UNT-La. Tech Q&A with Sean Isabella of the News Star

Its time for our weekly Q&A heading into UNT’s game against Louisiana Tech on Thursday night. Today, we are fortunate to have Sean Isabella from the News-Star in Monroe, La. You can find Sean’s stories on the News Star’s website and on Twitter at ST_IsabellaTNS. Here is what Sean had to say about the game:

1. How much has La. Tech improved this year and why?

I think it’s simply the mindset. In year 1 under Skip Holtz in 2013, I could sense the team never truly believed how good they could be. Their is more of a comfort level this year, the team is closer and the confidence is growing, the same confidence that was evident on the field in Saturday’s win over UL Lafayette. Defensively, the Bulldogs are better than last year and offensively it’s not even close. La. Tech finally has a quarterback, the wide receivers can make plays down the field and the offensive line has come together. It’s night and day compared to 2013.

2. Talk about Kenneth Dixon

Where do I start? He’s fresh off a 184-yard, two-touchdown performance over UL Lafayette and the Bulldogs will need a strong showing Thursday to have a chance. A lot of talking heads will dub his 99-yard run as a busted play, but it’s far from that. UL Lafayette blitzed to the wrong side and La. Tech did a solid job of blocking the left side and Dixon did the rest, making the safety miss and racing the distance for the score. He’s a tough runner and only needs a crease or two to make something happen. If the Bulldogs can get him over 100 yards against North Texas, they’ll have a shot.

3. Is La. Tech a bit worn out from being on the road this long?

Possibly, but they knew this was coming months ago when the schedule was released. They certainly aren’t using it as an excuse, and if anything, they carry momentum from the big win over UL Lafayette. Skip Holtz stressed the importance of these two games (UL Lafayette and North Texas) so a 2-1 record could do wonders for their confidence going forward. They realize it will be a physical game, so I could see them being worn out from that standpoint as the game progresses.

4. Talk about La. Tech’s new QB Cody Sokol

He was locked in against UL Lafayette. In two games, he has just one interception, which is music to Holtz’s ears. Last year, starting QB Ryan Higgins had 13 interceptions to just six touchdowns. Sokol has been very solid so far. He can make the correct reads and throws and I expect him to keep improving as he gets more comfortable with the offense. So far, Tech coaches are elated with what they’ve seen from Sokol since he’s a huge upgrade from what they had in 2013.

5. How do you see this game playing out?

This is a different game than La. Tech’s first two, where the Bulldogs played two spread offenses. Holtz mentioned how North Tech will try and win with physical football, so I’d expect the game to be decided in the trenches. Oklahoma dominated La. Tech’s offensive and defensive line, so there is some worry there. The Bulldogs have team speed and have shown they can make plays by spreading team out, so it’s possibly they ask Sokol to do more with the football if Dixon can’t get going. La. Tech will keep it close, but I’ll give the nod to North Texas in a game that could come down to the wire. 24-20 UNT.

Prediction: UNT will pull another one out at Apogee

North Texas players take the field at Apogee Stadium before their 43-6 win over SMU on Saturday. UNT will look to improve to 14-5 at home under Dan McCarney on Thursday night when the Mean Green take on Louisiana Tech. (David Minton.Denton Record-Chronicle)

Records: UNT 1-1, Louisiana Tech 1-1

TV: CBS College Sports: Ben Holden (play-by-play), Kevin O’Connell (analyst), Courtney Fallon (sideline)

Radio: KHYI-FM 95.3, KNTU-FM 88.1, KGAF-AM 1580

On the line: North Texas and Louisiana Tech can get an early jump in the Conference USA title chase in both teams’ league opener on Thursday night at Apogee Stadium. Both teams are coming off big wins in rivalry games and have momentum. UNT hammered SMU 43-6 last week, while Louisiana Tech beat Louisiana-Lafayette 48-20. One team will come out with a 2-1 record and a early jump on the rest of the teams in the league. UNT head coach Dan McCarney put it succinctly. UNT is going to be in first place or last place in C-USA for a month because because of its schedule that includes two nonconference games and a bye week before its next league game at UAB on Oct. 11. Louisiana Tech is in a similar spot with games coming up against Northwestern State and Auburn before returning to league play in a home game against UTEP on Oct. 4.

