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NCAAF Team Report - North Texas - INSIDE SLANT
It was breather week for Conference USA last Saturday. Only five of its 14 teams were in action; only three games were played. At a little past the halfway point in league play, it's worth looking now at what the chances each of them have for bowl eligibility.
With five wins, East Carolina, Rice and Tulane appear to have the best chances, if only because of sheer math. All three have winnable games remaining, meaning their bowl thoughts are less about making one and more about going to a good one.
Beyond that, it gets a little tricky. Marshall, at 4-2, would figure to stand a good chance to win two of its remaining six games, especially considering that Southern Miss, UAB and FIU remain on the schedule. And North Texas, also at 4-3, seems to be in a good spot for a similar reason: Southern Miss, UTEP and UTSA, all logical chances for wins, remain on its schedule.
At 3-4, Middle Tennessee presents an intriguing case. The Blue Raiders surely have the talent to be a six-win team. They may also have the right schedule. After next week's game against Marshall, the Blue Raiders close with trips to UAB and Southern Miss and home games against FIU and UTEP.
And then there's Tulsa, which warrants mentioning at 2-4 if only because of its status as the defending league champion. There's talent there that can get on a hot streak. The remaining games are tough, though: at Tulane, UTSA, at East Carolina, Marshall, at Louisiana Tech, North Texas. It's hard to imagine the Golden Hurricane being bowl eligible, but you never know.
EAST CAROLINA (5-2, 3-1)
Game: East Carolina 55, Southern Miss 14. The Pirates demolished the visiting Golden Eagles, leading 55-0 after three quarters and outgaining Southern Miss 476 yards to 233. ECU collected 30 first downs. QB Shane Carden threw for three touchdowns and 308 yards on 30 of 37 passing.
Takeaway: A week after faltering time after time in a surprising loss to Middle Tennessee State, the Pirates showed that their season is back on track.
"It was one of the best performances of all three sides playing together as one. It was what we'd been aiming for," Pirates coach Ruffin McNeill said.
Most importantly, the ECU offense clicked as it has for much of the early part of the season. It's a welcome sign for a team that's a contender for the East Division title, and evidence that the Pirates aren't off track after losing to MTSU.
Next: at Florida International. Nov. 2
FLORIDA ATLANTIC (2-5, 1-4)
Next: at Auburn, Oct. 26
FLORIDA INTERNATIONAL (1-5, 1-1)
Next: vs. Louisiana Tech, Oct. 26
LOUISIANA TECH (2-5, 1-2)
Game: North Texas 28, Louisiana Tech 13. The Bulldogs scored the game's first 10 points and didn't allow North Texas to score until late in the second quarter. But after that, the flood gates opened. North Texas scored the next 28 points after Tech led 10-0 and shut down the Bulldogs' rushing game.
Takeaway: It's hard to win as a one-dimensional offense, especially playing against an upstart team the caliber of North Texas. Consider Tech's stats: 367 yards and 15 first downs passing, 37 yards and three first downs rushing.
RB Kenneth Dixon managed a mere 25 yards on 12 carries. Once thought to be a strength of this Tech team, North Texas pulled the rug out from under the Bulldogs Saturday.
"I give North Texas a lot of credit," Louisiana Tech coach Skip Holtz said. "They loaded the box and said they were not going to let Kenneth stop them. They played a physical football game and they were able to load up and stop the run. We were not able to make enough big plays in the passing game to make them pay for it."
Next: at Florida International, Oct. 26
MARSHALL (4-2, 2-0)
Next: at Middle Tennessee, Oct. 24
MIDDLE TENNESSEE (3-4, 1-2)
Next: vs. Marshall, Oct. 24
NORTH TEXAS (4-3, 2-1)
Game: North Texas 28, Louisiana Tech 13. The Bulldogs scored the game's first 10 points, but UNT announced its arrival when QB Derek Thompson found WR Brelan Chancellor, his top weapon, on a play-action pass play rolling left late in the second quarter. "I just threw it as far as I could," Thompson said. It was the start of 28 consecutive points for the Mean Green, which rolled.
Takeaway: It was a nice quip, but what Dan McCarney said after UNT's win in Ruston was true: "Now we can stop this stupid stuff about we can't win on the road," he said.
That's yet another mark of a progressing program. The Mean Green had not won on the road in seven tries, and fell behind early in this game. Yet the team put together the type of balanced attack necessary to withstand the road's rigors, and its bowl chances are much better as a result.
Next: at Southern Miss, Oct. 26
RICE (5-2, 3-0)
Game: Rice 45, New Mexico State 19. The Owls returned to their successful ways on the ground, piling up 409 rushing yards, the most all season, while getting the win. RB Charles Ross, who has been hampered with injuries this year, had a career-high 167 yards on 26 carries. The Owls led 21-3 after the first quarter and 28-12 at halftime.
