North Texas Daily

Football prepped for season opener against Abilene Christian

Football prepped for season opener against Abilene Christian

Football prepped for season opener against Abilene Christian
August 29
11:03 2019

The North Texas football team opens their 2019 season against the Abilene Christian Wildcats (Southland Conference) this Saturday at 6:30 p.m. at Apogee Stadium. This will be the fourth consecutive season that the Mean Green will begin the year at home (2-1 in that stretch).

Despite losing multiple starters on the defensive side of the ball, North Texas retains 23 seniors for this season, including six offensive starters, five defensive starters and three special teams starters. Head coach Seth Littrell, who took over when current seniors were freshman, feels a tight bond with this graduating class and sees their leadership on and off the field.

“I think our senior class is exceptional,” Littrell said. “We all came in together. They’ve done a great job of buying into our culture, continuing to help build and grow [to] where we want to be.”

The Mean Green are coming off a 9-4 season that featured a Conference USA Western division championship and a bowl loss to Utah State. Abilene Christian found its first winning season since joining the Southland Conference and their second since moving to Division 1, finishing 6-5, a 4-game turnaround from 2017. North Texas is given a 96.3% chance of coming out on top in the matchup, according to ESPN. Despite this, Littrell keeps the same mindset as if he were going against a Power 5 program.

“You have to respect every opponent,” Littrell said. “There’s too much parity in today’s college football. You see it every year, especially early in the season. People get upset and, if you look over the years, some of those aren’t upsets.”

Mean Green sophomore Chris Thornton runs drills during practice on August 28. Image by Will Baldwin

In the 2018 season, the Wildcats averaged 30.1 points per game while holding their opponents to 26.9 points per game, bringing up a margin of 3.2 points per game. The Mean Green’s margin was over three times larger, outscoring opponents 34.62 to 24.15. North Texas also out-rushed (1,999 to 1,770) and out-threw Abilene Christian (3,988 to 3,062) in two more games. Adjusted for two additional games, the Wildcats beat out the Mean Green in rushing yards by 87. North Texas still held the advantage in passing yards with 413 additional yards. Those additional yards came for the most part from senior quarterback Mason Fine, who leads the nation in career passing yards (9,417). Fine, who will start in his last college season opener on Saturday, is not looking forward to the last of many firsts this year.

“I’m not ready to roll out there for my last season opener,” Fine said. “I wish I had another five years, six years to play here. But, you know, time will go on. And this is just my last ride. I woke up Sunday with butterflies in my stomach, excited about Saturday’s game.”

The Wildcats hired a new defensive coordinator in Clint Brown in February, moving him away from his home in the fellow-FCS South Dakota State Jackrabbits. The Mean Green have prepared by watching South Dakota State film in anticipation that Brown brought that defense with him, according to Fine.

Fine stated that the Jackrabbits mostly run “Quarters,” or Cover 4, a defensive scheme that puts the safeties and cornerbacks in a deep zone and leaves the linebackers to cover the flats and underneath area near the line of scrimmage. Despite what they’ve been studying, Fine believes that the offense is ready for whatever gets thrown at them.

“Defenses can do whatever they want,” Fine said. “So even if we have a game plan in and we go out there on Saturday, and [Abilene Christian] comes out with something totally different, we’ll make adjustments. We’ll be able to handle that from a mature standpoint. That’s what I feel really good about: the adjustments we can make and being able to overcome that.”

Junior running back Deandre Torrey earned the starting back position during fall camp after playing most of last season. When redshirt senior Loren Easly went down against Louisiana Tech, Torrey stepped up and totaled 977 yards and 15 rushing touchdowns. Heading into the season opener, Torrey is focused on improving the work he’s already done.

“My mindset really [is] just to build on what I did last year and just continue to help my team whatever way I can,” Torrey said.

Torrey isn’t the only back that was considered for the starting job this fall, however. With Easly, junior Evan Johnson, redshirt sophomore Tre Siggers, redshirt junior Nic Smith, redshirt freshman Roderic Burns and freshman Oscar Adaway III all jostling for the lead back position, Torrey believes that the competition pushed them all to become better.

We actually make each other better,” Torrey said. “We’re all competing, like we are trying to be the number one back. We are the deepest group on the team.”

On the defensive side of the ball, the Mean Green are focused on maintaining the basics and keeping things simple. With losing two starting linebackers and two starting defensive backs, North Texas focused this offseason on promoting from within and using their senior leadership to bolster the defense. Sophomore linebacker KD Davis, who earned the starting spot for the Abilene Christian game, noted that the defense is working on flying to the ball.

“[We’re] just flying around,” Davis said. “Just getting to make sure all 11 of us on the field get to the ball, we’ve all been practicing to get to the ball.”

North Texas plays Abilene Christian at 6:30 p.m. at Apogee Stadium on Saturday. Overall, The Mean Green want to stay grounded in their preparation for the Wildcats and take it one play at a time.

“It’s going to be a season opener, people are going to have nerves, have a little jitters,” Fine said. “They’re going to want to do more than what they will do in practice. Those butterflies, hopefully they’ll leave after that first snap and then you get back to just playing football.”

Featured Image: The Mean Green Football team warms up during their practice on August 28. Image by Will Baldwin

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Zachary Cottam

Zachary Cottam

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