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UNT knows what awaits today at Iowa

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Brett Vito, Staff Writer

Seth Littrell isn't expecting any surprises when North Texas faces Iowa on Saturday in one of its most challenging games of the season.

UNT's coach has faced the Hawkeyes once before, during his tenure as the offensive coordinator at Indiana in 2012, and seen them countless times since.

Not much has changed about Iowa or its approach.

"What you see is what you get," Littrell said. "They are very strong, use their hands well and play physical. They are not going to outscheme you. They are going to do what they do."

More often than not, that includes controlling the line of scrimmage, running the ball and preventing opponents from doing the same.

That approach has paid big dividends for the Hawkeyes during 18 seasons under Kirk Ferentz and appears as if it will again this season.

Iowa (2-0) knocked off rival Iowa State 44-41 in overtime last week and is receiving votes in the week's Associated Press poll.

UNT is a 21 1/2-point underdog and has a handful of veteran players who know what they are up against. Iowa hammered UNT 62-16 in 2015.

"They are very basic, but sound in what they do," senior safety Kishawn McClain said. "They play as a unit. We have to be gap-sound and win one-on-one battles."

UNT didn't win nearly enough of those battles last week in a disheartening 54-32 loss to SMU.

UNT put up some impressive numbers in its loss to the Mustangs. Quarterback Mason Fine threw for 424 yards and three touchdowns.

The Mean Green's problem was that they couldn't contain SMU wide receiver Courtland Sutton, who caught eight passes for 163 yards and four touchdowns.

The bigger concern for UNT heading into its game against Iowa is that it managed just 69 yards rushing and failed to get star running back Jeffery Wilson on track. The senior rushed for 36 yards and a touchdown on 13 carries just one week after posting 176 yards and three touchdowns on 12 carries in a season-opening win over Lamar.

"It's great to be balanced," Fine said. "You don't want to be one-sided."

That's exactly what UNT was against SMU.

UNT will look to improve on that total while also taking advantage of what could be some favorable matchups due to its speed and athleticism at wide receiver.

That is where UNT had the most luck in its loss to SMU. Jalen Guyton caught touchdown passes that covered 72 and 29 yards, while slot receiver Michael Lawrence caught a team-high eight passes for 90 yards.

"[The Hawkeyes] have big dudes," UNT wide receiver Turner Smiley said. "That is the way they recruit. They play bully football. Our advantage will be our speed and athleticism."

Ferentz acknowledged that UNT's skill-position talent, particularly Fine, is his biggest concern.

"He's a really good quarterback," Ferentz said. "He makes good decisions. He's fast, efficient, he'll run the ball [and] throws it where it needs to go. He gets it there quickly. So if you leave somebody open, he's going to find that guy and get the ball there pretty effectively."

The question could be whether UNT can protect Fine long enough for him to get the ball to his playmakers.

SMU sacked Fine five times. Iowa will have even more talent at the line of scrimmage -- where the Hawkeyes have excelled for years.

"Having been in that league, they have always been a very physical football team," Littrell said. "It will be a great challenge for our guys. I am looking forward to preparing, getting a week better and going up there and seeing how we match up."

North Texas Gameday


When: 2:30 p.m.

Where: Kinnick Stadium

Records: UNT 1-1, Iowa 2-0

Last meeting: Iowa 62, UNT 16 (2015)

Series: Iowa leads 1-0

Last week: SMU 43, UNT 32;

Iowa 44, Iowa State 41 (OT)


Radio: KHYI-FM 95.3, KNTU-FM 88.1