HUNTINGTON, W.Va. -- Florida Atlantic University Coach Carl Pelini admits the numbers his pass defense has put up this season can be a little deceiving.
That pass defense is second only to Marshall, its opponent this Saturday, in Conference USA in pass efficiency and is tops in average yards allowed. But it's based in part, he said, on some opposing offenses' reliance on their run game.
Yet MU Coach Doc Holliday won't take FAU's defense lightly when the teams face off at 5 p.m. (Fox College Sports) in Boca Raton, Fla. He's not just looking at the numbers on the stat sheet. He sees the talent on film.
"They've got some good personnel," Holliday said. "They've got four guys up front who are extremely athletic and can rush the passer. They've got secondary guys who can cover."
What Pelini said about the passing numbers versus the Owls has merit. FAU sits atop C-USA allowing just 168.7 passing yards per game. It has a defensive passing efficiency rating of 111.0, behind only MU's rating of 96.1.
The Owls have a much tougher time against the run.
FAU is ninth in the conference and 93rd in the Football Bowl Subdivision against the run, allowing 191.0 yards per game. It gave up 303 rushing yards to Miami (Fla.), 296 rushing yards to Middle Tennessee and 204 rushing yards to Rice, all losses.
But when the opposition drops back to pass, the Owls have an athletic, disruptive group that averages 2.17 sacks per game. That athleticism starts up front with defensive ends Martin Wright (6-foot-4, 250 pounds) and Cory Henry (6-3, 238) and tackles Trevon Coley (6-2, 225) and Brandin Bryant (6-2, 260).
"This defense has been built around the whole concept of speed," Herd offensive coordinator Bill Legg said. "They're really playing four defensive ends, if you really want to know the truth. If you look at their d-line, all four of those guys could line up and play defensive end for a lot of people. They're an aggressive, attacking group up front."
The secondary is led by 5-11, 175-pound junior corner D'Joun Smith, who is tied for second in the FBS with nine pass breakups and tied for 10th with three interceptions. It's been a bounce-back year for Smith, who started his first nine games last season, missed the 10th and played a reserve role in the 11th and 12th games. He ended that season with just one pick and eight pass breakups, and Pelini said that had to be disappointing for the Miami native.
"I think that hurt his pride because he had more ability than that," Pelini said. "He really focused in during the offseason and spent a lot of time in the film room and spent a lot of time with our DB coaches during spring ball, really working on his technique. He's a different player now. He's really focused and you can see he takes pride in the technique of his coverage."
FAU's pass defense numbers might not add up to a winning record - the Owls, in their first year in C-USA, are 2-4 overall and 1-3 in the conference - Pelini said the pieces are in place for the team to compete with an advanced passing offense like Marshall's.
"By no means would I say we're perfect in our pass defense," Pelini said. "We do have our issues and there are things we do need to fix. But it's getting better and I'm really pleased with our pass defense."
Contact sportswriter Derek Redd at derek.r...@dailymail.com or 304-348-1712. His blog is at blogs.dailymail.com/marshall. Follow him on Twitter @derekredd.