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The Sports Network
DATE & TIME: Saturday, November 24, 1 p.m. (et)
FACTS & STATS: Site: Houchens Industries-L.T. Smith Stadium (22,113) -- Bowling Green, Kentucky. Television: Sun Belt Network. Home Record: North Texas 3-2, WKU 2-3. Away Record: North Texas 1-5, WKU 4-2. Neutral Record: North Texas 0-0, WKU 0-0. Conference Record: North Texas 3-4, WKU 3-4. Series Record: North Texas leads, 4-1.
GAME NOTES: For the last time the North Texas Mean Green will take the field as a member of the Sun Belt Conference when they take on the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers in the regular-season finale.
After spending the last 12 seasons in the Sun Belt Conference, North Texas will move to Conference USA next season. The Mean Green's final season in the Sun Belt has been a mixed bag with the squad 4-7 overall and 3-4 in league play entering this contest. North Texas has lost three of its last four games and has just one win in six chances on the road.
As for Western Kentucky, the Hilltoppers are bowl eligible at 6-5 but have really fallen off in recent weeks with losses in three straight games. Two of those losses came at home where the Hilltoppers have not captured a win since the end of September.
This has been a short-lived conference rivalry with the teams meeting only five times, all since 2007. In that time North Texas has dominated with a 4-1 record, although Western Kentucky finally got its first win of the series last year with a 31-21 victory in late November.
Scoring has not been something in which North Texas has excelled at this season. The Mean Green are only putting up 20.3 points per contest, while surrendering 29.5. The squad's scoring is particularly disappointing considering it is picking up just over 400 yards per game in total offense. What has really hurt the Mean Green is their inability to make plays in crucial spots. The Mean Green have the lowest conversion rate in the Sun Belt from the red zone, scoring only 69.2 percent of the time.
Derek Thompson calls the shots from under center. The junior quarterback has thrown for 2,381 yards and 12 touchdowns this season but is completing only 57.9 percent of his passes, while being intercepted 11 times. Turnovers and incompletions have made Thompson's 122.8 passer rating the second lowest in the Sun Belt.
Thompson has had the benefit of a solid running game behind him. The trio of backs that the Mean Green feature is led by Brandin Byrd, who has rushed for 549 yards on 173 carries. Antoinne Jimmerson has fewer yards (522) but has been able to record five touchdowns on the ground. Jeremy Brown (375 yards, 2 TDs) rounds out the ground attack. Brown could see more carries on Saturday with Jimmerson listed as questionable with a shoulder injury.
On the outside Ivan Delgado is the team's most productive pass catcher. Delgado has brought in a team-high 39 passes for 545 yards but has yet to wind up on the receiving end of a touchdown pass. Brelan Chancellor has gotten the bulk of the touchdowns (five), while bringing in 25 total passes for 450 yards. Darnell Smith (21 receptions, 307 yards) is the only other receiver with more than 20 receptions.
Defensively, North Texas is near the middle of the pack in comparison to the rest of the conference. The Mean Green are giving up 417.2 yards per game in total offense, ranked sixth in the Sun Belt.
Zachary Orr anchors the defense with his team-leading 89 tackles from the defensive end spot. Derek Akunne (77 tackles, 9 TFLs) and Hilbert Jackson (74 tackles) have each topped the 70-tackle mark, while K.C. Obi (12 TFLs , 5.0 sacks) is the lead pass rusher.
For Western Kentucky the offense centers on the production of workhorse running back Antonio Andrews. On the season, Andrews has pounded out 1,379 yards and 10 touchdowns on 252 carries. Andrews efforts make him the top rusher in the Sun Belt and the only back to be averaging more than 100 yards (125.8) per game.
Even with such a tremendous weapon in the backfield, Western Kentucky is still just seventh in the conference in total offense (392.6 ypg) while ranking sixth in scoring (29.1 ppg).
At quarterback Kawaun Jakes is completing passes at a high rate (66.4 percent) while also throwing 20 touchdowns, but he has not been tallying large yardage totals. With only 2,295 yards through 11 game, Jakes is throwing for less than 200 yards per game, while also being guilty of 10 interceptions. Last week in a 31-27 loss to Louisiana, Jakes completed 10-of-18 passes for just 149 yards and was picked off once.
Jakes' options in terms of pass catchers include Jack Doyle (44 receptions, 497 yards, 3 TDs) and Willie McNeal (38 receptions, 504 yards, 6 TDs).
It is on defense that the Hilltoppers have been able to find the bulk of their success. Western Kentucky ranks atop the Sun Belt in both scoring (25.7 ppg) and total defense (346.7 ypg). While those numbers are not comparable to some of the better units in the nation, in the defensively weak Sun Belt they are dominating.
At the forefront of those defensive efforts is Andrew Jackson. The junior linebacker has totaled the second most tackles (101) and tackles for loss (14.5) in the conference. Teammate Quanterus Smith has been the leader in tackles for loss (18.5) primarily with his ability to get to the quarterback, as 12.5 of those have come on sacks. In the secondary, Jonathan Dowling has had a real nose for the ball, collecting five interceptions to go with 54 tackles.
With its ability to control the clock with Andrews and the Hilltoppers' conference-leading defense, Western Kentucky should have plenty to shut down North Texas and send the Mean Green off with a loss.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Western Kentucky 25, North Texas 17
11/21 11:00:24 ET
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