It’s tough enough taking over a program in the middle of the season, as Mike Canales has done on an interim basis in the wake of North Texas’ decision to cut ties with Dan McCarney. But when your first game is against an offensive thresher, things get even tougher.
Western Kentucky visits UNT Thursday night with a 5-1 record, 58 points scored in its most recent victory and little sympathy for a program that is trying to regain its footing following an embarrassing 66-7 home loss to FCS top-25 team Portland State. It doesn’t matter that the Vikings beat Washington State earlier in the season. The defeat stung, dropped the Mean Green to 0-5 and led to McCarney’s ouster. Canales must find a way to rejuvenate the team as WKU quarterback Brandon Doughty takes dead aim at some more big numbers.
Western Kentucky at North Texas
Kickoff: 7:30 p.m. ET (Thursday)
TV: CBS Sports Network
Spread: Western Kentucky -33
Three Things to Watch
1. Mike-d Up
This is Canales’ second stint as interim coach at UNT. He went 2-3 in relief of Todd Dodge in 2010. Players respond to Canales, who will remain as the Mean Green offensive coordinator. He knows the game, is enthusiastic and will get the players to respond. That most likely won’t be enough against Western, which is rolling, but fans can expect a different team than they did the first five weeks of the season.
“We are going to try to bring some excitement and fun back,” Canales said.
2. No Doughty About It
Doughty’s passing numbers make him the 18th most successful passing team in the nation. He earned his third straight (and fourth of the year) Conference USA Offensive Player of the Week honor by tossing five scoring strikes and amassing 359 yards in the 58-28 walloping of Middle Tennessee. For the season, Doughty is completing a ridiculous 74.7 percent of his throws for 2,359 yards, 20 TDs and only three picks. Despite piloting an offense that has averaged 47.8 points over its last five games, Doughty sees room for improvement. That said, he understands the Hilltoppers are pretty strong right now.
“We’re just kind of rolling, like I said,” Doughty said after the win over MTSU. “We’re really tuned into the game plan. I think [head coach Jeff Brohm] has done an amazing job doing the little things. We have a little chip on our shoulder. That’s what we have to keep doing. We have to keep going. We can’t settle.”
3. Defensive Posture
Canales may be known for his offensive acumen, but he had better pay attention to the Mean Green’s D. North Texas is surrendering 547.4 yards and 49.2 ppg this year, not the best track record to bring into a game against an offense as potent as Western Kentucky’s. Opposing backs are averaging 5.7 yards/carry, and rival QBs have completed 73.4 percent of their throws. UNT has not intercepted a pass this year and has registered only eight sacks all year. That has to change quickly, or WKU could run wild.
Expecting Canales to turn the Mean Green into contenders during a short prep week for one of the best teams in C-USA is unreasonable. He has to hope he can motivate the players to make fewer mental mistakes and not to lose heart when WKU gets its offense crackling. Accomplish that, and Canales can consider his first game a success.
Western Kentucky, meanwhile, has big plans, not to mention a trip to LSU next Saturday. It’s possible the Hilltoppers could struggle a bit against UNT, as they think about their big challenge in Baton Rouge, but that shouldn’t matter. Doughty has too many weapons at his disposal, and no matter how slow WKU may start, it is simply too good.
Prediction: Western Kentucky 49, North Texas 14
— Written by Michael Bradley, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Bradley is a writer and broadcaster based in suburban Philadelphia. Follow him on Twitter @DailyHombre.