North Texas opened the season with an impressive 31-13 win over UTEP last week in El Paso in what looked like a game between evenly matched teams heading into the night.
The Mean Green are not only 1-0 on the season, they’re also 1-0 in Conference USA play.
UNT will return to action on Saturday when the Mean Green face longtime rival SMU.
Before we turn our attention to the biggest rivalry in UNT football, it’s time for this week’s edition of What We Learned.
There was a lot to digest coming out of the Mean Green’s win over UTEP.
Here are our biggest takeaways.
1. That was one of UNT’s bigger wins in a while
The Mean Green have won some big games under Seth Littrell over the years.
Knocking off Arkansas in 2018 always comes to mind, along with a win over SMU that year.
Beating UTEP doesn’t look as good on paper but ranks up there as far as importance after three straight sub-.500 seasons.
The Mean Green really need to post a winning campaign and recapture the momentum they had back in 2017 and 2018 when they won nine games in back-to-back years. The path back to an eight- or nine-win season is a whole lot clearer now following a win over the Miners.
A loss to UTEP would have sent UNT into the SMU game looking at the very real possibility of starting 0-2.
The Miners were coming off a seven-win season and nearly beat UNT last year.
A solid win to open the year gives the Mean Green momentum heading into their game against the Mustangs.
There is a good chance UNT will have one of the bigger crowds in the history of Apogee Stadium when SMU comes to town.
That wouldn’t have been the case if the Mean Green had lost to the Miners.
Add it all up and one can see why UNT’s win over UTEP ranks up there as far as the most important victories of Littrell’s seven seasons with the Mean Green.
2. This Austin Aune-
Mike Bloesch partnership might work
The biggest storyline of the offseason was UNT’s quarterback race and how it would play out under offensive coordinator Mike Bloesch.
UNT brought in three transfers in the offseason and moved Bloesch, a former offensive line coach, over to work with the team’s quarterbacks.
There was some skepticism about how it would all work out. There still is.
Aune didn’t win the starting job until midway through last season, averaged 153.2 passing yards per game on the season and had an even touchdowns-to-interceptions ratio at 9-to-9. Littrell and UNT’s coaches said consistently in the offseason that Aune had improved.
There is a whole lot more reason to be believe that is the case after Aune threw for 236 yards and three touchdowns against UTEP.
The former Argyle standout hit Roderic Burns on a deep ball for 41 yards and connected on three touchdown passes in the red zone where throwing windows are tight.
There is still a long way to go for Aune to live up to what UNT hopes he will be this season. He wasn’t perfect and said so after the game.
Aune acknowledged that a fumbled handoff between himself and Ikaika Ragsdale at the end of the half was a bad mistake.
“I turned the ball over late in the first half and missed a couple of throws I wish I could have back,” Aune said. “We left a couple of plays out there. One of the biggest things is we need to finish better.”
What Aune showed on Saturday ought to make UNT’s staff feel better about him guiding the way as the Mean Green look to reach that goal.
3. UNT has a chance to put together a good defense again
UNT was tremendous defensively while shutting out UTEP in the second half.
The Mean Green forced a fumble and stopped the Miners on fourth down on three straight series.
UNT has a whole lot of transfers and newcomers looking to move into critical roles.
Linebacker Mazin Richards and defensive end Tom Trieb started. The hope is both will be playmakers and help cover for the loss of several key players after last season.
Richards showed promise while posting four tackles.
The players who came through and guided the way to a second-half shutout were familiar faces, though. Linebacker KD Davis and defensive back Quinn Whitlock posted eight and seven tackles, respectively. Both were credited with two quarterback hurries.
Cornerback DeShawn Gaddie broke up two passes.
Trieb and Richards will almost certainly find their groove and make the big plays that UNT believes they are capable of at some point.
When they do, they’ll add to a defense that looked solid with a few veteran players leading the way.