North Texas Daily

PREVIEW: Football set to open against Texas-El Paso in desert showdown

PREVIEW: Football set to open against Texas-El Paso in desert showdown

PREVIEW: Football set to open against Texas-El Paso in desert showdown
August 27
16:58 2022

Football will begin its campaign with a Conference USA matchup versus the University of Texas-El Paso this evening.

A number of key pieces departed from North Texas during the offseason. Throughout the spring and fall camps, the team established a new look squad that utilizes returning pieces and several new players.

“I feel good about where we’re at — we’ve had a good camp [and] I thought we’ve improved on all three phases,” head coach Seth Littrell said. “We’re really excited about this upcoming game — I know [Texas-El Paso] does a great job.”

Littrell and the Mean Green head into El Paso riding a five-game win streak against the Miners — three of which were decided by three or fewer points. Last season’s game saw North Texas win via a last-second go-ahead field goal by senior kicker Ethan Mooney on Homecoming night.

Junior quarterback Austin Aune set up Mooney’s field goal that night with a 58-yard pass to put the Mean Green on Texas-El Paso’s 17-yard line. Aune said he expects another close matchup with the Miners on Saturday.

“They’re going to be a good team, so what we do is execute our game plan,” Aune said. “It’s going to be a big crowd — it’s going to be loud. We just got to make sure we’re focused on attention to details and practicing well.”

Aune was the starting quarterback for North Texas last season as the team won five-straight games to attain bowl eligibility. Amid rumors he would not return, the fifth-year junior told the Denton Record-Chroniclehe would remain in Denton for a final season on the team.

North Texas added three quarterbacks in the offseason. Sophomore quarterbacks Stone Earle and JD Head were added in the spring while Grant Gunnell, a sophomore transfer from the University of Memphis, was added over the summer.

Toward the end of fall camp, offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Mike Bloesch along with the Mean Green coaching staff narrowed the contenders for the starting position down to Aune or Gunnell and selected Aune to start a season for the first time.

“[Starting is] something that I’ve wanted to [do] ever since I got here,” Aune said. “It’s a big honor to start week one and you know, the first game sets the tone for the rest of the year.”

Defensively, North Texas lost six of its 11 starters from last season with all four starters on the defensive line departing the program. Returning sophomore defensive linemen Enoch Jackson and Roderick Brown along with College of DuPage sophomore transfer, Tom Trieb will start on the line versus Texas-El Paso.

Redshirt freshman linebacker Sifa Leota and junior linebacker Mazin Richards will share time at the linebacker-lineman hybrid position, the “devil,” to start the season. 2021 first-team all-conference selection and senior linebacker KD Davis returns at the middle linebacker position and will serve as a captain this season.

“If we go out and win this game it would send a message out to the conference letting everyone know how we’re coming,” Davis said. “Our focus is on [Texas-El Paso].”

Head coach Dana Dimel and the Miners are coming off a 7-6 season that saw the team make a bowl game for the first time since 2014. Redshirt junior quarterback Gavin Hardison finished third in passing yards in 2021 and has a pair of top 20 C-USA running backs in the backfield with redshirt freshman Deion Hankins and redshirt junior Ronald Awatt.

Texas-El Paso’s defense is led by its two defensive ends, senior Jadrian Taylor and redshirt junior Praise Amaewhule, who both ranked in the top 10 in C-USA for sacks last season. Whether redshirt senior linebacker Breon Hayward, the Miners’ leading tackler in 2021, will make an appearance versus North Texas is questionable due to apparent eligibility issues.

The Sun Bowl is expected to be sold out for Saturday’s contest as the Mean Green begin their final season in C-USA.

“We’ve been seeing and hearing about [the attendance],” Davis said. “It’s out of our control — that has nothing to do with us. We control what we do on the field and the coaches control what they can control.”

Image source: Mean Green Sports

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Reed Smith

Reed Smith

fall sports editor

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