Blue Raiders host Mean Green in a matchup of scuffling Conference USA teams
The North Texas Mean Green will hit the road for the first time in 2020 when they head to Murfreesboro to take on the Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders on Saturday night. North Texas (1-3) won its season-opener but has lost its last three games, while the Blue Raiders (1-4) just picked up their first win last week after four losses to begin the 2020 college football campaign.
North Texas had its trip to Houston canceled due to COVID-19, so Saturday will be the Mean Green's first game away from Apogee Stadium. The homestand ended on a sour note against Charlotte, as the 49ers rolled to a 49-21 win — interestingly, the second time in as many seasons that Charlotte has scored exactly 49 points. Middle Tennessee, meanwhile, had a much closer game, narrowly getting past FIU by a score of 31-28. Trailing by four points entering the fourth quarter, Middle Tennessee scored the quarter's only points with a touchdown with 1:20 left in regulation to secure the win.
The Mean Green and Blue Raiders meet for the fourth time in six seasons — in Murfreesboro for the first time since 2016 — after squaring off annually from 2001 through 2013. North Texas holds a slight 9-7 edge in the all-time series, thanks to a 33-30 win in Denton last season.
North Texas at Middle Tennessee
Kickoff: Saturday, Oct. 17 at 5 p.m. ET
Spread: North Texas -16.5
When North Texas Has the Ball
In his second career start, quarterback Austin Aune did what he could to supply the offense against Charlotte, completing 23 of his 43 passes for 382 yards and three touchdowns, though he did also throw an interception. The three-touchdown effort is encouraging, as Aune has thrown at least two touchdowns in each of his first two starts for North Texas.
The Mean Green entered last week with a top-10 rushing offense, averaging 238.7 yards per game on the ground through three games. But, playing largely from behind in the loss to the 49ers, North Texas posted just 97 rushing yards — led by running back DeAndre Torrey's 89 on 14 carries — to drop 10 spots to 20th nationally. On the receiving side, wide receiver Jaelon Darden had a monster day, catching 13 passes for a career-high 244 yards and matching his career-high for touchdowns by hauling in all three thrown by Aune.
Middle Tennessee has given up at least 28 points in four of its five games in 2020, with an average of 42 allowed over the first three weeks of the season. The Blue Raiders rank in the top half of the FBS in total defense (381.8 ypg) and takeaways (five), but their nearly 35 points allowed per game this season has them near the bottom.
When Middle Tennessee Has the Ball
Quarterback Asher O'Hara has done what he can to be a complete threat for the Blue Raiders on offense, throwing for more than 200 yards per game and leading the team in rushing (66 ypg) as well. Last week against FIU, O'Hara totaled 374 yards (268 passing, 106 rushing) and scored all four of the Blue Raiders touchdowns, rushing for the first two and throwing for the final pair.
Outside of O'Hara's 328 rushing yards (a top-20 total in the FBS), the run game has been largely absent for the Blue Raiders in 2020, with running back Chaton Mobley (29.2 ypg) next in line. Wide receiver Jarrin Pierce has certainly made his presence felt with 7.2 receptions per game this season for 73.2 yards per game. Last week, he brought in five catches for 80 yards and his first touchdown of the season.
Charlotte scoring 49 points last week continued a worrisome trend for North Texas, as the 49ers became the third team in as many games to score at least 40 points against the Mean Green. Defensive coordinator Clint Bowen's unit now ranks second-to-last in the FBS in both scoring (46.5 ppg) and total defense (578.8 ypg) and has just one takeaway so far.
North Texas' performance on the road will be one to watch, as four of its final six games will be away from home. Both teams have struggled mightily on the defensive side of the ball, so the Mean Green's firepower on offense could be the difference in helping to halt their losing streak.
Prediction: North Texas 35, Middle Tennessee 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.