The UNT Mean Green make a triumphant return to the Zaxby’s Heart of Dallas Bowl Tuesday.
Like a move straight out of MTV’s hit show, “Pimp My Ride,” the UNT Mean Green look to repeat history, while repeating history. They’ll face the Army Black Knights in the seventh annual Zaxby’s Heart of Dallas Bowl. The Mean Green return to the site of their last bowl win against a team they’ve already beaten this season. Xhibit would be proud.
What the game means for Army
In all seriousness, both teams are out to prove a point. Army will attempt to avenge their October loss to UNT by taking them down on a much bigger stage. The Mean Green won a mild upset in front of a Michie Stadium crowd of 31,127. For them, this is a shot at retribution.
What the game means for North Texas
UNT finished the season by losing four of their final five games, including a blowout loss at the hands of UTEP in the season finale. It left a bad taste in the mouths of the players and fans, and a win in the historic Cotton Bowl would settle that ill feeling immensely. It would also erase any thoughts that their October 22 victory over the Black Knights was a fluke.
What will happen when North Texas has the ball
The Mean Green offense looks a little different than it did two and a half months ago. First, transfer quarterback Alec Morris will start the game for UNT Tuesday. The Allen native won the starting gig in the preseason, only to lose it to freshman Mason Fine before the second week.
But then, Fine went down with a shoulder injury on November 12 and Morris earned a second shot. Morris won the following week over Southern Mississippi before losing the finale against UTEP. Like the rest of his team, he’s out to prove a point Tuesday in what will be his final collegiate ballgame.
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The UNT offense is also shorthanded at running back. While junior Jeffery Wilson will play after returning from a knee injury, the team found out last week that junior backup Willie Ivery has been ruled academically ineligible.
Having Wilson is huge for the offense. He led the team in rushing yards with 855, but Ivery proved to be just as important down the stretch while Wilson healed.
Junior Andrew Tucker will slide into the backup slot as the change-of-pace back. This could be good, though as he showcased explosive big play potential on his modest 18 carries this season.
Across the field, Army relies heavily on their linebackers. Junior Alex Aukerman, who led the Black Knights in both sacks and tackles for loss, is their biggest defensive playmaker. Senior Andrew King is just as stout and will force Morris into some quick decisions.
What will happen when Army has the ball
The Black Knight offense centers around quarterback Ahmad Bradshaw and fullback Andy Davidson and halfback Darnell Woolfolk. The trio combined for 2,081 yards during the regular season thanks to a well-executed triple-option attack. While it’s their bread and butter, they’ll have to hope for more in their rematch against the Mean Green.
Discipline will play a big role this go-around. The last time these two teams faced off, Army committed an astonishing seven turnovers. Of course, the Black Knights weren’t fully to blame for that. The strength of this Mean Green team derives from the play of the defense.
Safety Kishawn McClain is the team’s leading tackler and has a nose for the ball. As one of the team’s five captains, he received preseason honors as an All-Conference USA selection and then finished the year with second team All-Conference USA recognition. On top of his 86 tackles, he recorded three interceptions, three pass breakups, five tackles for loss and two forced fumbles. He moves quickly and hits hard, defining exactly what UNT defense is all about. The Mean Green will rely heavily on his instincts and leadership Tuesday.
What it will look like in the end
When all is said and done, this one looks to be a more defensive battle than their first go-around. The Mean Green offense will play pretty conservative behind Morris and look to win field position and time of possession battles.
Early on, neither defense will yield much and each team will try to force the other into costly mistakes. While there likely won’t be seven turnovers by Army this time, a key fumble will make the difference in this one.
Despite playing shorthanded, UNT will fare well in the second half and the offense will adjust to what they’ve seen. Meanwhile, the Mean Green defense will tighten up against the triple option and keep the Black Knights in check. UNT will celebrate their second Heart of Dallas Bowl win after a 24-17 win.