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North Texas carries momentum into C-USA play

North Texas carries momentum into C-USA play

North Texas carries momentum into C-USA play
October 01
15:35 2018

Last year the Mean Green were 1-2 heading into conference play, following a win against Lamar and losses against Southern Methodist and Iowa University. By the end of that season, they finished second in the Conference USA standings with a record of 9-4, with two losses to Florida Atlantic University in the regular season and in the C-USA championship.

But unlike that 2017 season, the Mean Green are already off to a better start this year after finishing their non-conference schedule undefeated and in first place in C-USA. The team’s 4-0 record marks its best start since the 1966 season when North Texas finished the year at 8-2 with a Missouri Valley Conference title.

The Mean Green will face Louisiana Tech this Saturday at Apogee in the hopes to continue their winning streak.

Head coach Seth Littrell said his team has built a very solid foundation heading into conference play, but he wants his team to reset and start the season over.

“This Saturday, it’s a whole entire new season — everybody is 0-0,” Littrell said. “It really doesn’t matter what you’ve done in non-conference play because it’s more or less just to see where you stack up as a team. The games that truly matter are the ones that are fixing to be played within our conference.”

C-USA has remained competitive this year, with some teams having recent success against Power 5 schools, and North Texas is no exception. In week three, the Mean Green were the first to do so when they traveled to Fayetteville, Arkansas, and beat the Razorbacks 44-17. This past weekend Old Dominion, who was 0-3 heading into the game, capped off one of the biggest upsets in the conference’s history, beating No. 13 Virginia Tech at home by a score of 49-35.

Junior quarterback Mason Fine said no team can be taken for granted with a conference as competitive as C-USA.

“Everyone in this conference has a good football team, and I think anyone could beat anyone on any given day,” Fine said. “We have to make sure we prepare the right way and just focus on what we do.”

North Texas hopes to get its 10th straight win at home against Louisiana Tech and will continue to on to play the University of Texas at El Paso, the University of Southern Mississippi and at the University of Alabama Birmingham in the following weeks.

The Mean Green were 4-0 against those opponents last year, with she wins against Louisiana Tech and Alabama-Birmingham only being decided by a total of four points.

“A lot of those games were dogfights,” Littrell said. “We had to come back in the fourth quarter to win most of those games, so every opponent on our schedule understands that they were that close to winning those games. I promise you, they’re going to have a chip on their shoulder, and they’re going to believe that when they come here or we go on the road, they’re going to be able to beat us.”

The team will finish out the rest of its regular season schedule at home against Rice University, followed by games at Old Dominion and at home against Florida Atlantic University before finishing the regular season at the University of Texas at San Antonio.

Senior linebacker E.J. Ejiya said winning a conference title is the most important goal each and every year for any college football team, regardless of conference.

“Every game means something,” Ejiya said. “[But] to compete against rival opponents is a lot, and you have to take into consideration that if you lose this game, you’re knocked a step down. We take conference games very seriously.”

With the wins the Mean Green have been able to capture so far this season, Fine said there’s a target on their backs.

“That just fuels us in making sure we prepare the right way,” Fine said. “We know we’re locked in and have a bigger target on our backs, so we know we have to prepare the right way and keep practicing harder and harder.”

One of the Mean Green’s strengths this season has been balance in all three phases of the game.

Fine has led an aerial attack that is currently No. 6 in FBS and No. 1 in the conference, and the run game is starting to pick up, thanks to redshirt junior Loren Easly’s career-high 177 yard game against Liberty last week.

Special teams have played a big part on the season as well, with graduate kicker Cole Hedlund converting on all 10 of his field goals and going 21-22 on extra point attempts. Keegan Brewer’s touchdown on a  fake fair catch call got him — and the Mean Green — national attention.

But one of the most improved aspects of the team this year has been their defensive unit. They currently lead the nation in interceptions with 10, three more than any other team in the country. The Mean Green had eight interceptions total last season. Cornerback Kemon Hall is tied for second in the nation with three interceptions, and the team is No.6 nationally in defensive efficiency, behind four teams in the AP Top 25 and Utah.

Junior safety Khairi Muhammad, who is tied for the team lead with three interceptions, said the success of this year’s defense is attributed to their mental approach to the game.

“People are getting in the right spots and making the plays that come to them,” Muhammad said. “[They’re] not getting too greedy, and everybody plays as one. This defense trusts each other, so that has played a major role in our success this year.”

With a continued undefeated season dependent on each game, Ejiya wants the team to focus on one week at a time and establish confidence.

“Week by week, everyone’s confidence is growing,” Ejiya said. “We’re getting a lot more comfortable than we were last year at any point of the season, so we take each win and just carry that momentum every week [and] keep on rolling.”

Featured Image: North Texas’ Mason Fine (left) and E.J. Ejiya celebrate after a win against Arkansas on Sept. 15. Sara Carpenter

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Deondre Jones

Deondre Jones

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