Texas vs. North Texas: Complete Game Preview

Taylor GasparFeatured ColumnistAugust 26, 2014

Texas vs. North Texas: Complete Game Preview

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    Michael Thomas/Associated Press

    College football is in the air in Austin, Texas, as the Longhorns hope to begin the Charlie Strong era on a positive note against North Texas.

    This offseason has been anything but ordinary for Texas football, which said goodbye to legendary coach Mack Brown and welcomed Strong and his new staff.

    Now, the time has finally come for Texas football to show the college football nation what it can do under its new leadership.

     

    When: Saturday, Aug. 30, 8 p.m. ET

    Where: Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium, Austin, Texas

    TV: Longhorn Network

    Austin radio:  KVET 98.1/1300

    SiriusXM satellite radio: XM 202, Sirius 117, Internet 969, Spanish 550

    Last meeting: Sept. 2, 2006, Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium

    Last meeting outcome: Texas 56, North Texas 7

    Spread: Texas (-25), per VegasInsider.com

Texas' Key to Victory

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Run the Ball

    The strength of the Longhorns offense is in its ground game.

    Running backs Malcolm Brown and Johnathan Gray are arguably the most potent one-two punch in the Big 12, and their skills will be on display Saturday in Austin.

    Strong knows what he has in Brown and Gray—who both had multiple 100-plus-yard games last season—and has put a lot of faith in the two backs to carry the offense as well as be leaders for the rest of the team this season.

    "Those two guys are just so fun to watch practice because they compete each and every day," Strong said of Brown and Gray. "They're the two hardest workers on the team. They practice like it. If they all practice like it, when they get to the game, they'll play exactly the way they practice."

    After losing seven starters from its 2013 group, the Mean Green's defense will likely be a work in progress early in the season.

    That could allow Brown and Gray to rack up serious yardage Saturday.

North Texas' Key to Victory

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    Stop the Run

    North Texas is looking to continue its momentum from the 2013 season but will have a major hurdle to overcome before that is possible: Find the right defense to pressure its opponents.

    A big part of the Mean Green's success from last season was their defense, which ranked No. 2 nationally in red-zone defense, No. 4 in takeaways and No. 8 in scoring defense. However, the defense will look to replace seven starters from 2013, including the entire defensive line.

    The defensive line will have to pressure the Longhorns' inexperienced offensive line in order to stand a chance against Texas' run-heavy attack.

    If the Mean Green can get the Longhorns' offensive line on its heels and find a way to fill the gaps to stop the ground game, Texas quarterback David Ash will have to rely on passing the ball to his somewhat inexperienced group of wide receivers.

Texas Players to Watch

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    QB David Ash

    When the Longhorns take the field Saturday, 342 days will have passed since quarterback David Ash has seen contact on the football field.

    The concerns surrounding his frightening injury history will likely continue.

    Many people questioned if Ash should give up the game he loves after missing the majority of the 2013 season with recurring concussion symptoms. However, Ash was determined to return to the field to lead the Longhorns in 2014.

    It is safe to say a lot of Texas fans will cringe when Ash takes his first hit of the season, and that moment will likely happen Saturday.

    How Ash bounces back from contact will be a key storyline throughout the early portion of the 2014 season.

     

    DE Cedric Reed

    Defensive end Cedric Reed is on many preseason watch lists heading into this season and is the No. 1 senior defensive end on ESPN Insider Mel Kiper Jr.'s 2015 NFL draft prospects (subscription required).

    Reed will be a player to watch every week, but it will be interesting to see how he handles North Texas' veteran offensive line.

    The strength of the Mean Green's offense begins with its line, which returns four starters from last season.

    How the 6'6" end deals with the pressure of likely being double-teamed will be a key component to the Longhorns' success on the defensive line, and Reed will provide the first glimpse this Saturday.

North Texas Players to Watch

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    USA TODAY Sports

    QB Josh Greer

    According to a video on MeanGreenSports.com, North Texas will look to replace Heart of Dallas Bowl MVP quarterback Derek Thompson with junior college transfer Josh Greer.

    Greer was competing for the starting role with Andrew McNulty, but it in the end, it came down to Greer's playmaking ability throughout the offseason.

    Greer's playmaking ability will need to be at an all-time high when he faces the Texas defense. He will need his offensive line to do everything in its power to stop the Longhorns' stout defensive line from putting the pressure on him.

     

    LB Derek Akunne

    One of the few returning starters on defense is poised to have another positive season for North Texas.

    Linebacker Derek Akunne is looking to continue his momentum from last season, when he finished tied at No. 2 on the team with 90 total tackles.

    Akunne's talents will be put to the test as he prepares to face the Longhorns' potent ground game.

What They're Saying

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    USA TODAY Sports

    North Texas Head Coach Dan McCarney on Choosing Quarterback Josh Greer over Andrew McNulty, per MeanGreenSports.com.

    Josh Greer made more plays. He made more throws for big plays. He made more throws for touchdowns. He was just a little bit more consistent than McNulty was.

    It started way back in March, all the way through camp, but it has been very, very, very close.

    Both of them wanted to be starters, but only one of them can roll out there with the No. 1 offense the first play of the season, and that will be Josh Greer.

     

    Texas Head Coach Charlie Strong on His Relationship with Dan McCarney

    "Well, Mac and I go back to our days at Florida. He'd be sitting there telling a joke, after he ordered a Coke and Twizzlers. That's all he would eat. Then he'd have those small Snickers bars that he ate all the time. We always laughed at him because he'd eat lunch and then he'd go right to that Coke. But he was just wired, always had a lot of energy, and I know his team will be well-coached because he did a great job when he was at Iowa State. Also, and looking at the job he's done there at North Texasnine wins, beating UNLV in a bowl gamethat team will be well-coached. They'll be very prepared for us."

     

    Strong on Coaching His 1st Game at Texas

    "You look around and just see the history. You look at all those names out there and what has happened within the tradition and the pride that has been built within this program. Now I have a chance to go lead this football program. It's going to be fun and exciting, but still, I had to take a step back, too, and just realize we need to go win this football game. We've got to go play well, too, or I may not be enjoying that moment for very long."

Prediction

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    USA TODAY Sports

    North Texas deserves a lot of credit for what it has done since McCarney took the reins. Nevertheless, all signs point to 2014 as a rebuilding year.

    The Mean Green are breaking in a new starting quarterback and have to rebuild their front seven on defense, which are not easy tasks for any college football program.

    Texas is also in a rebuilding year but has enough talent on both sides of the ball to overcome North Texas.

    In the end, the Longhorns will turn to their ground game to break down and expose the Mean Green's inexperienced defensive front.

    The Longhorns will once again begin the season with a 1-0 record.

    Prediction: Texas 35, North Texas 10

     

    Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained firsthand.

    Taylor Gaspar is Bleacher Report's featured columnist covering the Texas Longhorns. Follow Taylor on Twitter: @Taylor_Gaspar.