From the Bird’s Nest: Five Keys to Beating North Texas
Five in a row. The Cajuns took the latest step to bowl-eligibility and won their fifth straight game last week against the five-time defending Sun Belt Champion Troy. But that was last week. The Cajuns will get a Homecoming test this week from an improving North Texas squad that handled Florida Atlantic easily last week, 31-17. In that game, the Mean Green defense got two interception returns for touchdowns on consecutive offensive plays to blow the game open. North Texas has won two of its last three games. Their non-conference schedule wasn’t easy. North Texas lost games to undefeated Houston, #2 ranked Alabama and a very good offensive team in Tulsa. As a result, their statistics are somewhat skewed.
With a win this week, the Cajuns would win their sixth straight game for the first time since 1993. They would be 6-1 for the first time since 1970. (The 1976 team started 8-0 but had to forfeit their first two wins because of an ineligible player.) 6-1 would be the best start by a league team in the history of the Sun Belt Conference. And, most importantly, a win this week would make the Cajuns bowl-eligible in a year where six wins is going to mean something.
But don’t expect the Mean Green to come in and lay down. I think this is a better team than their numbers show. And, there are things the Cajuns must do if they’re going to get that sixth win.
Many fans still don’t understand a potential letdown game. But if there was ever one, this is it. The Cajuns put in an awful lot of emotion last week in that win over Troy. Their intensity allowed them to take a three touchdown lead into the locker room and the Trojans never got within two scores after that. Add to that the distractions that always come during Homecoming week and it’s imperative that this team come ready to play Saturday night. The coaches will do their job. It’s up to the players to do theirs.
Lance Dunbar, despite good competition, still has a shot at 1,000 yards rushing this year. He has a good chance to leave North Texas as their all-time leading rusher. And, considering names like Jamario Thomas and Patrick Cobbs, that’s pretty high praise. Dunbar not only leads the Mean Green in rushing, he’s also their leading receiver. The Cajuns have to know where he is and limit his big plays.
North Texas is very aggressive up front. They have 32 tackles for loss and 14 quarterback sacks. You can bet they’ll be coming after the Cajuns this Saturday. The offensive line and running backs have to keep ends Brandon Apuknu and Brandon McCoy, along with MLB Zach Orr away from the quarterback.
If the Cajuns succeed in shutting down the North Texas ground game, the next step for the defense is putting pressure on quarterback Derek Thompson. Thompson hasn’t thrown many picks this year, but he also isn’t completing a high percentage, either. Make him get happy feet and make him uncomfortable in the pocket.
It seems each week we talk about this category. And, it’s important again this week. North Texas was +3 in their win over FAU last week. If the Cajuns keep this category even, they should be in decent shape.