- Time and date: Saturday, November 4 at 3:00 p.m. ET
- Network: ESPN+
- Location: DATCU Stadium — Denton, TX
- Spread: UTSA (-7.5)
- Over/under: 71.5
- All-time series: UTSA leads, 6-5
- Last meeting: UTSA 48, North Texas 27 — October 8, 2022 (CUSA Championship Game)
- Current streak: UTSA, 2 (2022-22)
Setting the scene
North Texas and UTSA meet again, but this time in a different conference.
Before Conference USA completely transformed this offseason, this was the league’s championship game. North Texas and UTSA squared off at the Alamodome last December where the Roadrunners routed the Mean Green 48-27 to claim their second-consecutive CUSA title.
In 2021, this matchup was also significant as North Texas stunned UTSA 45-23 on the final week of the regular season to eradicate the Roadrunners’ undefeated record.
As the scores from those recent matchups suggest, touchdowns are abundant when these Texas teams take the field together. The winner has attained at least 45 points in four of the five prior meetings, and this one could be bound for that as well given the way these offenses are operating.
UTSA Roadrunners outlook
UTSA (5-3, 4-0 AAC) completely put its ghastly non-conference record to rest and turned itself into an AAC contender the second conference play commenced. UTSA hasn’t competed against the stiffest competition in the league as 4-4 Florida Atlantic is the only opponent it’s faced with a record better than 2-6. But the Roadrunners are running through everyone, winning each AAC game by 14 points with an average score of 41.75 to 22.75.
The offense is regularly posting 40-point outings thanks to spectacular play from quarterback Frank Harris. The two-time CUSA champion and reigning conference MVP endured a brutal offseason with multiple leg surgeries. While that has limited his mobility compared to past years, he’s as sharp of a pocket passer as ever. Harris set a new season-high last Saturday with 391 yards on East Carolina’s defense, totaling four touchdowns in the victory. The efficiency remains present within the star quarterback’s game, as he completes 66 percent of his passes, and he has extraordinary rapport with his receivers that is evident on a weekly basis.
That rapport is greatest with Joshua Cephus, who totaled 183 receiving yards in the first half last week — resetting the UTSA school record for longest touchdown reception at 84 yards. Cephus set the program record for receptions in mid-October and he’s closing in on the yardage record, sitting 163 yards short of Zakhari Franklin. Cephus is a common screen threat, and UTSA also offers downfield threats such as Tykee Ogle-Kellogg and Devin McCuin to keep the passing game versatile.
Sharing is pretty common in the run game with Kevorian Barnes, Robert Henry, and Rocko Griffin all splitting touches. There’s usually one hot hand among the three, but UTSA has relied less on the backfield since Harris returned from injury in Week 6. Stronger offensive line play will be required going forward to support the run game, as well as the pass game. Last week, UTSA yielded four sacks to East Carolina and that pressure kept the Pirates in striking distance until the late second quarter.
Defense hasn’t been as potent as the offense in AAC play for UTSA, but the Roadrunners still pose significant problems for opponents. The main weapon UTSA possesses is outside linebacker Trey Moore. The star pass rusher has battled through injuries throughout the year, but nothing can prevent him from getting to quarterbacks. He is second nationally with 12.0 sacks and fourth with 14.5 tackles for loss, utilizing spin moves and swims to blow past linemen on a regular basis.
Jimmori Robinson also helps the backfield invasion from the outside linebacker position with 3.0 sacks and 7.0 tackles for loss. These linebackers help stifle the run game to an impressive degree, and UTSA holds opponents to 3.6 yards per carry. Where the Roadrunners are more vulnerable on defense is in the secondary. Specifically, they allow a slew of explosive plays through the passing game.
East Carolina pieced together one of its better aerial performances on the Roadrunners last week and another struggling offenses in Temple posted 472 passing yards on them. When the pressure doesn’t arrive, seeing wide open opponents downfield is no rarity. Interceptions have been a rarity for UTSA with five in eight games, but Kam Alexander has been a ballhawk this year. The Sam Houston transfer cornerback is first in the AAC with 10 pass breakups and he’ll have a busy day against an explosive North Texas passing game.
