They always say the first road game of the season is when a team can define themselves and what is possible for the remainder of the year. It was only a few years ago when that “first road game” was a foregone conclusion and that an eminent beatdown at the hands of a top-tier program left us all wanting an injury-free game as we took our payday shellacking at the Michigans, Nebraskas, and Floridas of the world. The last few seasons’ first road trips have been a bit different as the Cards have made winnable trips to the likes of Indiana, Army, etc. and this season’s first road trip sees the Cards take flight to Denton, TX to battle the North Texas Mean Green. It’s time to countdown to UNT!
5 Things You Should Know
- Normally, the first bullet point on the list is the most important thing to know. This week, the most important thing to know is that not much is known at all about the Mean Green from UNT. Their first contest against Idaho was, in my mind, a completely unusable point of evidence. Not only was it the first game, it was against arguably the worst team in the FBS division. The next week they went on the road (their first road game) and lost to Ohio. Closely. After coming back and making it a game. Are they a team capable of competing in the MAC and thus capable of giving a game to BSU? Was it a fluke comeback because Ohio took their foot off the gas? I don’t know. You don’t either. And that’s what’s infinitely worrisome about this contest.
- This is the first time the Cards will travel to UNT, but not the first time they will play the Mean Green. Remember 2009? If you have blocked it out as I advised you to do, you may have forgotten that North Texas beat the Cards at the Scheu to effectively whip the fanbase into an angry mob directed at everyone associated with the program. But, as I always say, there is no dish quite like revenge, served in your own kitchen. Coach Lembo has been cleaning up the last regime’s stench for the last couple years. Might as well take care of this, too, while he’s at it.
- Ball State may be Punter U, but North Texas could make the claim they’re Punt Returner U (at least for this season). Brelan Chancellor leads the nation in punt return average at 34.5 yards per return. So there’s that.
- It will be a match of wills when the Cards hit the red zone as it is one of those strength-versus-strength situations. BSU is #1 in the nation in red zone efficiency for the offense and North Texas is 4th in the nation on defensive efficiency when their opponents hit the red zone. As we mentioned, the opponents they have played may have had a bit to do with their stats being a tad misleading. This weekend that 4th-best ranking can be put to the test.
- Even though it’s on the road, BSU fans still have plenty of ways to feel connected to the game. To match your viewing experience on the television, we’ll be running a trademark OTP Liveblog tomorrow for this game. The game kicks off at 4:00 on Fox Sports Net and our Liveblog will be up and running an hour before at 3:00. For those that have been a part of the Liveblog experience, it’s always a ridiculous good time and this one is sure to meet those expectations as well.
4 Players You Should Know
- QB Derek Thompson – A three-year starter, he’s the engine for the offense. He’s five completions and 51 passing yards away from being in the Top 5 in eight different offensive categories. Talented North Texas quarterbacks scare me as Riley Dodge still gives me nightmares after 2009.
- OL Cyril Lemon – This space eater has started all 24 games of his freshman and sophomore years. That’s rare. Which means, he’s also pretty good. Really, the whole offensive line is experienced with three of the five starters having 25+ starts under their belt. Lemon just gets the nod because of his awesome nickname of “Rev”.
- MLB Zach Orr – For a CUSA player to be named to the Lombardi Award Watch List is decent. To follow that announcement with two games with double-digit tackles, that’s solid. Orr’s bloodline is a good one, the son of former Washington Redskin Terry Orr, and he is of utmost importance for the offensive line to keep an eye on.
- S Marcus Trice – Second on the team in tackles, Trice is also capable of picking off passes and looking for the end zone after he does. He will likely have the unenviable task of being the deep protection for Willie Snead go routes and how he is able to perform will ultimately lead to BSU offensive success or retooling.
3 Ways We Win
- Start with our foot on the gas pedal and never remove it – North Texas in each of their last two games has allowed an opening drive TD for their opponent and has trailed before their offense has even touched the ball. If Idaho and Ohio can do it, then this BSU team is certainly capable of it as well. For BSU, in similar fashion, they have allowed their opponents to score first in each of the first two games. So someone’s streak is getting busted. Unless it’s a 0-0 tie that goes on forever. And boy, would that suck.
- Avoid the need for defensive adjustments and gumption midway through the game – The hallmark of the first two wins was a porous defense to start and adjustments made to it after the bloodletting. In the season opener, it was after halftime. Last week saw a defensive improvement after only one drive. How sweet it would be for the defense to come out guns blazing and have no need for the in-game adjustments that led to this 2-0 start?
- Leave no points on the field – Pete Lembo has made a habit of excelling in special teams and penalties during his time in Muncie. I’d say when you’re playing your first road game, that’s even more important. BSU cannot afford to stall drives with penalties or create unfavorable down and distances of their own accord. That’s obviously a bullet point every week, but doubly so on the road.
2 Cardinal Questions
- What is the injury situation with Jonathan Newsome and Jahwan Edwards? Both are listed as questionable on the depth chart this week and both are extremely needed. Newsome more so than Edwards if only because that NT offensive line is experienced and talented. If both are out, then it becomes critical for Horactio Banks to turn in another solid performance and open up the passing game for Wenning and company.
- What kind of environment will BSU face in Denton? Unlike BSU teams of years past, this team hasn’t had an experience like a Michigan or Nebraska to make everything else pale in comparison. The seniors had Auburn, but that’s a small number of the team. At the season opener, UNT drew 22,000 to Apogee Stadium and that was for Idaho which has approximately 38 fans and none of them travel. It’s entirely possible that 27,000 people could be there for this game, most of them Mean Green faithful, and based on the few Texans I know they take their football rather seriously. Remember Lance Harbor’s dad?
1 Bold Prediction
These are the games that worry me. Not that I trust Las Vegas or people who bet there, but usually strange things are afoot when my heart and head are so different from what the “experts” who make the books deem to be a viable point spread. When the line opened at -3.5 for the Cardinals, I was shocked. I expected at bare minimum a double-digit favorite status for the Fighting Football Cards in the face of the Meanness and Greenness from UNT. North Texas is a relative unknown, having beaten a terrible Idaho team and losing to Ohio but making a game of it. That was also on the road. But at some point, unlike 2009, talent and skill has to win out, and it does this Saturday. BSU handles North Texas thanks to another stellar afternoon by Keith Wenning en route to a 38-17 victory moving the Cards to 3-0 before they open conference play next week.