North Texas Daily

C-USA Kickoff provides look forward as football season approaches

C-USA Kickoff provides look forward as football season approaches

C-USA Kickoff provides look forward as football season approaches
July 29
13:45 2021

With the first football game now just over a month away, Conference USA had its first media availability of the new season recently at the C-USA Kickoff.

Each C-USA football team was represented by its head coach and two players over the two-day event last week which split the conference’s East and West divisions into separate days. Alongside head coach Seth Littrell, North Texas was represented by redshirt-junior offensive lineman Manase Mose and senior defensive lineman Dion Novil.

Early in his availability, Littrell declined to discuss specific vaccination rates among his team but said educating them on the vaccine to make their own decisions has been a priority this offseason.

“We’re not talking percentages, but a lot of them have gotten vaccinated,” Littrell said. “No one needs to feel forced but just educating them the right way and showing them how the season looks if you do or do not get the vaccination, I think that’s all you can do. From there, people have to make their choice of whether they are getting it or not.”

Coming off an up-and-down 2020 campaign (4-6, 3-4 C-USA) altered by COVID-19, the Mean Green approach 2021 with some new faces on the coaching staff.

Former defensive coordinator Clint Bowen is gone after one season in which North Texas’ defense was last in C-USA in points allowed (43 points per game), passing yards allowed (257.4 yards per game) and rushing yards allowed (261.9 yards per game). Along with his assistants, new defensive coordinator Phil Bennett — Littrell’s third in the last three seasons — will look to right the ship defensively.

Bennett looks to have made some changes this offseason as Novil said the defense has implemented more sets with four linemen versus Bowen’s base 3-3-5 formation last season. Novil also said he has slimmed down from 330 pounds at the start of the offseason to a current weight of 310 pounds after Bennett asked him to.

“I’d say we’ve adjusted really well [to Bennett],” Novil said. “We know what type of season we had last season and Coach Bennett told us we’re not going back. We all just took his word and have been doing what he’s asked us to do. It’s shown to really work so far.”

Offensively, quarterback continues to be an uncertain position for North Texas as it was last season. Redshirt-sophomore Austin Aune is the most experienced returner after splitting reps with Jason Bean (transferred to University of Kansas) last season. In terms of completion percentage, North Texas (53.9 percent) ranked No. 10 out of 13 C-USA schools competing last season as neither Aune nor Bean topped a 55 percent completion rate.

Aune looks to be ahead at the position currently with North Carolina transfer Jace Ruder and others likely to compete with him for the starting job this fall. Littrell said he has seen Aune steadily improve this offseason and said the quarterback job was Aune’s “to go out there and take” at the Coaches Caravan in June, though a competition still seems likely.

“I think [Aune is] continuing to progress, but I think we’ve got talented guys in [the quarterbacks] room, it’s always going to be competitive,” Littrell said. “We’re going to allow that competition to run through fall camp and see where it ends. I do feel like Austin’s made a lot of strides along with all those guys. […] But I just think he’s overall improved in his accuracy and his consistency of what we’re trying to get accomplished.”

For the rest of the offense, the Mean Green will bring back their two leading rushers and a majority of its starting offensive linemen but lost star wide receiver Jaelon Darden to the NFL Draft.

Looking at the running backs room in particular, North Texas will return senior DeAndre Torrey (670 yards in nine games last season) and redshirt-freshman Oscar Adaway (572 yards in seven games last season). Mose said the run game will be a key part of the team’s offense and its success will begin with him and his fellow offensive linemen.

“Our run game is going to be important to us, but it just starts off with the offensive line as well,” Mose said. “We have to pave the way for the running backs. We have very skilled running backs with Deandre Torrey, he’s very shifty [and] Oscar Adaway, he’s able to run over people as you can see in the Houston Baptist University game. They’re very versatile in the backfield. As for our offense and the run game, it’s just going to start with us O-line.”

Looking at the upcoming schedule, both Novil and Mose said North Texas’ Oct. 9 matchup with Southeastern Conference opponent Missouri (5-5 in all SEC games last season) is one they have circled on their calendars.

“We want to perform well out there for the conference,” Mose said. “I think that’s a big game that’s circled for us as well as the other conference teams. We didn’t succeed very well last year [in C-USA], so we’re coming back this upcoming year just ready to go against them and have that battle.”

Featured Image: UNT football coach Seth Littrell looks out onto the field before the game against Houston Baptist on Sept. 5, 2020. Image by Zachary Thomas

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John Fields

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