallace's fumble was recovered by Jermaine Whitehead. The turnover, forced by defensive end Dee Ford, set up Corey Grant's 43-yard touchdown run one play later to give Auburn a 14-0 lead less than 4 minutes into the game.
Auburn's special teams added a big play in the first quarter. Chris Davis returned a punt from near the Auburn goal line 70 yards to the Florida Atlantic 28. Marshall scored on a 10-yard run four plays later.
Marshall hurt his shoulder when sacked by defensive end Eugene Robinson on the second play of the second quarter. Auburn reported Marshall was held out for precautionary reasons.