FAU can clinch bowl eligibility with a win on Thursday at North Texas. But if there’s any team hoping to stop that from happening, it’s the one whom the Owls embarrassed not once but twice a season ago.
In their 2017 regular season matchup and later meeting in the Conference USA championship game, FAU outscored the Mean Green a combined 110-48.
North Texas started the year looking determined to right those wrongs, winning its first four – including knocking off an SEC team in Arkansas on the road.
But the Mean Green has come back to earth of late.
They are 3-3 in over the last six games, including blowing a 28-point lead in a loss to then-two-win Old Dominion a week ago.
FAU has a short week to prepare for the Mean Green with the game kicking off at 9:30 p.m. on Thursday night.
But if the Owls leave Denton, Texas, victorious, it would be both their first three-game winning streak of the year and a ticket to postseason play.
THE FILE: FAU (5-5, 3-3) North Texas (7-3, 3-3)
NORTH TEXAS OFFENSE
Boasting an arcade-like aerial attack, North Texas owns C-USA’s best scoring offense (37.2) and passing offense (317.2 yards per game). While the Mean Green still likes to take shots down field, it’s primary focus is taking care of the football. Quarterback Mason Fine has only two interceptions this season – lowest among C-USA passers. North Texas can also pound the football when needed. It is tied for third in the conference in rushing touchdowns (20) and tied for fourth in yards per carry (4.2).
OFFENSIVE PLAYERS TO WATCH:
6 Mason Fine, Jr, QB: North Texas’ all-time leading passer, Fine is one of the most prolific quarterbacks in college football. The junior is ninth nationally with 311.9 passing yards per game, and among the Top 25, he is the only one with less than three interceptions. Fine (23) sits behind only FIU’s James Morgan for the C-USA lead in passing touchdowns.
8 Rico Bussey Jr., Jr, WR: Fine’s go-to weapon, Bussey is second in C-USA in receptions (61), third in receiving yards (904), and leads the conference with 12 touchdown catches. FAU can’t afford any lapses in its coverage, as Bussey has proven to take advantage of such mistakes. He broke loose for a 68-yard touchdown in Week 9 against Rice – North Texas’ longest play of the year.
13 DeAndre Torrey, So, RB: Standing at only five-foot-seven, Torrey’s low center of gravity makes him extremely tough to bring down in the open field. The shifty back is C-USA’s seventh-leading rusher (603 yards) and is carrying the ball on an efficient 5.0 clip. Torrey has shown a nose for the end zone, 10 percent (12) of his 120 rushing attempts having resulted in touchdowns.
NORTH TEXAS DEFENSE
The Mean Green offense makes the headlines. But its defense is dominant in its own right, giving up the second fewest points in C-USA on average (20.3). The FAU offensive line is in for a challenge this week, as North Texas has recorded the second most sacks in C-USA (30). North Texas has been stingy in run defense as well, ceding 103.5 yards per game (No. 2 in C-USA) on only 3.1 yards a tote.
DEFENSIVE PLAYERS TO WATCH
22 E.J. Ejiya, R-Sr, LB: An adept run defender, Ejiya is fifth in C-USA with 94 tackles. He is also a skilled blitzer from his linebacker position, picking up a team-leading seven sacks on the year. Ejiya’s 13 solo tackles for loss ranks third in the conference.
16 Kemon Hall, Sr, DB: Despite missing two games with an injury, Hall is still No. 2 in the conference with 11 pass breakups. On the year he is tied for first nationally in passes defended per game (1.9). The sticky-handed defensive back’s four interceptions are tied for second most in the conference, and he’s returned two of those to the end zone.
2 LaDarius Hamilton, Jr, DE: A fearsome pass rusher coming off the edge, Hamilton ranks third among C-USA defensive linemen in sacks (6.5). He does a good job setting the edge in the run game as well, notching 23 tackles this season.