Football: UNT aims to turn up heat on Houston

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David Minton/DRC
North Texas senior defensive tackle Tevinn Cantly sacks Troy quarterback Corey Robinson in a game at Apogee Stadium earlier this season. UNT will look to turn up the pressure on Houston and its quarterback David Piland today.

North Texas went an entire game earlier this season without its defense getting anywhere near the opposing quarterback.

That off night came against 15th-ranked Kansas State in a game the Mean Green played without starting defensive end Brandon McCoy, making the situation a little more understandable.

It still drove UNT head coach Dan McCarney nuts.

“I was extremely disappointed with the way we played against Kansas State, where we went a whole game without the quarterback even being touched,” McCarney said. “Our guys have responded since then. They have played with more passion, spirit, energy and toughness.”

UNT has posted seven sacks the last two weeks.

The trend is one UNT must continue today if it wants to knock off Houston in a showdown of teams arriving and departing Conference USA.

Houston’s on the way out to the Big East. UNT is on its way in.

The Mean Green also hopes it’s on its way up in the second year of the McCarney era.

UNT finished 5-7 last year, when it lost to Houston 48-23 in the opening game at Apogee Stadium.

The chance to avenge that loss is one of a laundry list of milestones UNT can reach today, when the Mean Green can show it is continuing to improve. UNT can win back-to-back games for the first time since 2004, post its first win over a Texas rival that plays on the Football Bowl Subdivision level since 2006 and even its record at 3-3 for the first time since 2003.

“Every game is important and counts towards getting to a bowl, which is our goal this year,” senior offensive lineman Aaron Fortenberry said. “It’s going to be big because we have that monkey on our back of not having won back-to-back games.”

Getting to quarterback David Piland could be the key to UNT breaking through and ending a 19-game losing streak in games following a win.

Piland took over for Case Keenum, his record-setting predecessor who torched UNT for 458 yards and five touchdowns last season.

That was just one of the adjustments Houston has been forced to make this season. The Cougars are also adapting to playing under new head coach Tony Levine, who took over after Kevin Sumlin left for Texas A&M.

The transition hasn’t always been an easy one.

Houston dropped its first three games of the year, including a stunning season-opening loss to Texas State, but has gradually found its form. The Cougars lost a 56-49 shootout with unbeaten Louisiana Tech and fell at No. 22 UCLA before breaking through to hammer Rice, 35-14, last week.

Piland threw for 361 yards and two touchdowns against the Owls.

“What I saw him do in week two to week four is what I expect him to do,” Levine said. “He is playing how I expect him to play, and that’s how he played on Saturday.”

UNT knows it can’t allow Piland to continue his upward trend and will look to a few players who had breakout games over the last few weeks to get to Houston’s quarterback.

Senior defensive end K.C. Obi posted 2.5 sacks last week in UNT’s win over FAU, the most for a Mean Green player since Adrian Awasom posted three in a win over Utah State in 2004.

Bellazin has also been on a roll the last few weeks. He posted a sack and two tackles for loss last week against FAU and posted a sack, two tackles for loss and forced a fumble earlier this season in a win over Texas Southern.

“We had an injury and am doing all I can to help,” said Bellazin, who has helped fill in for McCoy. “I do see myself getting better. It’s all about working hard. We have some team goals. I’m doing all I can to help us be successful.”

UNT knows that it will have to contain Piland and Houston’s offense to have a chance against the Cougars today. Piland ranks fifth nationally with an average of 350.3 passing yards a game.

UNT found out what can happen when it doesn’t put pressure on a talented quarterback in its loss to Kansas State. Collin Klein threw for 230 yards and two touchdowns while completing all but five of his 20 pass attempts.

UNT has been a whole lot better at getting to opposing quarterbacks since and should get a boost as McCoy continues to return to form after returning to the Mean Green’s lineup last week.

It’s a trend that will have to continue today for UNT to post a milestone win.

BRETT VITO can be reached at 940-566-6870. His e-mail address is bvito@dentonrc.com .

 

NORTH TEXAS GAMEDAY

North Texas at Houston

When: 6 p.m.

