Despite a couple of late-week game cancellations, the third week of play in Conference USA provided its share of highlights and plotlines to keep an eye on throughout the season.
The weekend’s most notable moment was Marshall’s win over a top-25 team in Appalachian State - the first victory over a ranked opponent in Doc Holliday’s 10 seasons at the helm of the Thundering Herd.
Let’s take a look at the weekend that was in C-USA.
Middle Tennessee’s offensive woes
Last season, MTSU quarterback Asher O’Hara was one of two FBS quarterbacks to pass for over 2,500 yards and rush for over 1,000, with the other being former Oklahoma signal-caller Jalen Hurts.
O’Hara’s exploits as a rusher covered up for an otherwise abysmal rushing game for the Blue Raiders. Outside of a rushing explosion against FIU that saw MTSU running backs rush for over 250 yards, the combination of Jayy McDonald, Terelle West and Chaton Mobley rushed for a total of 434 yards.
Entering this year, MTSU head coach Rick Stockstill brought grad transfers Amir Rasul and Martell Pettaway to bolster the rushing attack. However, both chose to opt-out of playing this season due to COVID-19 concerns. That’s left Middle to depend on McDonald and Mobley to shoulder the load.
After two games, the duo has a combined 12 carries for 52 yards while O’Hara has 63 yards on 24 attempts. There’s no denying that the Blue Raiders need more from their running backs, but O’Hara’s struggles through the air haven’t helped their cause. MTSU’s signal-caller has passed for 155 yards with no touchdowns and three interceptions.
Throughout the rest of the season, it will be worth watching to see if veteran offensive coordinator Tony Franklin can get either the passing or rushing game going, because there’s no denying that opposing defenses aren’t losing any sleep about MTSU’s ability to do either.
North Texas’ defensive struggles continue
Over the final three seasons of Mason Fine’s career as UNT’s starting quarterback, the Mean Green averaged 33.5 points per game, landing them among the top third of FBS teams in points per game. On the defensive side of the ball, UNT finished 105th or worse in points allowed per game in two out of the three seasons.
With Fine’s graduation and head coach Seth Littrell figuring out his quarterback situation, UNT can’t depend on the offense to outscore teams weekly. Through two games, the Mean Green have allowed 1,279 yards of total offense and an average of 46 points per game.
First-year defensive coordinator Clint Bowen can’t change things overnight. However, they have to make a marked improvement in order for Littrell to avoid back-to-back losing seasons for the first time in his five-year tenure at the helm at North Texas.
In Saturday’s 65-35 loss to SMU, UNT gave up points on 11-of-16 drives, including eight touchdowns, following their week one performance that saw the defense allow 480 passing yards to FCS Houston Baptist.
Following this weekend’s game against Houston, the Mean Green face a C-USA schedule that features arguably the league’s best quarterback in Jack Abraham, a potent Louisiana Tech offense and dynamic, dual-threat UTSA quarterback Frank Harris.
La Tech’s quarterback conundrum
With the J’Mar Smith era coming to an end in Ruston, Skip Holtz entered the 2020 season with a pair of unproven signal-callers. Graduate transfer Luke Anthony starred at FCS Abilene Christian for a couple of seasons before making the jump to the FBS level in the offseason, while redshirt sophomore Aaron Allen made two starts last season during Smith’s absence.
In the Bulldogs’ last-second 31-30 victory over C-USA West division foe Southern Miss, both Allen and Anthony saw extended playing time throughout the game, splitting reps for the entirety of the contest.
Down 27-10 and following two Allen-led drives that resulted in an interception and a punt, Anthony helped spur a rally that saw Tech comeback to pull within three points.
On Tech’s penultimate drive, Allen was sacked on 3rd-and-2, forcing the Bulldogs to punt on the drive. With a final chance to win the game, Anthony led Tech on a 17-play, 74-yard drive that ended with a Griffin Hebert four-yard touchdown reception, giving Holtz’s team a season-opening victory.
With offensive weapons such as running back Justin Henderson and receivers Adrian Hardy, Smoke Harris and Hebert, Tech has more than enough talent to push for a West division title - should the quarterback position fall into place.