When North Texas has the ball: UNT got its running game going last week after a tough opening game against Texas, rushing for 245 yards while walloping SMU 43-6. Reggie Pegram rushed for 81 yards to lead four UNT running backs who rushed for at least 47 yards. The way UNT ran the ball took pressure off first-year quarterback Josh Greer, who threw for 86 yards while hitting on nine of his 12 pass attempts. UNT will lean on its running game again today.

When Louisiana Tech has the ball: Louisiana Tech has what looks like it could have one of the better one-two punches in Conference USA in terms of offensive skill position players in running back Kenneth Dixon and quarterback Cody Sokol. Dixon is averaging 113.0 rushing yards a game, while Sokol is averaging 243 passing yards a game. Louisiana Tech will lean on that duo that helped the Bulldogs score 48 points in their win over Louisiana-Lafayette last week.

Prediction: UNT and Louisiana Tech have traveled similar roads this season with similar results. UNT lost its opener at Texas before beating rival SMU, while the Bulldogs lost their opener at Oklahoma before rebounding to beat in-state rival Louisiana-Lafayette. UNT has been terrific at Apogee Stadium under head coach Dan McCarney, who has led the Mean Green to a 13-5 record on their home field. UNT also has an edge considering Louisiana Tech is playing its third straight road game. The Bulldogs are vastly improved over last season, but the Mean Green will pull out a close game in the end.

UNT 27, Louisiana Tech 24

Video: Reggie Pegram talks about SMU, La. Tech game

Five things UNT fans should know about Louisiana Tech

Louisiana Tech quarterback Cody Sokol throws during the Bulldogs’ season-opener at Oklahoma in Norman, Okla., on Aug. 30. Sokol has thrown for 486 yards in two games. (Associated Press/Sue Ogrocki)

North Texas opens Conference USA play against Louisiana Tech at 7 p.m. at Apogee Stadium. Here’s a quick scouting report of the Bulldogs:

Record: 1-1 (beat Louisiana-Lafayette 40-28 on Saturday)

Key number: 13-5 (UNT’s record at Apogee Stadium under Dan McCarney)

1. This isn’t the same Louisiana Tech team

UNT head coach Dan McCarney pointed out in his press conference this week that this isn’t the same Louisiana Tech team UNT beat 28-13 in Ruston a year ago. The Bulldogs are in their second season under Skip Holtz and seem to have turned a corner. Louisiana Tech looked capable in a season-opening loss to Oklahoma and turned around and hammered Louisiana-Lafayette, one of the best teams in the Sun Belt, in its second game of the year. Posting another win over Louisiana Tech will be a challenge.

2. The Bulldogs have a quarterback now

One of Louisiana Tech’s problems last year was that it struggled at quarterback. Holtz solved that problem in the offseason when he went out and signed Cody Sokol, a former second-team JUCO All-American who was buried on the depth chart at Iowa. The senior has come in and been an immediate upgrade for the Bulldogs and thrown for 486 yards and four touchdowns in two games. McCarney called Sokol a huge upgrade over what Louisiana Tech had at quarterback last season.

3. Kenneth Dixon is as good as ever

What makes Sokol even more dangerous is having Kenneth Dixon with him in the backfield. Dixon has been a force for years and comes into this week’s game averaging 8.1 yards a carry. UNT held Dixon to 25 yards last season in one of its better performances against an opponent’s rushing attack of the year. Repeating that performance will be a challenge against Dixon, who McCarney talked about in glowing terms this week. Dixon had a 99-yard touchdown run last week.

4. Cleveland is coming on for Bulldogs

Linebacker C.J. Cleveland moved from safety to linebacker this year and has been a force for Louisiana Tech in its first two games of the year. The Arkansas Tech transfer has 17 tackles and a quarterback hurry in the Bulldogs first two games after finishing with just four tackles as a sophomore last season. He brings speed to Louisiana Tech’s linebacker corps.

5. Louisiana Tech is coming off a big rivalry game

UNT could be catching Louisiana Tech at a good time. The Bulldogs played at Louisiana-Lafayette on Saturday in a key rivalry game. The Bulldogs have played the Ragin’ Cajuns 86 times in their history, more than any other team. The game was Louisiana Tech’s second straight on the road. The Bulldogs have plenty to play for in their Conference USA opener, but could be a little on the tired side after traveling earlier in the week, not to mention a little beaten up after opening the season at Oklahoma.

