The North Texas Mean Green return home after seeing their two-game winning streak come to an end as they host the Louisiana Tech Bulldogs on Thursday night. Louisiana Tech has seen plenty of close games in this condensed 2020 campaign, as four of the Bulldogs' seven games — including three of their last four — have been decided by four or fewer points.
Due to COVID-19 issues, however, it's been more than a month since Louisiana Tech last took the field, as this week's game against North Texas was originally scheduled for Nov. 7, and the Bulldogs' matchups with ULM and FIU on Nov. 21 and Nov. 28 were canceled. The Bulldogs managed to rebound from a one-point road loss at UTSA on Oct. 24, however, to pull out a tumultuous 37-34 double-overtime win against UAB on Oct. 31. Louisiana Tech used 14 unanswered fourth-quarter points to tie the game and, after both sides exchanged field goals in the first overtime, turned a UAB fumble in the second overtime into the game-winning field goal.
North Texas has had its own COVID-related delays, with a month-long pause between its Oct. 17 win over Middle Tennessee and its Nov. 21 win over Rice. Last week, though, the Mean Green suffered their first loss since Oct. 10, in a 49-17 defeat at UTSA. UTSA led by just a touchdown after 15 minutes of play, but a 21-point second quarter staked the Roadrunners to a 38-7 lead that they wouldn't relinquish.
North Texas won the first four matchups against Louisiana Tech from 1976 to '79, but Louisiana Tech holds the overall series lead by an 11-7 margin on the strength of five wins in the last six meetings, including last season’s 52-17 win in Ruston. The previous two seasons' meetings were much closer — each won by the road team — with North Texas winning 24-23 in 2017 before Louisiana Tech won 29-27 in Denton two seasons ago.
Louisiana Tech at North Texas
Kickoff: Thursday, Dec. 3 at 6 p.m. ET
TV: CBS Sports Network
Spread: Louisiana Tech -3.5
When Louisiana Tech Has the Ball
Louisiana Tech employs a pair of quarterbacks in its offensive gameplan, with Luke Anthony (13 touchdowns, second in Conference USA) more of a pocket passer and Aaron Allen a true dual-threat option. Against UAB on Halloween night, Anthony was 11-of-20 for 141 yards, a touchdown, and an interception. But it was Allen who truly struck fear into the Blazers as he completed 18 of 26 passes for 191 yards and a pair of fourth-quarter touchdowns, the latter coming with just 10 seconds remaining in regulation.
The two quarterbacks have not had much support in 2020, as the Bulldogs enter Thursday night with a bottom-20 total offense (334.4 yards per game) weighed down heavily by the fifth-worst rushing offense in the FBS that averages just 92.0 yards per game on the ground. Israel Tucker's 336 yards rushing leads Louisiana Tech this season; against UAB, he rushed 17 times for just 54 yards while the rest of the team combined failed to muster a single additional yard on 11 carries.
The 2020 season has not been very kind to Clint Bowen's unit, which has allowed the second-most yards (535.3) and fifth-most points (41.0) per game of any team in the FBS this season. North Texas tallied only one takeaway in its first four games of the campaign and has mustered just four all season but sits among the top-50 nationally in sacks with 2.57 per game.
When North Texas Has the Ball
The Mean Green possess their own two-quarterback system which has averaged a Conference USA-leading 290.0 passing yards per game, with Austin Aune and Jason Bean both featured prominently throughout the season. In the win over Rice two weeks ago, Bean was just 9-for-20 passing for 120 yards and a touchdown but added 94 yards and a second touchdown on five carries. He completed just five of 14 passes against UTSA, though, totaling 102 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions while Aune hardly did better with 115 yards on a 9-for-19 passing effort.
The foundation of North Texas' top-5 offense (536.9 total yards per game, fourth in FBS), however, is its ground game, which leads the conference and ranks 10th nationally at 246.9 yards per game. Bean has been the more effective quarterback running the ball, entering this week tied with DeAndre Torrey for the team lead in touchdowns with eight. When the offense goes to the air, look for Jaelon Darden to be heavily involved, as he stands atop all FBS receivers with 12 receiving touchdowns, in addition to his conference-leading 8.3 receptions per game and 126.0 yards receiving per game — both of which rank seventh in the FBS.
Louisiana Tech hasn't exactly been the stingiest defense this season, with five of the Bulldogs' seven opponents in 2020 scoring at least 30 points. They've also had their difficulties stopping the pass, with 253.1 passing yards allowed per game. One bright spot, though, is that David Blackwell's group has picked off eight passes in 2020 — three by BeeJay Williamson, who against UAB had two interceptions and the fumble recovery in double-overtime which led to the game-winning field goal. Among Conference USA teams, that eight-interception total trails only UTSA and is tied for the sixth-highest mark among teams with seven or fewer games played this season.
Both teams have struggled mightily on third down in 2020, but North Texas' offense converts third downs at a 51 percent clip while Louisiana Tech is under 38 percent for the season. That difference could be a key factor in Thursday's game, especially with the Bulldogs' month-long layoff from game action likely to have erased some of the rhythm this offense had assembled.
Prediction: North Texas 35, Louisiana Tech 31
— Written by Juan Jose Rodriguez, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a 2019 graduate of the University of Notre Dame. Rodriguez was an intern for Athlon during summer 2017 and worked for a variety of media outlets on campus, including as the Editor-in-Chief of Scholastic Magazine. Follow him on Twitter @JuanJoseRG02.
(Aaron Allen photo courtesy of @LATechFB)