Know Your Foe: Q&A With North Texas Insider Brett Vito
Its come down to this FAU fans. At 3-6, FAU has to win their remaining games in order to qualify for a bowl. Its not an impossible feat, FAU did it last year as they finished the season with a four game winning streak to finish the season at 6-6. If FAU is to repeat last year's record they are going to have to do something they haven't done all year: Win on the road. This week the Owls travel to Denton to take on the North Texas Mean Green. Kickoff is set for 7 pm. Special thanks to Brett Vito for taking the time to answer our questions.
For more on UNT football you can find his work at the Mean Green Blog. You can also follow him on twitter at @brettvito. Lets get to the questions.
Q: Last year North Texas won nine games and the Heart of Dallas Bowl over UNLV to cap a remarkable turnaround from winning eight games in four years under former head coach Todd Dodge, to nine in Dan McCarney's third year. During spring practice McCarney told you the challenges UNT will face this year will determine whether UNT is a "real program." How has McCarney been so successful in such a short time? With just two wins this year, has he erased the good will with the Mean Green faithful?
BV: The situation at UNT is like just about any set of circumstances out there. Thereís more to it than a cursory glance indicates. UNT was a dumpster fire when McCarney took over after Todd Dodge, a former high school coach, took over the program and ran it into the ground. Dodge compiled a 6-37 record before UNT finally fired the worst coach in the history of the schoolís entire athletic program (that is a statistical fact).
McCarney took over and gradually pulled UNT out of a huge ditch. His breakthrough season came last year when UNT won nine games and the Heart of Dallas Bowl, a performance that earned him a new five-year contract. UNT has had a tough season, but McCarney has serious equity in the bank at a place where it is historically hard to win. McCarney talked about this season being a key year as far as proving what the program is made of because the Mean Green lost so much in terms of talent. UNT returned just nine starters and lost several cornerstone players, including linebacker Zach Orr and safety Marcus Trice, not to mention quarterback Derek Thompson. There were a few fans who thought UNT wouldnít miss Thompson. It seemed like a crazy notion at the time. That has proven to be the case now that UNT has used three quarterbacks and struggled all year. Most realistic fans knew this was going to be a rebuilding year and still have faith in McCarney, who led UNT to just its third bowl win ever.
Q: How is life with the new on campus stadium? The Owl fan base loves FAU Stadium and I am very thankful I will never have to endure the trek to Fort Lauderdale to watch the Owls play in a high school stadium. With that said, FAU has not come close to selling out the stadium. Has UNT had to endure the same problem?
BV: Pretty much. Apogee Stadium is really nice and attendance has gradually improved. There was an ill-advised notion out there that once UNT opened the stadium that it would start magically selling out games. Thereís just too long of a history of poor seasons and lost generations of fans for that to happen. Itís going to take time and a lot of winning for UNT to get to where it wants to be. FAU will face the same issue, even with a new stadium.
Q: After losing Derek Thompson - the only quarterback to start during McCarney's tenure - UNT has had Josh Greer, Andrew McNulty, and Dajon Williams see action behind the center with mixed results this year. Who should FAU expect to see behind center this week and what are the strengths and weaknesses of said QB?
BV: UNT will start Andrew McNulty. Heís a veteran guy the staff trusts to take care of the ball and distribute it to the right people. McNulty is not the most talented quarterback out there and doesnít have a big arm, but he is generally pretty steady. McCarney has vowed to get Williams into UNTís game against FAU as well. The redshirt freshman is highly talented, but just hasnít put it together yet, despite being given every opportunity. UNT is going to keep going to the well with Williams and hope that he eventually figures it out. UNT went to him after three games and didnít yank him back out until he had two interceptions and a fumble returned for touchdowns in a blowout loss to UAB. That is how much they like his physical talent.
Q: UNT is currently enduring a four game losing streak. At 2-6, what has gone wrong for the Mean Green this year after appearing to turn the corner with a nine win campaign last year?
BV: Well, not having a quarterback has turned out to be a pretty big problem. UNT also lost all but one guy out of a good defensive front seven. Not having a quarterback has allowed teams to focus on stopping UNTís running game, while a struggling front seven has opened up all kinds of problems on defense. It all comes down to talent, and UNT just doesnít have enough of it or nearly what it had last season.
Q: What type of offense does UNT run? Who are the players Owl fans should be on the lookout for?
BV: UNT is a pro-style team that relies on its power running game. McCarney will be content to pound away behind a really good offensive line if he has the chance. When UNT does throw the ball, it likes to get the ball to slot receiver Carlos Harris, who will also be involved in the running game. Watch out for running back Antoinne Jimmerson, who had a 100-yard game against UAB.
Q: What type of defense does UNT run? Who are the players Owl fans should keep an eye on?
BV: UNT runs a 4-3 and has a really good linebacker in Derek Akunne. He has been a key player for the Mean Green for years and leads C-USA with an average of 9.1 tackles a game. He is UNTís key guy. Also keep an eye out for undersized defensive end Chad Polk, who is a good pass rusher.
Q: Prediction Time! FAU, winless on the road this year, needs to win their remaining games in order to qualify for a bowl. UNT also needs to win their remaining games in order to qualify for a bowl. Who keeps their faint bowl hopes alive this weekend?
BV: I publish a prediction blog every week, so I wonít reveal my pick now, but I do expect this to be a close game. UNT has really struggled defensively at times, just like FAU. It all comes down to which quarterback plays better. Does Jaquez Johnson out-play whoever UNT rolls out there? If he does, FAU could get that first road win. If McNulty/Williams can put 28 points on the board, UNT could very well snap its four-game slide.