For a few months this summer, Ryan Boutwell had no idea when he would be back on the field after tearing a pectoral muscle lifting weights.
At times he was told he would miss the whole season. Other times, the diagnosis was that he would miss half the year, then two games and then finally just one.
One of UNT’s top defensive linemen played a little last week in the Mean Green’s win over Texas Southern and recovered a fumble. That performance helped Boutwell settle back into the Mean Green’s rotation, a turn of events that couldn’t have come at a much better time for UNT, which will face Kansas State tonight.
The 15th-ranked Wildcats (2-0) are well known for their smash-mouth offense. Kansas State comes into today’s game ranked sixth nationally with an average of 306 rushing yards a game, not that the Wildcats’ production is a surprise.
Kansas State posted 185.4 yards a game on the ground last year while plowing their way through a tough Big 12 schedule.
How UNT fares against the Wildcats’ running attack could determine if the Mean Green can move to 2-1 for the first time since 1994.
“They have always run the ball well and always will,” UNT head coach Dan McCarney said. “There is no doubt about it. It all starts up front with that offensive line. They are very big, very strong and well-coached. They have a good scheme and like to come after you running the ball.”
That is what could make the return of Boutwell critical.
The junior isn’t the biggest player on UNT’s line at 6-3, 269 pounds, but he’s quick and provides a complement to the Mean Green’s bigger linemen.
UNT has a mix with Boutwell and Alexander Lincoln, a 266-pound tackle providing the quickness up front, while Richard Abbe and Tevinn Cantly, a pair of 300-pounders, provide the size.
Boutwell finished with 28 tackles, including 2.5 behind the line of scrimmage, last year and is a key part of UNT’s defense.
“I’m really happy to be back with the guys and in the rotation,” Boutwell said. “It helps them get their rest and makes me feel like I’m contributing.”
Even though he didn’t play as much as he usually does, Boutwell seemed to help UNT shore up its run defense last week in a win over TSU. The Tigers managed just 31 rushing yards on 25 carries.
TSU plays at the Football Championship Subdivision level, a step down from the top level of college football, but the Mean Green’s performance was still an impressive one that marked a dramatic improvement from its season-opener.
Third-ranked LSU ripped through UNT for 316 rushing yards, had two players surpass the 100-yard mark and averaged 6.9 yards a carry.
UNT didn’t have its best outing against the Tigers when it comes to stopping the run, but improved as the game went along. The Mean Green allowed just 118 rushing yards in the second half and then played even better against the run against TSU.
The trend is one UNT’s players believe will continue.
“I know we gave up a lot of yards to LSU, but considering who they are and what they do, we started playing and started hanging with them,” Boutwell said. “We can play with Kansas State. They are a good football team. They will get a play or two, but we will have to turn around and stop the next one.”
That will be a challenge against Kansas State, which uses a somewhat unconventional offense in an era of spread offenses and quarterbacks who throw for 250 yards a game.
Running back John Hubert leads the Wildcats with 258 rushing yards, while quarterback Collin Klein has 125.
Klein’s ability to both run and throw makes him particularly dangerous. He has 379 yards and three touchdowns passing through two games.
“Kline’s a big guy who likes to run the ball and runs hard,” Cantly said. “We have to make sure we wrap him up and bring him down. We can’t afford missed tackles.”
UNT’s hopes to stand up went up with Boutwell’s return.
BRETT VITO can be reached at 940-566-6870. His e-mail address is email@example.com .
NORTH TEXAS GAMEDAY
UNT at No. 15 Kansas State
When: 6 p.m.
Where: Bill Snyder Family Stadium
Records: UNT 1-1, Kansas State 2-0
Last meeting: Kansas State 49, UNT 41 (2010)
Last week: UNT 34, Texas Southern 7; Kansas State 52, Miami (Fla.) 13
Radio: KHYI-FM 95.3, KNTU-FM 88.1
North Texas (1-1) at No. 15 Kansas State, 6 p.m., Bill Snyder Family Stadium
ON THE AIR
TV: FSSW; Radio: KHYI-FM 95.3, KNTU-FM 88.1
UNT LB Zach Orr vs. KSU RB John Hubert
Kansas State isn’t particularly exotic when it comes to its offense. The Wildcats run the ball, and run it very effectively behind a big offensive line.
Running back John Hubert is far from the Wildcats’ only weapon, but he has been the most effective so far. The junior has rushed for a team-best 258 yards and is averaging 8.3 yards a carry.
Hubert has already posted a 95-yard touchdown run this season
The last time UNT played Kansas State, the Wildcats rushed for 298 yards. Nearly all of those yards were posted by Daniel Thomas, who gouged UNT for 269 yards.
UNT can’t afford a repeat. If the Mean Green can’t slow down Hubert, Kansas State will be content to pound away with its running game.
The task of slowing down Hubert will fall in part to UNT middle linebacker Zach Orr. The junior ranks second among UNT players with 14 tackles and is arguably the Mean Green’s best defensive player.
UNT will have to lean on Orr even more with outside linebacker Jeremy Phillips and defensive end Brandon McCoy battling injuries that are expected to prevent them from playing.
The Mean Green will need Orr to make a lot of plays to prevent the Wildcats from controlling the ball and the clock.
HOW THEY MATCH UP
UNT’s offense vs. Kansas State’s defense
UNT scored a pair of late touchdowns against Texas Southern last week to break open a game that was still in question in the second half. The Mean Green posted 352 rushing yards against TSU and had both Antoinne Jimmerson and Brandin Byrd eclipse the 100-yard mark with 139 and 136 rushing yards, respectively.
UNT has struggled to match that production in the passing game and has just 288 passing yards on the year.
Kansas State has allowed just 22 points on the year and smothered Miami in a 52-13 win last week.
Edge: Kansas State
UNT’s defense vs. Kansas State’s offense
UNT came up with one of its better all-around performances defensively in recent memory last week in a 34-7 win over Texas Southern. The Mean Green allowed just 185 yards on the night and shut the Tigers out in the first half.
The Mean Green was not as effective in its season-opener against LSU, allowing 508 yards.
No. 15 Kansas State is a whole lot closer to being on the same level as LSU as it is TSU.
The Wildcats have scored an average of 51.5 points in their first two games and ran over Miami 52-13 last week. Quarterback Collin Klein is averaging 252 yards of offense a game.
Edge: Kansas State
Slow down Kansas State’s running game
Kansas State is among the top teams in the country when it comes to running the ball and is averaging 306 yards a game on the ground through the first two weeks of the season. The Wildcats will be content to pound the ball at UNT all day if the Mean Green can’t slow them down. Kansas State is averaging a whopping 6.1 yards a carry.
Get something going in the passing game
UNT has struggled to throw the ball in the first two games of the season and has just 288 passing yards through two games. The Mean Green will have to be much better against Kansas State. The Wildcats have allowed just 22 points on the season, but did give up 215 passing yards last week against Miami and the Hurricanes quarterback Stephen Morris.
Build some momentum for Sun Belt play
UNT opens the Sun Belt season next week against Troy and needs to head into that game with confidence on its side. The way UNT plays today will determine if the Mean Green will reach that goal. An upset would give the Mean Green a 2-1 record for the first time since 1994. Head coach Dan McCarney isn’t big on moral victories, but just playing Kansas State close would do UNT some good.
Avoid key injuries in last non-league tilt
Injuries can happen at any time and in any game. It would help UNT quite a bit if the Mean Green could avoid a run of them today. UNT has already had to play without several key players at some point in its first two games, including defensive end Brandon McCoy and defensive tackle Ryan Boutwell. UNT needs to be at full strength heading into the key part of its season.