Welcome to the third of a series of weekly articles that would pose the big question The University of North Texas faces for each of their upcoming games.
UNT's players fought like hell last week, but a few mistakes cost them a victory against Rice. Next on the schedule is a road trip to New York to play the Army Black knights who lost a close game to the University of Hawaii last week on a late fumble as Army was attempting to better position the ball for a game winning field goal.
Will Mike Canales develop a ball control game plan that does the things required to beat a military academy?
The academies require so much from their players athletically off the football field that they all share the same general characteristics in terms of team makeups. They are always undersized for FBS teams. Their players are extemely well conditioned and disciplined, and there is not a huge falloff from a starter to a backup as there often is at other FBS schools.
This really creates a scenario where all the academies largely have the same approach to the game, which in turn creates a very similar pattern in all the academy games.
The military academies generally have a shot at winning most games in the third and fourth quarters.
The Hawaii game is an excellent example of what could happen to UNT if Canales choses a heavy pass game plan. Hawaii came in with a potent passing offense and rolled out to 21-0 lead. Then they lost focus. Army learned from their mistakes and figured out the UH offense. Army rolled down the field to score against UH's somewhat suspect defense. They quickly got the ball back. They did it again. And again. Before UH knew what happened they lost all their momentum and their offense was cold as they watched Army take a 28-21 lead behind Army's backup QB.
Hawaii's offense shook off the rust enough to tie the game only to see Army run the ball right down the field on Hawaii's worn out defense. Army was in FG position and ran a play to center the ball better only to have a Hawaii player make a huge play punching the ball out of the Army QB's hands as he went down.
Hawaii moved into FG range, kicked it through the uprights, and breathed a sigh of relief as they feld Michie Field.
It is pretty to imagine UNT going through a very similar game - except without the last minute save - based on past history.
Unlike at Hawaii, there is no culture of players making game winning plays at UNT. There is a culture of losing focus on both sides of the ball and allowing leads to slip away that the players are trying to break.
And of course UNT may spot Army points with poor special teams play.
Like last week against Rice, UNT faces a school with much more recent success than UNT. Army's players better understand how to manage the highs and lows of the game without losing focus.
Like last week the defense will have to fight off the bad habit they had last year of mentally checking out after a turnover, blocked kick or punt, or a UNT TD. They will have to fight Army on every play. Army has no quit in them. To beat them, UNT will have to match that discipline and focus.
But the real question will be on the offensive side of the ball. Like against Clemson, UNT cannot afford to have Army run all over the Mean Green defense. If Rice could wear UNT down with their backup running back, a 90+% running team like Army certainly is capable of doing the same.
Like he did against Clemson, Canales is going to have to come up with a game plan that controls the clock and rolls up yards. The less Army's offense is on the field, the fresher UNT's defense will be and the better the center of UNT's defense should be able to control the Black Knight's running game. The less Army's offense is on the field the better UNT's chances are of beating Army.
UNT ran the ball 49 times against Clemson and passed 34 times. That is fairly close to the mix UNT would probably need to defeat Army.
Now it should be noted that 18 of those rushes vs. Clemson were runs by UNT's QBs. Lance Dunbar only had 23 carries. Really Dunbar should have upwards of 30 carries this week and the plays should be designed to really take advantage of his skillset as a runner. The team really needs Dunbar to carry them this week.
Also, as I wrote in the last article about Todd Dodge and coaching oversight, with a transition to a very raw QB UNT's coaches should strongly consider taking a look at the offensive line and going with whatever makeup allows Lance Dunbar to have the most success.
Finally, Canales would be smart to save a package of plays for the fourth quarter. Army players learn quickly how to take away an offense's bread and butter and Army's games are often tight. Having a handful of plays that have been well practiced that UNT can strip Army's gears with late in the game can easily be the difference between winning and losing.
UNT has the players to win this game. This week the focus rightly will be on the direction provided by Todd Dodge and both coordinators.