Southern Miss is coming off a bye week and a respectable loss to Auburn that seems to have given the team some momentum. The team’s upcoming road game against North Texas will feature a showdown between two statistical passing leaders in Conference USA.
“Every game week is a different week and every team is a different team,” Head Coach Jay Hopson said. “We understand [Mason] is a good football player. He’s a guy you certainly have to know where he is at all times and have to prepare. North Texas is a balanced attack; they can throw it, but they can also run it so you have to do your due diligence and make sure you’re solid in every aspect. That’s coach talk, but it’s true. He makes plays, he can get out of trouble and make things happen with his feet so we have to be prepared.”
The Mean Green’s quarterback, Mason Fine, leads the league in passing, having thrown for 15 touchdowns and 1,971 yards through the air, which puts him in the top five for passing yards among FBS passers in the nation. Fine also sports a 64.9% completion percentage and has thrown just one interception to date. Additionally, North Texas features a complete offense, with a well-rounded game and two talented wide receivers.
“It’s one of those things where he can run around and you try to play coverage because he throws it so well but then he just moves around and he’s very elusive, he’s athletic, so he finally finds somebody open,” Defensive Coordinator Tim Billings said. “If you try to blitz him he sees you coming, throws it right now. So hopefully we can have him make a mistake or two, but we haven’t yet. In six games, he’s made one mistake. We’ll do what we do and hopefully, we can rush him with three and four and play coverage if possible. We’ll have to have plan B, plan C and plan D ready for this guy. I don’t think there’s just one way to stop him. The key is we’ve got to try and make them make a mistake or two, and take advantage of it.”
The main distinction between the offenses Southern Miss and North Texas are the rushing games. The Mean Green Have 12 rushing touchdowns. Running backs DeAndre Torrey and Loren Easly lead all North Texas rushers with four touchdowns. However, Easly went down with an injury in the recent Louisiana Tech game and is now out of the season. Nic Smith and Fine have also contributed in the run game, with two touchdowns apiece on the ground. In comparison, Southern Miss has just two rushing touchdowns on the season, one from redshirt freshman running back Steven Anderson and one from freshman reserve quarterback Tate Whatley.
Southern Miss quarterback Jack Abraham is second in C-USA statistically, throwing for 11 touchdowns, five interceptions and 1,276 yards passing. Abraham’s 70.9% completion percentage puts him in the top 10 category for completion percentage in the nation. It is also worth keeping in mind that Abraham is two games behind Fine since Southern Miss was forced to cancel its game against Appalachian State and has had its bye week, unlike North Texas.
Despite losing its conference opener to Louisiana Tech 29-27, the Mean Green still look to be favorites after impressive wins over Arkansas and SMU. In the C-USA statistical standings, Southern Miss is ranked fourth in offense and first in defense, while North Texas is ranked first in offense and third in defense.
Another distinct difference has been the success North Texas has had with pass rush, recording 18 sacks compared to Southern Miss’ conference low of five. The Mean Green’s numbers reflect an aggressive pass rush.
“I just think they are real aggressive,” Offensive Coordinator Shannon Dawson said. “If you look at the structure of their defense they’ll switch the front up a little bit but they are not scared to put everybody up there. They call a very aggressive game. It puts pressure on offenses. You have to make plays. You have to very efficient in the run game because numbers wise they are going to have numbers down there.”
For Southern Miss, the focus should be to build off the momentum from the Auburn game by bringing what will be a much-needed pass rush against Fine. As for the offense, North Texas’ defense has been an underrated part of the team’s success and establishing a consistent run game will be needed for Southern Miss to come away with the win.