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North Texas vs. UTSA preview: Mean Green look to carry momentum into key rivalry game

North Texas vs. UTSA preview: Mean Green look to carry momentum into key rivalry game

Former interim head coach Mike Canales celebrates with the 2015-2016 football team after winning their only game of the season agains UTSA. Colin Mitchell

North Texas vs. UTSA preview: Mean Green look to carry momentum into key rivalry game
October 13
01:05 2017

The young and budding rivalry between North Texas and the University of Texas at San Antonio has already seen some great games in the previous four meetings. UTSA leads the series 3-1, but the Mean Green will look to redeem themselves at 6 p.m. on Saturday at Apogee Stadium. 

What to watch for 

Jeffery Wilson vs. the UTSA run defense

The Roadrunners defense as a whole is quite daunting on paper. UTSA ranks in the top nine in the FBS in seven statistical categories including yards allowed per game, third-down conversions percentage and passing yards allowed per game. They have also only allowed three rushing touchdowns through four games this year.

Senior running back Jeffery Wilson and the offensive line will certainly have their hands full with the UTSA front seven – but Wilson does not rank No. 7 in the country in rushing yards per game for nothing. 

UTSA has not seen a running back like Wilson, while North Texas has seen at least two formidable defensive fronts in Iowa and SMU.

“They really trust that front seven, and they’re really strong in that front seven,” sophomore quarterback Mason Fine said. “I think that’s the strong point of their defense, and we’re going to try to do what we do – stay balanced. We [also] have to execute on third downs and stay on the field.”

North Texas’ improved secondary

After a slow start to the season, the secondary looked much more cohesive and disciplined in a 43-28 win against the University of Southern Mississippi. Chalk it up to Eric Jenkins starting or the unit simply buckling down and figuring things out, but either way, they will have to be solid again against UTSA quarterback Dalton Sturm.

Sturm has a quarterback efficiency of 174.4 and is completing over 70 percent of his passes. He has thrown nine touchdowns and just one interception.

“They do a good job with play action pass getting your eyes out of whack,” sophomore linebacker Brandon Garner said. “We just have to play disciplined all game.”

Conference USA’s No. 1 passing offense vs. No. 1 passing defense 

It’s no secret that Mason Fine has excelled in the passing game this season, and he’s done so with a group of wide receivers that had a lot of question marks entering the season. Led by the dominant play of Fine and Jalen Guyton, the Mean Green lead C-USA with an average of 295.2 yards passing per game.

To be fair, North Texas is leading the conference in most offensive categories. But the Mean Green are going up against a UTSA secondary that has allowed just 143.8 yards through the air on average, pitting two strengths against each other. Opponents are completing less than 45 percent of their passes against the Roadrunners, so it will be important for Fine to get going early and build some momentum to continue taking pressure off Wilson in the run game.

A new rivalry

Certain members of the two fan bases seem determined to discredit this game as a continued rivalry. As weird as it sounds to call two teams who have played just four times “rivals,” it’s safe to say that’s where this matchup is heading. There is no shying away from the importance of Saturday’s game. 

The players and coaches almost all admitted to it being a huge game, and that is reflected in the attempts by the administration to fill Apogee through an increased marketing surge. 

Whether the fans are fully embracing the idea of a rivalry or not, the emotions are there for the players. It’s something Fine noticed in his first experience against UTSA in the Alamodome last season. 

“I felt it last year,” Fine said. “This is probably our No. 1 rivalry game. Being in the same conference puts a lot more on this game, and there is a lot of buzz on campus. I think we’re going to have a lot of students come out and support us this Saturday.”

Weird football

This is not a cliche from a coach – this is the truth. Throw out the records and everything we know about these teams.

In 2013, the Mean Green looked unstoppable and were 5-0 at home heading into the game while UTSA was 3-2 on the road. UTSA beat the Mean Green 21-13.

The 2014 game was a toss-up because both were struggling, but UTSA won again. Then, the Mean Green secured their only win of the 2015 season over the Roadrunners in front of a minuscule crowd at Apogee. 

Last year, North Texas was coming off back-to-back wins and UTSA had just lost to the University of Texas at El Paso in 5OT. The Roadrunners handled the Mean Green in a 31-17 win. 

This rivalry series has been weird so far, and it’s probably safe to assume the crowd will be baffled a few times on Saturday.

“There’s definitely a history there,” head coach Seth Littrell said. “Our players understand that, and it’ll be a great challenge. Throw everything out the door from the past – it’s about who’s going to show up and play the best.”

Score prediction: North Texas 52, UTSA 48

Featured Image: Former interim head coach Mike Canales celebrates with the 2015-2016 football team after winning their only game of the season against UTSA. Colin Mitchell

About Author

Matthew Brune

Matthew Brune

Matthew Brune is the Senior Sports Writer for the North Texas Daily, covering football and men's basketball.

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