North Texas Daily

Football hopes to extinguish Flames, Willis in Saturday afternoon matchup versus Liberty

Football hopes to extinguish Flames, Willis in Saturday afternoon matchup versus Liberty

Football hopes to extinguish Flames, Willis in Saturday afternoon matchup versus Liberty
October 22
20:36 2021

North Texas plays their final non-conference game of the season versus Liberty University on Saturday afternoon. The Mean Green are coming off of a 49-21 defeat to Marshall University last Friday.

“Sunday’s are for cleaning up messes, and we obviously had a lot to clean up,” head coach Seth Littrell said at Tuesday’s press conference. “Obviously [Liberty is] is a very good team, coach [Hugh] Freeze does a very good job up there…the quarterback is about as good as you’ll see.”

The quarterback Littrell is referring to is redshirt junior Malik Willis, who has been named by multiple outlets as a potential top pick in next year’s NFL draft. The Liberty (5-2) quarterback has been a on a tear this season, posting an 85.6 QBR, good for sixth in the nation.

“[Willis] is pretty good, he can scramble around and can make good throws,” junior defensive back Quinn Whitlock said. “We got to cover on the back and front end, just got to pressure him”

Last Saturday, the University of Louisiana Monroe did pressure Willis, taking him down four times and forcing the tall righty into throwing three interceptions in what was a 31-28 upset loss, their second of the season.

Liberty’s defense has also caused trouble for opposition this season, coming into Denton with the fifth ranked defense by total defense in the country. However, the defense could not hold ULM, who won the game with a 31-point onslaught in the second half of last week’s contest.

North Texas (1-5, 0-3 Conference USA) did not fare any better than Liberty last week, as the Mean Green dropped their fifth loss in a row in a 49-21 contest versus Marshall that was never close. Discipline concerns were raised following the game after North Texas compiled 17 penalties for 161 yards.

“Discipline…we have preached that all year,” senior defensive lineman Caleb Colvin said about his team’s penalty issues. “We already know what to expect, but the coaches emphasize it, they keep reminding us–discipline, discipline, we know what to do, just focusing and locking in.”

The team’s offense continues to be led by DeAndre Torrey, who accounted for fourteen of the Mean Green’s 21 points last Friday. Sophomore quarterback Austin Aune struggled, completing just 16 out of his 31 passing attempts for 121 yards, no touchdowns and two picks. Despite the difficulties on offense, Aune believes that his team is much more capable of scoring than what they have shown this season.

“We expect to score a lot of points every game…we go into every game wanting to score a lot of points and execute,” Aune said. “When we do that we can execute, score points and help our defense stay off the field.”

The North Texas offense struggled tremendously on third and fourth down versus Marshall, converting only 5/17 on third down and 0/6 on fourth down. The problem has persisted throughout the season with the team only converting on 34.69 percent of third downs and 18 percent on fourth downs they have faced through six games played.

“I think putting ourselves in third-and-long and fourth-and-long situations [make converting] hard to execute,” Aune said. “Being smart on first and second down, getting yourself in a good situation, then your percentages go up.”

Liberty has been on a tour of Conference USA this season, beating Old Dominion University, the University of Alabama-Birmingham and Middle Tennessee University by a 20-point or higher margin. Although the Flames are independent, Conference USA teams have accounted for nearly half of the team’s schedule this season.

Hoping to avoid being Liberty’s fourth Conference USA victim and a sixth straight loss that would make bowl eligibility an almost-distant thought, North Texas hopes to find a way to put it all together Saturday afternoon.

“Emotionally there’s some highs and some lows, but that’s football, that’s a part of life,” Littrell said. “You can be frustrated or disappointed, but you better bounce back and find a way to come together.”

Featured Image: Senior linebacker Tyreke Davis points to Mean Green teammate Deandre Torrey after Torrey scores a touchdown against Northwestern State on Sept. 4, 2021. Photo by Zachary Thomas

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Reed Smith

Reed Smith

Senior Sports Writer.

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