Date: Saturday September 22, 2018
Kickoff Time: 6 p.m. EST, 5 p.m. CST
Location: Williams Stadium, Lynchburg, VA
Line: North Texas -13, O/U 69 (nice)
Series Record: First meeting
If you’re a fan of college football— and if you’re reading this you really should be— it was very difficult to not talk about North Texas this week. The victory over an SEC team. The huge disparity in score. The Punt Return.
There’s a lot to love about this team, and there was a lot to love about this team prior to last weeks game in Fayetteville. It’s all for nothing, though, if the Mean Green don’t get it done in Lynchburg this week.
Coming in on a three-game win-streak (and active five-game streak of scoring 30 points or more), the Mean Green are playing their second road game of the season, a week after decimating a weak SEC team in their own house.
Mason Fine, you know about. For all the press and viral video this week, Fine is getting the job done, but the rest of the offense is chugging right along with him.
Rico Bussey Jr. leads all receivers with 264 yards on 22 receptions at this point. Close behind is Jalen Guyton with 248 yards on only 14 receptions. They account for the bulk of UNT’s 1,196 passing yards so far this season, and would be advised to not let off the gas this weekend in Virginia.
This is because for all the buzz this team is seeing, the running game still has yet to truly break out. Through three games, top rusher Loren Easly has had some big breakaway plays but has still only amassed 99 yards at this point, on 25 carries. DeAndre Torrey is next down the list with 63 yards on 22 carries, but he also has three TD’s to make that stat line look good. Even after the Arkansas game, it’s tough to say if this is surgical or something else, but it was Army’s running game that accounted for Liberty’s sole loss so far this season. The country will be watching.
Anyone picking Arkansas a week ago chalked that call up to just simply an SEC school having better athletes. While the Razorback O-line was indeed SEC-sized, the improvement on the defensive side for the Mean Green this year has been night and day.
A year ago, the defense gave up nearly as many points as the offense scored, over the full season. Through three games this season, the defense has given up only 56 points, or best in the conference among teams who’ve also played three games. The secondary has been shutting down receivers, playing smart, and for the most part avoiding costly penalties.
If all goes according to plan, they can swat the Flames aside like they did UIW. If all goes according to plan.
For their first year in FBS, it’s still too early to tell how the Flames are shaping up. Head coach Turner Gill has a great resume, and if he can win at Buffalo he can win anywhere. But over these first two games things have been decidedly hit and miss.
A week after stomping a supposedly good Old Dominion team, the Flames were utterly lost against an unstoppable Army squad. It’s difficult to compare either of these to North Texas at this stage, but if Gill has shown anything, it’s that he can adapt.
If you don’t know the name Stephen Calvert, that could be as big a crime as having not heard about Mason Fine until a week ago.
Through two games he’s at 660 yards passing, six touchdowns and one interception. These are not Mason Fine numbers, but he’s moving in that direction. At 6’2” and 180 lbs. he’s bigger than the opposing QB, but he’s got a good eye and has proven adept and finding receivers, not to mention the end zone.
Top receivers DJ Stubbs and Damian King draw a nice parallel to the opposing offense, with 174 and 172 yards respectively and a touchdown apiece— again, over only two games. Had their FCS match-up not been postponed last week, these numbers might be even more in line.
The rushing game, however, is where the Flames excel compared to North Texas. Kentory Matthews is easily the best running back on the field, averaging seven yards per run and amassing 182 yards on 26 carries over those two games. UNT not only has to stop him, they also have to keep an eye on Peytton Pickett, already up to 133 yards on 18 carries.
This defense was deadly in its opening week, holding the Monarchs to a scant ten points, but it was the relentless running game from Army that proved to be too much to handle.
Amassing 449 yards on the ground, Army just wore them down, but North Texas is a very different team. Most of their yards are coming through the air, and while passing defense proved to be no issue for Liberty in week one, it’s an understatement to say North Texas is having a much better season than Old Dominion.
The key here for the Flames will be to stifle the receivers (and there will be a lot of them), and force turnovers. The entire game will come down to how complete a team these Flames are, and if they’re going to solidify, this is the week to do it.
Liberty is still a big question mark at this stage, and it’s not out of the question to remember the Houston Cougars from just a few seasons back, when they beat Oklahoma and then later that season lost a meaningless game at Connecticut to torpedo their season. Liberty and Old Dominion are UNT’s longest road trips of 2018, and that alone should make the fan base nervous.
Having said that, North Texas has shown no fear, shutting down the Razorbacks last week in front of 62,355 raucous Razorback fans. Williams Stadium expanded for the 2018 season, to raise its capacity to 25,000.
As long as North Texas doesn’t take this team lightly and can remain focused for four quarters, they have the tools to blow the spread out of the water, like they did much of last season.
Final Score: North Texas 38 Liberty 14