Prediction: UNT will win this season’s Senior Bowl against FIU

North Texas senior running back Reggie Pegram scores during a win over Nicholls State earlier this season at Apogee Stadium. UNT will honor 17 seniors on Saturday when the Mean Green take on Florida International.

Florida International at North Texas, 2:30 p.m. Saturday, Apogee Stadium, Denton

Records: North Texas 3-7, 1-5 C-USA; Florida Internaional 4-7, 3-4 C-USA

TV: American Sports Nework: Ron Thulin (play-by-play), Keith Moreland (analyst), Dexia Smith (sideline)

Radio: KHYI-FM 95.3, KNTU-FM 88.1

When North Texas has the ball: UNT managed 201 yards of offense, its lowest total since posting 94 in a season-opening loss to Texas last week while being hammered 35-17 by UTEP. UNT was down 28-0 and tacked on two late touchdowns to make the game seem closer than it actually was. UNT rushed for 100 yards and 65 of them came on a run by quarterback Andrew McNulty in the fourth quarter. FIU is one of the better defensive teams in Conference USA and enter this weekend’s game ranked fifth with an average of 25.5 points allowed a game. Defensive end Mike Wakefield leads C-USA with eight sacks.

When FIU has the ball: The Golden Panthers have caught fire offensively the last two weeks scoring 38 points in a win over Middle Tennessee and 35 in a loss to Old Dominion. The Golden Panthers have one of the nation’s most productive tight ends in Jonnu Smith. who has 57 catches on the year. Smith had three touchdown catches last week against the Blue Raiders and has eight on the year. UNT posted one of its best defensive games of the season two weeks ago in a 31-10 win over Florida Atlantic, but struggled last week against UTEP, which ran over UNT its way to 351 rushing yards.

Prediction: UNT has typically played well in the final home game of the season under head coach Dan McCarney, who has nicknamed the game the “Senior Bowl.” UNT takes a picture of its seniors each year. If UNT wins its final home game, that photo is displayed with a trophy for the next year. If UNT loses, McCarney stashes the trophy and the seniors don’t have their photo displayed. The Mean Green won their first two Senior Bowls before losing last year to UTSA. Neither team has anything to play for except pride and momentum heading into the offseason. UNT tends to play well in those scenarios. UNT also has the added motivation of playing to win the final home game for defensive coordinator John Skladany, who is retiring.

UNT 21, FIU 17

Jordan Murray talks about decision to commit to UNT

Murray

Jordan Murray doesn’t have much of a history when it comes playing on the varsity level for Coppell.

What the senior has is size and a whole lot of potential, traits that attracted the attention of UNT over the last few months.

UNT began recruiting the 6-foot-10 , 345-pound tackle not long after he moved into Coppell’s lineup at tackle on the side opposite of Texas commit Connor Williams this season. The faith UNT showed in Williams long before other schools took an interest in him was a key reason Murray committed to play for the Mean Green late Wednesday night.

“North Texas believed in me first,” Williams said. “I have an offer from UTEP, but no one else. That meant a lot to me that they showed faith in me. I get to be coached by a coach who believed in me from the start.”:

UNT offensive line coach Mike Simmonds and offensive coordinator Mike Canales recruited Williams. Here are his Hudl highlights.

Williams developed a connection with both Simmonds and Canales and felt comfortable with continuing his career at UNT, were his mother is currently taking classes and pursuing her degree. In a bit of a twist, Williams played for a team nicknamed the Mean Green when he was in the eighth grade.

Williams will play for the Mean Green again next year and try to capitalize on the potential that goes with his size.

“At 340, I’m pretty strong,” Williams said. “There are pros and cons to being 6-10. The pros are can just man-handle people, but there are some cons with run-blocking. Some guys come off low. I have to get down there.”

Coppell coach Mike DeWitt has seen Murray progress each season and make a big jump this year in his first season on the varsity team. DeWitt said colleges started to notice Murray a few weeks into the season.

“You can’t coach his frame,”  DeWitt said. “He has always been a big kid and has been a late bloomer. Sometimes with kids that big it takes a while to grow into their bodies. He has matured physically the last couple of years.”

