After suffering their fourth loss of the season, head coach Seth Littrell and Co. will look to right their wrongs against the Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders (2-4, 1-1 Conference USA). North Texas football (2-4, 1-1 C-USA) fell to Southern Miss (4-2, 2-0 C-USA) 45-27 coming out of the bye week.
The Mean Green are heavy favorites to win the game, with a 72.1 percent chance at victory, according to the ESPN Power Index. This is the third game of the season North Texas has been favored to win heading into the matchup, with Abilene Christian and Texas-El Paso being the other two. Littrell is focused on resetting for this week’s home game.
“We have to take ownership,” Littrell said. “We’ve got to get a week better because it’s not going to get any easier. This weekend we’re going to face a very good Middle Tennessee team.”
Senior quarterback Mason Fine participated fully in practice Tuesday morning after suffering a non-throwing shoulder injury against Southern Miss. After getting back to Denton, the quarterback entered rehabilitation on Sunday and Monday and said he feels good heading into this weekend.
“I’m feeling good,” Fine said. “[It was] just a pain in my shoulder, a little sore, but I fully participated in practice today, which I’m very encouraged to see.”
Trainers are still awaiting test results back on the status of sophomore running back Tre Siggers, who went down with an ankle injury against the Golden Eagles, according to Littrell.
Three of the Blue Raiders’ games so far this season have come against Power 5 opponents and all three have resulted in losses. They opened the season against No. 16 Michigan (5-1, 3-1 Big Ten), falling 21-40. Following a 45-26 win over Tennessee State (1-6, 0-3 Ohio Valley), Middle Tennessee dropped consecutive losses to Duke (4-2, 2-1 Atlantic Coast) and No. 23 Iowa (4-2, 1-2 Big Ten).
The Blue Raiders have split their conference play so far, with a 24-13 victory over Marshall (3-3, 1-1 C-USA) and a 13-28 loss against Florida Atlantic (4-2, 2-0 C-USA). Middle Tennessee has yet to have good luck on the road, as they are 0-3 this season away and Rick Stockstill, Blue Raider head coach, was aware of this in a press conference.
“North Texas has always been a tough place to play,” Stockstill said. “They play really good at home, and that’s no different this year. We’ve got to make sure we’re mentally tough and handle the environment, handle the trip in a professional manner and be ready to play better than we did last week.”
Redshirt sophomore quarterback Asher O’Hara has completed 65 percent of his passes for Middle Tennessee, accumulating 119 completions for 1,491 yards, 10 touchdowns and five interceptions. O’Hara also leads the Blue Raiders in rushing with 368 yards and three rushing touchdowns. Littrell doesn’t see the defense changing much in preparation for the mobile quarterback.
“Everybody has a run fit, someone’s gonna have the quarterback,” Littrell said. “You got to make sure you understand when and who that is at all times. It’s going to be a very disciplined game, that’s what you’re gonna have to do in order to have success against them, because of the different ways they can attack you.”
Redshirt sophomore running back Chaton Mobley is tied with O’Hara in leading the team in rushing touchdowns and is second in rushing yards (164). The Blue Raiders have been out-rushed 1,422-789 through six games, in comparison to a 57-yard rushing deficit for North Texas. Littrell believes that the Mean Green rushing attack has been lackluster this season simply out of a lack of consistency.
“[It’s been] about like the rest of our team: Inconsistent,” Littrell said. “Sometimes [they] look really good. Sometimes not. We’ve got to be more consistent.”
The leading receiver for the Blue Raiders is redshirt junior Jarrin Pierce, who has 23 receptions for 327 yards and two touchdowns. Redshirt junior receiver CJ Windham leads skill players in total touchdowns with four, all of which came from O’Hara.
Fine is coming off his lowest throwing percentage performance of the past two seasons (44 percent) but tallied three completions for 45+ yards, one of which was a 53-yard touchdown pass to junior receiver Jaelon Darden.
Darden totaled a season-high for recieving yards against Southern Miss, brining in five catches for 87 yards and three touchdowns. His three receiving touchdowns put his total up to four on the season. He attributes to his success in that matchup to just focusing and working on how he reads the defense.
“I just made the plays when my number was called,” Darden said. “[I’m working on] the attention to detail of the game, defensive schemes, things of that nature.”
The game will be played at Apogee Stadium on Oct. 19 at 3 p.m. Fine is putting all the responsibility on the leader’s shoulders and is holding him and his teammates to a high standard this weekend.
“Even though you prepare the right way throughout the week, you still got to show up on Saturday,” Fine said. “We just got to walk in there with confidence and the right mindset of attacking. Maybe we’re not taking the fight to them, we’re just accepting the punches. Let’s take the fight to them and attack.”
Featured Image: Senior quarterback Mason Fine yells to his teammates before a play during the Mean Green’s game against Houston at Apogee Stadium on Sept. 28, 2019. Image by Jordan Collard