2010 Football Season Preview: North Texas


by - Senior Writer -
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Senior linebacker Craig Robertson notched 107 tackles last season to lead a defense that gave up those 36 points per game. (Photos: Icon/SMI)

CLEMSON – We now sit at 60 days until the Clemson Tigers kick off the 2010 football season, giving us right at two months to sit back and dissect position battles, begin to renew our tailgate alliances, find season tickets and parking spaces, and once again hone down the pregame menu.


It also means that it’s time to start looking ahead to prospective opponents, and we begin with the first on Clemson’s schedule, the North Texas Mean Green who will visit Death Valley at 3:30 p.m. on September 4th.


However, North Texas might not have a lot of Mean and they will definitely be Green, at least at quarterback, when the action finally gets underway.


The Mean Green struggled through a 2-10 season in 2009, and head coach Todd Dodge is definitely on the hot seat entering 2010 as he has compiled a 5-31 overall record in his three seasons as head coach. Dodge, a former University of Texas quarterback, was the offensive coordinator at North Texas in the early nineties before becoming the head coach at Southlake Carroll High School in the Dallas area.


In addition to winning four class 5A state championships in five years, Southlake Carroll was recognized as national champions by USA Today in 2004 and 2006, and by PrepNation.com in 2005. Dodge amassed a 98-11 record overall at Carroll after taking over in 2000, and the Mean Green were hoping Dodge could continue that success in Denton, but Dodge’s teams have obviously fallen short of the mark.

In 2009, North Texas started off the season with a win at Ball St., lost six straight before earning a 68-49 win over Western Kentucky in a shootout, and then lost the final four games of the season. The defense was atrocious at times, giving 36 points per game, and the offense was inconsistent to say the least.

However, the news in Denton might not be all bad – six of those losses were by a touchdown or less, and they were in each of those games. A break here or there, a call in the right place, and the record might have been totally different, so while the Tigers probably win this one handily, you simply can’t overlook another Division I school in this day and age.

OFFENSE: The biggest question mark for the Mean Green is at quarterback, where Riley Dodge, despite being third in the Sun Belt in total offense last season, has been moved to receiver because of an arm injury. There are two probable starters and one is sophomore Derek Thompson, who has exactly one series of experience under his belt. In the spring game, Thompson completed his first seven passes for 113 yards and a touchdown and overall was 14-of-24 for 234 yards and a touchdown. Nathan Tune, a former walk-on who is also battling for the job, completed 11-of-19 passes for 182 yards and a score.

ABOUT NORTH TEXAS

LOCATION:  Denton, Texas FOUNDED:  1890 ENROLLMENT:  36,000 CONFERENCE:  Sun Belt NICKNAME:  Mean Green STADIUM:  Fouts Field CAPACITY:  30,000 HEAD COACH: Todd Dodge RECORD: 5-31 in three seasons OFFENSIVE COORDINATOR:  Mike Canales DEFENSIVE COORDINATOR:  Gary LeLoach RETURNING STARTERS: 19 (10 offense, 8 defense)

The Green also have running back Lance Dunbar returning. The 5-9, 202-pound junior rushed 200 times for 1378 yards and 17 touchdowns last season, an average of 6.89 yards per carry. He was also fourth on the team with 28 receptions for 300 yards and a couple of scores, and is good enough to be considered for Sun Belt Player of the Year honors.

The offensive line only allowed 12 sacks in 2009, and they have only one new starter in 2010, so this unit could be a strength for the offense. Veteran left guard Kelvin Drake earned second-team All-Sun Belt honors in 2007, and the 6-2, 280-pound senior will see time at either center or guard. Senior Victor Gill fought injuries in 2009 but still saw the bulk of the playing time at left tackle after moving over from tight end. 6-6, 283-pound junior J.J. Johnson started every game last year at center for the second year in a row. The only new starter up front is sophomore Coleman Feeley.

The receiving corps is led by senior Jamaal Jackson, who moved over from the JUCO ranks in 2009 to catch 71 balls for 701 yards and six TDs. Jackson is a burner who gives the Green a true deep threat, yet he averaged only 9.8 yards per catch last season. Junior B.J. Lewis, sophomore Darius Carey and JUCO transfer Tyler Stradford will join Jackson in seeing most of the playing time.

DEFENSE: The story for the defense in 2009, when it gave up those 36 points per game [including 21 or more in 10 of 12 games], was not being able to get to the quarterback as the unit registered just 13 sacks, good for 116th in the nation. They also finished 97th in the nation in tackles for loss, but senior linebacker Craig Robertson notched 107 tackles last season to lead the team and he will be counted on as a playmaker this season.

The defensive line has good size in spots, and that unit is led by defensive end Brandon Akpunku , who tallied six sacks and 47 tackles a year ago, but he is hurt against bigger fronts by his 6-1, 226-pound size. The other end is K.C. Obi , a 6-2, 214-pound sophomore who had 26 tackles with four tackles for loss as a reserve last season. The interior of the line has big Shavod Atkinson (6-2, 307) and senior Kelvin Jackson (6-2, 309). Those two are run stoppers who will look to neutralize the Clemson ground game.


At linebacker, Robertson earned honorable mention All-Sun Belt honors, and he is a big hitter and perhaps the defense’s best athlete. Sophomore Jeremy Phillips returns after starting the final three games last season, and he will start at the left outside spot. Junior A.J. Penson starts in the middle, and he had 51 tackles last season while filling in at a number of spots.

The secondary has junior DaWaylon Cook, a 6-1, 196-pound free safety who had 85 tackles last season, good for second on the team. The big mark against Cook, however, is that he is almost non-existent in pass defense, and must make plays against the pass as well as against the run if the defense is to improve. The other safety is 5-11, 183-pound senior Ira Smith, who had 53 tackles and an interception in 2009.

D’Leon McCord is the team’s best cover corner, while senior Chris Neal will be asked to man the other spot until either a JUCO transfer or freshman comes in and takes it away – which could happen quickly.

Overall, the unit fared decent against the pass [54th in the nation], but was just 104th against the rush in giving up just under 200 yards per game on the ground.

SPECIAL TEAMS: True freshman Zach Olen, who is more of a punter than kicker, will take over for the departed Jeremy Knott. He will also look to improve the Mean Green net punting average after they finished 117th in the country in ’09. They do have a specialist in Will Atterberry, who pinned opponents inside their own 20-yard line an astounding 22 times last season, but overall, he averaged just 39 yards per kick.

Jamaal Jackson averaged 27.2 yards per return on kickoff returns and is the teams’ most dangerous return threat.


NORTH TEXAS SCHEDULE

Sept. 4-at Clemson

Sept. 11-Rice

Sept. 18-at Army

Sept. 25-Florida Atlantic

Oct. 2-Louisiana-Lafayette

Oct. 9-Arkansas State

Oct. 16-Florida International

Oct. 30-at Western Kentucky

Nov. 6-Troy

Nov. 13-at Middle Tennessee

Nov. 20-at Louisiana-Monroe

Nov. 27-Kansas State


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