Date: Saturday, November 10th, 2018
Kickoff Time: 3:30 p.m. EST / 2:30 pm. CST
Location: S.B. Ballard Stadium, Norfolk, VA
Line: North Texas -14, O/U 65.5
Series Record: North Texas leads 1-0
Last Meeting: North Texas won 45-38 in 2017
Because 14-team conference are just how we live now, this will be only the second-ever meeting between these teams, and their first-ever meeting in Norfolk. And by a quirk of scheduling, both teams in this match-up are also coming off bye weeks, which in both cases could not have come at a better time.
The Monarchs and the Mean Green are at very different places in their season, at this point, and honestly don’t even play each other often enough to have any kind of rivalry or strong feelings on the game.
But any fan of college football should really, really want to see these quarterbacks play each other, as we could be approaching 800 combined passing yards here. Read on.
Outlook - North Texas Mean Green
First, the obvious: barring catastrophe, Mason Fine is going to become the all-time passing leader for North Texas.
Other outlets have tried to qualify this, saying he’s “likely,” but... c’mon, man. He needs to pass Mitch Maher’s record of 8,519 and coming out of the bye week he’s at 8,503. He could do this on the first pass of the game. His YPA this season is 8.37, so, okay, two passes. What we’re looking for is Fine to surpass his own single-season passing record, set last year, of 4,052. He’s at 2,879 coming into this game.
That said, let’s talk about UNT players who AREN’T Mason Fine, for a minute.
At kickoff Saturday, the leading rusher on the field coming into the game will be UNT’s DeAndre Torrey (95 carries, 458 yards). Torrey’s ten rushing touchdowns this season is one shy of cracking the North Texas all-time single season top ten, where four other players are tied at 11. Torrey has really taken the lead in Loren Easly’s absence, which is good because the rest of the UNT RB roster leaves some things to be desired.
What UNT’s RB corps lacks in depth, the WR corps more than makes up for. Rico Bussey Jr. in particular remains outstanding, and looks to add to his stats this weekend, particularly that 822 receiving yards, though adding to his ten touchdowns wouldn’t hurt. As usual, expect strong performances from Jalen Guyton and Jaelon Darden, at 534 and 517 passing yards, respectively.
Overall, this team has come together well over the course of the season, particularly the defense which has been strong even when the Mean Green offense has been stymied. Coming out of a bye week, North Texas should be ready to rumble— jet lag notwithstanding, as this is their longest road trip of the year.
Outlook - Old Dominion Monarchs
If there’s any team that best represents “2018 Conference USA,” it’s this one.
Coming out of their bye week at 2-7 (1-6), the Monarch’s lone wins this season were to WKU (the only team currently lower in the C-USA East standings), and a nationally-ranked-in-the-top-15 Virginia Tech. What.
Visions of an improved season were quickly dashed, however, as the week after that impressive win saw the Monarchs lose close to a not-great East Carolina team, and those margins of defeat have been getting wider ever since.
The bright spot, of course, has been the appearance of the explosive Blake LaRussa. What was supposed to be a new-look team after the Hokies game, turned out to be just Tech not having seen tape on the guy— LaRussa detonated for 495 yards that game, but nowhere near that much since, settling into a much more Mason Fine-esque 200-300 yards a game. Most notably, LaRussa threw for 333 yards last week against Middle Tennessee as his team still lost bigly, 51-17.
Where the Monarchs have certainly found their quarterback for the near future, the rest of the team matches up well with North Texas. Leading rusher Kesean Strong remains the top rusher, now at 422 yards and seven touchdowns on 92 carries. After that there’s a steep drop-off, as the next two rushers on the list are Jeremy Cox (80 carries, 323 yards) and Will Knight (27 carries, 118 yards).
Whatever the parallels between these teams, they extend to the passing game, as ODU has a broad corps of receivers as well, led by Jonathan Duhart (58 receptions, 847 yards, seven TD’s) and Travis Fulgham (47 receptions, 806 yards, six TD’s). That’s two players as exceptional as UNT’s Bussey Jr., and they’ll all be putting on a show Saturday.
As per usual, the winner will be the fans.
North Texas is favored by two touchdowns, but the spread has never exactly been accurate for North Texas games, and this will be no exception. The ODU defense has been non-existent, but their offense is still capable of putting up huge numbers, so the O/U on offensive yardage is easily approaching 1,000.
The counter-argument is that where North Texas had a great record and some impressive close wins in 2017, a few too many of those wins are going the other way this year. Is that touchdown margin from a year ago a sign of things to come?
If so, it’ll be a great game, but on paper, that North Texas defense will make all the difference.
Final Score: North Texas 48. Old Dominion 24