Date: Saturday October 19, 2019
Kickoff Time: 3:00 pm CST
Location: Apogee Stadium, Denton, TX
Streaming: Stadium Sports Network
Line: North Texas -7.5, O/U 60
Series Record: North Texas leads 5-4
Last Meeting: Though they used to meet annually as members of the Sun Belt, these teams have not met since 2016, when MTSU won in Denton, 30-13.
It was not even a year ago, Middle Tennessee was playing in the C-USA title game, as champions of the East. The season before that, North Texas was in that same game, fighting for the West.
Heading into Saturday, both teams are sitting uncomfortably at 2-4 (1-1), with their season on the line. How did we get here?
Wins: FCS Tennessee State (45-26), Marshall (24-13)
Losses: (7) Michigan (40-21), (14) Iowa, 48-3, Duke (41-18), FAU (28-13)
A period of adjustment was inevitable.
In their first year post-Brent Stockstill, the Blue Raiders offense has put up some solid numbers under new starter Asher O’Hara. Their new go-to QB will come into the game with not only some solid quarterback numbers (1,491 yards passing on the season, with ten touchdowns), but also as MTSU’s leading rusher so far for 2019 (86 carries, 368 yards, three touchdowns).
Downfield for O’Hara, this squad has no fewer than four wide receivers who have been making a meaningful contribution this year. Jarrin Pierce (23 receptions, 327 yards, two touchdowns), CJ Windham (13 receptions, 233 yards, four touchdowns), Jimmy Marshall (13 receptions, 226 yards, one touchdown), and Ty Lee (25 receptions, 218 yards, one touchdown) have all been indispensable for this squad, and have put up big numbers despite four losses against top-tier competition.
After splitting games against Marshall and FAU, the Blue Raiders haven’t looked particularly strong so much as adequate down the stretch. Marshall is already having a bad season, and Lane Kiffin is a threat under any circumstances.
This squad’s real threat will come this week, as their defense is put to the test against an ever-dangerous North Texas offense. Through six games, the Blue Raiders defense has surrendered 196 points, second worst in C-USA East. Containing UNT to 13 points, like MTSU did against Marshall, seems like a pipe dream at best.
Wins: FCS Abilene Christian (51-31), UTSA (45-3)
Losses: SMU (49-27), Cal (23-17), Houston (46-25), Southern Miss (45-27)
The Mean Green have been hyper-competitive since the additions of head coach Seth Littrell, and quarterback Mason Fine. This is a squad that’s been to bowl games each of the last three years, and yet all of that seemed to fall by the wayside last week against Southern Miss.
Over the course of the season, everything checks out. Fine has amassed 1,508 more passing yards to add to his career total, while throwing 14 touchdown passes. Whether last week was just burnout or if this is a larger problem, the Blue Raiders will be a perfect litmus test to see if the Mean Green can bounce back.
As Rico Bussey Jr. remains out for the season, Fine will rely on stalwart receivers Jaelon Darden (35 receptions, 350 yards, six touchdowns), Michael Lawrence (24 receptions, 261 yards, one touchdown), and Jyaire Shorter (11 receptions, 205 yards, four touchdowns). All are threats with Fine under center, but as we learned last week, not all defensive schemes are created equal.
Running Back Tre Siggers, listed as questionable for this game, has been a huge contributor this year and could be a key turning point in this game as well. Despite leaving the game in the first quarter last week due to injury, Siggers still leads all North Texas RB’s by a wide margin, with 502 yards on 69 carries, and four touchdowns.
It’s all for naught, though, if North Texas can’t get the job done on Saturday.
This is a tough one to call, as both teams have had some spectacular highs this season, but also some humiliating lows. On paper, the defenses have given up essentially the same number of points on the season.
On the flip side, the quarterback, running back, and wide receiver with the most yards so far this season will all be on UNT’s side of the ball. UNT’s offense has also easily scored the most points between these two teams.
All of this meant precisely nothing when UNT took on Southern Miss last week, but provided the core of the Mean Green is healthy, they should be able to handle this one, though not in spectacular fashion.
Final Score: North Texas 35, Middle Tennessee 28