Brett Vito of the Denton Record-Chronicle and Dallas Morning News took the time to answer some questions about North Texas, which Southern Miss hosts at 6 p.m. on Saturday in Hattiesburg.
North Texas is 0-3 and 0-1 in Conference USA play as it has struggled early in the season.
Vito gives us a better look at the Mean Green with answers to five of my questions:
1. What's your assessment of the North Texas offense early in the season?
UNT has really struggled. The Mean Green are averaging just 17.7 points a game and have been held under 17 twice.
There were two factors UNT hoped would help it improve offensively after last season – improvement at the quarterback position and the move to an up-tempo attack. UNT signed junior college quarterback DaMarcus Smith, but he didn’t qualify in time to participate in spring practice and has been buried on the depth chart. UNT ended up sticking with senior Andrew McNulty, who has struggled. He is completing just 46.7 percent of his passes.
The move to an up-tempo attack hasn’t helped much either. UNT ranks 124th nationally in time of possession at 23:32.
2. Following the 2013 season, it appeared that all was headed in the right direction for the Mean Green? What's been the biggest issue the last two years?
UNT had a host of terrific seniors in the 2013 season and hasn’t effectively replaced all the talented players who led the Mean Green to the Heart of Dallas Bowl and win over UNLV that year.
The Mean Green have tried three quarterbacks to try to fill the void left by Derek Thompson and seen them all come up short.
The depth of talent UNT has now just isn’t the same as it was during the Mean Green’s bowl season.
3. Who would you say are the best players on the defensive side of the ball for North Texas?
It looks like safety Kishawn McClain was a terrific recruiting win for UNT at this point. The sophomore played some last year and has really broken out this season. He has a team-high 35 tackles and forced a fumble in UNT’s first three games.
Senior linebacker Blake Bean has also played well early. He missed UNT’s loss to Iowa, but posted 22 tackles in the Mean Green’s first two games of the season.
4. What will it take for North Texas to get above .500 in conference play?
UNT is going to have to find a way to get its offense on track and get a whole lot better play at quarterback, whether that is through the improvement of Andrew McNulty or a move to DaMarcus Smith.
That’s the first step.
Then UNT is going to have to get a whole lot better on defense and pull a series of upsets. The Mean Green are already down 0-1 and really need to beat Southern Miss. UNT will also have to beat UTSA and UTEP and then pull a couple of upsets against teams like Middle Tennessee, Louisiana Tech and Marshall.
5. How do you see Saturday's game playing out?
UNT always struggles on the road and is in a tough spot heading into its game against Southern Miss due to a series of injuries in its secondary. The Mean Green will be without top cornerback Kenny Buyers all season and also lost backup safety Cedric Fernandes in its loss to Rice.
The Mean Green will struggle to contain Nick Mullens, who will hit on a few big plays.
UNT knows it has to win this game and will make it closer than some expect, thanks largely to the return of running back Jeffrey Wilson. The sophomore is one of UNT’s best offensive weapons.
In the end, Southern Miss will pull away for a 27-24 win.