Will ULM's inability to run the ball be the difference?
Welcome to the 11th entry in a series of weekly articles that pose the big questions facing the University of North Texas.
Having knocked off Middle Tennessee, the second most dominant team in the Sun Belt over the last few years, on the road last week 23-17 and losing narrowly to the Sun Belt's 800-lb gorilla (Troy) the week prior 41-35 (and then likely only due to a late penalty), The Mean Green have to be feeling pretty good about themselves.
That has been a recipe for disaster for North Texas over the last few years and leads us to this week's question.
Will the Mean Green bring a winner's edge into this game?
You can come into a game with a good deal of enthusiasm, but if you lack the focus and attention to details, you can give the game away with penalties and turnovers. UNT fans have seen that a lot.
You can also just come out flat and get smoked. We saw that last year against ULM when they fed the Mean Green the Fouts Field turf in a 33-6 non-competitive ball control asskicking in front of the Mean Green faithful.
ULM is a much better team that a lot of people expected this year. While they are statistically lousy, they are 4-6. They are a perfect example of why it is so important to reach that middle of the pack competitiveness level. ULM has been a middle of the pack Sun Belt school for years, and their players know they can beat bad teams.
Remember this is the team that crushed Troy and destroyed their confidence.
They are more than capable of beating UNT. UNT will have to avoid mistakes and will likely need to match the level of play that they have delivered in the last two weeks to win this game.
This is a hugely important game for UNT. If UNT loses, they remain a bottom of the Sun Belt team and have to consider that fact the entire off season. If they win it and finish with a 4-4 record in conference, it means they have climbed into the middle of the pack. It sets this team up with a lot of confidence heading into next year where they can take the next step.
Also if they lose this game, they won't enter next season knowing that they can string together consecutive wins.
This is a huge game for UNT.
On paper, the statistics favor UNT. The difference in the two teams' abilities to close out games narrows the gap.
Defensively ULM gives up 32.9 ppg. They give up 4.4 yards per carry, but their pass coverage suggests ULM's defense is better than one suspects. ULM is fourth in the Sun Belt in defensive pass efficiency and hold their opponents to a 55.2% completion percentage. They have yielded 17 TDs, but they also have collected 10 INTs (tied for 2nd best in the Sun Belt) while recording 22 sacks.
Their stats do suggest the ULM defense wears down and loses focus as a team gets into their red zone. (30 TDs yielded on 46 trips to the red zone.)
It would make sense for UNT to protect Riley Dodge and pass less than they have the last few weeks, but go for it once they clear the 35 yard line.
UNT has the Sun Belt's #1 run offense (196 yards per game) and are also #1 in time of possession (32:58 per game).
ULM's big issues appear to be offensive ones. They average a Sun Belt worst 17.9 ppg.
Their passing offense is more than respectable completing 62.2% of their passes for 6.8 yards per attempt with 12 TDs and 12 INTs. Their running game, however, has been a season long problem: ULM gains only 2.7 yards per carry. (It should be noted that they have had a couple of good games from their running backs this year — notably against Troy- so inconsistency should be the seen as the main problem with the ULM running game.)
In spite of the poor ground game, ULM does a pretty good job of controlling the clock. The scheme is good, but the execution and talent has not been consistent.
ULM has only marginal success in the red zone, scoring 13 TDs in 25 trips. That factor also again speaks to execution and the running game.
ULM is -7 in the turnover margin, UNT is -1.
With luck the focus will be there and UNT will pay the Warhawks back with their own ball control ass whipping in front of their home crowd. We will see.