After a final minutes loss against Louisiana Tech, North Texas tries to get back on track against winless UTEP in El Paso. Here’s what we’re watching for.
3 Keys: North Texas
1. Protect Fine
The success of North Texas, both Saturday night and long term relies on the health of Mason Fine. The Mean Green left tackle position is a point of emphasis not only for North Texas but also for opponents. Last weekend, Louisiana Tech defensive end Jaylon Ferguson registered four sacks, the Bulldogs notched five altogether along with five hurries. Don’t let UTEP’s record fool you, the Miners defensive front is pretty good, and the Miners will move A.J. Hotchkins all over the front to give him access to the backfield.
2. Establish the Run
Loren Easly’s injury stings, the transfer from SFA was having a promising season. The Mean Green were running back by committee until Easly took over the primary back duties at Liberty. Now the workload falls to DeAndre Torrey, an explosive back who’s incorporating more and more into the offense and Nic Smith, the primary backup for Jeffrey Wilson in 2017.
The run game plays into point number one, a balanced attack (yes, Mike Leach, we take your meaning) will slow down the rush and provide space in the secondary.
3. Focus on #1
Let us make a prediction, Kai Locksley, if healthy, will get around 60% of UTEP’s offensive usage. A lot of that usage will be from zone reads, and designed quarterback runs. Locksley is the best offensive weapon on UTEP’s roster, and at quarterback, he’s easy to find.
3 Keys: UTEP
1. Missing in Action
Can UTEP find another offensive option? The likely options are players like Walter Dawn, the undersized water bug who’s moved to wide receiver full time, Winston Dimel, the swiss army knife transfer from K-State, Josh Fields, the locally sourced running back, or Kavika Johnson, the versatile receiver/converted quarterback. Dawn’s gone three games with zero touches, Dimel’s underutilized in the passing game, and Johnson hasn’t caught a pass since the Tennessee game. Fields and fellow back Quardraiz Wadley don’t get nearly enough touches to make an impact.
2. Symmetry on the O-Line
After losing three starters to season-ending injuries, the UTEP offensive line continues to be a work in progress. Last week Josiah Gray moved in at right tackle for the injured Jerrod Brooks. That’s four new starters on the offensive line, none of which have starting experience including a true freshman.
If you’re looking for the reason Dana Dimel’s coaching in a year zero, that’s Exhibit A. The Miners are making critical repairs to their foundation on the run, that affects everything Mike Canales is trying to do offensively.
3. Pressure on the Secondary
The Miners allow over five yards a carry. That number includes last week when UTEP, shut down UTSA’s run game. This week the Mean Green’s passing game comes calling, and Miner secondary will be in the cross-hairs. Three of UTEP’s five opponents threw the ball less than 2o times against the Miners. North Texas might hit that number by halftime. UTEP’s been effective at keeping the ball in front of them and limiting big plays. They’ve only allowed eight plays of twenty yards or more this season, tied for ninth best in the FBS. Unlike the offensive line, players like Nik Needham, Justin Rogers, Kahani Smith, Kalon Beverly and Michael Lewis bring a ton of experience and ability.