Date: Saturday, October 28th
Kickoff Time: 6:30 p.m. EST / 5:30 p.m. CST
Location: Apogee Stadium, Denton TX
Line: North Texas -11, O/U 62.5
Series Record: This is the first meeting between the schools, despite both joining C-USA in 2013.
Old Dominion Monarchs Outlook
A year ago: a bowl game. This year: wins against Albany and UMass, followed by a five game losing streak, including three conference match-ups. If you’re going to be a scary team on Halloween, this is the wrong way to go about it, Monarchs.
Haunted by Injuries
The Monarchs have already lost five players to injury this season, including WR Jonathan Duhart. On top of that, QB Steven Williams is still working off a shoulder injury, and is listed as “probable” for Saturday.
Head coach Bobby Wilder is no slouch, and has built a winner in Norfolk, his worst FBS season being the 5-7 campaign in 2015. Despite the obvious talent on the sidelines, as well as the field, they’ve yet to make the leap, losing in blowout fashion last year to eventual Conference USA East champ WKU. As the season goes on, it’s looking less and less like the Monarchs will capitalize on that promise, especially against a North Texas offense that averages 30 points a game.
With games still remaining against a resurgent FIU squad and an injury-plagued but still efficient MTSU, it might be time to just mark this season up to bad luck and look ahead to 2018.
Ravenous Road Trip
The Monarchs have kept it close to home this season, for the most part, travelling to UMass, Virginia Tech, and Marshall so far. Not lengthy road trips by any means, but for their first-ever meeting with the Mean Green, they’re covering 1,412 miles from Norfolk, VA to Denton, TX. This is easily their longest road trip of the season, and we’re not even sure if they’ll be home in time for trick or treating.
Despite the wear and tear of the road, there have been signs of life in a schedule fit for the undead. In conference games so far, ODU has really played the tops of the East, losing huge to FAU and Marshall, but as FAU proved last week, either of those teams could end up winning their division. Tack on a 4-point loss to WKU last week, the Monarchs could be right back in this, especially considering they lost to FAU by a mere 30, compared to North Texas, who lost by 45.
Provided Williams is at full capacity, he’ll have to rely heavily on star RB Jeremy Cox (114 carries this season for 488 yards), and Ray Lawry (only 46 carries but for an explosive 250 yards). It’s that kind of positional depth that helped FAU obliterate UNT a week ago, and shows that maybe ODU’s season isn’t over quite yet.
In the air, ODU now has four WRs over 100 yards on the season, if you don’t count Duhart. Expect to see a lot of big plays from Travis Fulgham, who is currently averaging 15.4 yards a catch, with 247 yards so far on only 16 receptions. Spreading the ball out has been UNT’s big weakness (more on that below), and Wilder & Co. will have to work hard on both sides of the ball to overcome the monstrous offense Seth Littrell has built in Denton.
On the one hand, ODU did a great job of regrouping last week against WKU. On the other, it’s 1,400 miles to a team that’s 3-0 at home and even in a blowout loss last week, still managed to score 31 points. If the Monarchs can’t at least keep this close, you can all but expect them to go 2-2 the rest of the way and miss out on a bowl game.
North Texas Mean Green Outlook
There’s a crisis of conscience this week as in the last game preview for UNT, this writer predicted North Texas in a squeaker, when the end result was the Green losing in blowout fashion. How did this happen, and how does it relate to ODU?
Ghost of Games of Past
North Texas has lost by blowout scores only twice this season, to FAU and earlier to SMU. Their other loss, to Iowa, was hardly a blowout, as the Mean Green took a lead into the third quarter. The difference, in retrospect, and what SMU and FAU have in common is their pro-style offense, and just being flat-out deeper teams.
When UNT surprised in their wins over UTSA, USM, and the come-from-behind win against UAB, this was Seth Littrell’s team matching player-for-player. UNT’s running back, Jeffrey Wilson, is better than the other teams star running back. The QB, Mason Fine, is better, more accurate and puts up more yards than the opposing quarterback. Jalen Guyton had emerged as a star in the conference games prior to FAU, and had the yards to prove it (32 catches for 626 yards on the season). In those cases, both teams had one standout in each position, on each team. UNT’s standouts, in the end, just put up more yards.
But this wasn’t the case for SMU and FAU, who had numerous standout options on offense, spreading the ball around and keeping the defense guessing and exhausted. Ultimately, that’s the thing about being a Group-of-Five team: the ceiling can always be just a little higher, based on recruiting, coaching, or any number of factors.
Old Dead Minion
And this brings us back to the Monarchs. Bobby Wilder has been a strong coach, guiding the program through its formative years, even taking the squad to a bowl last year. But they still have a ways to go, losing in a blowout in 2016 to eventual division champ WKU, and dropping off by quite a bit this year, thanks to player turnover and injuries.
Even with RB Jeremy Cox, there’s no standout Monarch who’d really strike fear into the Mean Green, not on the same level as USM’s Ito Smith or UTSA’s Jalen Rhodes. North Texas remains healthy, Fine has already surpassed 2,000 passing yards this season, and on his first run, Wilson will go over 800 for the season (he’s at 798 headed into the game).
At the end of the day, North Texas will lick its wounds after last week and remain the surprising team that has performed so impressively in earlier conference games. These teams both have talented coaches, but at this point in the season, will not match up well.
As the modern C-USA continues to gel, it’s nice to see these teams finally meet on the gridiron. Even five seasons in, this conference is still getting to know itself, and the distance between schools doesn’t help. But despite UNT’s ghostly weakspots, they remain 3-0 at home, and ODU’s only win on the road this season was the 17-7 squeaker against UMass.
Looking at both teams overall, each coaching staff has had to do more with less— Littrell with a bare bones rebuilding project a year ago, and Wilder with injury trouble at key positions. Despite the team records, this looks to be a pretty solid match-up overall, as two great coaches try to rebuild some momentum.
Don’t sleep on either team, but ultimately, we’re sorry to say that the line on this game might be accurate for once. UNT 42, ODU 32