UNT now has four offensive linemen set to sign in its 2015 class with the addition of Murray and the decommitment of Converse Judson offensive lineman Abdul Beecham. UNT’s other three offensive lineman commitments are Flower Mound Marcus center Creighton Barr, Allen guard Cody Wheeler and Marshall tackle Chett Munden.

For more on Murray, see tomorrow’s edition of the Denton Record-Chronicle.

Five things UNT fans should know about Florida International

Florida International running back Napoleon Maxwell, top, is tackled by Middle Tennessee's Khiry Burke last week in FIU's 38-28 win in Miami. UNT will face the Golden Panthers on Saturday. (Miami Herald/Donnalynn Anthony)

North Texas will face Florida International at 2:30 p.m. on Saturday at Apogee Stadium

Here’s a quick scouting report of the Florida International:

Florida International: 4-7, 3-4 in Conference USA (Beat Middle Tennessee 38-28 on Saturday)

Key number: Four (consecutive games the Golden Panthers lost before breaking through with their win over the Blue Raiders, who had five wins and were looking for a sixth to become bowl-eligible)

1. FIU has one of the nation’s top tight ends in Jonnu Smith

There might not be a better tight end in Conference USA than Jonnu  Smith, who ranks among the elite players at the position in the country. Smith has 57 catches, the top total for a tight end in the nation.  Smith had three touchdown catches last week against the Blue Raiders and fell just one touchdown short of the school record for touchdowns in a game. The Mean Green have given up a few big games to opposing receivers this year, including allowing Rice’s Jordan Taylor to pick up 137 yards and a touchdown on four catches. UNT will have a much better chance to knock off FIU if it can contain Smith.

2. The Golden Panthers force turnovers in bunches 

FIU leads the country with 19 fumble recoveries and has forced a Conference USA high 31 turnovers. The Golden Panthers’ ability to force turnovers has been a key to their success this season. FIU recovered two fumbles last week in its win over MTSU. UNT has turned the ball over 19 times on the season, but committed just one turnover last week in its loss to UTEP.

3. Defensive end Mike Wakefield could pose problems

FIU features one of the top pass rushers in Conference USA in defensive end Mike Wakefield, who leads the league with 8.0 sacks and ranks second in tackles for loss with 13.5. Wakefield checks in at 254 pounds and can beat tackles while coming off the edge. UNT has given up 23 sacks on the season, including three last week when the Mean Green struggled to pick up the blitz. UTEP was able to get defenders a free run at Andrew McNulty on several occasions.

4. FIU has a solid cornerback in Richard Leonard

Richard Leonard is one of of the more productive cornerbacks in Conference USA. The junior has intercepted five passes on the season and brought two back for touchdowns. Leonard has also contributed to the Golden Panthers impressive turnover total by recovering a league high four fumbles. His average of 1.09 passes defended a game ranks fifth in C-USA. Leonard could see time covering Carlos Harris, UNT’s top wide receiver.

5. This is FIU’s last game, which could provide motivation

This is the Golden Panthers’ final game of the season. FIU doesn’t have anything to play for in terms of a bowl berth. With seven losses, the Golden Panthers are finished for the year after facing the Mean Green. That didn’t seem to bother FIU last week in its win over MTSU. UNT could see a Golden Panthers team determined to build momentum heading into the offseason.

Late-night hoops rewind: UNT 62, Delaware State 55

Final: UNT 62, Delaware State 55

Where UNT stands: The Mean Green improved to 3-0 for the first time since the 2007-08 season with a win over Delaware State, arguably their best opponent of the season

Now what?: The Mean Green will face Iona on Sunday at the Super Pit. The Gaels won 22 games and played in the NIT last season. They are off to a 1-1 start this year heading into a game at Wake Forest on Friday. UNT will catch Iona on the back end of a tough road trip.

Flannigan

Star of the night:Senior forward Amani Flannigan scored 10 points, including six of UNT’s last seven to hold off the Hornets. What was even more significant was the way Flannigan scored those points, hitting four straight free throws down the stretch. Flannigan was absolutely horrible at the line last season, when he shot 28.6 percent and wasn’t a whole lot better in UNT’s first two games, going 3-for-8. The 10 points Flannigan scored are his career high, one point higher than his previous best of nine set earlier in the week in a win over Nicholls State.

Say what?

