Welcome to the 10th entry in a series of weekly articles that pose the big questions facing the University of North Texas.
UNT played a tremendous game against Troy last week, and by all reports entered this week's practices with renewed focus and enthusiasm.
Does that mean UNT should beat Middle Tennessee? Who can say? While curiously UNT has had both of its victories on the road this year (away from a pessimistic and subdued home crowd?) they also totally imploded on the road after the emotional loss of a QB (QB No. 2 Derek Thompson). A no-show appears unlikely, but is totally possible.
If UNT shows up, like it generally has on the road and as it has since Canales took over, this is a game UNT could very well steal. Call them a live dog.
Will UNT Make the Deciding Factor of the Game Be Their Defensive Core?
UNT has the assets to be able to dictate how this game rolls out.
MTSU has not been the same kind of dominant offense that they have been in previous years. They have actually surrendered 28 turnovers this year (12 fumbles and 16 INTs), by far the worst in the Sun Belt.
Perhaps they straightened out the problems in their bye week. Maybe not.
That said, it very well may not matter if Dasher runs for 75 yards and two touchdowns again this year against UNT. If this season is any indication, MTSU might struggle not to be somewhat one dimensional vs. UNT.
Could UNT's pass defense do alright vs. MTSU? MTSU has not thrown that well against anyone else, why not against UNT too?
However, any problems MTSU may have throwing the ball will be irrelevant if MTSU can once again regularly count on Dasher to run for first downs on 3rd-and-long.
I am of the mindset that a top running QB combined with a strong running games is two dimensions. Their scoring average would seem to support that.
If UNT allows Dasher's running on passing downs to consistently move the chains again this year, winning will be difficult. This would be a great game for the linebackers to take their play up a notch and play more disciplined ball and tackle more securely in space.
If UNT's LBs and safeties can help keep Dasher's feet under control (and the Mean Green do not relapse into the late hitting knuckle heads they were earlier in the year—something that has noticeably diminished under Canales), the game could come down to MTSU vs. the best pair of defensive tackles in the conference and two MLBs playing their best ball of the season.
That is a matchup UNT would likely win.
MTSU averages 26.6 ppg. UNT gives up 26.8 ppg.
MTSU can run run the ball, gaining 4.3 yards a carry on their way to 179 yards per game on the ground. They are tied for the most rushing TDs in the sun belt with 20. They have scored 18 TDs in 28 trips to the end zone (64 percent). Sixteen of those (57 percent) have been rushing TDs. This is still a veteran winning team that smells blood in the red zone and will try to pound it in.
QB Dasher is an elite rushing threat and UNT's defense under Gary DeLoach the last few years has historically struggled with running QBs. UNT's defense yields 4.4 yards per carry and is one of the better defenses in the Sun Belt about yielding rushing TDs only surrendering 14.
MTSU's passing offense has been quite inconsistent this year with all the problems that have faced their QB. As a team MTSU has completed 58.6 percent of their passes with six TDs and 14 INTs and is dead last in pass efficiency in the Sun Belt with a 106.9 efficiency rating.
While UNT should not jump at every pass, it should be prepared. There will probably be safe opportunities for interceptions against MTSU.
It speaks volumes that even with the second-best rushing offense in the conference, MTSU has the worst time of possession at 26:17 per game.
UNT's pass defense is giving up completions at a 56.3 percent rate and has yielded 14 touchdowns this year already (about average for the Sun Belt).
MTSU gives up 30 ppg. UNT scores 20.7 ppg, but has scored 33 and 35 points in the last two weeks respectively and appears to be rediscovering its ability to put points up on the board. UNT's offense averages a Sun Belt-best 4.6 yards per carry. MTSU yields 4.1 yards per carry.
Riley Dodge and the UNT passing game had one of their best efforts all season vs. Troy last week. UNT should be able to have some success if they execute well.
MTSU is surrendering completions at a rate of only 55.6 percent and has only surrendered 13 TDs this year, but on the same token they are not a ball-hawking team either. MTSU is tied with UNT as the conference's worst at making interceptions with only five all year.
MTSU's defense has tallied a Sun Belt-worst nine turnovers this year. Canales should be aggressive again this week and UNT may be able to get away with a untimely pass here or there.
This game lays out as one where UNT should be able to control the clock, keep tits defense fresh and win the game. Does that actually happen? Who can say?
MTSU has to see that and will likely try to shuffle the cards. After all, the Blue Raiders have an aggressive Head Coach too.
You could see trick plays from MTSU, especially on special teams where UNT has played well as of late, but is usually very predictable and sometimes marginally prepared.
MTSU has kicked three onside kicks this year, recovering one. They will probably want to steal a possession against UNT. It would be sensible to be aware of that and coach the return crews to secure the ball and get down on onside kicks.
MTSU also leads the conference in fourth down conversions, completing five-of-eight successfully. Fake punts and field goals should also be kept in mind.