By Craig Fields
Western Kentucky Hilltoppers vs. North Texas Mean Green
Thursday – October 15 – 6:30 pm CT
Apogee Stadium – Denton
Thursday night marks the first game post Dan McCarney era and this particular opponent could not have come at a worse time. The North Texas Mean Green (0-5) will be taking on the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers (5-1) at Apogee stadium.
If there is anything good to be said about this matchup on Thursday is that at least it is at home. The Mean Green could really use a break at this point. They are going through a transitional period right now with the firing of Dan McCarney, naming an interim head coach, and trying to understand what went wrong when they lost to an FCS team Portland State Vikings 66-7, the worst defeat an FBS team has ever taken at the hands of an FCS team. So yeah, these guys have a lot on their minds right now.
Speaking of interim head coaches, Athletic Director Rick Villarreal named offensive coordinator Mike Canales the interim coach for the remainder of the season. This is Canales’ second stint as an interim head coach. His first came after the firing of Todd Dodge in the 2010 season.
He actually led his team to a 2-3 record for the remaining five games of that season. And if anyone knows anything about the Todd Dodge era, two wins in five games is a HUGE plus. Anyway, I think it’s about time to start talking about the game on Thursday. Let’s get to it.
The Hilltoppers are almost 40-point favorites. That right there should tell you all you need to know about just how competitive people think this game is going to be. Unfortunately for the Mean Green, they cannot forfeit on paper, they have to go play the game. Here are a couple of keys to the game if they hope to have the slightest of chances against a superior team in the Hilltoppers.
#1: The Mean Green have to find some kind of defensive consistency
Playing a soft defense where the corners are 10-yards off the receiver in man to man is getting this team killed. Cover two, when they decided to play it, gets this team killed. Everything this defensive coordinator has done to try and string some stops together has failed.
It’s time to go to the drawing board and start trusting that your players can do more than what you are currently asking of them. Bump and run coverage from cornerbacks, exotic blitzes. PHYSICALITY FROM ALL 11 PLAYERS, are just some of the things that need to be addressed in this game.
This defense does have a few injuries, that has to be said. But this team has been playing without sure tackler cornerback Kenny Buyers for the entire season. At some point you have to trust the guys you have out on the field, or at least put them in the best position to succeed.
That is the job of coordinators and coaches. So far the entire staff has not been doing that for any player on either side of the ball.
#2: The Mean Green have to find an offensive rhythm early
String some plays together. Get a few first downs. Score a field goal or maybe even a touchdown on the first possession. I know crazy right? That may sound like a “duh” type moment but the Mean Green do not typically get off to a good start on their first possession. Doing so could do wonders for the confidence of a team whose confidence is undoubtedly wavering.
Whether the spark comes from McNulty or Damarcus Smith, someone needs to be able to make plays and not turn the ball over. That last part is important because the Hilltoppers lead the FBS in turnover margin.
They make their opponents turn the ball over about three times a game. That is a lot, to say the least. And it does not help that the Mean Green coughs up the ball almost three times a game on average.
Everything about this offense has been predictable and easy to stop. Defensive backs and linebackers have been jumping routes on majority of the thrown interceptions because they either know the play, or have a general sense of where the ball is going to go once the ball is snapped and the play develops.
Hopefully because Canales is/was the offensive coordinator and is now the head coach, that will open up the playbook a lot more.
Even if the Mean Green manage to do something to the Hilltoppers to surprise them or catch them off guard, I still do not think that it will be enough.
Prediction: WKU 55 – UNT 10