North Texas prepared for its Conference USA opener with Rice working with dual mantras.
One, what happens in Florida, stays in Florida. Two, what happens in Denton during game week is very important.
The Mean Green’s pride and joy — the offense — hit historic lows in a 32-0 loss to No. 19 Florida last week, totaling only 53 yards. That was the lowest total by an opponent in Florida history.
Cynics would no doubt observe that a sleepwalker could find a way to 53 yards in a football game even against an elite opponent, such as the Gators. Perhaps, but a team that sleepwalks through practice certainly cannot, first-year coach Seth Littrell said.
“I’ve never even heard of that,” Littrell said of the 53-yard output. “I pray it never happens again. It’s frustrating. We didn’t have a great week of preparation. It wasn’t effort. You can get yourself up to play a game, but if you can’t have great preparation or execute, it’s a false confidence. We didn’t have a good enough week of preparation to compete the way I would’ve liked.”
119 North Texas’ national ranking in total offense (299 yards per game).
In the end, the coach can only hope it was all a “great learning experience.”
“I’m ready to move on to Rice,” Littrell said. “Florida is what it is.”
So, it’s on to Houston, where the Mean Green (1-2) seek to end a 14-game road losing streak facing the Owls at 5 p.m. Saturday.
On the surface, the game appears winnable.
Rice is 0-3, including a loss to ranked Baylor, its former Southwest Conference foe, and a conference-opening loss to Western Kentucky two weeks ago. In the game against Baylor last week, running back Darik Dillard posted his third career 100-yard rushing game and moved into the school’s top 10 in career rushing yards at 1,941. As a team, the Owls rushed for 234 yards against Baylor and a 5.6-yard average per carry.
But for one day, everybody is beginning over again. It’s the beauty of beginning conference play.
“The conference gets you back even with everybody,” Littrell said. “You control your own destiny. All your goals are in front of you.
“I always think we can be a factor. I have confidence in our young men, the way they’ve bought in. We have plenty of talent … it’s about executing and making plays.”
424.7 Total yards allowed per game by the North Texas defense.
A victory against Rice would be particularly advisable considering the stretch that follows against C-USA East Division top dogs Middle Tennessee State and Marshall in Denton and a road game against independent Army at West Point.
The football team’s official Twitter feed is #NewDenton, symbolic of the new era for North Texas football.
But as the coach acknowledged, a hashtag alone doesn’t make it so. And the start of conference season in no way ensures new successes. Only new habits do that.
“You’ve got to prepare,” Littrell said. “This game is too hard. It doesn’t matter … if you don’t prepare the correct way, you won’t have success.”
North Texas at Rice
5 p.m. Saturday