Middle Tennessee (3-3) at North Texas (2-3)
The Sports Network
DATE & TIME: Saturday, October 12, 7 p.m. (et)
FACTS & STATS: Site: Apogee Stadium (30,850) -- Denton, Texas. Television: None. Home Record: MT 2-1, UNT 2-0. Away Record: MT 1-2, UNT 0-3. Neutral Record: MT 0-0, UNT 0-0. Conference Record: MT 1-1, UNT 0-1. Series Record: North Texas leads, 7-5.
GAME NOTES: The North Texas Mean Green will attempt to stay perfect at Apogee Stadium this season, as they are set to take on the Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders in a Conference USA showdown on Saturday night.
This marks the first season in C-USA for both squads after coming over from the Sun Belt Conference. The programs have grown familiar with one another in recent years, with North Texas holding to a 7-5 series advantage.
Middle Tennessee's season got off to an impressive 3-1 start, which included a 42-35 overtime win over Florida Atlantic on Sept. 21 in its first-ever game in its new league. Since then, however, the Blue Raiders have come back to Earth with two straight losses, falling at BYU on Sept. 7 (37-10) and dropping a league contest at home last weekend to East Carolina (24-17).
North Texas has enjoyed some home cooking this season, winning a pair of friendly confine clashes versus Idaho (40-6) and Ball State (34-27). It's a welcome homecoming for the Mean Green, who have also lost back-to-back games, both on the road. Last week's comeback attempt against Tulane fell short as they fell, 24-21, and while they battled at nationally-ranked Georgia on Sept. 21, evening tying the game in the third quarter, they were ultimately defeated handily (45-21).
The Blue Raiders offense has lagged behind in the transition from the Sun Belt to C-USA, as they rank in the bottom half of the league with 25.2 ppg and 361.2 ypg while scoring on just 65 percent of their visits to the red zone.
Logan Kilgore has taken a considerable step backward in his senior season. He is completing less than 61 percent of his passes for 1,056 yards and six touchdowns, and his eight interceptions is already more than the six he threw all of last season.
Luckily Middle Tennessee has a workhorse in the backfield to rely on in Jordan Parker, who has 498 yards and four touchdowns on a league-high 110 carries. Reggie Whatley (50 carries, 338 yards, three TDs) has also been highly utilized out of the backfield.
Tavarres Jefferson leads the team with 25 receptions for 320 yards and a touchdown. Kyle Griswould is a trusty option for Kilgore inside the numbers with 22 catches for 174 yards and two scores.
Defensively, the Blue Raiders haven't had much to brag about in terms of scoring (29.2 ppg) and yardage (455.3 ypg) allowance, but their 17 forced turnovers ranks second in the nation behind only Arizona. The unit has trouble getting off the field when not creating takeaways, however, as it allows opposing offenses to convert third downs at a 54 percent rate.
T.T. Barber has made plays all over the field with 69 tackles, 5.0 TFL, 2.0 sacks, two forced fumbles and an interception, and he is well on his way to an All-Conference USA selection. Kevin Byard (45 tackles, two INTs), Leighton Gasque (4.5 TFL, 3.0 sacks, FF) and Sammy Seamster (two fumble recoveries, FF, INT) have also played well.
North Texas moves the ball as well as anyone in the conference, amassing 400 ypg, but all that yardage has yielded a rather modest scoring output (27.4 ppg).
Derek Thompson has established himself as one of the C-USA's most reliable passers. He has completed 68 percent of his attempts (19th in the nation) for 1,346 yards and eight touchdowns, but he has also been plagued by five interceptions.
The Mean Green have arguably the best receiving duo in the league in Darnell Smith (401 yards, three TDs) and Brelan Chancellor (371 yards, two TDs), while Carlos Harris (244 yards, TD) serves as a solid third option.
The rushing attack has been rather lackluster, as the team averages just 3.3 yards per carry. Brandin Byrd leads the way with 186 yards and two scores.
North Texas has held its own defensively, especially considering its difficult road test at high-flying Georgia a few weeks back, as it ranks fourth in the conference in allowing a respectable 25.8 ppg.
Linebacker Zachary Orr makes plays on all levels of the defense with 50 tackles, 3.0 TFL, a sack, two forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries. Marcus Trice (42 tackles, INT) is a special teams menace with two blocked kicks, and Will Wright has a pair of interceptions to go with five passes defended.
Middle Tennessee's ball-hawking defense is the potential X-factor in this one, but the North Texas defense has been known to shift momentum as well by forcing 14 turnovers itself. The Mean Green have the more reliable quarterback and the home field advantage, meaning this is their game to lose.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: North Texas 28, Middle Tennessee 24
10/09 10:37:20 ET