Tuesday night tidbits

Taking a lap around the UNT athletic department. …

– It’s been a good week for the Mean Green on several fronts, starting in soccer. UNT received a vote in the national top 25 poll.

Here’s the really interesting part. UNT hosts Oklahoma on Friday. The Sooners are ranked 15th. If UNT wins that game, it will have a really good shot to crack the poll. And UNT pretty much never loses at home.

We’ll have more on John Hedlund’s crew in the paper tomorrow.

– For those of you who enjoy soaking in SMU misery, Eric Dickerson came out today and pretty much ripped his alma mater for pretty much everything. Being blown out by UNT 43-6 didn’t go over well in Dallas.

– The UNT volleyball team won the Delta Zeta tournament at Texas State over the weekend for its first title since 2012. We hadn’t mentioned that up until now.

Details emerge in Schilleci arrest

Schilleci

North Texas backup safety John Schilleci was cited for using false identification following an incident over the weekend that led to his arrest.

Schilleci was charged with resisting arrest by UNT police on Sunday and later released on $500 bail.

Dan McCarney said Monday that the former Guyer standout, who was listed second on UNT’s depth chart at strong safety, has been suspended for the Mean Green’s Conference USA opener on Thursday against Louisiana Tech.

Schilleci was sitting on a concrete flower pot in a UNT parking lot Sunday and began to walk away when he saw a UNT police officer, according to the report. Schilleci stumbled three times in 15 steps at which point the officer tried to make contact with him, the report says.

The officer asked Schilleci to stop three times and then shined a flashlight at him, at which point he started to run, the report says.

The report says that the officer asked Schilleci to stop three more times before he ran into another officer and stopped.

Officers asked Schilleci why he ran, according to the report. The report says Schilleci told them that he plays for UNT and was excited about the Mean Green’s win over SMU. Schilleci played for the Mean Green during their 43-6 victory at Apogee Stadium. At that point, officers noticed the odor of alcohol, according to the report.

Officers asked Schilleci if he had been drinking, the report stats. Schilleci said that he had been drinking in his dorm room, but later said that he had been drinking on Fry Street, according to the report. Schilleci admitted to police that he is only 19 and produced a driver’s license that was not his, the report says.

Schilleci originally said he found the identification card, but later told police a friend gave him his driver’s license that he used to get into a bar, the report says.

Schilleci received a citation for using identification issued to another person, a Class C misdemeanor, in addition to being charged with evading arrest, a Class B misdemeanor.

Watch that SMU job, this could get interesting

Jones

There was big news on the DFW sports scene today. June Jones is out at SMU, capping one of the more remarkable falls for a coach that I can remember.

Jones took SMU to four bowl games in consecutive years, won three of them, missed the postseason by a game last year and is now out after two games this season.

There is plenty more to the story, including a dalliance with Arizona State that we won’t go into.

What is interesting from a UNT perspective are the implications for the Mean Green, who compete with the Mustangs in just about every way possible despite being in a different conference.

UNT and SMU compete for attention and recruits, even though no one would admit to that in Dallas.

What could be scary for UNT is what SMU comes up with in terms of a coach. Even now, coming off a bowl win, competing with SMU for players can be a challenge for UNT. Billy McCrary, a pretty good athlete, committed to SMU over UNT just a few weeks ago. There is always a chance he changes his mind, but the odds seem against it.

SMU has its challenges (attendance, high academic standards, being over run with trust fund babies named Biff and Buffy) and strengths (big city location, academics) just like UNT has challenges (attendance, tough recent history outside of last season) and strengths (diverse student body, good coaching staff, college town location).

What SMU really has going for it, though, is money. And a lot of it.

No one thought SMU basketball was coming back from the dead. Then the school hired Larry Brown and former UNT head coach Tim Jankovich.

Look at how that turned out for SMU.

It turned out a lot like June Jones did for SMU before things went south.

SMU might have an attendance problem now, but just remember, that was also the case in basketball. “Was” is the key word there. SMU just sold out for the upcoming basketball season.