“I’m really proud of Armani. He showed a lot of toughness as a senior. Everyone questioned if he could make free throws. He has been working on them. You can judge a person’s character by what they do when they face a little adversity in life. He stepped up there and made them.”

– UNT coach Tony Benford on Flannigan’s performance against Delaware State

Our take: UNT did exactly what it needed to during a favorable early slate of games at home, beating Arkansas-Monticello, Nicholls State and now Delaware State. The Hornets were the best team UNT has seen thus far.

More and more, it looks like UNT is going to lean on Jordan Williams and a player or players to be named later on a nightly basis. Williams finished with 17 tonight after scoring 21 against Nicholls State and 12 against Arkansas-Monticello.

Jeremy Combs had a big night against Arkansas-Monticello, scoring 17. T.J. Taylor finished with 14 against Nicholls State. Maurice Aniefiok had 11 against Arkansas-Monticello.

UNT has enough options that if one of its key guys is having an off night, someone else can help fill the void. In a side note, Aniefiok is back in everyone’s good graces after being suspended for UNT’s last game for a violation of team rules.

It’s also worth noting that UNT looks far more competent in the paint than it did a year ago. UNT finished with a 36-32 rebounding edge tonight.

Sunday’s game against Iona will be tough, but if UNT can somehow get a win, there is a good possibility the Mean Green could get by Mississippi Valley State and head to Arkansas on Nov. 28 at 5-0.

Breaking news — UNT lands Coppell OL

UNT has landed a commitment from Coppell offensive lineman Jordan Murray

He’s a big guy at 6-10, 345.

Here are his Hudl highlights.

UNT is losing four starters on its offensive line and is expected to load up on linemen in this class. UNT recently lost a commitment from Abdul Beecham, who elected to look at other options.

I am at the UNT’s basketball game and have not had a chance to run him down yet.

Stay tuned.

UNT-Delaware State running blog

UNT is about to tip off its game against Delaware State here at the Super Pit, which begs the question — There’s a Delaware State and a Delaware with in the state of Delaware.

Yes, that is indeed the case. We ran through this matchup in today’s Chalk Talk. 

UNT has won it first two games against the likes of Arkansas-Monticello and Nicholls State.

The competition gets a little tougher tonight. The Hornets knocked off Penn in their opener.

It looks like Maurice Aniefiok after he was suspended for UNT’s last game. We won’t see J-Mychal Reese tonight. He is not dressed out.

Tipoff — Aniefiok is starting.

15:40 — UNT is up 10-9 at the first media timeout after falling behind 9-3 early. Maurice Aniefiok has five points in the early going for UNT. All nine of Delaware State’s points have come on 3s.

13:15 — UNT is on a 12-0 run and has takent a 15-9 lead here at the Super Pit. Jordan Williams has eight points and has hit a couple of 3s.

11:59 — Delaware State hit a 3 out of its timeout and has pulled to within 15-12. They have the ball coming out of the media timeout. Jordan Williams has 10 points for UNT.

7:59 — UNT is up 19-18 a little past the the midway point of the first half. The Mean Green trailed until Colin Voss converted a three-point play. Jordan Williams has 10 points for UNT.

1:29 — UNT is down 27-25 late in the first half, but has scored the last four points after falling behind by six following a 9-0 Delaware State run. The Hornets are headed to the line for a couple of free throws.

Halftime — We are all tied up at 27-27 in a defensive slugfest here at the Super Pit. Jordan Williams has 12 points and is really carrying UNT. Both teams are shooting 37 percent from the field.

13:12 — I checked out for a minute to put up some breaking football recruiting news. Check the rest of the blog for details, but back to hoops. UNT is up 42-40. Jordan Williams has 14 to lead UNT.

11:38 — UNT is still up 45-43 as we approach the midway point of the second half. Jordan Williams has 14 points to lead UNT.

7:55 — UNT is up 50-46 with Delaware State headed to the line.

3:26 — UNT is up 55-51 as we head down the stretch. Four points looks like a huge lead in this one. UNT has the ball coming out of a timeout.

2:19 — We have reached the final media timeout with UNT up 57-51. Jordan Williams has 17 points for UNT. The Mean Green should be able to close this out from here.

1:33 — Delaware State has pulled to within 57-53 as we head down the stretch. UNT has the ball coming out of a timeout.

