North Texas (5-4, 4-1 Conference USA) vs FIU Panthers (4-4, 2-2 Conference USA)
Date/Time: Saturday, November 5, 4:00 PM
TV: ESPN+ (Play-By-Play: Kyle Youmans/Analyst: Hek’ma Harrison)
ESPN Plus can be found here — https://go.web.plus.espn.com/oey0yn
Radio: 1140 AM WQBA Miami-Fort Lauderdale (Play-By-Play: A.J. Ricketts/Analyst: Corey Brooks)/95.3 KHYI Dallas/Fort Worth (Play-By-Play: Dave Barnett/Analyst: Hank Dickerson/Sidelines: Michelle Brooks)
Location: Apogee Stadium, Denton, TX
Betting Line: O/U 62.5 North Texas -21
All-Time Series Record: FIU leads 5-4 (North Texas won last meeting 49-7 in 2021)
For the first time in over three calendar years, the FIU football program won back-to-back conference games with the team’s 42-34 overtime win over Louisiana Tech last Friday. In a back and forth contest, the Panthers were lead offensively by quarterback Grayson James, who threw for 321 yards and three touchdowns in the victory.
The sophomore tossed three first-half TD passes to three different receivers and was able to shoulder the load of the offense in the second half, throwing for 190 yards in the final half and overtime period. Now firmly entrenched as the starter, James will make his eight consecutive start at Apogee Stadium, roughly 45 minutes from his hometown of Duncanville, TX.
“It’s always exciting to go back home and play in front of your family and friends, so I’m excited for the opportunity,” said James following the win.
On the season, the 6-3, 230-pounder has thrown for 1,727 yards with 11 touchdowns and 6 interceptions while adding 148 yards and two scores on the ground.
Through the air, the Panthers are again led by one of the nation’s top wideouts in Tyrese Chambers. The Biletnikoff Award Watchlist member is having an excellent two-game stretch, hauling in 17 receptions for 224 yards and one touchdown. On the season, Chambers leads the team with 44 catches for 486 yards and four scores.
Keep an eye on receiver Kris Mitchell and tight end Rivaldo Fairweather, who both have been beneficiaries of Chambers’ return to the lineup after missing two contests.
Over the last three games, Mitchell has 13 receptions for 201 yards and two scores as the number-two wideouts, while Fairweather exploded for five receptions and 84 yards in the final two periods of play last week.
On the offensive line, they’ll look to spring the run game, which struggled for the majority of the La Tech game. Starting right tackle Lyndell Hudson Jr.’s status is still unknown after missing last week.
Defensively, the Panthers have shown signs of growth in the first year in MacIntyre’s 3-4 scheme. Linebackers Gaethan Bernadel and Donovan Manuel are among the best in Conference USA, ranking seventh and eighth in the league in total tackles, with 77 and 67, respectively.
Across the line, keep an eye on edge rushers Shaun Peterson Jr. and North Carolina transfer Alex Nobles, who have been steady presences over the last few weeks. Peterson Jr. ranks fourth in C-USA with 5.5 sacks. Redshirt freshman defensive end Jordan Guerad is having a nice three-game stretch, racking up 14 tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss and two sacks.
Safety Demetrius Hill is second amongst C-USA defensive backs in tackles with 66 and is coming off an 11 tackles, two forced fumble performance against La Tech.
North Texas Preview
Seth Littrell’s North Texas club have played excellent football over the last month, winning three out of their last four outings and pushing Conference USA leader UTSA to a narrow four-point defeat two weekends ago at the Alamodome. The surge in play puts the Mean Green in sole possession of second place in C-USA as they look to set up a potential rematch with UTSA for a conference championship.
Saturday’s contest against FIU could present a proverbial “trap game” as the Panthers’ four wins have come against opponents with a combined record of 9-24, one of which was over an FCS opponent. However, Littrell is cognizant of the fact that the Panthers have been playing better football over the last month themselves.
“He’s (Mike MacIntyre) is a really good coach and you see on film his team plays hard,” said Littrell during his weekly media availability. “Their confidence is showing and they’re making more routine plays, getting comfortable in their system.”
Offensively, everything starts with the rushing attack for North Texas. After leading C-USA in rushing yards last year, the Mean Green are second in the league in yards per game (219.7) and feature a stable of talented backs.
Sophomore running back Ayo Adeyi leads the team with 631 yards rushing on 79 attempts. Fellow sophomores Oscar Adaway III and Ikaika Ragsdale combine for an additional 910 yards and nine scores on the ground.
“Earlier in the year, they didn’t really have their scheme going but they’ve really picked it up later in the year,” said Adeyi. “They have a pretty good defensive line and run an odd front, which can be tricky but I’m confident in our scheme and our offensive line.”
Adaway III was injured on a targeting play and his status is unknown for the FIU game.
Littrell and offensive coordinator Mike Bloesch will use the run to set the tempo, looking for manageable down and distance opportunities for quarterback Austin Aune to connect with his wideouts downfield.
Aune, the former New York Yankees’ minor leaguer is in his third season as the starter in Denton and has gone from a game manager to a bonafide C-USA Player of the Year candidate. The 29-year-old has thrown for 2,339 yards with 23 touchdowns and nine interceptions on the season.
Receivers Jay Maclin, Jyaire Shorter are averaging over 20 yards per catch, with the team’s leading pass-catcher in Roderic Burns averaging 19.5 yards per reception on 29 catches on the season. Additionally, tight ends Jake Roberts and Var’Keyes Gumms have combined for 40 receptions and over 500 yards on the year.
After being one of the worst defenses in college football from 2018-2020, UNT’s defense has been trending in the right direction over its last 15 outings under DC Phil Bennett. While they’re still allowing over 32 points per contest (114th in FBS), that number is down significantly from allowing over 40 per game in 2020 and the early going of 2021.
Linebacker KD Davis is one of the top defensive talents among the Group of Five ranks and the Denton native leads Conference USA in tackles with 90. He’s joined by DE/LB Mazin Richards, who arrived at UNT after spending three seasons at Division II Eastern New Mexico University. Richards leads the team in tackles for loss (8.5) and sacks (6.5).
MacIntyre’s team have shown signs of finding their way in the first year under him and in a new scheme. A strong showing against UTSA may have foreshadowed the program’s current two-game win streak, the first in almost three full seasons. James is growing with every start under center and various underclassmen are showing signs of being capable FBS players.
Littrell’s club are also finding their way after a seesaw start to the season, especially on the defensive side of the ball. Holding an offensive juggernaut in Western Kentucky to 13 points is impressive in itself, especially considering the struggles that the Mean Green have had over the past few seasons.
Expect a potent UNT rushing attack to guide the way early, leading the Aune being able to make plays in the passing game and the Bennett’s defense should be able to play from ahead and secure the victory.
Final Score: North Texas 33, FIU 20