UNT never solid out, even at the height of the Johnny Jones glory years in basketball or the New Orleans Bowl run in football and still hasn’t sold out Apogee. Dan McCarney still isn’t happy about that, by the way.

I’m not saying that SMU will get it turned around in football like it did in basketball. It’s a different animal.

But it is something to watch as the school looks for a new football coach. UNT fans often say that no one will ever identify with SMU in Dallas. That was same argument when it came to basketball before Tony Romo and Jason Garrett started hanging out at games.

UNT showed interest in Smith at one point.

Welp, tack one more notable accomplishment on Mac’s resume — Jones out at SMU

Well, that didn’t take long.

June Jones is out as SMU’s head coach two days after being hammered by UNT at Apogee Stadium 43-6 on Saturday.

I said all along that UNT-SMU is a college football rivalry.

This is just another indication of that fact.

Jones’ fall at SMU is pretty remarkable when one thinks about it. The former Hawaii coach led the Mustangs to four straight bowl games before coming up a game short at 5-7 last year. He did have the embarrassing flirtation with Arizona State, but hung on until being whacked by Baylor and then UNT.

That turned out to be the last straw.

UNT press conference notes, quotes, video with Mike Canales

UNT head coach Dan McCarney, offensive coordinator Mike Canales and a group of players spoke today about the Mean Green’s win Saturday over SMU and a short week before its Conference USA opener against Louisiana Tech on Thursday at Apogee Stadium.

The video at the top of this post is of Canales talking about UNT’s progress offensively in the first two weeks of the season.

The news of the day is that backup safety John Schilleci has been suspended one game after being arrested for resisting arrest over the weekend,  but there were several other items of note …

– Trevor Moore played a key role in UNT’s 43-6 win over SMU, kicking five field goals, including three of at least 42 yards, and was named Conference USA’s Special Teams Player of the Week.

– This was expected, but Josh Greer has been named UNT’s starter for the Mean Green’s game against Louisiana Tech. UNT’s coaches thought he took a dramatic step forward during the Mean Green’s win over SMU when compared to his outing in a season-opening loss to Texas. Greer finished 9-for-12 for 86 yards against the Mustangs. UNT offensive coordinator Mike Canales said Greer easily could have doubled his yardage total if he had played the whole game and had a chance to throw the ball a little more. UNT jumped out to a huge lead and pounded away at SMU with its running game in the second half. Backups Andrew McNulty and Dajon Williams both played late in the game. Greer threw for just eight yards and threw two interceptions against the Longhorns.

– Defensive end Chad Polk was received a game ball for his performance against SMU that included 1.5 sacks. He also forced a fumble that fellow defensive end Jarrian Roberts returned for a touchdown.

– McCarney said that UNT suffered a few injuries during its game against SMU, but none were season-ending. Two or three players are questionable heading into the game. UNT does not disclose the nature of injuries unless they end a player’s season.

 Quotable

“We are trying to get to 14-5 since we took this job at home. Every time we get add to that, it adds to what we are doing. We need our fans, we need our students, we need help. We can’t do it by ourselves. We need a homefield advantage.”

– Dan McCarney

“This is a big, big game. You are going to be 1-0 or 0-1 [in Conference USA play] for a month. You are going to be in first place or in last place. We play in nonconference, then we are open, then we are in nonconference before we get back to Conference USA play. You want to be in first place for a month or last place for a month? Make a decision and go do something about it. Make plays or make excuses.”

– Dan McCarney on Thursday’s game against Louisiana Tech

“I made big strides. The game slowed down a lot for me. I felt a lot more comfortable back there.”

– UNT quarterback Josh Greer, who bounced back from a 2-for-11 performance for eight yards in a loss to Texas to complete 9 of his 12 attempts for 86 yards in a win over SMU

Breaking news — UNT player arrested over weekend (updated)

Schilleci

UNT backup safety John Schilleci was arrested on a charge of evading arrest over the weekend and was released on $500 bail.

The former Guyer standout played in UNT’s 43-6 win over SMU on Saturday at Apogee Stadium.

Schilleci is listed second on UNT’s depth chart at strong safety.

UNT head coach Dan McCarney said during his weekly press conference late Monday morning that Schilleci has been suspended for the Mean Green’s game Thursday against Louisiana Tech.

Check back for more on the blog and in the paper.