Anyway, this game hinges more on what the Cougars can or can't do rather than what North Texas will do. If the Cougars don't win this game by a score of something like 63 – 21 I'll be very disappointed. The N. Texas fans will be hyped up in the beginning as the Mean Green will be christening 32,000 capacity seat Apogee Stadium. As QB Case Keenum said during today's weekly media press conference, "We need to stay focused. We've talked about how this is a week to week deal. We have not achieved any of our goals we set this year. Any team in college football can go out and beat another college football team. We just need to go out and do our thing, make plays and take care of the football." Keenum will not allow his team to overlook the Mean Green, or the Cougars two opponents after that (La. Tech and Georgia State) despite the fact that those teams will be huge underdogs versus the Coogs, "a lot of guys have been here for a long enough time and know you can't get wrapped up in the hype of things and you can't take what people are saying to heart. It's never as good as it seems and it's never as bad as it seems. We really just take care of our business and move forward." In other words, Keenum will refuse to allow his teammates to "Coog" this game.
Head coach Kevin Sumlin also chimed in on the subject of focus and motivation, "Whether we won or lost the game (UCLA) we still had 11 more to play. That one game was not make or break for our season. We won last week, now we have to win this week. We (as coaches) have to learn what motivates these kids and push the right buttons. You learn as coaches and hopefully we're better at it now than we were three years ago."
The Mean Green lost their first game of the season 41 – 16 at defending Sun Belt champ Florida International last Thursday, and their only scores came via their defense on fumble recoveries returned for scores by tight end Andrew Power on an FIU kickoff return, safety Ryan Dowling's recovery of a fumble in the end zone late in the 4th quarter and Terell Brooks late game safety. They were blitzed 28-0 in the 1st quarter alone as falling behind by that many points that early in the game negated their best weapon on offense, running back Lance Dunbar. The 5'9, 205 pound senior from Haltom City, Tx has amassed 3,152 yards and has scored 31 touchdowns during his illustrious career. Their QB is redshirt sophomore Derek Thompson who, although looking imposing at 6'4 220 pounds, isn't very swift of foot. Thompson played sparingly last season as he suffered a broken leg early last season and has only 27 career snaps under his belt. UNT, like every other team these days, lines up offensively in a spread formation with three wide receivers, a tight end and Dunbar as their bell cow under offensive coordinator Mike Canales. McCarney's philosophy on offense, however is to be very conservative, especially with three new starters along the offensive line, including two freshman. Their starting center, and one of their few veteran stalwarts along the line, J.J. Johnson is questionable for the game with an injured arm. Their line averages to be about 300 pounds per man but they are very young, with three new starters including a true freshman at right guard. This is not the ideal situation McCarney wants for a run first offense. If the Cougars get out in front early as they did last week versus UCLA they won't have to worry about UNT's only home run threat in Dunbar. At wideout Michael Outlaw and Chris Bynes are UNT's main weapons. Outlaw, at 6'0 191 pounds, is a speedster who had a 46 yard reception last week. Bynes is a physical receiver at 6'1, 220 pounds. Brelan Chancellor is also a homerun threat especially on special teams. The 5'9, 177 pound sophomore had 197 kickoff return yards last week and averaged 27.9 yards per return last season, good for 14th in the nation.
Defensively, under coordinator Clint Bowen, the Mean Green runs the traditional 4-3 scheme that McCarney prefers. The 1st year DC previously coached at Western Kentucky and at Kansas during the Mark Mangino era. What stands out about the Mean Green's defense is that they are very small. Their DL averages about 270 pounds per man, led by senior Brandon Akpunku, junior KC Obi and sophomore Brandon McCoy. Their biggest linebacker is their middle line backer, Zach Orr, who weighs about 230 pounds. The sophomore lead the team in tackles last week with ten. Their secondary is led by corner back Royce Hill who has 34 career starts and safety Brad Graham- a senior who is from Katy.
Their size reminds me of the Cougars a few years ago. I look for the Cougars to try and pound this small defense into submission. It's common knowledge that the Cougars love to throw the ball but a little known fact is that in all but 4 of the Cougars 24 victories over the past 4 years, the Coogs have run the ball for at least 140 yards and have averaged around 30 carries per game during the Sumlin era. I look for the running back trio of Bryce Beall, Michael Hayes and Charles Sims to have monster games toting the rock against the undermanned N. Texas defensive front. North Texas has also allowed 30 points or more in four straight home openers. Once you get their defense on its heels they also fail to recover as four of FIU's touchdown drives took less than three minutes in actual game time last week, and the Mean Green allowed 29 of their opponent's 43 touchdown drives also to occur in less than three minutes last season. That is right up the Cougars alley as their offense basically runs a ‘2 minute drill' on each possession, as Sumlin says, "One of the advantages of our offense is that we don't have to really practice the two minute drill. We practice getting out of bounds and handing the ball back to the official, but basically that's what we do all the time. We don't have to change personnel or anything like that. Our guys can just look at the clock and figure out that we need to be moving fast."
I look for the Cougars to come out fast just as they did during last week's game versus UCLA. Look for the same type of game plan with Keenum directing the offense downfield via the quick short passing game of the Coogs Airraid offense. Patrick Edwards will hopefully have a better game this week as the North Texas corners won't be as physical as UCLA's were last week. Another 140 + yard rushing game will assure the Cougars of leaving Denton with their second win of the season.
Defensively the Cougars will improve over the next three games versus weaker competition. The 3-4 scheme they are running under coordinator Brian Stewart is complex to NFL veterans who live, breath, and sweat defense 24/7. We must remember that college student athletes only get 20 hours per week to review video with the coaches and actual practice for each opponent. It will take time for the defense to be able to play without thinking on the field. Coach Sumlin said it best when he said about his defense, "Our challenge is to have our guys come in and be honest with themselves in their assessment with where we are and improve this and every week."
In my final analysis, look for the Cougars to jump on North Texas early, stopping any momentum the Mean Green generated from their crowd in the new stadium. Final score: Houston – 63 North Texas – 21