North Texas (0-0) at Texas (0-0) (ET)
08/27/2014 9:46 AM
08/27/2014 9:48 AM
FACTS & STATS: Site: Darrell K. Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium (100,119) -- Austin, Texas. Television: Longhorn Network. Home Record: UNT 0-0, UT 0-0. Away Record: UNT 0-0, UT 0-0. Neutral Record: UNT 0-0, UT 0-0. Conference Record: UNT 0-0, UT 0-0. Series Record: Texas leads, 9-0.
GAME NOTES: The Charlie Strong era in Austin officially gets underway on Saturday night, as the Texas Longhorns play host to the North Texas Mean Green.
North Texas is coming off a season in which it went 9-4, logging a 6-2 mark in Conference USA play which tied it for second place in the West Division standings. The Mean Green were rewarded for their impressive campaign with a date against UNLV in the Heart of Dallas Bowl, which they won in a 36-14 final.
Dan McCarney is set to embark on his fourth season at the helm in Denton, and will try to improve upon his 18-19 overall record with the Mean Green.
Strong, the former Louisville head coach takes over the reins at Texas, where Mack Brown had ruled the roost since 1998. The Longhorns went 8-5 last season, with seven of those victories coming against Big 12 Conference foes. Having lost out on the chance at winning the league crown and a BCS bowl bid, UT settled for an Alamo Bowl clash with Oregon, and the Ducks prevailed easily in that one, 30-7.
Texas has won each of its last 14 season openers, and is an astounding 101-17-3 all-time in such endeavors, which includes a 79-7-2 mark at home.
This Lone Star State rivalry has been one-sided since its inception, with the Longhorns prevailing in all nine prior matchups.
The good news for North Texas when it comes to offensive starters returning is that the offensive line doesn't need much work. Four of the five starters are back, which will help offset the fact that several of the skill position players are brand new.
McCarney recently announced that sophomore Josh Greer will be the starter at quarterback, while the top returning receiver is Carlos Harris (553 yards, two TDs). Other pass catchers to keep an eye on include Darius Terrell and Darvin Kidsy.
The rushing attack, which featured a 1,000-yard back in Brandin Byrd in 2013, boasts a pair of solid options in Reggie Pegram and Antoinne Jimmerson, the duo combining for seven touchdowns last year.
Defense was UNT's strong suit in 2013. Led by Zach Orr, who registered 123 tackles, 10.5 tackles for loss and three sacks, the Mean Green limited foes to a mere 120.5 rushing yards per outing. Marcus Trice registered nine pass breakups and intercepted a team-high five passes from his spot in the secondary.
Unfortunately, both players are gone, leaving only four returning starters, although one of them is productive linebacker Derek Akunne (90 tackles).
Along on the defensive line, not a single starter returns, but there are guys McCarney feels comfortable going into battle with, namely seniors Daryl Mason and Alexander Lincoln.
Kenny Buyers (78 tackles, three interceptions) and James Jones (67 tackles, seven pass breakups) should anchor the secondary on the outside, while Lairamie Lee (74 tackles, three interceptions) roams the middle of the field.
Running the football was the strength of the Texas offense last season, as the unit averaged just shy of 200 yards per game (196.2) on the ground. That aspect of the team's attack should be the least of Strong's concerns this year, as senior Malcolm Brown (904 yards, nine touchdowns) and junior Johnathan Gray (803 yards, four touchdowns) are back to handle the bulk of the carries.
Quarterback and offensive line are the two areas that may take some time to develop, although junior David Ash is coming off a season in which he completed nearly 61 percent of his passes while throwing for seven scores against only two interceptions.
Strong is a no nonsense coach, and his reign has already resulted in several players being dismissed from the team, including receivers Kendall Sanders and Montrel Meander, running backs Joe Bergeron, Jalen Overstreet and Chet Moss, as well as defensive backs Chevoski Collins and Leroy Scott. He has also suspended running back/receiver Daje Johnson, offensive tackle Desmond Harrison and safety Josh Turner for at least the first game of the season, so clearly he isn't willing to put up with much with regard to off-the-field transgressions or violating team rules.
The one bright spot as it pertains to pass catchers still on the Texas roster is that senior Jaxon Shipley is back after securing a team-high 56 receptions (589 yards, one TD) in 2013.
The Longhorns were a middle-of-the-road defensive unit at best last season, permitting more than 25 points per game while yielding nearly as many yards (407.2) as they generated (408.7).
Back to help improve the numbers across the board are seven players with starting experience, the most notable being senior defensive end Cedric Reed (79 tackles, 10 sacks). Junior Malcolm Brown should be able to stand his ground at defensive tackle, while Jordan Hicks, Steve Edmonds and Peter Jinkins form a solid linebacking unit.
In the secondary, seniors Quandre Diggs and Mykkele Thompson are expected to lead by example, and junior Duke Thomas is fresh off a year in which he picked off three passes.
It may take some time for the 'Horns to come together as a cohesive unit, but Strong has already left his mark. Expect the home team to be less than hospitable to their guests in this season opener.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Texas 38, North Texas 17
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