North Texas coach Seth Littrell admitted Tuesday to feeling a little frustration over the last few weeks. So did his players.
Those emotions are perfectly understandable considering the unexpected midseason hiatus they have endured due to the coronavirus pandemic. UNT hasn’t played since knocking off Middle Tennessee back on Oct. 17.
The Mean Green will have been off for 34 days by the time they face Rice on Saturday at Apogee Stadium.
At least that’s the plan after each of UNT’s last three games have been either postponed or canceled. UNT’s game at UAB last week was canceled due to an outbreak of cases at UAB.
UNT officials are expecting their team to be able to return to action this week. Littrell said UNT’s latest round of coronavirus testing went well. He’s also been in regular contact with Rice coach Mike Bloomgren.
“I feel really good about where we’re at,” Littrell said. “This is as good as I [have] felt in a while.”
That confidence is based in part on the job UNT’s staff has done in keeping players engaged during a long and unplanned midseason break. UNT’s players have followed protocols designed to prevent virus outbreaks and continued to work hard in practice.
“We’ve tried to keep the positive energy around the program,” UNT quarterback Jason Bean said. “No one has ever had to go through anything like this.”
Littrell and his coaches have changed up some practice routines and had their top players face off to keep things fresh. That approach has helped the Mean Green prepare for their opponent each week and continue to progress as a team after games have been called off.
“We have switched things up as best as possible,” Littrell said. “We’re making sure that we’re getting our work done while also keeping the players fresh and not grinding them into the dirt.”
The approach appears to be paying off.
“I can tell guys are enjoying practice,” UNT running back DeAndre Torrey said. “No one is worried about making mistakes and is just flying around.”
The prospect of this week’s game being played has helped matter substantially.
“Everyone is just eager to play football again and get back out on the field,” Torrey said. “We never thought we’d end up taking a break.”
Littrell has been encouraged by how UNT’s players have handled that break.
“Our kids have been awesome,” Littrell said. “They’ve obviously been very disappointed, especially on Thursday nights when they were getting that call that we’re not going to play. Every week, they’ve bounced back great.”
Time off helped UNT recover
One of the benefits of UNT being off for an extended period in the middle of the season was the Mean Green having added time to recover from a series of injuries.
Running back Oscar Adaway III is expected to play against Rice after missing three games with a hand injury.
The redshirt freshman has rushed for 222 yards and two touchdowns and cleared the 100-yard mark in each of UNT’s first two games of the season.
The Mean Green have had a host of other players recover from minor bumps and bruises.
Wide receiver Jyaire Shorter is one of the few players UNT won’t have available this week. The sophomore started each of the Mean Green’s first three games but has not played since due to injury.
Rice defensive front has UNT’s attention
Rice knocked off UNT 20-14 last season while holding the Mean Green to 238 yards of total offense.
Littrell pinned that loss largely on the Mean Green’s struggles to handle a physical Owls defense.
“They whipped us up front,” Littrell said.
Rice has a similarly stout front again this season.
“They do a great job using their hands shedding blocks,” Littrell said. “They are big physical guys.”
The Owls are allowing 23 points and 109 rushing yards per game. UNT is averaging a C-USA-high 39.2 points per game.