Putting the "D" in Denton

Few teams in the Sun Belt Conference play the kind of defense that North Texas has been known for in recent years. The Mean Green, however, have taken defense to a new level in this 7 team conference this year. Their defense currently ranks among the Top 10 nationally in most categories, and Idaho pays a visit this weekend to Denton, Texas in a game that will be televised nationally on ESPN Game Plan.

GAME TIME: 4:00 PM (PST), Denton, TX

LINE: North Texas (3-0 SBC, 4-5) by 14 over Idaho (1-2 SBC, 2-7)

TV: ESPN Game Plan (National), Direct TV Ch. 772, and Ch. 11 in Moscow

SERIES RECORD: Idaho leads 4-2

Researching this team was fairly fascinating. Not so much in what their outstanding defense has accomplished this year, but in how they are, according to the SBC statistics, the mirror image of Idaho. In what seems like practically every category the SBC tracks, if Idaho is at the top of a category (like Total Offense), UNT is at the bottom. If NT is at the top (like Total Defense), Idaho is at the bottom. Individually, both schools are well represented by players ranked at the top of the Conference in most categories. And, in several cases Idaho and NT both have players among the Top 5 in the same category. For instance, among league tacklers, NT's strongside linebacker Taylor Casey is #1 with 80 tackles and 1 QB sack, while Idaho's strongside linebacker Jordan Kramer is #2 with 79 tackles and 5 quarterback sacks. If our offense shakes out the cobwebs (or in this case, going against this D, if NT can knock the cobwebs loose), this could be an interesting matchup.

North Texas has played as brutal a non-conference schedule as anybody in our conference, and without a doubt their defense gave them every opportunity to win each game. They opened with a 27-0 loss at Texas, holding the 'Horns scoreless in the second half, and sacking Texas QB Chris Simms 8 times. They then beat 1-AA Nichols State 23-0, then lost at Alabama 33-7, at TCU 16-10, at Arizona 14-9, and a relatively surprising loss at home to South Florida 24-17.

However, since Conference play began, they've been every bit in control of their own destiny, giving up a paltry 12 points in 3 games. Their victories include a 13-10 win at Arkansas State, 27-0 at Louisiana-Lafayette, and 41-2 last weekend at home against Louisiana-Monroe. There isn't a more dominant defense, top-to-bottom in our Conference, and they've also managed to turn the corner with freshman quarterback Andrew Smith, who came in for injured QB senior Scott Hall early in the season. With 20 returning starters from a year ago, this is the most experienced team in the conference, and it shows.

Below is a quick glimpse at the players to look for this weekend, followed by links to additional information on the North Texas Mean Green.

John Miller / AP
Senior full back #3 Michael Hickmon, fighting for yardage against Arizona.
Mean Green Offense

Projected starting lineup:

QB Andrew Smith, 6-0, 180, Fr
RB Kevin Galbreath, 5-9, 1990, Sr
FB Michael Hickmon, 5-10, 208, Sr
WR George Marshall, 6-1, 186, Sr
WR Ja'Mel Branch, 5-7, 170, So
TE Jeff Muenchow, 6-4, 240, Sr
LT Matt Turney, 6-3, 290, Sr
LG Jonah Bense, 6-4, 320, Sr
C Andy Brewster, 6-2, 247, So
RG Nick Zuniga, 6-3, 319, Jr
RT J.R. Randle, 6-5, 294, Sr

Redshirt freshman quarterback Andrew Smith has had a brutal indoctrination into the ranks of college football this season. UNT doesn't throw the ball much (having thrown 150 passes this year, compared to our 392), but they are an efficient team, and they have the defense to succeed with a methodical, ball-control offense. That said, Andrew is developing and will develop into an effective passer soon.

One reason NT can run a ball control offense, is they have a solid stable of backs to tote the ball. Senior Kevin Galbreath (91.7 yards per game) trails only ASU's Danny Smith (93.3) and Idaho's Blair Lewis (92.4) in rushing yards per game among SBC rushers. His backup, sophomore Patrick Cobbs (5-9, 189), also is among the Conference's Top 10 rushers, averaging 56.2 yards per game. Senior Fullback Michael Hickmon, a converted runningback, doesn't carry the ball as often as the runningbacks, but he's a threat and a solid run blocker. In short, this group has veteran leadership, good depth, and talented youth.

For such a run-oriented team, the receiving corp has some talented weapons. Probably the best of the group is senior George Marshall, who is an All-Conference caliber threat with outstanding speed and hands. Ja'Mel Branch is a definite threat, and ranks among the best in the Conference on punt- and kick-returns. Last year's All-Conference tight end, Jeff Muenchow, is back for his senior year and playing well (backup junior Randy Gardner will see plenty of action, as both are primarily used as blockers, but can catch well when called upon). Overall, this receiving corp has good depth and talent, and they take advantage of everything thrown their way. As Smith becomes more comfortable, this group will probably get more passes thrown their way.

Up front NT has 2 legit All-Conference linemen in senior right tackle J.R. Randle and junior right guard Nick Zuniga. The Mean Green's ball control offense requires a strong group up front that can drive defenders off the ball, and these guys have proven they can do that, especially when it comes to conference play. In short, they start 2 seniors on the left side of the line, a junior and senior on the right side, and a sophomore at center. This is a good, cohesive group that can dominate the line of scrimmage at times.

John Miller / AP
Senior Strong Safety #22 Craig Jones and junior weakside linebacker #51 Koryee Wyatt converge on an Arizona back.
Mean Green Defense

Projected starting lineup:

DE Adrian Awasom, 6-5, 270, So
DT Chris McIver, 6-1, 254, Sr
DT Brandon Kennedy, 5-10, 315, Jr
DE Darrell Daniels, 6-5, 240, Sr
SLB Taylor Casey, 6-3, 215, Jr
MLB Chris Hurd, 6-1, 220, Jr
WLB Koryee Wyatt, 6-1, 216, Jr
LC Don McGee, 5-11, 190, Sr
FS Jonas Buckles, 5-11, 213, So
SS Craig Jones, 6-0, 211, Jr
RC Walter Priestly, 5-10, 178, So

Idaho's offense has its work cut out for them this weekend, to put it mildly. NT is extremely tough up front, led by Defensive Tackle Brandon Kennedy, who leads the conference in tackles for loss, and is second in sacks. These guys are giving up a conference low 120 yards per game on the ground, and Brandon is a major reason why. Plus, he's helped by the emergence of both 6-5 Defensive Ends on either side of him. This front 4 is rugged, and is equipped to play with just about anybody.

Penn State may be known as "Linebacker U", but NT is the linebacker leader, as a whole, in our conference. And their success extends beyond our conference. They start 3 juniors, with a solid rotation of backups behind them. Strongside linebacker Taylor Casey is tops in the SBC on tackles this year, while middle linebacker Chris Hurd is 6th. The group is fast, aggressive, and tough, as the stats would indicate.

The defensive backfield is certainly helped by having such a rugged front seven. But, this group is young (2 sophomores), talented, and gaining in confidence. Senior cornerback Don McGee leads the conference in interceptions (3), and is #2 in passes defended, including 5 pass breakups (Idaho's Rod Bryant is fourth in the conference with 6 pass breakups and a pick). You don't have to look for far speed and hard hitters in this opportunistic backfield.

Across the board, this defense is definitely the class of the Conference.

Read More

University of North Texas Official Athletic Site

CollegeFootballNews.com 2002 Preview

SportingNews.com Report on UNT's win over UL-M last weekend

UNT Message Board "GoMeanGreen.com"

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