Welcome to the sixth of a series of weekly articles that pose the big question facing The University of North Texas in their upcoming game.
UNT came close to pulling off a dramatic comeback for their second win in a row last week, but ultimately a blocked extra point thwarted their efforts.
You can look at the team and ask the same question we asked last week, "will the team improve?", but really this may be a more telling question to be answered.
Will the team stay focused?
There are a ton of excuses to lose focus this week.
The emotional let down from the late loss to ULL.
The Riley Dodge broken wrist.
The Tyler Stradford lawn furniture injury.
The James Hamilton injury.
Many fans simmering resentment towards Todd Dodge.
The season win goals hanging over the team.
Good teams focus in spite of distractions. UNT has a great shot to become a good team. They were in a hair's breadth of stealing the last game because they did the things good team do in practice last week.
I think they made a lot of uncharacteristic, chippy dumb plays last week due to the traumatic situation on Thursday and Friday, but all the good work they did in practice prior to that kept them in the game.
The players have to tune out the distractions being pushed their way.
The players have probably heard, "Oh they can't possibly win! They are down what - 15 players?"
Don't listen to that garbage. Tune it out.
If my count is correct, you have back 8 of the offensive starters and 8 of the defensive starters you had last year against Arkansas State.
More importantly, you have almost everyone back from last week. Heck, If you need Riley Dodge for a play or two, he will be on hand and available to play.
There is no reason you cannot replicate a lot of the success you had against ULL. The entire offensive line (which I might add has been improving every game the last couple weeks) returns. Lance Dunbar returns. Darius Carey, BJ Lewis, Jamaal Jackson, and Alex Lott return. The receivers who caught all 22 passes last week are back this week.
You are being told all of that talent is irrelevant. You are being told you can't help out Chase Baine in his first start.
Screw them. Don't let anyone tell you what you can or can't achieve. Tune it out.
You and I know something apparently others don't.
Chase Baine doesn't suck.
Chase Baine plays a very similar game to Riley Dodge. He may not be as cunning as Dodge the younger on the field, but their games share a lot of traits that well suit the modified offense UNT has been running the past few weeks.
People want to think of Chase Baine as a much, much lesser version of Riley Dodge. In some areas he is actually better than Riley and that may give the team an edge this week.
Chase Baine is probably a little more consistent throwing the ball upfield than Riley. Anyone who has seen him warming up a QB by throwing 50 yard passes knows he has a decent enough arm. I can assure you that while he isn't as accurate as Riley, his arm looks a little better in action than Riley's. He is a better short yardage runner than Riley, and from what I have seen in the past he is slightly less of a gambler than Riley. He won't force in passes that Riley will, but he will go mid-range to deep more often.
You can win with that.
Canales and Dodge have played it a little close to the vest to protect Riley the last two weeks. Riley has been more of a manager than a game owner. That is optimal usage for Baine as well.
You know Canales and Dodge will try to manage Baine through the game. They aren't going to ask him to do more than he is capable of doing.
The line needs to block well. (Is that beyond their capability? No, of course not.)
The receivers need to focus on catching the ball instead of trying to make big plays. Just reliably catching the ball and not putting it in the air will help Baine out more than anything they do after the run. (Again, this is something the receivers have accomplished in games past. Not asking anything they cannot do.)
Lance Dunbar just needs to go out and play his game. (A given.)
None of these are ridiculously unachievable goals. If the other players go out and play their game, Chase Baine will do fine.
If they do that, he won't have to win the game for the team, he will just have to play within himself and help move the chains.
He can do that. Why? Because Chase Baine doesn't suck.
You can beat this team
I won't lie. Arkansas State is probably a better team than ULL. They may lack some depth, but they are fairly well coached. They show up to play. They lead the Sun Belt in both red zone offensive success and red zone defensive success.
UNT's defense is going to have to step it up big time. They need to keep the Wolves off the field and cold. If State does make it to the red zone, the UNT defense needs to step up their focus in a way they haven't done this year. They need to force StAte to kick field goals.
StAte is second in the league in passing. UNT is going to have to step up their pass defense big time this week to compete.
StAte isn't going to give you this game. If you want to win it, you have to pound on them all game long on both sides of the ball.
UNT should be able to control the ball on Arkansas State and possibly make them one dimensional, but it won't be easy.
StAte is last in the Sun Belt in defense giving up a staggering 503 yards a game, but that doesn't eman it will be easy for UNT. Remember they are great in the red zone and that is with the Wolves already having played Troy and ULL (at full strength) in conference. UNT will have to play hard to get touchdowns on the board.
The Mean Green has to eliminate the stupid late hit penalties, especially on special teams. UNT cannot afford to push Arky State closer to the red zone. A big chunk of the Wolves success comes from the fact they win the penalty battle by a big margin each week.
This team needs to stay focused from here on out
The players will hear a lot of talk about firing the coaches for the rest of the season. It wouldn't matter if UNT had won the rice and ULL games, a lot of UNT fans were waiting for this point of the season to start calling for Dodge's head again.
Tune that out.
Do your thing. Control the things you can control, you and your teammates' actions, keep your focus as players and as a team, and let the cards fall where they may for everything else.
If you work on your weak areas in practice,
If you constantly strive to improve your weakest areas,
If you improve each day,
If you focus on the job at hand,
If you just go out every week and play your hearts out with dedication and focus,
...The winning will take care of itself.
Remember your careers are the only finite attribute on the team. You have X number of games in your career to win as many as possible and play as well as you can. Play well and win for you. You only get one go-around.
Anything that distracts you from that simple truth is a waste of time.
If players feel a motivation to try to save their coaches' jobs then do so by ensuring that your teammates practice and play hard every week. Games like the Army game or last year's game against ULM open the door for mid-season coaching changes.
If the Mean Green play like they have the last two weeks for the rest of the season, nothing is written in stone. Not the best possible win total. Not the coaches' fate. Nothing.
If personal loyalty is a big chunk of your motivation, then do what you can to make the decision a tough one by becoming the best, most consistent and focused players you can be.
UNT is the wild card team in the Sun Belt. They are the team no one really wants to play because others don't know what to expect or how good UNT can be. UNT has been getting better the last two weeks, but they really haven't come close to showing their real potential --- and they are already competitive with good Sun Belt teams.
Come on Mean Green. Tune out the distractions, keep working on the problems in your games and go kick some ass on Saturday.
Go Mean Green!