Where: Robertson Stadium

Records: UNT 2-3, 1-1 Sun Belt, Houston 1-3, 1-0 Conference USA

Last meeting: Houston 48, UNT 23 (2011)

Last week: UNT 20, Florida Atlantic 14; Houston 34, Rice 14

Series: UNT leads, 7-6

TV: Comcast Sports South

Radio: KHYI-FM 95.3, KNTU-FM 88.1

ON THE AIR

TV: Comcast Sports South; Radio: KHYI-FM 95.3, KNTU-FM 88.1

 

KEY MATCHUP

UNT CB Zac Whitfield vs. Houston WR Daniel Spencer

UNT cornerback Zac Whitfield has burst onto the scene as a redshirt freshman and has been one of the Mean Green’s best players in coverage all season.

Whitfield has a team-best five pass-breakups and is also tied for the team lead with two interceptions.

UNT will need Whitfield to be at his best against Houston and its passing attack led by David Piland and a group of solid wide receivers. Daniel Spencer has been among the most consistent of those receivers. He has at least five catches in all four of Houston’s games, including a season-high seven for 157 yards in a loss to Louisiana Tech.

Piland ranks fifth nationally with an average of 350.3 passing yards a game.

Spencer and Piland will pose a big test for UNT and its secondary that has performed well most of the season. UNT ranks third in the Sun Belt in pass defense with an average of 198.4 yards allowed in a game and leads the league in pass efficiency defense with a rating of 114.4.

HOW THEY MATCH UP

UNT’s offense vs. Houston’s defense

UNT did just enough to help the Mean Green pull out a 20-14 win over Florida Atlantic last week, but has struggled overall.

UNT ranks 112th out of 120 teams nationally in scoring offense with an average of 19.2 points a game. Playing a pair of nationally ranked teams in LSU and Kansas State has a lot to do with that total, but there is no doubt room for UNT to improve.

UNT struggled to run the ball last week in its win over FAU, finishing with 56 yards on 30 carries.

Houston struggled in its first three games, allowing at least 30 points in each outing before seemingly righting the ship last week in a 35-14 win over Rice. Houston ranks 101st nationally in scoring defense with an average of 34.3 points allowed a game.

Edge: Houston

 

UNT’s defense vs. Houston’s offense

UNT has been surprisingly solid so far this season, despite having several young players in key positions, not to mention a new defensive coordinator in John Skladany.

UNT has allowed just 14 points in each of its last two games, a loss to Troy and a win over FAU. The Mean Green also shut down Texas Southern in a 34-7 win earlier in the year.

UNT did allow 41 and 35 points, respectively, in losses to LSU and Kansas State. A game against Houston could show just how good UNT really is.

The Cougars got off to a slow start, but scored 35 points last week in a win over Rice and 49 in a loss to Louisiana Tech earlier in the year. Houston is the type of non-BCS team UNT can measure its progress against.

Houston has performed better against better competition.

Edge: Houston

 

1. Keep Houston’s offense on the sideline

UNT is at its best when it gets its running game rolling and stays on the field. The Mean Green would like nothing better than to keep Houston quarterback David Piland on the sideline. To do that UNT will have to improve on the 56 rushing yards it posted on 30 carries last week in a win over FAU.

2. Put pressure on Houston star QB Piland

UNT has ramped up its pass rush the last two weeks, posing seven sacks, including five last week in a win over Florida Atlantic. David Piland is averaging 350.3 passing yards a game and will be facing an inexperienced secondary. UNT has to pressure him or will run the risk of being picked apart.

3. Get the offense on track after slow start

UNT has struggled for most of the season offensively and scored just seven points two weeks ago in a loss to Troy. The Mean Green is posting 19.2 points a game and will have to do a whole lot better than that to stay with a high-scoring Houston team that has scored 35 points in two of its last three games.

4. Take advantage of the chance for a key win

The Mean Green has a chance to not only even its record, but also to pick up some momentum heading into a home game against Louisiana-Lafayette that will be broadcast on ESPN2 on Oct. 16. A win tonight would come at a key time for UNT, which wants a big crowd for that game.

 


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