Takeaway: It's hard to put too much stock in this one, given that the Aggies entered the game winless and didn't put up too much of a fight. But the rushing game might be the biggest point to be made. This is how Rice is to win football games, and it ran for yard after yard Saturday, giving its run game its highest octane of the year.
Coach David Bailiff was most pleased with finishing a three-game road trip without a loss. "It takes ? a lot of intestinal fortitude to pull that off," he said, according to the Houston Chronicle.
Next: vs. UTEP, Oct. 26
SOUTHERN MISS (0-6, 0-2)
Game: East Carolina 55, Southern Miss 14. The Golden Eagles secured their 18th consecutive loss after East Carolina dominated from the get-go, leading 55-0 after three quarters. ECU outgained USM 476 yards to 233, and the Golden Eagles committed two turnovers.
Takeaway: Yes, the Golden Eagles were playing East Carolina, and doing so on the road. But Southern Miss' offense halfway through the season just isn't something with which it can win football games, no matter who it's playing. The Golden Eagles are especially deficient in the passing. They only completed 11 of the 28 passes they attempted Saturday.
"We are not good enough in any one area, coaches and players, to where we can't be balanced. They were obviously better; I hate to say that because that would say that I wouldn't be giving them credit about what they are as a defensive unit," USM coach Todd Monken said.
Next: vs. North Texas, Oct. 26.
TULANE (5-2, 3-0)
Next: vs. Tulsa, Oct. 26
TULSA (2-4, 1-1)
Next: at Tulane, Oct. 26
UAB (2-4, 1-1)
Next: at UTSA, Oct. 26.
UTEP (1-5, 0-3)
Next: at Rice, Oct. 26.
UTSA (2-5, 1-2)
Next: vs. UAB, Oct. 26.
NCAAF Team Report - North Texas - NOTES, QUOTES
--WR Justin Hardy had a career day in East Carolina's 55-14 win over Southern Miss. He now has 30 consecutive games with three or more receptions. He had 10 receptions for 126 yards. He also caught his 21st career touchdown pass, tying him for second on ECU's all-time list.
--About half of East Carolina QB Shane Carden's 228 completions this year -- 108 -- have been for 10 yards or more.
--For all the glum about Louisiana Tech's one-dimensional offense leading to its defeat at North Texas, there was a pretty big bright spot: its passing offense. QB Ryan Higgins, who has emerged as the team's starter midway through the season, threw for 343 yards on 36 of 54 passing. He did have two interceptions, though. WR Andrew Guillot had 10 catches for 99 yards.
--North Texas is 4-3 for the first time since 2003, but even this is more astounding: The past two weeks mark UNT's first back-to-back wins since 2004, a span of 102 games without consecutive victories.
--RB Brandin Byrd has scored touchdowns in consecutive games for the Mean Green. He didn't have a single rushing score in North Texas' preceding four games.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "When you have 107 yards through three quarters there is a lack of a lot. I don't know if balance is the word. Lack of execution?" -- USM coach Todd Monken, after his team's 55-14 loss to East Carolina.
NCAAF Team Report - North Texas - STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
FIVE BIGGEST TAKEAWAYS FROM WEEK 8 IN CONFERENCE USA:
1. North Texas is on an upward trajectory in Year 3 under Dan McCarney. It's not as if the Mean Green has been bad under McCarney, but those were the Sun Belt days. This year in Conference USA, UNT is establishing itself as a bona fide upper-half team.
Saturday's win at Louisiana Tech was evidence. UNT fell behind 10-0 early and appeared ready to fall victim to its eighth consecutive road game. But that didn't happen, and now UNT is talking bowls.
2. East Carolina is back on track. OK, so the opponent was Southern Miss. But the Pirates thoroughly destroyed the hapless Golden Eagles instead of merely toying with them. That's the significant part.
A week earlier, ECU messed around and made mistakes and lost to Tulane.
3. Once thought to be the strength of the team, Louisiana Tech's rushing game was essentially non-existent Saturday. That's something Skip Holtz will have to fix. Injuries have mattered, but the Bulldogs have a legitimate tailback in RB Kenneth Dixon.
4. Rice has no problem running the ball. The competition -- New Mexico State -- was suspect, but Charles Ross and the Owls racked up over 400 rushing yards in a blowout win, serving notice that Rice's once-vaunted rushing game hasn't gone anywhere.
5. Tulane should be well-rested. The five-win Green Wave drew some national pub this week after coach Curtis Johnson made good on a promise he had made a week earlier. The promise? If Tulane could beat East Carolina, it would have the whole week off from practice -- just be sure to go to class and lift weights.
With a key West Division game against Tulsa coming up Saturday, the Green Wave should be well recharged and ready to go.