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Homecoming 2022: North Texas vs FIU

Editor’s note: this preview is usually published on about Thursday of game week. Apologies for the delay

FIU is getting better. North Texas has gotten better. It can be tempting to decide what a team is or isn’t based on their first-half resume. Typically teams do not change much from what they have shown. Occasionally, it does happen. Maybe it is a lineup change, or something “clicking” or perhaps a coaching change. Maybe it is simply a quality of opponent. These are not guaranteed to happen, and indeed looking over at Louisiana Tech, the losses are taking their toll on them and there are rumors of discontent inside the locker room.

FIU battled through the early season struggles (73-0 loss to WKU) to get some impressive performances on tape: an impressive 30-10 loss to league champ UTSA, and back-to-back wins over CLT and then Tech. Similarly, North Texas has improved from their infuriating loss in Las Vegas to UNLV to show up well against Memphis, FAU, Tech, UTSA, and then WKU. The Panthers have set themselves up for the next season and have put themselves in contention (however unlikely). North Texas has taken control of their fate and sits comfortably second in the league.

Attacking FIU

The problem with the late season schedule is that teams are banged up. NT is down two running backs out of the fearsome four. That puts a strain on the team, and while the current group will be excited to get totes, the depth of the running back room was one of the advantages NT has. Left tackle Cole Brown is out injured for a while. The time and cohesion of the offensive line was another advantage. This is football, however, and why you can have 85 scholarships and not just 22. So it goes.

There will be more room for error in this game. While FIU is better, they are not as good as WKU or UTSA on defense. I cannot say “475 rushing” but NT should be good to get 250. There needs to be a focus on the details, finishing runs, executing blocks, and getting big plays because the small things were taken care of. Austin Aune will not be asked to win the game for this squad — there shouldn’t be any fourth-quarter must-score drives for him to execute. He will have to be as sharp as if he is taking on the best teams in this league. North Texas is not good enough to simply show up and win. There is enough talent on the squad to put up 45 points, but it takes work and effort together there.

Game Plan: Run the ball. Make FIU make you throw the ball, and take what is available. There is no need to get super crazy with the play-calling, but the base play book should be enough to carry this team.

Best case scenario: NT is able to run like they did vs La Tech and there are gashing runs from the first unit. We see some backups play in the second half.

Worst case scenario: FIU takes advantage of a NT squad not ready to play. They surprise with some defensive aggression

Defending FIU

The Panthers like to mix in some QB runs, and can be dangerous if unprepared. They are last in the league in yards-per-play, however. If NT approaches this game like they did vs UTSA and WKU — two games where the defense was able to limit explosive offenses and get turnovers — this should be a rout going away.

Mazin Richards and the defensive line (Richards is an edge rusher, which is a linebacker in name, but his primary purpose is pass-rushing) have been great at getting to the QB for coverage sacks. Bennett has been superb in dialing up timely pressure after showing eight in coverage for a while. It is like throwing four off-speed pitches and then bringing a heater high in baseball. The dynamics make it extra effective. The Panther QB run game is a concern, but we expect NT to go single-coverage on passing downs and to get to him. It is assignment football in that case. Longer down-and distance will mean the eight-in-coverage and seeing if Grayson James can find his guys. He is not a bad QB, but has shown brightest vs the worst defenses on offer (CLT, Tech). We want to see a stat-line like he had vs UTSA — 50% passing and a turnover with no-scores.

Game plan: Stay solid, tackle the man in front of you — no need to blow him up! — and execute the game plan. The pass rush needs to be disciplined and effective. There will be times where Ridge Texada and DeShawn Gaddie will be asked to own their role in man-coverage.

Best case scenario: The defense is dominant, forcing punts and getting a few turnovers
Worst case scenario: The guys aren’t ready to play, and we see blown assignments as FIU gets a little momentum.


It is easy to get everyone working hard when things are down. The shame of losing or performing poorly will motivate a competitor on their own. When things are good? Well that is when focusing on the details can maybe not be as fun. FIU is not a premium opponent and it is a little more difficult to get excited about taking on a team that is not competing for a championship. Being a coach means helping to motivate and prepare any team. It has been a while since NT has been the clear favorite in a league game like this. NT has beaten the oddsmakers line in five straight weeks, but being a 21-point favorite is a tough gig. NT is certainly capable of it, having blown out WKU after a tough first three quarters.

This isn’t a game about out-talenting another team. This is about being a better prepared football team with talent. The staff has shown out and shown up since UNLV, and it is imperative to keep that up in this one.

MGN Prediction

NT 50 FIU 17

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