North Texas seeks to jump-start its running game

North Texas running back Jeffrey Wilson looks for yardage against Florida.
North Texas running back Jeffrey Wilson looks for yardage against Florida. AP

North Texas coach Seth Littrell could probably tell you how long it will take a train leaving Charleston, S.C., at 1 p.m. headed for Washington, D.C., traveling at 50 mph to pass another leaving at noon from Washington traveling at 60 mph.

Why, though, his offense completely disappears from the radar during games, he’s at a complete loss.

The Mean Green, he says, needs to execute better. It’s a company line adopted by seemingly every player on that side of the ball.

“We’ve got to be more balanced,” quarterback Mason Fine said after losing 30-13 to Middle Tennessee State last week. “We’ve just got to execute better all around.”

Wide receiver Terian Goree, too, said: “I feel like if we could have executed better …,” the outcome might have been different.

That, of course, is something easier said than done.

More likely the problem with the offense is the thinking that a young, often outmanned North Texas with an offensive line under construction is simply not good enough to exert its will on an opponent that takes away, say, the running game.

Actually, particularly the running game, an element the Mean Green desperately want to get back on track against Marshall when the two meet in a Conference USA game at 6 p.m. Saturday.

There is no riddle there. That’s football and dictating the pace of play and which team wins the battle of the line.

“It wasn’t one position group, it was every position … inconsistency overall,” Littrell said of his offense that turned in its best drive of the season after taking the opening kickoff last week and then failed to convert another first down until the middle of the fourth quarter.

“Up front I felt like we protected better, we just didn’t run the ball. Didn’t run it at all. The games we won we did a good job running the football. We have to continue to do that.”

North Texas (2-3, 1-1 C-USA) rushed for 5 yards last week, slightly more than the 13 against Florida on Sept. 17. In victories over FCS Bethune-Cookman and Rice, North Texas has averaged 271 yards per game rushing. In three losses, that averaged drops to 25 yards per game.

Marshall has allowed 179 yards a game running the ball. North Texas enters at 123.

But in Marshall, led by an elite C-USA QB, Chase Litton, there appears to be hope for North Texas’ offense and running back Jeffrey Wilson. Perhaps this time around, the passing game can open up the running game. Marshall has allowed 313 yards a game passing.

Marshall, at 1-3, is in need of a victory and no doubt quite moody after three consecutive losses, including consecutive defeats to No. 7 Louisville and Pittsburgh. The game against UNT is the Thundering Herd’s first in C-USA. Marshall, along with Middle Tennessee State, were consensus picks to finish among the top two in the East Division.

Littrell said he’s pleased with his team’s effort and renewed commitment to preparation.

It all comes down to you know what.

“We just have to go out mature and grow a little bit and when it’s time to go out on Saturday, we have to do a better job of executing.”

North Texas vs. Marshall

6 p.m. Saturday