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Press conference notebook: UNT hoping for big turnout

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Brett Vito, Staff Writer

Seth Littrell didn't wait long to make his appeal to North Texas supporters to show up for what will be one of the bigger games in recent program history.

UNT's coach started off his weekly press conference with it Tuesday.

The Mean Green (3-2) enter the week alone atop the Conference USA West Division standings at 2-0 and will host Texas-San Antonio at 6 p.m. Saturday at Apogee Stadium.

The Roadrunners (3-1) lost their conference opener last week at home to Southern Mississippi but beat Baylor this year and are considered one of the other contenders for the division title.

"We have another great opponent in UTSA coming into Apogee this weekend," Littrell said. "That is exactly why we need our students, alumni, residents of Denton and the North Texas region to come out to this game. This team has worked extremely hard to get into this position. It would mean the world to our players and our coaches for everyone to show up and give their support."

UNT has bounced back from a 1-2 start with consecutive wins over UAB and Southern Miss, another team expected to contend for the West title. The Golden Eagles surprised UTSA last week by sneaking out of San Antonio with a 31-29 win.

When the dust settled, Southern Miss, UAB, Louisiana Tech and Rice at 1-1 heading into the third week of the conference season. UTSA is far from out of the race at 0-1.

"They are going to come in with a chip on their shoulder after losing last week," UNT safety Kishawn McClain said.

UNT is hoping a big home crowd will help swing its game against UTSA in its favor. The Mean Green are 2-0 at home this season and averaging 19,867 fans per home game. 

Littrell said UNT's goal is to finish a perfect 6-0 at Apogee. The Mean Green came within one game of reaching that goal in 2013.

UTSA was the team that spoiled what would have been a perfect home season that year, when the Roadrunners came to Denton and won 21-13. 

UNT finished 9-4 that season with a win over UNLV in the Heart of Dallas Bowl. That campaign marks the only time the Mean Green have finished above .500 since 2004.

Littrell emphasized that UNT will still have a long way to go to reach its ultimate goal this season — winning a bowl game — no matter what happens against UTSA.

UNT is hoping its fans will help it reach that goal.

"This is definitely a big game for the program," McClain said. "It can move us closer to a championship and show what we are all about."

English not yet ready to return

UNT held out hope it would have Bryce English back for its game against UTSA when the big defensive tackle went down with a broken foot in preseason practice.

The former DeSoto standout is making progress in his recovery but will not play Saturday.

"Bryce isn't ready yet," Littrell said. "He has been progressing very well. We feel good about where he is at, but he isn't completely ready."

This week seemed like the perfect time for English to return due to the Roadrunners' ability to run the ball. UTSA is averaging 211.5 rushing yards per game.

English was expected to be one of UNT's best run stuffers. The Mean Green experimented with moving Roderick Young to defensive end during the offseason, a move that would have opened up the nose tackle spot for English.

Young has started each of UNT's games at nose tackle and has 17 tackles and a sack.

Bye came at good time for UNT

UNT is refreshed and mostly healthy following what Littrell and his players described as a well-timed bye.

The Mean Green have not played since beating Southern Miss on Sept. 30 and had time to rest and recover from some minor injuries. UNT also had an extra week to prepare for the challenges UTSA will present.

Littrell said UNT's 43-28 win over Southern Miss was one that took a heavy toll on the Mean Green physically.

"The bye week was crucial," Littrell said. "It was a great week to get back on track and healthy. I can't say enough about our doctors and trainers. They do a great job."

What might have been even more encouraging for UNT was the energy in practice. 

"On the bye week you usually don't have as much energy," UNT quarterback Mason Fine said. "We had a good week of practice."

UTSA's defensive front has UNT's attention

UTSA features a solid defensive front seven — one that has the attention of UNT's coaches and players.

Former Lake Dallas standout Josiah Tauaefa and defensive end Marcus Davenport were preseason All-C-USA selections and are off to fast starts.

Tauaefa has 16 tackles and three quarterback hurries, while Davenport has 13 tackles, two sacks and seven quarterback hurries. 

"Tauaefa is a special player," Littrell said. "He is relentless and is very smart. He understands schematically what you are trying to do. You may get him once, but it's hard to get him twice. He is fun to watch on tape and is very physical and flies around. 

"He is committed to the game. You can tell with the way he plays. I have had a chance to be around him. He is a great player and a great person."

One of the key matchups will be UNT's offense, which has put up 89 points in the last two games, against a UTSA defense that allows only 18.0 points per game.

"Their defense is based on those two guys," Fine said. "They make a lot of plays and are the leaders of that defense. They will make plays, but we will as well."

BRETT VITO can be reached at 940-566-6870 and via Twitter at @brettvito.

FEATURED PHOTO: North Texas fans celebrate after kicker Trevor Moore connected on the game-winning field goal in a 46-43 win over UAB on Sept. 23 at Apogee Stadium (Jeff Woo/DRC)