UTSA coach Jeff Traylor warned his players early this week that North Texas would like nothing more than to spoil the Roadrunners’ perfect campaign on Saturday when the teams wrap up their regular seasons.
UNT coach Seth Littrell and his players did little to dispel that notion on Tuesday as the Mean Green prepared for one of the bigger games in the 10-year history of Apogee Stadium.
UTSA (11-0) will become the first ranked team to play at UNT’s home venue. The Roadrunners are sitting at No. 15 in this week’s Associated Press Top 25 poll.
“Of course,” running back Ikaika Ragsdale said when asked if the Mean Green are motivated to spoil UTSA’s perfect run. “They’re undefeated. We want to be the first ones to knock them off.”
That opportunity is just one factor in what will make UNT’s game against the Roadrunners intriguing.
UNT (5-6) seemed to be out of the bowl picture after losing six straight games beginning in the second week of the season. The Mean Green have ripped off four straight wins since and need just one more to become bowl eligible.
Traylor put the lay of the land heading into the game in simple terms.
“North Texas can ruin our season,” UTSA’s coach said. “But guess what? We can ruin their season too. So, that’s going to be our mantra. They’re going to try to ruin ours and we’re going to try to ruin theirs.”
The importance of the rivalry adds to what is at stake when the teams face off. UNT and UTSA have played several memorable games in a series that is tied 4-4.
Former UNT quarterback Mason Fine led UNT on a 7-play, 98-yard drive in the final 1:07 to give the Mean Green a 29-26 win over the Roadrunners in 2017. That win was the first in a three-game streak for UNT, which hammered the Roadrunners 45-3 in 2019, the last time the game was played at Apogee Stadium.
UTSA beat UNT 21-13 in the teams’ first meeting in 2013 and knocked the Mean Green out of the race for the Conference USA West Division title. The Roadrunners also beat UNT 49-17 last year.
Littrell and his players left little doubt about how they feel about the series. They see UTSA as one of UNT’s biggest rivals.
“Any time you are facing a rival, whatever that looks like, you want to win,” Littrell said. “It’s an important game for all of us. If anyone on that field Saturday tells you this isn’t a big game, they’re lying to you.”
The prospect of facing UTSA with so much on the line is a prospect UNT’s coaches and players are looking forward to.
“We know we have to get this win to get to a bowl game,” linebacker KD Davis said. “We went out there with a lot of intensity today knowing that we have to get this win. I feel like it’s going to be a great week.”
UNT veterans to make decisions after season
UNT listed 14 players who will go through its Senior Day ceremony on Saturday before its game against UTSA in its weekly game notes.
Several players with eligibility remaining are in that group, including quarterback Austin Aune and offensive linemen Jacob Brammer and Manase Mose.
Littrell said honoring those players is not an indication that they will not return next season.
“We encourage those guys to go through Senior Day,” Littrell said. “It’s too early to make a decision. You look at last year. A bunch of guys went through Senior Day and decided to come back and play their COVID year here.
“After we get through the season, that’s when you really sit down and talk. It’s a hard decision. I don’t have a feel for it yet.”
Brammer and Mose have started all season. Aune took over as UNT’s starter in the fifth week of the season. He has thrown for 1,647 yards and nine touchdowns while helping guide UNT during its four-game winning streak.
Matchup between UNT’s run game, UTSA’s defense critical
One of the more intriguing matchups to watch in UNT’s game against UTSA will be the Mean Green’s running game against UTSA’s defense.
The Mean Green are far and away the most productive team when it comes to running the ball in C-USA and are averaging 236.6 rushing yards per game.
UTSA is just as affective against the run and is limiting opponents to 101.7 yards per game to lead the league.
“Running the ball has helped us a lot,” Brammer said of UNT’s recent run of success. “We’ve taken it upon ourselves as an offensive line. We want to be the most physical team on the field at all times.”
Reaching that goal could be a challenge against UTSA.
“They’ve got a great defense, are multiple, big up front and very twitchy,” Littrell said. “Usually, going into a game you can find different weaknesses or a guy or two to pick on. They don’t have a weakness. They’re an experienced group and do a great job.”