Date: Saturday, Nov. 2, 2019
Kickoff: 3:30 p.m. EST / 2:30 p.m. CST
Location: Apogee Stadium, Denton, TX
TV/Streaming: The NFL Network
Betting Line: North Texas -23, O/U 60
Series Record: North Texas leads, 16-8-3
Last Meeting: North Texas won last year in El Paso, 27-24
UTEP is having a bad year. They enter this contest at 1-6 (0-4) in year two of Dana Dimel, after five years of absolute futility. They lost by 10 points to UTSA— a team North Texas absolutely obliterated— and their sole win was by two points over FCS Houston Baptist in Week One, a team currently 4-5 and tied for last place in the Southland Conference.
And yet for North Texas, this is a trap game.
Multiple times in this space, on the basis of an explosive offense and nigh-unstoppable quarterback, we predicted easy wins for the Mean Green. Houston Cougars? Rebuilding year. Southern Miss? Have never beaten Seth Littrell. Charlotte 49ers? Historically terrible.
And yet one after the other, each of these teams defeated North Texas, in the face of a stumbling Mean Green defense, and an offense that has taken a step back under first year offensive coordinator Bodie Reeder. This in the face of the 2018 contest match-up between these squads, which was supposed to be a gimme for North Texas even under former OC Graham Harrell, and which itself turned into a dogfight for survival, even in a season where UNT ultimately finished 9-4.
The NFL Network is happy to hype this game, which on the surface of it might seem ridiculous.
Let’s look closer.
Under center, the Miners don’t have the numbers that North Texas does, but that’s alright, because few do. What they do have is Brandon Jones splitting time with Kai Locksley, with Locksley getting the go ahead as of late, finishing 17-of-30 with 227 yards against La Tech a week ago. Unlike Jones, Locksley is always a threat to run, currently the teams second leading rusher with 252 yards on 66 attempts, and three touchdowns.
Targeted downfield will be Tre’Shon Wolf, current leading receiver for the Miners with 306 yards on 24 receptions. Wolf could only manage four receptions for 44 yards a week ago so the Mean Green will have to keep an eye on him, as well as Jacob Cowing, who only has eight receptions on the season but for 179 yards. When the Miners connect, they connect big.
On the ground, other than Locksley, Treyvon Hughes will be barreling down the gridiron. Hughes, far and away the leading rusher on the team, will come into Denton on Saturday with 422 yards on 97 rushes this season.
Defensively, only two teams have given up more points in conference games this season— FIU and Charlotte. If there was a time for them to find their sweet spot, that time is now.
Projected to win Conference USA West, if not the entire conference, UNT is now 3-5 (2-2) and will have to work very, very hard to even make a bowl game in Seth Littrell’s fourth season. In fact, it’s safe to say North Texas will need to win every game remaining on its schedule, which means even if they escape UTEP this weekend, there’s still Louisiana Tech and UAB on the horizon.
Mason Fine, as per usual, has been the superstar Mean Green fans have been clamoring for, entering November with 2,277 passing yards, 20 touchdowns and only six interceptions all year. In last week’s game, he threw five touchdown passes en route to a one-point loss, which tells you everything you need to know about their 2019 season.
Running back Tre Siggers returned to the fray last week, bringing his total for the season up to 86 rushes totaling 633 yards. These are great numbers, and Siggers has looked great in every game, but the next two receivers combined— DeAndre Torrey and Loren Easly— have only amassed 535 yards between them. Good, but it will remain all Tre all day on Saturday.
Fine will have no shortage of targets, as Jaelon Darden has admirably picked up the slack with Rico Bussey Jr. out for the season. Michael Lawrence and Jyaire Shorter also had big plays last week against Charlotte, but as the scoreboard will reflect, it was not enough.
This was supposed to be a big win for UNT last year, but was all too close. And despite big predictions for this season, North Texas has had more letdowns than huge celebrations.
Picking this as a gimme seems like folly, but the victory over Middle Tennessee shows the Mean Green are capable of great things. The rose-colored glasses are off, and while we do predict a UNT win, we also predict an ugly win, and certainly not a cover.
North Texas 33, UTEP 27