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Three Things We Learned From Conference USA — Week 12

North Texas’ defense makes a statement, FIU falls to 0-5 and MTSU picks up an odd win.

Michael Berlfein/FIU Athletics

In what’s been a college football season unlike any other, the past weekend in Conference USA play provided a five-game slate of action. In his debut season at the helm of UTSA, Jeff Traylor has the Roadrunners fighting for a West division title, following his team’s 23-20 win over Southern Miss. Florida Atlantic defeated a rebuilding UMass team, led by a stifling defensive performance that didn’t allow a point to the Minutemen offense.

Three C-USA contests had to be postponed or canceled, seeing Charlotte, Marshall, Louisiana Tech, UTEP and UAB being forced to wait another week to return to the field.

Let’s take a look a the three things we learned from Week 12.

North Texas’ defense leads the way

For the better part of the past two seasons, UNT head coach Seth Littrell has been trying to solve the Mean Green’s defensive struggles that have seen the team allow an average of 36.1 points per game over that span. On Saturday, a glimmer of hope was provided as first-year defensive coordinator Clint Bowen’s unit allowed their fewest yards of the season (376) in the team’s 27-17 win over Rice.

What makes the performance significant is it came against an Owls’ team that plays a distinctly different style of football than North Texas.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: SEP 14 North Texas at Cal
Dion Novil played a major factor in the UNT win.
Photo by Douglas Stringer/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

However, it was the Mean Green that outgained Rice on the ground 269-49.

One of C-USA’s top NFL prospects in Dion Novil spearheaded the defensive performance with eight tackles, including five tackles for loss and a sack. With two games left against a pair of in-state foes in UTSA and UTEP, the defense can play a significant part in the Mean Green finishing with a winning record.

Asher O’Hara leads MTSU to an “odd” victory

Two months ago, Middle Tennessee looked like a team that could be among the worst in FBS football, coming off a 33-point loss at home to Troy, in a contest that saw star Blue Raiders’ quarterback Asher O’Hara benched.

On Saturday, MTSU won a game that would only occur due to the circumstances 2020 has provided college athletics. A rematch of the mid-September outing took place, this time on the Trojans’ home turf — with O’Hara putting forth arguably his best performance of the season in a 20-17 MTSU victory.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: NOV 21 Middle Tennessee at Troy
Asher O’Hara led the way for MTSU’s win over Troy.
Photo by Michael Wade/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The junior signal-caller went 19-of-23 for 210 yards and added another 86 yards on the ground. While the Blue Raiders will finish the season with a losing record for the second-consecutive year, they have an opportunity to take momentum into the offseason by upsetting a streaking Florida Atlantic team.

FIU’s losing streak

Undoubtedly, the 2020 football season will be remembered for the challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic. Like many teams, FIU has been affected by the coronavirus, seeing multiple games postponed or canceled and having their MTSU game influenced by the loss of 17 players due to false-positive COVID tests. The Panthers have also seen 13 players suffer season-ending injuries, leaving Butch Davis’ team with 49 scholarship players at a point in the season.

The Panthers have struggled this season, especially at the quarterback position.
Margi Rentis/FIU

“Two weeks ago, we only had 49 players — how do you get better that way — you can’t especially on the offensive side of the ball with the quarterbacks and continuity. We have guys playing the entire game and guys playing on special teams, some starters playing on kick coverage and kick return — that’s stupid at this level of college football,” said Davis following his team’s 38-21 loss to Western Kentucky that saw FIU give up 35 consecutive points.

While the struggles of the 2020 season can be attributed to a myriad of things, FIU’s record following the team setting a program-record for wins in a season (9) in 2018, their record is an abysmal 6-12. It’s been over a calendar year since the Panthers have seen the win column and over two full years since the team has won a road game.

With La Tech, Charlotte and Marshall left on the schedule, the Panthers are facing a real possibility of the team going almost two full years since their last victory — the now distant memory of 2019’s 30-24 win over Miami.