Both Southern Miss and North Texas come into Saturday's game with some urgency.
The Mean Green have dropped three in a row after a fast start, and Southern Miss has lost 4 out of the last 5 games. Both teams are also searching for that key 6th win to get to bowl eligibility. North Texas (4-6) will have to win out to get there, and the Golden Eagles (5-5) will have to win one of their final two games to be eligible.
North Texas and Southern Miss meet for the 11th time in series history on Saturday, as the Golden Eagles hold a 6-4 advantage. USM has won the last two games between the pair, defeating North Texas 49-14 on October 3, 2015 in Hattiesburg, Mississippi. Southern Miss has also won five of the last six meetings with the last North Texas win coming on October 26, 2013 in Hattiesburg, 55-14. The last time the Mean Green defeated the Golden Eagles in Denton came on November 4, 1978.
This season saw a complete overhaul for North Texas, as new coach Seth Littrell brought in 53 new players to the program. He has played 9 true freshmen this season, and 5 redshirt freshmen have seen action. The change brought about an immediate lift to start the season for North Texas, as they were an early surprise team to start Conference USA play. Last year, they finished 1-11 and fired their head coach Dan McCarney.
North Texas has made marked improvement on both sides of the ball in 2016 when compared to 2015. Through 10 games, they have improved offensively, scoring 8.6 points per game more (23.8 in 2016 compared to 15.2 in 2015) and defensively, allowing 10.2 ppg less (31.1 in 2015 compared to 41.3 a year ago.
Offensively, the Mean Green rank 19th nationally in offensive turnaround in points per game. The Mean Green rank third in Conference USA and fifth among teams in the FBS with new head coaches (out of 28) in that category. Defensively, North Texas ranks eighth nationally in defensive turnaround in points per game. The Mean Green rank first in C-USA and second among teams in the FBS with new head coaches. Only UCF is better at a -17.1 margin.
On the defensive side of the ball, North Texas has been pretty good against the pass, and also has been good about getting the opponent to turn the ball over. They rank 3rd in conference in pass defense, giving up just 219 yards per game on average. Last week they lost some ground on that stat by getting blown out by Western Kentucky last week, but overall, they've not be bad defending in a pass happy conference.
Seth Littrell's press conference: LINK
The Mean Green secondary has intercepted 11 passes in 2016. Junior safety Kishawn McClain (Rosenberg, Texas) and junior corner Eric Jenkins (New Orleans) each have three, sophomore corner Nate Brooks (Whitehouse, Texas) has two, and senior corner Chad Davis (Richmond, Texas), senior safety James Gray (Atlanta) as well as sophomore nickel Ashton Preston (Edmond, Oklahoma) each have one. North Texas is second in Conference USA in interceptions (Charlotte leads with 14), and the Mean Green are tied for 31st nationally.
Again, for Southern Miss, their ability on offense comes down to turnovers. The Golden Eagles can score on anyone, if they can just hold on to the ball.
Offensively for North Texas, it appears at QB they may play both freshman Mason Fine (who took over after an injury to senior Alec Morris). Fine was hurt in the last game, and Morris was available so he took over. Both could see action this Saturday against Southern Miss.
Fine has been more than fine since he took over. He had thrown a TD pass in every game until the WKU game, when he went down with an injury in the 2nd quarter.
Junior running back Andrew Tucker (Tyler, Texas) had three carries last week for 82 yards at Western Kentucky, getting more touches with the injury to fellow junior tailback Jeffery Wilson (Elkhart, Texas). Tucker was responsible for the Mean Green’s lone score in Bowling Green, Kentucky with a 71-yard touchdown run in the third quarter.
North Texas has scored 21 rushing touchdowns as a team in 2016, which is 14 more than they had in 2015.
They run an up tempo spread offense, very similar to Southern Miss. They like to work quickly but have the main goal of remaining balanced.
One of the stars for North Texas this year has been punter Eric Keena, a senior. He's on the Ray Guy Award watch list, and has a punt of 68 yards this year. He's also punted 18 times for more than 50 yards, best in the conference. Second best in Conference USA? Tyler Sarazin of Southern Miss.
Saturday’s game will be broadcast live on beIN Sport with Matt Martucci (pxp), Brett Romberg (analyst) and Jordan Diagle (sideline). The game will kickoff at 4:30 CST from Apogee Stadium in Denton, Texas.