So far this season, North Texas has handled every situation it has faced at Apogee Stadium with aplomb.
UNT hammered Idaho, came back from 18 points down to beat Ball State and just last week rolled past Middle Tennessee.
The trick for UNT now is taking all that Apogee mojo on the road, starting today with a game at Louisiana Tech.
The Mean Green is a perfect 3-0 at home and an unsightly 0-3 on the road. UNT can reach its baseline goal of breaking even for the first time since 2004 by repeating that trend in the second half of the season, but its path to a .500 or better record would be a lot easier with a win or two on the road.
UNT (3-3, 1-1 Conference USA) has been pondering how to reach that goal for days.
The key to winning on the road “is being more consistent, mentally tough, focused and confident,” UNT coach Dan McCarney said. “We need to take the same passion, energy and togetherness we have at home on the road.”
UNT has developed a quiet confidence at Apogee Stadium and posted a 10-4 record at home under McCarney. The Mean Green’s three losses away from home this season are part of a long-term trend that has seen UNT go just 2-14 on the road the last three seasons.
UNT won at Florida Atlantic last season and at Troy in 2011. Both FAU and Troy finished 3-9 in the seasons they fell to the Mean Green at home.
McCarney pointed out that UNT hasn’t had opportunities to knock off struggling teams on the road while facing Georgia, Ohio and Tulane. Those teams have combined for a 13-6 record so far. A game against Tech (2-4, 1-1) will offer UNT arguably its best shot at breaking through this season.
The difference between the way UNT has performed on the road and how it has at Apogee is dramatic even when one takes the level of competition into account. The Mean Green is averaging 15 more points (36.0 to 21.0) and giving up 18.7 fewer points (32.0 to 13.3) per game at home than on the road.
UNT has scored just seven points in the first quarter of its three road games.
McCarney and his staff are not the only ones who have been looking for answers.
“There are a few things we can do that the seniors and our leadership committee have talked to coach McCarney about,” UNT quarterback Derek Thompson said. “We are not going to change at home, where we have had success, but there are some things when we go on the road that we can do differently. We need to start faster.”
Thompson and his teammates aren’t talking about exactly what their plans entail, but building on a great outing running the ball last week in a win over Middle Tennessee will no doubt be a key part.
UNT’s struggles on the road are directly tied to a running game that broke out against the Blue Raiders after two miserable road games.
The Mean Green rushed for 303 yards in a 34-7 win over MTSU after managing just 41 combined in losses to Georgia and Tulane.
UNT managed just 104 rushing yards in a loss at Ohio in the second game of the season.
“Coach Mac has been preaching paying attention to details this week,” UNT running back Brandin Byrd said.
Those details are what have gotten UNT into trouble on the road. UNT had a field goal blocked and returned for a touchdown in its loss to Tulane, a 10-point swing that loomed large following a 24-21 loss.
Ohio scored on a 75-yard touchdown pass and returned an interception 42 yards for another score in a 27-21 win.
Those are the kinds of mistakes UNT doesn’t believe it can afford when it looks to end its road woes against Louisiana Tech. The Bulldogs have had two weeks to prepare for UNT after beating UTEP 38-35 in their last game Oct. 5.
“We got a chance to get healthy,” Louisiana Tech coach Skip Holtz said. “We were able to take a guy like Kenneth Dixon and really reduce his workload.”
Dixon rushed for 200 yards in Tech’s win over the Miners and helped the Bulldogs pick up their first road win of the season.
UNT will try to reach the same milestone today.
BRETT VITO can be reached at 940-566-6870 or via Twitter at @brettvito.
UNT AT LOUISIANA TECH
When: 2:30 p.m.
Where: Joe Aillet Stadium, Ruston, La.
Records: UNT 3-3, 1-1 C-USA; Louisiana Tech 2-4, 1-1 C-USA
Last meeting: Louisiana Tech 34, UNT 31 (2006)
Last game: UNT 34, Middle Tennessee 7; Louisiana Tech 38, UTEP 35
Series: Louisiana Tech leads 6-5
TV: CBS Sports
Radio: KHYI-FM 95.3, KNTU-FM 88.1