Holy Darrell Dickey, North Texas is in its third straight bowl game! Now the Mean Green need to win one, but the New Mexico Bowl won’t be easy as a stout Utah State team awaits. Let’s take a look at three keys to a Mean Green win.
The Matt Wells Factor
A bowl game is an exercise in motivation. For schools that play in bowls year in and year out, the destination often dictates effort level. The other motivating factor can be whether the coach that recruited you jumped ship to a Power 5 job as is the case with Matt Wells and Utah State. Co-defensive coordinator Frank Maile will run the team on Saturday, Gary Anderson is poised to take over the program after that.
Much of Saturday’s outcome will depend on how the Aggies respond to the change. A football team can have a strange pulse, veteran leadership and attitude is important regardless of the circumstance, but even more so in a situation like Utah State is facing on Saturday.
In the Aggies’ favor is the return of offensive coordinator David Yost for the bowl game. Yost is following Wells to Texas Tech, but he’s running the offense and calling plays for Utah State’s high flying offense. That continuity might give us a high flying, pointsy afternoon.
In North Texas’ three losses they’ve allowed twelve sacks. In their nine wins, they’ve allowed fourteen. Add to that an average of five pressures in those three losses and protecting Mason Fine becomes a high priority.
Fine’s been on the wrong end of several highlight shots. One of those shots knocked him out of the FAU game briefly. Look for Utah State to try to throw Fine off his spots and make him work his progressions. If they can do that, they’ll have the chance to get hits on him, and follow the script that Louisiana Tech, UAB, and, holy shit, Old Dominion. Can North Texas’ offensive line step up in a big game and protect Fine, allowing him to work the ball downfield? Or at least keep him from taking shots that send him into orbit?
Reffett with Time
North Texas defensive coordinator Troy Reffitt has quietly built the Mean Green defense into a fast, attacking, flexible unit. Reffett’s bunch improved from 97th in total defense last season to 42nd this season. In two fewer games they’ve eclipsed last year’s tackles for loss total. The Mean Green have ten more sacks than last season.
With fifteen practices and a singular focus, Reffett should have his dogs ready to hunt.
It’s also the last ride for some significant contributors to the Mean Green defense including E.J. Ejiya, Roderick Young, Brandon Garner, Ulaiasi Tauaalo, Nate Brooks, and Kemon Hall. All multi-year starters, and all playing at a high level heading into their final game for North Texas.