Mean Green Notebook: Ready For Conference Opener

North Texas v Iowa

Courtesy: Getty Images

Conference play opens up this week for North Texas as the Mean Green return home to Denton to face UAB on Saturday. North Texas is looking to snap a two-game losing streak after the 31-14 loss to Iowa, dropping their record to 1-2 on the young season. UAB is 2-1 after a 30-23 win over Coastal Carolina in Birmingham, Alabama.

MOVING ON FROM IOWA: North Texas had a chance at the upset win on the road in Iowa last weekend against the Hawkeyes. However, the Mean Green let a lead slip away in the fourth quarter and the Hawkeyes took control after that in a fairly competitive game that was a lot closer than the score indicated.

“I think going into this season I felt like our team was more confident but there is no moral victories here,” said North Texas head coach Seth Littrell. “They are extremely disappointed that we didn’t win the game. They felt like that was a game that we kind of let get away. That’s when you know your team has become more mature. There are no moral victories when you lose a game you are expected to win.”

Now the focus turns to the Conference USA schedule starting with UAB.

“That’s what those non-conference games are for, to get ready for conference play,” said quarterback Mason Fine. “We learned a lot from those non-conference games. I think we built confidence and now we just got to keep building each week.”

“We are definitely proud of how we played,” added linebacker Brandon Garner. “We played hard. At the end of the day we didn’t get the job done. We went up there to win. That was the goal and we didn’t achieve that goal. Now it’s on to conference.”

FOCUS ON UAB: The Dragons step onto the field for the first C-USA game for the first time since the 2014 season. The football program was shut down after board members and trustees decided the cost of upgrading athletic facilities and covering operating expenses would outweigh the revenue the team actually brings in.

“I think they are going to be a team this year that it won’t be a big surprise to a lot of guys in our conference, in my opinion, on how well they do this season,” Littrell said.

This is just the third meeting between the two schools. UAB won the first two games.

OFFENSIVE ATTACK: The success of the run game early on this season was on display in Iowa. Running back Jeffery Wilson rushed for 95 yards and a touchdown against a very solid Hawkeyes defense. He’s averaging 8.3 yards per carry, which ranks seventh in the nation. Wilson’s five rushing touchdowns has him tied for fifth nationally.

Fine was injured late in the half against Iowa with the Mean Green driving down the field. Backup quarterback Quinn Shanbour came in afterwards and threw a 13-yard TD strike to wide receiver Jalen Guyton. Fine would later return and finish with 167 yards passing.

North Texas leads C-USA with an average of 35.0 points per game and is also averaging 205.3 yards per game, which ranks No. 13 nationally.

CLOSING IN ON 500: A win on Saturday against UAB and the Mean Green will pick up No. 500 in program history. It would also be the second win in front of the home crowd this season.

“We are excited,” Garner said. “We are ready to get our first Conference USA win. It’s at home. Going to have a great crowd. Very excited to play this weekend.”

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True Road Test Awaits North Texas In Iowa

2017 UNT Spring Practice

North Texas will face their first true road test on Saturday and it’s not an easy one.

The Mean Green will make the trip to Big 10 country this weekend for a showdown against the Iowa Hawkeyes. This will be just the second time both teams have played each other, with Iowa holding the only win in 2015. North Texas is 1-1 and looking for that statement win after the 54-32 loss to rival SMU in Dallas. The Hawkeyes had to stage a comeback in order to beat in-state rival Iowa State 44-41 in overtime to stay unbeaten at 2-0.

North Texas is well-aware of the challenges the Hawkeyes bring to the table, especially on their home turf at Iowa City. The excitement is there for the Mean Green but so is the focus.

“We are always excited to go on the road; go into someone’s house and beat them,” said linebacker and Mansfield Timberview alum Brandon Garner. “It’s just a bigger stage. National TV. Just a little more energy. It’s basically going to be a game that’s man-on-man, which team is tougher and discipline.”

“It’s going to be a great atmosphere,” added safety Kishawn McClain. “We are pumped to play a Big 10 team. It will be fun. It’s more special but not just because it is Iowa. It’s to showcase that you can play against those type of guys. When you get a chance to play a big team like that, we can show what we can do.”

The Mean Green offense has shown what it can do during the first two weeks of the season. North Texas is averaging 24.8 points-per-game. Quarterback Mason Fine continues to impress, throwing for 424 yards and three touchdowns against SMU. Running back Jeffrey Wilson ranks No. 26 in the nation with 212 yards and is tied for fifth nationally with four rushing touchdowns.

However, Iowa typically has a smash-mouth defense every year that can present a fair share of problems for opposing offenses. The key to this game could come down to which side wins the battle, the much-improved offense of North Texas offense or the battle-tested defense of Iowa.

“What you see is what you get,” said North Texas head coach Seth Littrell. “You are playing against something you haven’t seen before. They line-up in a four-man front and they are going to be gap-sound. They play physical. It’s not something that they are going to out-scheme you or anything. They are going to do what they do. They have seen it all over the years.”

Against SMU, the Mean Green secondary got a boost from a cornerback who took the junior college route before arriving in Denton. Junior corner Kemon Hall grabbed his first interception in a North Texas uniform and finished with five tackles against the Mustangs.

Hall’s name may sound familiar to those who have watched the Last Chance U documentary on Netflix. As a player at Itawamba Community College in Mississippi, he faced the school the series revolved around, East Mississippi Community College.

“It was pretty cool,” Hall said. “That was my second time of being on there.”

As for his current team, North Texas has struggled over the years against teams from the Power Five conferences. The Mean Green are 13-103 and haven’t beaten a Power Five league team since 2011. With that being said, North Texas is ready and excited about the challenges they will face this weekend in Iowa.

“I’m pretty turnt,” Hall said.

That’s really all that needs to be said.