North Texas Mean Green outlook
North Texas (3-5, 1-3 AAC) is one of those teams where the record doesn’t show the whole story. The Mean Green progressively improve week by week, and it’s reasonable to argue their last two losses were their best performances of 2023.
North Texas strolled into Tulane and faced a 21-0 halftime deficit two weeks ago, but Eric Morris’ resilient bunch tied the game at 28 apiece in the fourth quarter before the ranked Green Wave escaped. Then last Saturday against Memphis, North Texas buried itself in a similar 31-7 deficit. This time, the Mean Green not only caught up but captured the lead in the final minute. However, Memphis strung together a 35-second drive to quickly snatch back the lead and claim a 45-42 victory.
The Mean Green are in the midst of the “stretch of death,” facing the AAC’s top four teams in four consecutive weeks. They proved to be competitive against 7-1 Tulane and 6-2 Memphis and next up on the docket is UTSA, before the brutal slate concludes with SMU on Nov. 11.
Where North Texas presents the most danger is with its quarterback Chandler Rogers. The ULM transfer is quietly one of the most efficient and explosive quarterbacks in all of college football. He posted season-highs of 411 yards and five touchdowns last week, and once again, he didn’t sacrifice efficiency. He never does. Rogers’ last seven games feature 19 touchdown passes and zero interceptions. Not once during that 7-game stretch did he see his completion percentage finish below 60 percent. Rogers is doing this all on high volume too. He averages 41.2 passing attempts in six starts this year and has surpassed 300 yards in five of them.
North Texas’ offense offers more than just a dominant quarterback. The Mean Green have prided themselves on a potent rushing game with a similar corps of running backs for several years, and this remains a consistent theme in 2023. North Texas features a top 40 rushing attack which exceeds five yards per carry. Ayo Adeyi is the headliner at 611 yards on a ridiculous 7.5 average, while Oscar Adaway plays a strong supporting role, totaling at least 87 yards in two of the last three weeks. The versatility of the offense makes North Texas a tricky out, and the Mean Green are able to rack up significant yardage by any means.
For a top 10 offense to exhibit a 3-5 record, there has to be a catch. And there is, because all of that progress is offset by defensive shortcomings. North Texas is dead last in total defense in the FBS, allowing roughly 476 yards per game. The Mean Green notably struggle with their assignments in the run game, missing frequent tackles while opponents rack up 257 yards per contest — another measure where they are last in the FBS.
When North Texas took a 42-38 lead over Memphis with 47 seconds left last week, the Tigers’ rapid answer didn’t require much difficulty. Memphis made quick work of North Texas through the air as well, completing a 330-yard outing through the air on the AAC newcomer. In order for North Texas to overcome these flaws, more pressure is needed on opposing quarterbacks. The Mean Green are bottom 10 in the FBS with 10 sacks through eight games, and they’ll need reigning First Team All-CUSA edge rusher Mazin Richards to step up and spearhead the pass rush effort — especially against a UTSA team which thrives aerially under Frank Harris.
Any time the over/under is in the 70s, you know you’re in for a good ol’ fashioned, high-octane shootout. That’s exactly what UTSA vs. North Texas is shaping up to be at DATCU Stadium.
The Roadrunners are regularly posting over 40 points on AAC competition with Frank Harris leading the way, and that trend should continue against the worst defense in college football. But Chandler Rogers is on such a hot streak right now, and second half North Texas looks invincible. Now, the Mean Green just need to play a complete game in order to pull off one of these upsets.
The Harris vs. Rogers quarterback matchup is set to be one of the best in Week 10. Both teams exhibit enough balance offensively to be multidimensional Saturday and the defenses haven’t been strong enough to suggest that this one will be played under the 30s. UTSA emerges victorious in the high-scoring thriller though, thanks to stronger play in the trenches as well as Trey Moore’s unstoppable pass rushing ability.
Prediction: UTSA 44, North Texas 39