Final — UNT 62-55. I will be back with tonight’s rewind.

Chalk talk — UNT vs. Delaware State

North Texas will take on Delaware State tonight at the Super Pit, where senior guard T.J. Taylor will look to help UNT get off to a 3-0 start. (Denton Record-Chronicle/David Minton)

Delaware State at UNT

When: 7 p.m. today

Where: Super Pit

Radio: KNTU-FM 88.1

Records: UNT 2-0; Delaware State 2-0

Projected UNT starting lineup:

PG: Greg White-Pittman, 6-2 Fr. — 7.5 points a game, three total assists

SG: Jordan Williams, 6-6 Sr. — 16.5 points, 7.0 rebounds a game, 92.9 free throw percentage

SF: Maurice Aniefiok, 6-5 Jr. — 11.0 points. 2.0 rebounds a game, suspended last game for a violation of team rules

F: Jeremy Combs,  6-7 Fr. — 11.0 points, 6.0 rebounds a game , 69.2 field goal percentage

F: Colin Voss, 6-7, Sr. — 5.5 points, 6.0 rebounds a game

Scouting Delaware State:

Delaware State finished 9-21 in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference last season, but has shown signs of life since Keith Walker was promoted to interim head coach in the middle of last season and then given the job in the spring. The Hornets are 7-6 since he took over. Delaware State is averaging 90.5 points a game and has five players averaging double figures, including DeAndre Haywood. The sophomore guard is averaging 20.5 points a game. Delaware State will push the ball if it has the chance.

Who’s hot:

Jordan Williams has scored in double figures in both of UNT’s games this season and is coming off a 21-point outing in the Mean Green’s win over Nicholls State. Williams hit just five of his 17 shots from the floor, but made all but one of his 12 free throw attempts. Williams also grabbed 10 rebounds in UNT’s game against Nicholls and posted his first double-double of the year.

What you need to know:

Tonight’s game will be the biggest challenge the Mean Green have faced so far this season. Delaware State is a solid team that seems to have found its form under Walker.

UNT is starting to get its roster into place, which should help the Mean Green. Senior shooting guard T.J. Taylor has returned to the lineup and JUCO transfer DeAndre Harris played in UNT’s last game after recovering from a minor injury.

The status of Texas A&M transfer J-Mychal Reese is still up in the air and highly regarded redshirt freshman Greg Wesley hasn’t played this season due to personal problems off the court.

Not having those players hasn’t hurt UNT a bit while it has run through a couple of easy games to start the season. The Mean Green will face a higher level of competition tonight and could find out a little more about what it has as a team.

A couple of late-night tidbits

This is arguably the most busy time of year in college sports. Football season is still rolling, basketball is starting and a host of other sports are still going on.

One sport that tends to slide under the radar, as far as most people’s interest goes is volleyball. It is worth noting, though, that UNT will enter the Conference USA volleyball tournament that starts on Friday seeded third.

UNT faces Southern Miss, the No. 6 seed and tournament host, in the first round at 7 p.m. on Friday.

The conference released its all-league team today. Carnae Dillard was a first-team pick, while Hannah Forst was was a second-team pick (and in a side note, the all-time MVP of the make sure spell check didn’t change that team).

Amanda Chamberlain was on the all-freshman team.

I will delve into it more tomorrow, but the UNT men will look to move to 3-0 tomorrow against Delaware State, which you should be aware, beat Penn to open the season.

 

Thoughts on Skladany’s departure, where UNT goes from here

UNT defensive coordinator John Skladany, shown on the sidelines of a 2013 game, is retiring. How UNT fills the void he leaves will have a big impact on the Mean Green's future. (Denton Record-Chronicle/David Minton)

UNT defensive coordiantor John Skladany is retiring at the end of the season, a story we covered on the blog and in the paper today.

The question now is the impact his departure will make and where UNT goes from here.

As far as the impact of Skladany’s departure goes, it’s huge.

UNT’s players talked about the connection they have with him and the impact he has made on the program. The guy is just a good football coach.

I got some of what UNT’s players had to say in the paper. They unanimously like and respect Skladany.

