Following a 1-2 start to the 2019 season, Mean Green football will return home for their first Conference USA matchup against the Texas-San Antonio Roadrunners (1-2) on Sept. 21. This will be the first home game since their victory over Abilene Christian (1-2) on Aug. 31.
The Roadrunners willl be the first Conference USA opponent the Mean Green will face. With their first conference matchup, head coach Seth Littrell wants to keep in mind that winning C-USA is the teams priority.
“This weekend is the start of conference play,” Littrell said. “It’s our first opportunity to achieve our overall goal. I know getting back home and playing in front of our fans is going to be important.”
Both teams have faced a Power 5 opponent, as North Texas is coming off a 23-17 defeat in Berkeley at the hands of the No. 23 California Golden Bears (3-0). This was the first matchup for the two programs and the Mean Green will start the series off 0-1.
Unlike the game against Cal, Texas-San Antonio and North Texas have faced off six times already with an even 3-3 split. Those six games have been decided by an average of seven points, including back-to-back game-winning drives orchestrated by senior quarterback Mason Fine.
“It is a big rivalry game,” Fine said. “[Texas-San Antonio] has played really well the last couple of years and they play hard. You can tell there’s just a certain type of energy when these two teams come together. [Texas-San Antonio] is a great team on both sides of the ball.”
Of those two game-winning drives, the former has been cemented in program history as simply, “The Drive.” The Roadrunners pinned North Texas deep in their own territory with 1:07 remaining in the game. In seven plays, Fine led a 98-yard drive to win the game on a pass to now-senior receiver Rico Bussey Jr. to win the game, 29-26. With another game against Texas-San Antonio looming, Fine categorizes that series as a favorite memory in his career.
“I gotta rank that one up there pretty high,” Fine said. “Top two or so since I’ve been here.”
The latter of those two drives culminated in a 24-21 victory off a 48-yard field goal from former kicker Cole Hedlund.
In last week’s game against the Golden Bears, Bussey went up to catch a pass and came down awkwardly on his right leg. He was helped off the field and did not return to the game. Littrell is not ready to comment on his status as he is waiting on tests to get back, according to Fine.
“[It’s] too early to comment on it,” Littrell said. “We’re still waiting for some different information, but as of right now it’s still questionable.”
With the absence of the team’s WR1, two receivers stepped up against Cal — redshirt freshman Jyaire Shorter and redshirt junior Deion Hair-Griffin. Shorter caught five passes for 68 yards and a touchdown, the first of his career. Hair-Griffin, who saw his involvement in the offense increase, caught three passes for 36 yards, a career-high.
“It felt pretty good, getting my feet wet and scoring my first TD,” Shorter said. “We hate to lose one of our brothers but we’re just gonna pick up the slack on our end.”
Through three games, Texas-San Antonio has been outscored 62-101 against their opponents: Incarnate Word, Baylor and Army West Point. The Roadrunners have accumulated 499 rushing yards and 517 passing yards. Their defense has allowed 736 rushing yards and 377 passing yards. Their turnover ratio sits at -3 after throwing three interceptions and losing three fumbles.
Quarterback Frank Harris made the first start of his career with Texas-San Antonio this year on Aug. 31. After tearing his left ACL in high school, Harris tore his right ACL in April of 2018, causing him to miss his first two academic seasons with the Roadrunners. So far this season, He has accumulated 486 passing yards, three touchdowns and two interceptions on 72.5 percent passing. All three of his touchdowns came in the first game of the year against Incarnate Word. On the ground, Harris has put up 127 yards, 123 of those coming against Incarnate Word. Littrell believes his return to the program is a big plus for Texas-San Antonio.
“Their quarterback getting back has really helped them,” Littrell said. “He’s definitely a park for them. He’s a guy that can throw the ball around. He can get out of trouble with his legs.”
Junior safety Makyle Sanders got his first starting nod in the Cal game at Nickel cornerback (a fifth defensive back that comes onto the field in passing situations). Sanders recorded four tackles and a pass breakup. Littrell felt positive about the way Sanders performed.
“I thought he did a great job [coming] in the nickel position,” Littrell said. “He’s a long, athletic [defensive back]. He has great size, he has good size. He’s made plays for us and he has a huge upside.”
Sanders has been slotted in the starting nickel position again for the matchup against the Roadrunners. The I-35 showdown will take place on Saturday at 6:30 p.m. at Apogee Stadium.
“I think they’re really growing and getting better,” Littrell said about Texas-San Antonio. “It’ll be a battle for sure. They’re a very talented group.”
Featured Image: Redshirt freshman quarterback Jason Bean runs the ball at the game against Southern Methodist at Gerald J. Ford Stadium on Sept. 7, 2019. Image by Jordan Collard