Records: FAU (5-5, 3-3) vs North Texas (7-3, 3-3)
TV: CBS Sports Network
Location: Apogee Stadium, Denton, Texas
Betting Line: North Texas -3.5, Over/Under 63
All-Time Series Record:FAU leads 8-5, winning the last matchup 41-17
FAU enters this one riding high, as they are on a two-game winning streak with wins over one of the best teams in the conference (FIU), and one of the worst teams in the conference (WKU). Just one win away from bowl eligibility, there’s a lot to play for despite not being able to win C-USA for the second straight season.
Just like last season’s match-up, FAU will try to defeat UNT with a powerful rushing offense and a defense looking to create negative plays and turnovers. FAU leads C-USA in rushing offense with 254.8 yards per game. Devin “Motor” Singletary is averaging 135 yards per game during conference play. His backup Kerrith Whyte Jr. has been just as explosive, averaging 7.4 yards per carry with 91 yards per game. If FAU is moving the ball, it’ll be due to a big gain pulled off by either Motor or Whyte.
The key to stopping the offense is to force passing downs. Lane Kiffin and offensive coordinator Charlie Weis Jr. don’t quite trust Chris Robison to consistently test the defense with a vertical passing attack on the road and with good reason. Robison has passed for 648 yards with two touchdowns and eight interceptions on the road this season. Jovon Durante and Willie Wright are dynamic playmakers at receiver and have the potential to hurt UNT if the choose to stack the box to stop the rushing offense, but Robison’s consistency will play a big part in whether the passing offense can have their best road game performance of the season.
Defensively the Owls play a lot of man-to-man coverage and will utilize a lot of blitz looks. Jalen Young is by-far the most consistent defensive back the Owls have but Zyon Gilbert, Shelton Lewis and a slew of other FAU DBs are just as talented. FAU is 4th in C-USA with nine interceptions.
The problem however, has been consistency. In a defense that relies so much on man-to-man coverage, tackling in space is key. Tackling has been an issues, as well as covering without drawing a penalty. FAU is the most penalized team in the conference. Should UNT try to run their ball-carriers will be run into Rashad Smith a lot. Smith is a stud in the front seven and leads with 57.5 tackles and 5.5 TFLs with three interceptions.
North Texas Outlook
If you want to talk about consistency being a problem, look no further than North Texas.
The Mean Green started the season on a four-game win streak, and were 6-1 headed into their match-up with UAB. They are 1-2 since, starting with that UAB game, and that single win since being against Rice. These struggles, whatever the source, culminated in blowing a 28-point 2nd quarter lead against an abysmally bad team with an admittedly great quarterback.
UNT’s close games in 2017 have become losses in 2018. But FAU has severely downgraded in quality, and that’s enough to give us hope. Mason Fine remains as dangerous as ever, passing for fewer yards than his counterpart last week but still managing 240 yards and two touchdowns, bringing his total for the season to 3,119, nearly 800 yards higher than his nearest competition.
Also atop the competition would be Rico Bussey Jr., who has caught 12 touchdown passes this season, easily the best receiver on the field here, but where UNT is notable for its prolific passing game, FAU’s Durante is head and shoulders over Jalen Guyton and Jaelon Darden.
The issue this week will be focus, particularly the defense that fell apart late last week, and also how well that defense stops Singletary. The Mean Green had no answer for him last year (either time), so the best bet is to contain the damage and try to stop the passing game, something North Texas has struggled with this season even as they do well at stopping the run.
If the FAU defense steps up, Singletary could cause huge problems, as North Texas has not only struggled defending the run, but also producing it. DeAndre Torrey has the third-most rushing touchdowns in the conference this season, at 12 (Singletary has 20), but is way down the list in yardage. Other UNT running backs don’t even rate. The Mean Green will have to attack with every weapon they have to finally show Kiffin some humility.
Cyrus Smith: FAU is 1-4 on the road this season. Even at home they have looked pretty inconsistent, but on the road they have been even more volatile. Chris Robison is a Texas native, so I’m sure he’s pumped to return to his home state. Channeling that energy might be the biggest key to the game. If he comes out air-mailing the ball FAU could find themselves in a quick hole due to UNT’s potent offense. Mason Fine is the far more reliable QB so I’m picking UNT in a close one. North Texas 30 FAU 24
Adam Woodyard: Despite a prolific UNT offense a year ago, Lane Kiffin seemed to have Seth Littrell’s number. Well, the staff has turned over, and the FAU of a year ago is not the FAU of 2018. In a sense this is comparable to Arkansas coach Chad Morris, who repeatedly stopped North Texas as coach at SMU, but faltered this season with a rebuilding-year Arkansas roster. Does FAU qualify?
Vegas seems to think so, but the past few weeks, the Mean Green just look tired. In conference these teams have scored, and given up, nearly identical point totals, and while North Texas has not inspired confidence lately, FAU has looked bad all season, and as Cyrus says above, particularly on the road. North Texas 31, FAU 28