Ryan Aplin made a big impression on North Texas head coach Dan McCarney earlier this year, and not just on the field.
McCarney met Arkansas State’s quarterback at the Sun Belt Conference’s meetings in Florida, where Aplin picked up his award for being the league’s Player of the Year last season.
“He’s one of the most impressive young men I’ve been around in a long time, when I spent some time with him,” McCarney said.
The senior quarterback is also a heck of player and someone who has the full attention of the Mean Green’s defense heading into UNT’s homecoming game today at Apogee Stadium. UNT is clinging to fading hopes that it can become bowl-eligible by putting together a late-season run unlike anything the Mean Green has accomplished in years.
UNT will try to take the first step in that process today by containing Aplin and the Red Wolves.
The Mean Green (3-5, 2-2 Sun Belt) needs to go 3-1 down the stretch to reach the six-win mark.
“Going bowling is all that matters and all that we are here for,” UNT quarterback Derek Thompson said. “We can absolutely go 3-1 the rest of the way. We want to do this for our seniors. They are only guaranteed four more shots.”
UNT will try to reach that goal without Brelan Chancellor, a slot receiver and kick returner who might be the Mean Green’s best overall player. Chancellor was averaging 133.4
all-purpose yards a game heading into last week’s game against Middle Tennessee.
Chancellor was lost for the season in the early going against the Blue Raiders to a broken collarbone.
Losing Chancellor will put even more pressure on UNT’s defense to contain Aplin and ASU, which has won three straight games and appears to be on a roll heading into a game against UNT in a series it has dominated.
Aplin has thrown for 1,860 yards and 12 touchdowns with just two interceptions in addition to rushing for 248 yards and three touchdowns this year.
UNT knows Aplin well. He threw for 322 yards and three touchdowns to go along with 69 rushing yards in a 37-14 win over the Mean Green last year.
ASU led 31-0 in the third quarter and coasted to a win that made the Red Wolves bowl-eligible and extended their dominance in the series between the teams. UNT has lost seven straight games to ASU and has not beaten the Red Wolves since 2004, the final year of the Mean Green’s four-year reign as Sun Belt champions.
ASU (5-3, 3-1) is right back in the same spot this year, looking to reach that critical six-win mark with a win over the Mean Green behind Aplin.
“They have a really good quarterback who knows how to run that offense,” UNT linebacker Zach Orr said. “They run that up-tempo offense, do a lot of shifting with their receivers and linemen to try to catch you off guard. You have to prepare for a lot of different formations.”
Aplin threw for 304 yards and three touchdowns in a season-opening loss to Oregon and has thrown for at least 200 yards in four straight games, an impressive total considering ASU leads the Sun Belt with an average of 220.4 rushing yards a game.
UNT ranks third in rushing defense in the Sun Belt during league play with an average of 129.2 yards allowed in conference games.
“They are just an all-around good team,” UNT linebacker Jeremy Phillips said. “They have good players who play well together.”
UNT has been sporadic at best this season.
The Mean Green picked up a key win in its last game at Apogee, beating Louisiana-Lafayette, which was 4-1 at the time, 30-23, but turned around and was hammered by Middle Tennessee. UNT lost 38-21 but was down 31-0 early in the second half of a game that was never close.
UNT’s coaches and players feel like they have the ability to bounce back today and play like they did in their win over the Ragin’ Cajuns.
To do that, UNT will have to contain one of the Sun Belt’s best players in Aplin.
“He’s smart, athletic and has thrown for over 10,000 yards in his career,” McCarney said. “You can call any type of quarterback run game you want with him because he is smart, tough, fast and athletic.”
Those attributes are what make him so dangerous for the Mean Green today.
BRETT VITO can be reached at 940-566-6870. His e-mail address is email@example.com .
NORTH TEXAS GAMEDAY
Arkansas State at UNT
When: 4 p.m.
