Date: Saturday September 14, 2019
Kickoff Time: 3:15 p.m. CST
Location: Memorial Stadium, Berkeley, CA
Line: As of Friday morning, Cal -13, Over/Under 50.5
Series Record: This is the first meeting between the teams
Last week was... not the game we predicted.
Much like (we hope) the North Texas secondary, we’ve licked our wounds and worked toward regrouping, to take a look at this weeks match-up, and where UNT currently stands in week three:
A strong showing against FCS Abilene Christian, followed a week later by a blow-out against an apparently improved SMU squad. What went wrong?
In year four of Seth Littrell, it’s time to look as some difficult truths. Yes, we are grateful, and truly when Littrell arrived, the cupboard was bare. Littrell made some improvements, stocked the kitchen with some delicious ingredients, and really wowed with his flare in the kitchen.
Then he made the same meal, every meal, for four years.
We don’t mean to look this gift horse in the mouth, and we’re sure every Mean Green fan would rather have this current situation than the ten years that preceded it. But last week, the SMU defense stifled Mason Fine, and North Texas had nothing else to fall back on. Tre Siggers was a welcome surprise, and we eagerly await to see how he does in conference play, after racking up more yards last week (18 carries, 164 yards) than DeAndre Torrey did in week one against an FCS opponent (11 carries, 95 yards).
But the defense couldn’t stop anyone, the running game had exactly one weapon, and the only reason UNT had 27 points to show for it was simply getting lucky where they could (one touchdown each from Fine, backup QB Jason Bean, and Siggers). This should worry everyone about what this team will look like after Fine graduates, whether or not Littrell returns for a fifth year.
The above is all long term, and for the most part has served North Texas better than average in conference play. But where does that leave them against a Pac-12 opponent?
Littrell & Co. have to adjust from last week and find a way to get Mason Fine free to make big plays, and give him some options downfield. The SMU defense was all over North Texas last week, holding their top two receivers to 59 and 44 yards, very un-Mason Fine numbers during the current era.
Against a stingy Cal defense, UNT will need to grind it out and be patient, instead of the torrent of points they prefer. This could be much more like last year’s game against UTSA, in which the Green remained patient and toughed out a hard-fought 24-21 win. Or, alternatively, Cal will run through the North Texas defense like SMU did and this game could be over by halftime.
It’s tough to really compare Cal to another Conference USA team, so we have to look back to the 2017 game vs Iowa, in which North Texas kept it close for three quarters. Take it seriously, wait for your big play, occasionally hand the ball to your hotshot running back, and good things can happen.
If you’re going to draw Pac-12 competition, Cal is the way to go, and this very much seemed like a winnable— or at least competitive— game until the Golden Bears bumped off the #14 team in the nation last week.
This game was scheduled back when Sonny Dykes was still head coach out west, but thankfully everyone involved decided to stick with it, because the Golden Bears have been through everything the Mean Green have at this point, including constant disappointment, underachieving, a difficulty landing the right head coach, conference members that get more press... but still a national buzz thanks to rising stock in CFB. Where Cal fans are just happy to see a bowl game, in recent years North Texas fans have had to be happy with exactly that, too.
QB Chase Garbers had some pretty conservative numbers against Washington last week, finishing 11/18 with 111 yards, zero touchdowns, and a QB rating of 29.8. In truth they won the game on the ground, which is not how SMU beat UNT, but it’s not like North Texas has a history of success against the run.
How Cal won last week was grinding it out with their run game, compiling 192 rushing yards, spread out over Christopher Brown Jr. (16 carries, 80 yards), Marcel Dancy (7 carries, 72 yards, two touchdowns), and Garber himself, adding another 42 yards to the fray. Traditionally, North Texas has had trouble stopping one talented running back, so stopping two all day either means eating their Wheaties, or else just trying to slow them down and hoping Fine throws for a hundred touchdowns. Neither are realistic, and there’s a good chance the cynical Cal fans may see more points this week than they’re used to.
Cal fans are no doubt eager to get back into conference play after last week, but this game affords them the chance to do something they’re not used to, and that’s run up the score. The North Texas offense is by far the more prolific of the two, and if Cal can stop them, they’ll know they’re quick enough to stop big plays against one of the nation’s best passers. If the Golden Bears can’t, then they’ll have their answer about how Pac-12 conference play will go.
These are two very different teams, with very different styles, from very different corners of the FBS. There’s a lot to like about North Texas, but at the end of the day, Cal beat a ranked team last week, and North Texas lost by 22. Justin Wilcox vs Seth Littrell is an exciting match-up, to be sure, but ultimately Wilcox just has more tools in the box.
Final Score: Cal 30, North Texas 17