The Miner football program has bowl aspirations in their sights. What was believed to be a pipe dream by many, UTEP is close to making it a reality. If they want to get there, they'll have to get past the Mean Green of North Texas.
North Texas heads to the Sun Bowl with 3-6 record (1-4 C-USA), with their only conference victory being a 31-10 win over Florida Atlantic. Last season, UNT handed UTEP one of it's worst losses of the season 41-7. That was a much different North Texas team, and this is a much improved Miner team.
The Mean Green like UTEP, are a run first pass second offense. Led by junior quarterback Andrew McNulty, UNT is 110th in the NCAA in total offense. Though the ground game is the backbone of this offense, it doesn't get much support from the passing game. McNulty has only completed 55% of his passes and has thrown more interceptions (4) than touchdowns (3). McNulty has a favorite target in Carlos Harris who leads the team with 664 yards and 3 TD's. Tight end Marcus Smith is a red zone target for the Mean Green, though with only 147 yards, he leads the team with 4 touchdowns.
UNT has two running backs that spearhead the rushing attack in Antoinne Jimmerson who leads the Mean Green with 535 rushing yards and 5 touchdowns. The other to keep an eye on is Reggie Pegram who has 4 touchdowns on the season.
Defensively, the Mean Green run a base 4-3 defense, a unit led by defensive end Chad Polk. Though Polk lacks ideal size for a defensive end, he leads UNT with 7.5 tackles for loss and 5.5 sacks. If UTEP needs to keep an eye on anyone on defense, Polk is the guy. Defensive backs Lairamie Lee and James Jones both have two interceptions each. A stout defense needs a stud in the middle and Derek Akunne is just the guy for the job. The team captain and honorable mention all-conference pick last season has 83 tackles this season, almost doubling the amount of UNT's next defender.
The focal point of Saturday's matchup will be UNT's defense against UTEP's rushing attack. Surprisingly, the Mean Green are 49th in the NCAA in run defense. For a team thats 3-6 that is an impressive stat. Miner fans hear that news and cheer because Aaron Jones has practiced and will play this Saturday. UTEP is 30th in the country in rushing offense.
Both teams are hungry to make a bowl game. Last season, UTEP missed out on that opportunity while UNT celebrated as winners of the Heart of Dallas Bowl. This season, the roles seem reversed. Expect 30,000 fans in the Sun Bowl, expect a great game on Saturday night, and be prepared to watch a great battle in the trenches.