"I would definitely say that one of their defensive strengths is their secondary," the offensive coordinator said. "They have two outstanding safeties."
With the return of junior Craig Jones and sophomore Jonas Buckles, North Texas has the best pair of safeties in its conference. Jones has more tackles during the past two season (155) than any other returning player (not necessarily a good sign for your defense if a safety is leading tackler, is it?). Buckles led the conference and was fifth in the nation last year in interceptions. He was also the only freshman named first-team all-Sun Belt. Team captain Don McGee returns for his third season at cornerback and will likely play opposite returning starter Walter Priestly, who is being pressed for first-team status by converted quarterback Jeremy Pearl.
"The secondary will drop into a two-deep zone, but theyll also show four-across-the-board," Davis said. "Last year they didnt play any nickel at all, but the word is theyre putting in an extra nickel back (Saturday)."
Indeed, safety Markeith Knowlton should see action as the Mean Greens nickel back, according to North Texas athletic media relations sources.
Any departure from UNT's typical 4-3 base should open up the running lanes, where junior linebacker Cody Spencer will be counted on to clog up the middle. Spencer would be a stud on any squad. Last year, he led the team and was second in the Sun Belt in tackles (9.5 per game), and is joined by outside linebacker Taylor Casey, known for his ability to cover top receivers as well as any tight end that comes his way.
"Theyre not a team that does a lot of blitzing, based on what weve seen them do last year," Davis said. "They have a very sound approach to defensive football. Theyre a bend-but-dont-break kind of defense. Theyre a very physical group of guys. They return 10 starters on defense, so theyre real comfortable with each other."
It is clear that head coach Mack Brown wants to establish the run (i.e., trampling the opponent from the starting gate as distinct from passing to set up the run). Last year, Texas tried to force the ground game against a mid-level Sun Belt conference foe (New Mexico State), and managed 171 total yards on 45 attempts. But that was the 2001 B.C. (Before Cedric) offense.
On Saturday, look for Benson to eclipse the century mark by the third quarter, giving the home crowd and the nationally televised pay-per-view audience a chance to see why the other Young freshman (i.e., it aint Vince just yet) impressed the coaches and delighted the fans so much during the preseason.
Still, the North Texas defensive scheme should allow for enough completions to keep SE Roy Williams happy and QB Chris Simms confident, who was booed lustfully off the field (Big 12 Championship Game) in his last appearance as a starter.