Trying to string together back-to-back Conference USA victories, Louisiana Tech entertains the North Texas Mean Green on Saturday afternoon at Aillet Stadium. Kickoff time for the Bulldogs' homecoming game is 2:30 p.m.
Both teams are chasing consecutive wins for the first time this season and both bring a 1-1 conference mark into the contest.
This marks the first meeting between the two C-USA newcomers since 2006 when the Bulldogs topped the Mean Green 34-31 in Denton, Texas. The victory enabled Tech to claim a 6-5 edge in the all-time series.
North Texas (3-3) blew out Idaho 40-6 to start the season, lost to Ohio 27-21, defeated Ball St. 34-27, bowed to Georgia 45-21 in a game that was closer than the score would indicate, dropped a 24-21 squeaker to Tulane and dusted Middle Tennessee 34-7 last week.
First-year head coach Skip Holtz says one of the keys for the Bulldogs is getting off to a strong start against a UNT team which rushed for a season-high 303 yards vs. MTSU.
“I think it is really important to get off to a fast start in this game,” Holtz said at his weekly press conference. “Their time of possession is very strong. (A fast start) is going to be critical.”
Brandin Byrd is the Mean Green's leading rusher with 325 yards and three touchdowns on 72 carries.
Quarterback Brandin Byrd has passed for 1,459 yards with eight touchdowns and seven interceptions. His primary receivers are Darnell Smith (41 receptions, 445 yards, 3 TDs) and Brelan Chancellor (27-397-2).
UNT has been solid defensively, allowing 22.7 points per game and ranking sixth nationally in red zone defense.
Linebacker Zach Orr (56 tackles, 3 tackles for loss, 3 forced fumbles) is the team's leading tackler and ranks seventh nationally among active players with 298 career stops.
Chancellor, whose 78.5 yards per game in kickoff returns is tops in the nation among active players, is a game-breaker on special teams. Named as a mid-season All-American return specialist by Phil Steel's earlier this week, Chancellor is the only player in the country currently ranked in the top 10 in both kickoff and punt returns. He has returned 12 kickoffs for a 31.6-yard average, including a 99-yard TD vs Georgia, and averages 19.3 yards on a dozen punt returns.
“They have very explosive special teams players and they are going to find a way to get some points on special teams,” Holtz said. “This is not a game where you stand in the middle of the ring and say it is a punt-punt battle because they are explosive. I think it will be important that we are able to convert on big play opportunities early.”
Page 2 of 2 - Tech snapped a three-game losing streak last week with a 38-35 road victory over Texas-El Paso.
The Bulldogs average 20 points and 388.7 yards (204.7 passing, 184 rushing), while allowing 26.8 points and 422.3 yards (224 passing, 198.3 rushing) per game.
Kenneth Dixon (89 carries, 554 yards, 3 TDs) and Tevin King (48-346-1) lead the Bulldogs offensively.
Quarterback Ryan Higgins has completed 72-of-125 passes for 776 yards with three TDs and three picks in four games.
D.J. Banks (21 receptions, 163 yards) and Sterling Griffin (19-166) head the receiving corps.
Defensive leaders for the Bulldogs are middle linebacker Daniel Cobb (50 tackles, 8.5 TFL, 1.5 sacks, 1 interception), safety Mitch Villemez (36 tackles, 2.5 TFL, 2 sacks) and end IK Enemkpali (25 tackles, 7.5 TFL, 5.5 sacks).
Continuing C-USA play, both teams are on the road next Saturday — Tech vs. Florida International at 5 p.m. and North Texas vs. Southern Mississippi at 6 p.m.