North Texas (1-1, 0-0 Conference USA) hosts Southern Mississippi (0-3, 0-1 C-USA) this weekend for their first conference matchup and third consecutive home game for the 2020 season. The Golden Eagles beat the Mean Green 45-27 in last season’s contest.
North Texas did not play last weekend after the postponement of their game with Houston due to four positive tests of COVID-19 in the Mean Green circle. Houston has yet to play a game in 2020 and the Golden Eagles have yet to win a game after losing 66-24 against Tulane (2-1, 0-1 American Athletic Conference) last weekend. North Texas seeks a positive record after losing 65-35 against SMU in their second game of the season.
Head coach Seth Littrell says Southern Mississippi’s record does not reflect their skill level.
“They have a really good quarterback, their running backs are solid and their offensive line is well coached,” Littrell said. “They were up a double digit lead going into the fourth quarter against Louisiana Tech and started really fast this past week against Tulane so you can see the explosiveness they have.”
Following the cancellation of the Houston game, North Texas has players unable to practice because they tested positive or have been close to someone who did.
Littrell feels good about the team’s health going into this week’s matchup but says these absences will not be an excuse to not properly prepare for Southern Miss.
“There’s been some guys that have been out due to contact tracing but at the end of the day you still have to find opportunities to get your work in,” Littrell said. “We lost some depth but it gave us the opportunity to work our best against our best and give each other the best looks possible at practice.”
Players, coaches and other Mean Green personnel will continue to be tested three times a week.
Southern Miss head coach Jay Hopson resigned following their season opening loss to South Alabama. After 10 years of being part of the program, Hopson believed the team was in need of a different leader. Co-offensive coordinator Scotty Walden was chosen to be the interim coach for the remainder of the season.
Walden’s debut against Louisiana Tech wasn’t ideal as the Bulldogs put together a game-winning drive to end the game, giving Southern Miss their first conference loss.
Golden Eagles senior wide receiver Tim Jones recorded two consecutive games with over 100 yards receiving before being interrupted with a lower body injury in the game against Louisiana Tech. His absence was apparent against Tulane where Southern Miss struggled offensively.
The North Texas defense has allowed 12 touchdowns in two games and will battle against another returning quarterback Jack Abraham who threw for 421 yards and three touchdowns against the Mean Green in 2019.
Despite defensive struggles, Littrell says the two quarterbacks they have faced haven’t gotten the credit they deserve.
“Look at the two quarterbacks we’ve played this year,” Littrell said. “They do it against everybody, but that’s no excuse for us. When it comes to pass defense it’s not only about the defensive backs, it’s about the pressure we get upfront in our pressure packages and when we do get the opportunity to attack you’ve got to be aggressive and physical.”
North Texas gained an extra day or two to prepare for this week’s opponent after the Houston game was canceled but also lost game reps before the start of conference play.
Freshman running back Oscar Adaway III seeks his third consecutive game with over 100 yards rushing. Adaway rushed for 118 yards against Houston Baptist and 104 against Southern Methodist.
Senior wide receiver Jaelon Darden aims for his third consecutive game with multiple touchdowns. Darden scored three touchdowns against Houston Baptist and two against Southern Methodist.
Littrell is adamant on sophomore quarterbacks Jason Bean and Austin Aune continuing their roles as co-starters. However, whomever is playing better can ultimately result in who receives more playing time.
Darden says he is confident that working dual quarterbacks will continue to have success for the Mean Green offense.
“I’m not shocked at what they’re doing because we practice the plays they’ve been making everyday, even when the coaches aren’t around,” Darden said. “I’m very proud of both of them for the way they’ve handled their situation and at the end of the day they know we are just going to get our jobs done.”
Aune played the entire second half against SMU completing 13 out of 25 passes for 276 yards and two touchdowns and an interception.
Aune says the competition between him and Bean ultimately benefits the offense.
“It doesn’t matter who is starting or not,” Aune said. “You’re going out there and trying to show coaches and teammates that you’re the guy and that pushes us every single day to get better.”
Conference play kicks off 6:30 p.m. on Saturday night at Apogee Stadium.
“It’s all about conference play,” Littrell said. “When it’s all said and done people are going to remember the games you win and lose throughout the conference.”
Featured Image: Redshirt sophomore co-quarterback Jason Bean throws a touchdown pass to junior wide receiver Greg White against Houston Baptist on Sept. 5 2020. Image by Zachary Thomas