FAU trounced by Miami Hurricanes 34-6 in 2013 season opener

Zack Kelberman

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The campuses of FAU and the University of Miami are separated by around 50 miles, but on Friday night the two south Florida football programs couldn’t be further apart.

With former UM and FAU coach Howard Schnellenberger looking on, the Hurricanes easily defeated the short-handed Owls 34-6 in both teams’ season openers –– and first ever meeting –– at Sun Life Stadium.

Owls Head Coach Carl Pelini suspended five players for this contest, including starting wide receiver Daniel McKinney and backup running back Damian Fortner. Pelini refused to comment specifically on the suspensions.

Other than functioning as 32-point underdogs, FAU’s main storyline heading into the game was its new-look offense and much-discussed quarterback trio, comprised of junior transfer Jaquez Johnson and freshmen Greg Hankerson and DJ Juste.

Johnson opened the game as the starter, but gave way to Hankerson on the second series. Neither signal-caller did much to impress Pelini, who rotated his QBs on nearly every series –– at some points, between each snap.

“We felt like they’re all pretty well matched. They all do different things,” Pelini said of his QB corps. “But we thought if we started off with Quez, that he’d handle the pressure because he’s a little more experienced.”

Juste saw action in a dual-threat role, operating both under center and out of the backfield as a ball carrier. He recorded 28 yards on seven rushes.

Johnson finished the game 11-of-20 for 83 yards, while Hankerson went 5-of-11 for 34 yards before suffering a rib injury prior to halftime.

Combined, they didn’t come close to matching the Hurricanes’ offense, putting up 247 total yards (compared to Miami’s 504).

Fortunately for the Owls, though, Hankerson’s injury isn’t believed to be serious.

“I know it won’t be a long term injury,” Pelini said. “He just fell on the ball. We did some X-rays and everything’s negative. Hopefully [his recovery] is pretty quick.”

FAU scored its only points of the first half on a 25-yard field goal by kicker Mitch Anderson with 8:30 left in the second quarter. They totaled just 106 yards of total offense in the half. Hurricanes running back Duke Johnson alone had 156 rushing yards by intermission, when Miami led comfortably 20-3 following a pair of scores.

The second half proved to be more of the same for the Owls.

Thanks to a chip-shot 20-yard field goal by Anderson, FAU put up three more points in the third quarter. On that drive, the Owls had a chance to punch it in from the one-yard line, but offensive lineman DeAndre Williams committed a brutal false start, and the drive stalled.

“That penalty was especially costly,” Pelini said. “Against a team like Miami, you just can’t hurt yourself like that.”

Miami tacked on another two touchdowns in the third –– both on the ground –– as the game quickly turned into a rout. The latter score came on a 63-yard reverse by Hurricanes running back Herb Waters.

It’s defensive breakdowns like those that irk Pelini.

“That’s a discipline issue,” he said. “It was a busted assignment and we just fell asleep. It was disappointing to see that happen.”

In the fourth quarter, with most of Miami’s starters done for the night, Pelini mostly opted for Johnson at quarterback. Even against Miami’s second and third-stringers, FAU’s offense still was unable to hit paydirt, as both squads failed to score in the final 15 minutes.

By far, the Owls’ standout units were its special teams. Anderson connected on his chances, and punter Sean Kelly boomed 10 punts for a combined 414 yards –– good for a respectable 41.4 average.

Despite the season getting off to a rocky start, Pelini’s plan is to keep his club grounded.

“You can’t be on a rollercoaster ride for 12 games,” Pelini said. “I thought we were invested into this game. I thought the players played hard, I think they prepared well. It wasn’t perfect, but we certainly are a much-improved football team and have a lot to build on.”

FAU will make its Conference USA debut against East Carolina on Thursday, Sept. 5 at 7:30 p.m.