Welcome to the fifth of a series of weekly articles that pose the big question facing The University of North Texas in their upcoming game.
UNT pulled off what most Sun Belt followers would see as the biggest upset in Sun Belt play so far this season in beating FAU on the road.
No doubt it was a good win for the Mean Green, but it was just one win.
UNT has not strung together consecutive wins in quite a while. How does UNT win their second game in a row for the first time in many, many years? To achieve that goal, the team will have to answer this weeks question.
Will the team improve this week?
Simply matching last week's effort won't get the Mean Green win number two.
ULL has a much better run defense than FAU. Plus, unlike FAU, ULL will have film. They will have a much better grasp of how UNT may attack them and will have been prepared better this week to handle UNT's tactics.
That means UNT has to improve this week to win.
They have to get better at their techniques. They have to run better routes. They have to block better. Offensive linemen at new positions have to improve at their new spots. The players have to maintain their focus better. The defense will need to try to tackle better. (RB Kevis Streeter appears to be emerging for ULL.)
UNt will have to catch the ball better. They will have to cover TE's much better (ULL's Ladarius Green is a very good TE). They have to throw better. They will have to play special teams better. They will have to do more work on not getting kicks blocked (ULL excels there).
And the coaches have to gameplan and coach a little better.
The difference between a good school that can win multiple games in a row and a bad team that can just compete each week is that a good team acknowledges the need to work for individual and team improvement each week; The need to work out the problem areas. A bad team thinks matching effort and emotion is sufficient.
The Ragin' Cajuns have played a tougher schedule than UNT and own an equally impressive win over the Red Wolves of Arkansas State. (ASU is always very tough early on.)
Prior to the season this looked like it would be a matchup of peers, with UNT holding the talent edge and ULL holding the edge in terms of knowing how to manage emotional pitfalls and win games.
UNT's talent edge has shrunk a little, but this is still a game that is winnable if UNT is a slightly better team this week than they were last week.
Running the ball.
ULL has played decent defense against both Arkansas State and Middle Tennessee. They are currently 6th in the Sunbelt in total yards allowed with 419 yards allowed, but 8th in total points allowed with 37.7 point allowed per game.
Those stats are a little misleading though, due to their opening week 55-7 blowout loss at the hands of Georgia. In Sun Belt play they are giving up a very respectable 26 points a game.
(For what it is worth, UNT for their part also has somewhat misleading stats. The Mean Green is averaging a Sun Belt worst 15.5 point a game. If you likewise allow them a mulligan for the Army game - where their offensive coaches didn't show for the game - UNT has a more respectable 20 point a game average.)
The Ragin' Cajuns have a credible defense vs. the run, but not a dominant defense in that regard. They can shut down a below average running game, but can be overwhelmed by a strong running game.
They only yield 139 yards per game on the ground, but that is largely due to the fact their back seven has proven to be quite an inviting target for their previous opponents. Even after a great showing against Arkansas State, the Ragin' Cajuns yield 4.7 yards a carry.
While they totally owned Arkansas State's running game, they got rolled by the strong Georgia and Middle Tennessee running games. UNT has the talent to be an above average running team. Will they be one on the field Saturday? If UNT plays well, the Mean Green should be able to roll up fairly big yards on ULL on the ground.
This is an identity game
In my mind, this is absolutely a game where UNT has to run the ball. Overcommitting to the pass has been a trap door for UNT under Dodge for years as UNT has not had the depth defensively to manage the play count.
If UNT overcommits to the pass, UNT will return to their soft play, the Mean Green defense will wear down, and we could be in for another late game collapse. It opens a door for UNT to return to their bad habits. It opens the door to fatigue, injuries, and interceptions
This is a game where UNT's coaches have to say "We are good enough to do what we excel at doing against a solid defense."
With a strong running game, UNT should be able to get some opportune big pass plays here and there without too much risk. You don't have to throw the ball all over the place to hit a few big pass plays on ULL, so why do it?
ULL is very capable of generating turnovers. They have a lot of upperclassmen in their back seven. It is much smarter to minimize risk and put your faith in UNT's senior dominated offensive line.
Last week UNT ran the ball, controlled the clock, and played good defense. They dictated the game to FAU. The game plan suited the players.
The players took the first step to forming a winning identity. The coaches need to keep the team on this ball control path. It is a good path for this UNT team.
If UNT can be the running team they think they can be, they should be able to run on the Ragin' Cajuns well enough to win. (If UNT doesn't play close to that level, ULL could stuff UNT's running game as ULL did Arkansas State's running game, forcing UNT to put Riley Dodge at risk trying to pass UNT to victory. That gets back to the idea that UNT has to improve.)
UNT needs a winning Identity. For the past few years they have tried to be a throw it around team and all they have succeeded in doing is building a soft mindset on the team.
That team expects to fold late.
UNT's coaches should help this team be the tough team who refused to lose last week instead.