We’ve got some dandies this weekend, and North Texas trip to Arkansas is among them. The Mean Green are 2-0 for the first time since 1993 and face a reeling Arkansas team that blew a lead against Colorado State last weekend.
Mason Fine on a Big Stage
Forget Arkansas’ record, this is still an SEC team with SEC speed, and they’ll provide a real test for the Mean Green. You can bet they’re preparing for North Texas’ record-breaking quarterback, Mason Fine. Fine became the first North Texas quarterback ever to throw for 400 yards in consecutive games. Fine and the Mean Green skill talent will run up against John Chavis, the former Tennessee, LSU, and A&M coordinator who some are now arguing has lost his touch. Bet on Chavis to go back to the drawing board to prepare for the challenges Fine brings.
The Offensive Line
Typically games like this will come down to the freedom a quarterback like Fine has to operate. If he’s given time, he and his receivers will find open space. If he doesn’t get time, it’ll be a long afternoon. North Texas made two changes to their offensive front between SMU and UIW. Notably Jacob Brammer got his first start at tackle for an injured Jordan Murray and Thomas Preston started for Sosaia Mose at center. Lose Mose at center for Arkansas could hurt has the Junior from Euless Trinity and TJC is coming into his own quarterbacking the defense.
Look for Chavis to pick on someone. Based on the film, if Murray’s not back, Brammer should gear up for Arkansas to throw a lot at him.
North Texas will want to come out firing and try to get Arkansas on their heels. This team is at its best when they force teams to cover the entire field. To do that Mason Fine will need time.
Arkansas Searching for Answers
Thru two games, the Hogs are still unsettled at quarterback. Chad Morris named Cole Kelley the starter out of fall camp, and he played against Eastern Illinois. Ty Storey came on in relief. Storey played the first half against Colorado State, giving way to Kelley in the second.
Storey played well enough in the opener to get the start but struggled against Colorado State. Throwing two picks. Kelley, at 6-7, looks every bit the part and hasn’t had a rough outing equal to Storey’s yet. For now, Morris seems content to play both. “Playing two quarterbacks is really not something I want to do, but it’s something right now, until we can get that guy who can get this team moving and getting us on schedule and creating the momentum and the spark it’s going to take, it’ll be a week-to-week process right now,” Morris said. "I hope to settle in and get a guy going.”
Morris went to Kelley in the second half for a spark, and to an extent, he got a more reliable option, at least no turnovers. Kelley added two touchdowns as well. If we’re betting, Arkansas turns to Kelley to start against North Texas. Morris indicated as much as he released his depth chart.
Reffett Must Stop the Run
Last week Arkansas found traction on the ground. The Razorbacks ran 53 times for 299 yards, over 5.5 yards a carry. Rushing staked Arkansas to a lead, and then in the fourth quarter, they couldn’t put the game away.
At the same time, Incarnate Word found open running lanes against the Mean Green.
Arkansas has two outstanding options at running back in Devwah Whaley from Beaumont and Rakeem Boyd from Houston Stratford via the new Last Chance U. Both average better than five yards a carry. The Razorbacks love a jet sweep too. They also have the remnants of Bret Bielema’s offensive line, a unit that wants to run the football and unlike SMU, they’ll stick to the ground game.
For Reffett, whose defense shut down SMU thanks to a relentlessly aggressive style, will now get to test a deeper and more talented front six against a team that will attack them, on the ground, from lots of angles.
Coaches will preach the importance of approaching each game as though it’s the only game. “Win today.” “Let’s go 1-0 this week.” “Time is a flat circle.” But this week is a huge opportunity for the North Texas program. Arkansas presents a chance for the Mean Green beat an SEC team, Power 5, and turn up the spotlight on what’s going on in Denton. The national media is already talking about Mason Fine, but a win over Arkansas and this team might start getting Top 25 consideration.
For North Texas to put themselves into this opportunity, just removed from the debacle of 2015, is a testament to what Seth Littrell has done for this program.