BOCA RATON -- As a former defensive coordinator, FAU coach Carl Pelini has a strong memory of the offensive stars he has faced in his career.
Ahead of FAU's season opener Friday against the Miami, the Owls' coach had high praise for Hurricanes quarterback Stephen Morris and running back Duke Johnson.
"Near the top or at the top," Pelini said when he was asked to assess how Morris fits in among the best quarterbacks he's faced off against. "He's as good a quarterback as I've seen in a long time, and the NFL scouts that are coming through here feel the same way. He's got great skills. He's got great vision and he's got a great release and a lot of arm. And he's going to be a big challenge for us, certainly."
The Owls won't find any respite in the Miami running game, either. Johnson is earning preseason Heisman consideration, and Pelini said there's little a defense can do to take a feature back like Johnson out of the game.
"[You] hold on for dear life," Pelini said. "It really comes down to your scheme and who's going to have the opportunities to make the tackle. And certainly you got to tackle with great fundamentals. You have to use your leverage, you can't over pursue. THose are things that you always talk about, but even more so with a running back that's as good as he is."
In both scenarios, FAU's re-built defensive line will have their work cut out for them. Last season the unit was among the worst in college football in both run defense and rushing the passer. Pelini said that going against one of the nation's best offensive lines will show the unit's offseason progress.
"The fact that we get to go against an offensive line as good as they are will be a great challenge for our guys, but it's a great measuring stick for where we are as a defensive line," Pelini said.
Next game: vs. Miami, Friday at 8 p.m., ESPNU. ___