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Texas' young secondary faces huge challenge against FAU

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

The defensive calls are simpler and some of the best young recruits in college football will be playing Saturday night in Texas' secondary in the Longhorns' season opener against Florida Atlantic.

And it still won't make Texas coach Mack Brown rest any easier over the next several nights before his team's first game.

The Longhorns will open the season with unprecedented youth in the secondary, including freshmen safeties Blake Gideon and Earl Thomas in the starting lineup.

Backing them up will be three more freshmen, all for a unit that a year ago ranked 109th nationally in passing, set school records for passing yards and touchdown passes allowed and is already breaking in a new coordinator.

Making the task even more perilous will be Florida Atlantic quarterback Rusty Smith, who passed for 3,688 yards and 32 touchdowns for the nation's 16th most potent passing attack last season.

And did we add that the largest crowd to attend a football game in Texas state history is expected?

So it's understandable that Brown isn't resting too comfortable these days -- getting ready for an opponent he calls the best team that has ever traveled to Austin for an opener in his 11-year coaching tenure there.

"It's hard to test them like they're going to be tested with that noise and with a bunch that's as good at throwing the ball as Florida Atlantic," Brown said about his defensive unit. "We're going to have to play well because they're going to throw the ball."

Brown is especially girding for an FAU offense that returns 10 starters and rolled up at least 30 points in six of its final seven games last season. Included in that run was FAU's 44-27 shellacking of Memphis in the New Orleans Bowl in the Owls' first postseason action in school history.

"You'd love to play older defensive backs," Brown said. "It's interesting that the best thing Florida Atlantic does is throw the ball and the thing we've had the most trouble with is stopping the pass. We're excited about it, but it's obviously a concern."

The Longhorns' injury woes worsened Monday when junior Ishie Oduegwu was announced out for the game after shoulder surgery. Oduegwu was the defense's most experienced player in the secondary with three career starts.

The Texas secondary is dotted with high school standouts who came to college with strong pedigrees. But it will be interesting to see how the Longhorns react to a solid passing team in their first game.

Thomas has been one of the most impressive players in Texas' training camp. And players
like Nolan Brewster, Christian Scott and Ben Wells all were heralded high school players. Collectively, Brown compares his incoming group in the secondary to the one that featured future NFL standouts Cedric Griffin, Michael Griffin and Michael Huff.

That group served as the core of the Longhorns' national championship team's secondary, but all played together early in their careers.

"It's only a concern because they haven't been out there, and we're going to need our fans to really help us because we're probably going to give up some plays," Brown said.

And it will only get worse for this group as gun-slinging Big 12 quarterbacks like Sam Bradford, Chase Daniel, Graham Harrell and Todd Reesing loom in upcoming weeks.

Brown wants this green group to grow up fast and get challenged early -- even if it might come with some growing pains along the way.