Inside Hilltopper Sports will be visiting with WKU's upcoming opponent's beat writer each week to give our reader's more insight on the game. This week, IHS caught up with Denton Record-Chronicle Staff Writer Brett Vito for his thoughts on the Mean Green.
What are some things to look for on offense and defense?
The thing with North Texas is their running game. They've been able to run the ball real effectively this year and they've got a really special young running back in Lance Dunbar, who's emerged this year. He came into the year as a backup coming off a knee injury. He kinda burst onto the scene in the Middle Tennessee game earlier in the year. That game he ended up having 101 yards and two touchdowns on five carries. Ever since then, he's kinda been their guy. He's had a monster year. he's gone over 100 yards ever since. Against Florida Atlantic, he had 238 yards and three touchdowns. Last week against Troy, he still managed to clear 100 yards. He had 111 yards and two touchdowns, mostly in garbage time. Troy had him contained most of the game. In the third quarter, he only had 17 yards on eight carries. He's been pretty consistent and their best player. The other interesting thing is that quarterback Riley Dodge will be back. North Texas held him out against Troy partially because he was injury and they didn't wanna risk him getting hurt again. He's your dynamic dual-threat quarterback. Defensively, North Texas was dealt kind of a blow. Tobe Nwigwe, their starting middle linebacker and their best player, is out for the year. He didn't play against Troy, but they founf out he has a foot injury that's gonna keep him out the rest of the year. A.J. Penson will be in his place and that'll be something to watch because heading into the latter part of the season, he was one their leading tacklers.
Dodge Is Back At QB, But What Kind Of Shape Is He In?
They've kinda duck taped him together the whole season. They've kinda held him together with duck tape, spit and glue. he had a separated shoulder against Ohio that kept him out of the Alabama game. Then, they brought him back and then MTSU, he sprained his ankle pretty bad. He only missed a series in that game, but he was dealing with an ankle injury. He played the Lafayette game, but then against FAU, one of their linemen fell on his ankle again. He was in a soft cast after the Atlantic game and was hobbling around, could hardly run. They held him out of Troy. He's looked a lot better this week, but they can't let him take shots. He's not a very big guy and he's already had two injuries that have kept him out. The question is if they can protect him.
Coach David Elson has mentioned it, but how important is it for North Texas to stay balanced on offense?
That's what Todd Dodge talks about all the time, about the offense is designed to be balanced. They never really were last year, they were more of a throwing team. With Riley, he kinda brings a different element to a certain extent. He's more of a dual-threat, run the ball kinda guy. He does give them a little different dimension with him. They're big on the zone read and it's been a little different this year. Last year, they only rushed for 1528 yards and threw for 2828, pretty pass heavy. This year, they're balanced across the board and they run it more than they throw it, really. They rely heavily on Dunbar and they are more effective when they're balanced, because they can do a little bit more. The interesting thing about them is Riley isn't much of a deep-ball thrower, especially since they roll him out a lot. They don't like to sit him in the pocket where he's gonna take a shot from the defense. They don't really throw the ball downfield as much. It's all short passing game and running the ball. People are crowding the line of scrimmage and daring them to throw it deep and they really haven't been effective doing that.
How big of a loss is Nwigwe?
It's huge to lose a guy like that. He's kinda their defensive leader, in addition to being one of their best players out there. You take him out and I think, Penson's a good player, but he's 20 pounds lighter, he's not as experienced. There's obviously a reason Tobe's starting. You take him out of there and it's a little bit different. It's hard to gauge what difference it's gonna make with him being out, because their last game was against Troy and they're better than everybody else in the league. It's hard to say it's gonna be a huge blow, based on what they did against Troy, just because Troy is so much better.
Aside from Nwigwe, how does the rest of the defensive unit look?
They haven't been very good this year at all. They gave up 50 to Troy, 44 to FAU, 38 to Lafayette, 37 to Middle Tennessee and they called off the dogs. they did play well against Ball State, but I don't know if they've got the horses they need to run what Gary DeLoach, who's kind of a proven commodity as defensive coordinator. He came to North Texas from UCLA and he was their coordinator early on in their bowl run. I kinda have a lot of faith in him, but I don't know if things are coming around enough where he's got the players he thinks he needs or wants and the positions that he wants. They're just not playing very well. It'll be interesting to see how they play against WKU, because they run the ball quite a bit. With Nwigwe out, it'll be interesting to see if they can contain WKU. Quite frankly, this is a game that North Texas really needs to win.
What's North Texas' Approach To This Game, Based On The Past Two With WKU?
One of the guys from the North Texas student paper asked, 'Are you guys over-confident going into this game?' Dodge said that 'we don't have any business being over-confident against anybody because we haven't done anything. I think it's an opportunity for them to really get something going. They talk about having five games left in the season and I think they look down the line and see ULM, playing well at home, FIU away, who hasn't been playing well. Army is a tougher game, but that's at home. Arkansas State's been disappointing. They look at it and say, we're 1-6 but we've got an opportunity here at the end of the season. The high-water mark for the Dodge Era is two wins. If they get on a little bit of a roll, if they win three of their last five, they can go from one win to four wins, they've got people back and say that everything's rolling the right way. They win this game, maybe they can get on a roll down the line.
InsideHillltopperSports.com would like to thank Denton Record-Chronicle Staff Writer Brett Vito for taking time to help us dissect North Texas a little better. After the NT game, catch InsideHilltopperSports.com's post-game coverage.