Time: 6:00 CT
Location: Alamodome, San Antonio, TX
TV: CW-35 (San Antonio)
Radio: Ticket 760
Betting Line: UTSA -3.5, O/U 54
Live Stats: Sidearm Sports
Series History: UTSA leads 2-1. The Mean Green won the last meeting 30-23.
While North Texas and UTSA have met just three times on the field this rivalry has the passion of a century-long series. Those unfamiliar with the programs may be surprised to learn of the vitriolic tension between the two teams, but the young rivalry was a perfect matching. UNT failed to develop any meaningful rivalries while playing in the Sun Belt due to the lack of fellow Texas programs in the conference. UTSA maintains a strong rivalry with their I-35 neighbor Texas State but the Roadrunners were left without an annual rivalry game after the Western Athletic Conference dropped football.
The potential for a rivalry was obvious when the Mean Green and Roadrunners joined C-USA West but who could have foreseen the two teams taking a disliking to each other as quickly as they have?
UNT was set to win the Western division of C-USA when the Roadrunners traveled to Denton for the first game in the series . Led by UTSA legend Eric Soza, the Roadrunners shocked UNT, knocking them out of contention for the division title by a score of 21-13. Former UNT offensive lineman Mason Y’Barbo, now a graduate assistant for the Mean Green, told the press that UNT “lost to a soft, unphysical, below-average football team,” bringing instant fervor to the rivalry.
UTSA would follow up with another seven point victory in the Alamodome in 2014 before the Mean Green would finally take the rivalry to the next level by securing their only win of the season against the Roadrunners 30-23 on Halloween night. The embarrassing loss was the turning point in Larry Coker’s eventual departure from San Antonio.
With UNT football resurrecting under first year head coach Seth Littrell the Mean Green need a win against UTSA to earn their first bowl bid since 2013. Can the Roadrunners spoil UNT’s party again?
UNT Outlook (Adam)
There’s a budding and perhaps even official rivalry between these teams, as Jared has said, and in fact there’s an unofficial but friendly rivalry between the writers as well. Early on, general opinion at this site and others was clear— Frank Wilson was a great hire. UTSA was going to have a great year. UNT, meanwhile, was too far gone and too far behind, and we wouldn’t be expecting much from them in 2016.
All such malarkey dissipated when UNT shut down Marshall, no matter how bad of a season the Herd are having. Further making the case, the Mean Green’s D against Army, losing the statistical battle but forcing SEVEN turnovers against a usually surefooted core of runners, and a QB who throws about as often as Lady Gaga wears pantsuits.
As we’ve said in past previews, Mason Fine has been good not great, but his core receivers and superstar RB Jeffrey Wilson have been enough. That, and a defense that somehow managed to make MTSU look ordinary even in an expected victory over the Mean Green.
UNT is coming off that Army win with some new swagger, UTSA is coming off a 52-49 loss to the abysmal Miners of UTEP. Despite all this, unlike many trash-fires that can sometimes litter the Group-of-Five landscape, North Texas has crawled back from the depths and this game looks to be a bitterly fought white-knuckler from whistle to whistle. What are the things you should watch during this game? ALL OF THEM.
UTSA Outlook (Jared)
The big question heading into this week’s game is how the Roadrunners will respond to a heart-breaking five overtime loss that severely impaired UTSA’s ability to reach their first ever bowl game. Although the Roadrunners couldn’t pull out the win last week they did show a ton of heart and grit in a brutal fight. Will that same spirit hold resolute following the loss? Here are three things to watch in this year’s iteration of the nameless rivalry:
Josiah Tauaefa vs. UNT
Readers of this site will surely be quite familiar with Josiah Tauaefa and his impressive freshman season at UTSA. Had the Mean Green extended a scholarship offer then he would be turning heads in Denton instead of San Antonio. A product of Lake Dallas High School, Tauaefa grew up just ten minutes away from Apogee Stadium. While Tauaefa wanted to play for UNT, former head coach Dan McCarney and his staff never extended the talented athlete a scholarship offer. Tauaefa was so upset with UNT for slighting him that he set screenshots of UNT fans dismissing his abilities as his cellphone’s wallpaper.
Tauaefa played his worst game of the season against UTEP, producing a career low of just seven tackles while getting caught out of position several times. I think it’s safe to say he’ll have plenty of motivation to bounce back with gusto against North Texas.
Jevonte Domond vs. Jareid Combs
North Texas has been producing pressure on opposing quarterbacks this season but most of it has come from blitzing linebackers and members of the secondary. Senior defense end Jareid Combs has been the only Mean Green defensive linemen to consistently make his way into the backfield, generating 4.5 tackles for loss and two sacks on the season.
UTSA left tackle Jevonte Domond has been a strong blindside protector this season and he’ll likely face off against Combs on most passing downs. If Domond can lock Combs up then UTSA quarterback Dalton Sturm will just need to find the space left open by a blitzing defender to avoid pressure and pick up easy yards through the air. If Combs can bring the ruckus on his own? Sturm will have a hard time picking up yards on the scramble against a very quick Mean Green defense.
Mason Fine vs. The Alamodome
True freshman Mason Fine, generously listed at 5’11”, 170 pounds, has been a nice surprise for North Texas this season, beating out an Alabama transfer for starting snaps under center. Fine has mostly played within himself in his freshman campaign, completing 55.7% of his passes for 1099 yards and a modest 4-to-2 touchdown to interception ratio. With Jeffery Wilson tearing things up on the ground, Fine hasn’t been asked to do too much.
If UNT is forced into third and long situations then UTSA may be able to exploit Fine’s inexperience. The Alamodome is known to belittle freshmen quarterbacks (Anu Solomon and Alex McGough in 2014 provide great examples) and Fine could be the next freshman to fall victim to the raucous reverberations of a rocking Alamodome. Fine has never played in a domed stadium and will have a lot on his shoulders as the Mean Green seek bowl eligibility.
Jared: I’ve gone back and forth on this game all week. Rivalry games are always so hard to predict and both of these teams are fairly evenly matched. Ultimately I decided that UTSA’s offensive strengths were too great of a contrast between those of the UNT defense. The Mean Green have a speedy defense that can close quickly but they sacrifice size to get to that point. UTSA is seeking to establish a power running identity and I think they’ll be able to do so against UNT’s undersized front if center Austin Pratt can play a full four quarters. I see UTSA closing this one out by the thinnest of margins. UNT 27 UTSA 28
Adam: I went back and forth on this game before the season started, and with another 3.5 point spread, Vegas is going back and forth on this one right up until kickoff. But despite being shouted down by the senior writers, it’s just a factual statement that while Frank Wilson’s offense has put up big points, their defense has allowed almost as many. It’s also true that UTSA’s impressively named QB Dalton Sturm is no Brent Stockstill, arguably the best QB in the conference that UNT’s D-line held to “only” 295 yards. If UTSA’s D manages to force Fine into 3rd and long situations, sure, his arm isn’t strong, but he has Thaddeous Thompson, Terian Goree, Kenny Buyers and Willie Robinson to haul it in, or just hand it off to Wilson, whom the Roadrunner D will not be able to stop, except in cases of serious injury or death. UNT 35, UTSA 17.