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Rumble in Ruston: North Texas vs Louisiana Tech Preview

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Can North Texas wrap up the West, or will La Tech return to form?

NCAA Football: Louisiana Tech at North Texas Sean Pokorny-USA TODAY Sports

Date: Saturday November 4, 2017

Kickoff Time: 2:30 PM CT

Location: Ruston, LA

Stadium: Joe Aillet Stadium

Streaming: Stadium, Facebook

Series Record: Louisiana Tech leads 9-6

Last Meeting: 2016, Louisiana Tech won 45-24

Betting Line: Louisiana Tech -4.0

Over/Under: 67


The biggest game in the west division of Conference USA this week will take place in Ruston. The North Texas Mean Green will travel a few hours down I-20 to face the Louisiana Tech Bulldogs for homecoming (because it’s a well-known federal law these two must play each other for homecoming).

The Mean Green have lost to the Dawgs in their past three meetings, but in 2013 North Texas traveled to Ruston and defeated Tech on homecoming. North Texas was contending for a division title while Tech was rebuilding (sound familiar?).

The 4-4 (2-2) Bulldogs are, perhaps surprisingly, slight favorites against the division-leading 5-3 (4-1) Mean Green. Both of Tech’s conference losses have come to division rivals, while North Texas’s lone loss came to the leader in the east, Florida Atlantic. This has put North Texas in firm control of the West, but if La Tech can pull an upset(?), the West will be one big logjam of 2-loss teams and will devolve into utter chaos.

Louisiana Tech Overview

NCAA Football: Louisiana Tech at Alabama-Birmingham
J’Mar Smith
Marvin Gentry-USA TODAY Sports

Last week, Louisiana Tech ended a two game skid by knocking off Rice on the road. Although that game may have been closer than many Tech fans would have liked, there was a sign of progress. In every loss but one, Tech had a chance to win in the closing moments but couldn’t pull it off. Against Rice, they did. A late touchdown drive that chewed up three and a half minutes of clock followed by a pick six and another interception sealed the deal. If Tech can build off of it and find its clutch gene, they could get it done against UNT.

After probably the worst game of his career, J’Mar Smith bounced back nicely against Rice, throwing for 237 yards with one touchdown. He did not turn the ball over, nor did all of Tech for that matter. Assuming he can play with confidence, Tech’s young passing offense could become a factor once again, especially as injured receivers return to the lineup. Teddy Veal and Marlon Watts remain the staples, with 50 receptions for 583 yards and three touchdowns and 20 receptions for 307 yards, respectively. With Rhashid Bonnette returning to the lineup, J’Mar’s deep threat is back. Bonnette has just 13 receptions, but those have been good for 299 yards and two scores.

The two-headed monster at running back between Jarred Craft and Boston Scott has really showed itself in the past couple of games. The two have combined so far for 188 carries, amassing 985 yards and eight touchdowns between them. Add in J’Mar’s ability to scramble for a first down (64 carries for 182 yards and a touchdown) and Kam McKnight getting the ball in short yardage (three touchdowns on six carries) and the Tech rushing attack can allow the Dawgs to control the clock and march down the field.

NCAA Football: Mississippi State at Louisiana Tech
Jarred Craft
Justin Ford-USA TODAY Sports

The defense is starting to take the ball away more and more with four takeaways against Rice along with three against Southern Miss. They had a pick six in each of those games. They do have to explain giving up 247 rushing yards to Rice, and having that kind of performance against Jeffery Wilson is not a recipe for success. This defense won’t shut you down, but they have often been able to keep you out of the end zone. There have been games where Tech’s offense went silent, but the defense kept them in the lead until they get going again. North Texas’s three pronged offense of Wilson, Mason Fine, and Jalen Guyton will be tough to stop, but if they can force a few turnovers they should be able to give their own offense the help they need.

North Texas Overview

Overall this season, UNT has improved by leaps and bounds, after already improving by leaps and bounds from 2015 to 2016. This year, the best RB on the field, the best WR on the field, and the best QB on the field in Ruston all belong to North Texas. And that still may not be enough.

NCAA Football: North Texas at Iowa
Jeffery Wilson
Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

After more last minute heroics last week against Old Dominion, Mason Fine has passed for a mind-blowing 2388 yards over eight games. RB, senior, and possible superhero Jeffrey Wilson has rushed for 834 yards, or 6.5 yards every time he touches the ball. WR Jalen Guyton, after zero receptions in the FAU game, rebounded against ODU and now stands at 39 receptions for 692 yards this year. How could North Texas lose?

The answer is: the same way they lost against FAU and SMU. While these three position players for UNT will blow away the opposing defense, the second best players at these positions are not up to the same standard, and not only does the La Tech roster go deep, it’s got Skip Holtz at the helm, veteran of 18 seasons as a head coach and countless more as an assistant. Seth Littrell, though strong, is in year two.

It’s these things that have caused problems for North Texas this season, as Chad Morris and Lane Kiffin have hammered away at a scrappy but young team, save for Wilson. Having said that, this Mean Green squad is healthy and did successfully knock off the rest of their division opponents, playing UAB close, where La Tech played them closer. On the other hand, FAU beat UNT so bad that even with that Mean Green offense, two weeks later they still have more points scored against them in conference (204) than points for (194). Absent a blowout, La Tech’s offense and defense are about even.

North Texas v Florida Atlantic
Mason Fine

We get it. The Mean Green have won multiple games they were not supposed to this season. If there was a changing of the guard in C-USA West, this game is it. And to do it, they’ll need not just the usual heroics from Fine, Wilson, and Guyton, but at least a few more tricks up their sleeve on top of all that.

Prediction

Tanner Spearman: If both teams come to play, this could be an exciting game. But if it’s close late, although Tech has had its moments, I have to lean towards the team with the better track record in close games.

North Texas 31, Louisiana Tech 28

Adam Woodyard: Both teams will indeed come to play, but the key phrase was after the FAU game when we said Littrell was “just straight outcoached.” If ol’ Seth has some tricks up his sleeve, this could be close. But as great as UNT is playing this year, games like that one showed where the holes are in their second year of rebuilding. In our season preview we called this one a loss for UNT, and even with La Tech’s struggles, it’s Holtz we fear, and experience has been the Mean Green’s one weakness this year.

Louisiana Tech 35, North Texas 31