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Deja Vu All Over Again: UTEP Miners at North Texas Mean Green Preview

Two years ago North Texas was struggling and barely won a game. In 2017, they lead the division but UTEP is struggling. Will UNT show mercy?

NCAA Football: Old Dominion at North Texas Ray Carlin-USA TODAY Sports

Date: Saturday, November 11, 2017

Kickoff Time: 4 p.m. CST

Location: Apogee Stadium, Denton, TX

TV: ESPN3

TV/Streaming: Watch ESPN

Line: North Texas -22.5, O/U 54

Series Record: North Texas leads the all-time series, 14-8-3

Last Meeting: UTEP won 52-24 in El Paso a year ago, their third consecutive win in the series


North Texas is having an abnormally good season. UTEP is having a historically bad one. We hate to kick the Miners while they’re down, especially considering the Mean Green were in a similar spot just two seasons ago... but then we remember the 52-24 score last year and IT IS ON.

UTEP Overlook

It’s easy to dismiss an 0-9 team that recently lost their coach, but there are still some bright spots here worth looking over.

First of all, the interim coach isn’t some wide-eyed coordinator they threw into the bottom half of the season as some sacrificial lamb. Instead, they dusted the cobwebs off Mike Price and put him back on the sideline for the first time anywhere since 2012.

Since taking over, the Price-led Miners have continued to lose, but that’s only because outgoing Sean Kugler and AD Bob Stull ran this program into the ground. The 15-14 loss against WKU back on Oct. 7 was encouraging, but the easiest section of the Miners schedule is behind them, and the only thing they have left is Mike Price’s ingenuity and a gassed and discouraged roster. But there’s still talent there. They just need some inspiration.

Top among them, arguably, is RB Quadraiz Walley, who has rushed for 277 yards this season against defenses the coaching staff just wasn’t prepared for. He’s averaging 4.5 yards a run (equal to UNT’s second-leading rusher, Nic Smith), and will certainly see the bulk of the carries on Saturday. In the air, there’s Tyler Batson, coming into the game with 214 receiving yards, or 13.4 yards per catch. No Miner receiver, nor rusher, has more than one TD this season.

This is an interesting game for UNT fans, because just two years ago, this North Texas team WAS this UTEP team, which shows just how quickly the right coach and the right AD can turn things around. Jeffrey Wilson, UNT’s star RB, was recruited under Dan McCarney’s watch, and here he remains under Seth Littrell, breaking records and smashing opposing D-lines.

It will be interesting to see which of these pieces of the Miners offense and defense stick around next year. That’s the nicest thing we can say about the situation down in El Paso.

UNT Overlook

The polar opposite of the Miners, the North Texas Mean Green come into this week firing on all cylinders, which is good because, again, this team lost to UTEP last year for reasons we still don’t fully comprehend. Overconfidence will get you every time, and we trust UNT won’t fall victim to this again, as they’ve hardly been dominating the competition this season.

Yes, it’s true, they sit alone atop the C-USA West standings, but despite a decisive victory over Southern Miss (43-28 back on Sept. 30), they’ve beaten UTSA, UAB and La Tech by a combined seven points. This is not the time to rest on our laurels, y’all.

Having said that, UTEP lost to USM 24-0, so this game will be fine. Jeffrey Wilson starts the game with 999 rushing yards on the season, Jalen Guyton now stands at 729 yards and can also make it to quadruple digits this game if the offense is feeling particularly sassy.

Don’t laugh— Mason Fine has racked up 2,599 passing yards this season, which averages to 289 yards a game. Isn’t the Air Raid beautiful?

As Wilson rushes toward the end of his college career, names to keep an eye on under Littrell are RB Nic Smith, up to 335 yards on the season, and Evan Johnson, who has 171 yards but at 6.3 yards per carry, he’s closing in on Wilson’s 6.7. Nic Smith and Evan Johnson will also see significant playing time against a different kind of opponent than they’ve seen in recent weeks.

UNT’s defense, meanwhile, has been suspect this season, but showed they’re up to the challenge with key stops against La Tech last week, limiting Skip Holtz & Co. to only 23 points. That’s the least amount of points they’ve allowed since Week 1, when they allowed only 14 against FCS Lamar.

Alternatively, up to this point in the season, UNT has given up 326 points in six games. That’s the most of any team in C-USA West except... UTEP, who’s given up 326 in six games. If you limit that to conference play only, UNT has given up 227 points all year, compared to UTEP’s 131. Is this just because teams are showing UTEP mercy? Guess we’ll find out Saturday.

In short: Last week, despite the statistics, in this space we predicted a La Tech victory based solely on Holtz being the more experienced coach. Well folks, Price is significantly more experienced than Holtz and Seth Littrell combined, but it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to predict how this game is gonna go. I mean, whatever the state of their defense, when was the last time UNT was favored by 22.5 points?

PREDICTION

The most number of points UTEP has scored in a game all season was 21, in a 35-21 loss to Army back on Sept. 30. Army does nothing but run. Literally. North Texas has substantial backs to run the ball but makes most of its gains in the air, so it doesn’t look good for UTEP.

Look, we’re trying to be polite here: If anyone understands what it’s like to have a historically bad run with an oblivious AD, it’s a Mean Green fan. We wish UTEP well in the future, but today North Texas covers.

Final Score: North Texas 63, UTEP 14.