Brown: North Texas The 'Perfect' Home-Opener

North Texas RB <B>Patrick Cobbs</B> was the D-I national rushing leader last season, averaging 152.7 yards per clip. Texas&#146; run defense, meanwhile, sunk to its lowest statistical ranking of the <B>Mack Brown</B> era by surrendering the virtual equivalent of Cobbs' average (152.5 ypg, NCAA No. 58). That&#146;s why the seventh-year Texas coach said Wednesday that the visiting Mean Green make for the &quot;perfect&quot; opponent when Texas kicks off the 2004 season, 6 p.m., Saturday.

"I really think it’s a perfect opener to challenge us because we’ve been challenged by the running game," Brown said. "We gave up 150-something yards rushing (per game) last year and they rushed for 150 yards with their tailback. Their quarterback’s a really good player. They won nine games last year. They’re coming in here with a different swagger than they did two years ago and I think our players understand that."

UNT's senior RB earned his first start last season and posted a Sun Belt Conference best 1,680 yards rushing. Barring unforeseen circumstances, Cobb will set every North Texas career rushing record this season. He injured his thumb during two-a-days, undergoing a minor procedure that caused him to miss several practices. But starting RDT Stevie Lee expects to see Cobbs at full throttle.

"He's a shifty back and he'll make you miss," Lee said. "We've got to keep our eyes open because he can cut back. It's going to be good test for us."

Containing Cobbs shapes up as a good barometer measuring how far the Texas defense has come, Lee commented.

"For defenses to be successful, they mainly have to stop the run," Lee said. "The main emphasis on our defense all year has been to stop the run."

Meanwhile, the Mean Green has been emphasizing Texas, Brown is convinced. North Texas spent two years preparing for the Horns in 2002, hoping to make a statement against a traditional power, according to their coaches. In that one, Texas managed a 27-0 halftime lead but the North Texas defense pitched a shutout the rest of the way and sacked Texas eight times.

I asked Brown if he thought the Mean Green had also spent the past two seasons preparing for Saturday night.

"I’m sure they have," Brown said. "It’s a huge game for them but it’s also an important game for us. They’re a different team than they were two years ago. They have a lot more respect. I can even tell with our fan base, the ones that I’ve talked to, they’re talking about how good North Texas has become. It’s a great complement to (head coach) Darrell Dickey. I’ve said that I thought he was one of the great, young coaches out there. I think he’s a star in this business. He’s got the program back to where it was when Hayden Fry had it. Hayden was a great coach at that spot and nobody else has been able to do it."

North Texas tends to "spray the ball all over the place" on kickoffs and punts, Brown said. That’s why PR/KO return Selvin Young and KO return Tarell Brown have practiced fielding the ball this week regardless of where it is placed.

"They onside kick, they sky kick, they short kick right, they short kick left, they try to kick it deep so we’ve worked really, really hard on our kickoff return and making sure we try to return the ball regardless of where we catch it," Brown said. "We know with Selvin’s ability on punts and kickoffs last year, with Nathan (Vasher) and Selvin, they started kicking away from those two so we anticipate the same thing this year."

There have been no depth chart changes since Monday, Brown said. Backup QB Chance Mock (ankle) "is not 100 percent" and will be a game day decision, according to a source close to the program.

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