Can UNT's defense corral Daniel Thomas, the nation's 12 leading rusher, and the Kansas State running game?
Welcome to the 12th entry in a series of weekly articles that pose the big questions facing the University of North Texas football team.
UNT's defense collapsed in the second half last week, giving up three straight TD drives (47 yards and then two 71-yard drives) as the Mean Green fell to the University of Louisiana-Monroe, 49-37. The defense was fed the turf for the second year in a row as the Warhawks, who had entered the game averaging a Sun Belt worst 2.7 yards per carry, ran 51 times for 233 yards in the game.
The whole team didn't roll over vs. ULM as they did in 2009 though. They actually held a 27-21 lead at the half and fought back to within five, 42-37, with seven minutes to go in front of a hostile crowd of 8,905.
The final game of the year and the last UNT football game of all time at Fouts Field will feature UNT against Kansas State. The last big question is:
Will the Seniors Mail in Their Last Game in a Lost Season?
It is easy to imagine a scenario where they do. UNT is likely to have another poor turnout game unless Kansas State has a significant fanbase in the area and deems a game against UNT to be worth seeing. UNT's student body has been showing up in good numbers this year, keeping the turnout numbers from being atrocious, but they may not for this game. Even with a decent Kansas State crowd, it would not be surprising to see a turnout of 15,000 or so fans, with many of them arriving late.
Additionally, Fouts is a lousy place to watch a game and limits the fan noise. The Mean Green could again come out flat at home and get rolled again.
My gut feeling is they won't get rolled though. Under Coach Canales, this team is playing with a lot of guts and passion that frankly wasn't there under Dodge. Additionally, UNT plays better coming off losses where the Mean Green feel they have something to prove than they do coming off wins.
Plus, Kansas State may just look at UNT's record and take this game for granted.
Statistically both teams are eerie mirrors of each other, although Kansas State has won six games as a member of one of the better BCS AQ conferences, and UNT has won three as a member of the worst FBS conference.
Still, things are looking up for UNT. Since Canales took over, the Mean Green offense has averaged 32 ppg. Overall UNT is 24th in the nation in rushing at 193.5 yards per game, and despite being something of a finesse team, the Mean Green control the clock for a very respectable 32:13 minutes per game. Additionally UNT has turned the ball over only 16 times this year, second-fewest in the Sun Belt.
Although limited by injuries, Riley Dodge has emerged as the kind of QB a lot of folks thought he might be at UNT. Dodge has thrown 10 TD with only four INT this year while proving to be the tough, gutty competitor he was in high school.
UNT is giving up 27.9 ppg. For the Sun Belt that might qualify as an elite defense, but in the rest of the FBS world that is slightly below average. UNT is 73rd out of the 120 FBS teams in spite of UNT's success controlling the clock and avoiding turnovers.
The Mean Green defense is tied for 78th in the nation in sacks despite having a defense that sells out the run to get more speed on the field in the pass rush. They surrender 4.5 yards per carry.
Kansas State's offense averages 4.6 yards per carry and is the nation's 26th ranked rushing offense. The Wildcats' passing offense is more than competent, completing 65 percent of their passes for 181 yards per game with 13 TDs and eight interceptions.
Kansas State won't give this game away, but an inspired bounceback game vs. the run by UNT's star defensive tackles Shavod Atkinson and Kelvin Jackson and the rest of the front seven could give the Mean Green a chance in this game.
Kansas State has already clinched bowl eligibility and has not been closing out its games as of late. While the Wildcats are competitive each week, their only win in their last five games is over a Texas team that is playing lousy, Sun Belt caliber football.
Despite being a matchup of two running teams, this game has the look of a track meet. Given that Kansas State has to travel and that UNT may be closing better, the Mean Green has a shot.