Where: Apogee Stadium
Records: UNT 3-5, 2-2 Sun Belt, ASU 5-3, 3-1 Sun Belt
Last meeting: ASU 37, UNT 14 (2011)
Last week: Middle Tennessee 38, UNT 21; ASU 50, Louisiana-Lafayette 27
Series: ASU leads 13-8
Radio: KHYI-FM 95.3, KNTU-FM 88.1
UNT LB Zach Orr vs. ASU RB David Oku
ASU features the top rushing attack in the Sun Belt behind an athletic offensive line and running back David Oku. The Tennessee transfer ranks third in the Sun Belt with an average of 78.4 rushing yards a game.
ASU is posting 220.4 rushing yards a game overall and has four players with at least 240 rushing yards on the season. Freshman running back Rocky Hayes is averaging 13.2 yards a carry.
The Red Wolves will be content to pound the ball at UNT and then take advantage of opportunities in the play-action passing game if the Mean Green can’t slow down ASU’s top running threats.
UNT has been good against the run for much of the year and ranks fifth in the league with an average of 164.2 yards allowed a game, but has a tendency to give up the big play.
UNT is allowing a Sun Belt-worst 5.1 yards a carry, although that total is skewed somewhat by a tough schedule that included games against Kansas State and LSU.
UNT has given up big plays in the running game to Sun Belt teams that have also contributed to that total, though. MTSU quarterback Logan Kilgore scored on a career-long 45-yard run last week, while Louisiana-Lafayette quarterback Terrance Broadway scored on a 75-yard run two weeks ago.
UNT will have to contain Oku and ASU’s other running threats, a task that will fall in part to linebacker Zach Orr. The junior leads UNT in tackles with 71.
If Orr can help UNT contain Oku, the Mean Green will have a better chance to win.
HOW THEY MATCH UP
UNT’s offense vs. ASU’s defense
UNT ranks eighth in the Sun Belt in scoring offense with an average of 21.0 points a game and was shut out in the first half of a loss to Middle Tennessee last week. The Mean Green does rank second in the league in rushing offense with an average of 188.0 yards a game, but has struggled at times to throw the ball effectively.
UNT quarterback Derek Thompson ranks 10th in the Sun Belt in passing efficiency with a 127.7 rating and will be without one of his top targets in slot receiver Brelan Chancellor, who is out for the year with a broken collarbone.
ASU has given up at least 20 points in four straight games and ranks fifth in the Sun Belt with an average of 28.6 points allowed a game, but has been better defensively than UNT has been offensively.
UNT’s defense vs. ASU’s offense
Middle Tennessee blitzed UNT for 17 first-quarter points in a 38-21 win over the Mean Green last week. Despite a tough outing against the Blue Raiders, UNT ranks third in the Sun Belt in scoring defense with an average of 27.0 points allowed per game.
The Mean Green suffered a series of injuries that knocked out key defensive players in its loss to the Blue Raiders, including linebacker Zach Orr. UNT is expected to be back at full strength today.
ASU has been on a roll offensively and has scored at least 34 points in each of its last three games. The Red Wolves lead the Sun Belt in rushing offense at 220.4 yards a game and are third in the league in total offense at 458.4 yards a game.
1. Contain ASU quarterback Ryan Aplin
ASU quarterback Ryan Aplin ranks third in the Sun Belt in total offense with an average of 263.5 yards a game and has thrown 12 touchdown passes with just two interceptions on the season. UNT has played well at times defensively and must be at its best for the Mean Green to have a chance.
2. Find a way to throw the ball effectively
ASU leads the Sun Belt in pass defense with an average of 195.5 yards allowed a game and has picked off eight passes this season. UNT will be without wide receiver Brelan Chancellor, one of its top playmakers. UNT will have to find someone to fill the void to keep ASU from stacking the line.
3, Avoid another slow start in the first half
UNT has struggled in the early going of its last three games, when the Mean Green has been outscored 40-0 in the first quarter. UNT came back from an early deficit in a win over Louisiana-Lafayette, but never recovered from a 17-0 first-quarter blitz last week by Middle Tennessee.
4. Give fans a reason to come back next game
There will be a large crowd on hand for homecoming to see if UNT can win what might be the key game of its season. The Mean Green can get to 4-5 with a win, which would give UNT a chance to get to 5-5 with a win over South Alabama next week. Momentum could start to build in UNT’s favor if that happens.