“Skladany is on all of our backs to make sure we do the right things,” UNT linebacker Calvin Minor said. “He has been a really big part of the reason we have had some success on defense. I really appreciate him. He’s a good guy and a really good coach. He’s a teacher. If you are not doing what you are supposed to be doing, he’s going to get his point across.”

It takes time to build that level of trust with a coach. Unless UNT promotes from within, this team is going to be starting from scratch in that regard.

Another factor to consider is the level of trust UNT head coach Dan McCarney has with Skladany and how their philosophies match so well after spending 13 years working together.

It doesn’t matter who UNT hires, there isn’t going to be the same comfort level between McCarney and whoever comes in to replace Skladany.

McCarney has a firmly established philosophy when it comes to football. He talks about his plan to win that includes all the old school staples — win the turnover battle, run the ball effectively, win the special teams battle.

Whoever UNT turns to will have to fit into that philosophy. It isn’t changing.

So who does UNT turn to?

The obvious name to throw out there — and I’m certainly not the first one to do so — is former UNT safeties coach and current Indiana assistant Noah Joseph. He worked with McCarney at UNT and is one of his former graduate assistants at Iowa State.

Joseph left for a higher-profile job with the Hoosiers, who provided him a six-figure raise over what he was making at UNT. The hope when Joseph went there was that the Hoosiers were about to turn a corner. The Hoosiers were coming off a 5-7 year and appeared to have the schedule and the team to improve on that performance.

Indiana proceeded to fumble away a game early in the season against Bowling Green, but came back to beat nationally ranked Missouri and pound UNT. Unfortunately for Indiana, it has since lost five straight.

Would Joseph leave Indiana to come back to UNT, especially if UNT threw some big money at him? Skladany was making about $170,000 a year and that was before he received an extension following the Heart of Dallas Bowl last season.

I haven’t talked to Joseph and don’t know if he is interested, but UNT could try to lure him back with a coordinator level salary. It might not match what he was making at Indiana, but UNT could give it a shot.

As far as other suspects go, McCarney could dig back into his list of people he worked with in the past outside of Joseph, including people he worked with at South Florida in addition to Iowa State.

McCarney is part of the Hayden Fry coaching tree, which opens up the possibility of someone with Oklahoma/Bob Stoops ties. That was how UNT managed to get Ryan Walters before he joined Darrell Dickey on the staff at Memphis. (The Tigers are 7-3 and headed to a bowl, by the way).

McCarney is like just about every other coach out there. He keeps a list of guys he will call if anyone leaves. He is likely making those initial calls this week.

While McCarney will look for someone with experience, this is also a chance to UNT to get a little younger, and even more importantly effective on the recruiting front. UNT lost two of its heavy-hitters on the recruiting front recently in Walters and Joseph, the Mean Green’s former recruiting coordinator who is the defensive recruiting coordinator at Indiana.

UNT has landed some good players the last couple of years, but it near the bottom of the recruiting rankings in Conference USA where it normally resides. And yes, it matters. UNT desperately needs to upgrade its talent.

Skladany is a terrific coach, but UNT is still struggling defensively. Why? UNT doesn’t have the horses. The same is true on the offensive side of the ball. UNT averaged 31.8 points a game and put up a school record 5,336 yards under Mike Canales last year.

As much as people want to ignore the facts, that was kind of important. UNT hasn’t been nearly as effective this year. Canales deserves some of the blame just like Skladany does, but the bottom line is UNT doesn’t have top talent on offense either.

While it’s a little farther down the list, how this hire impacts UNT’s recruiting lineup as far as coaches go is going to be pretty important.

We should start to see where this is headed in the next few weeks.

Stay tuned.

Late-night hoops rewind: UNT men 71, Nicholls 57

Final: UNT 71, Nicholls 57

Where UNT stands: The Mean Green improved to 2-0 after a game that was surprisingly close for most of the way before UNT pulled away late.

Now what?: UNT has successfully navigated the first two games of a pretty soft schedule to open the season that will now start to become a little tougher. UNT will face a Delaware State team that is 2-0 and beat Penn out of the Ivy League in its season opener on Wednesday.

Williams

Star of the night: Jordan Williams scored 21 points and pulled down 10 rebounds for his first double-double of the season. The senior didn’t shoot the ball all that well from the field, hitting five of his 17 shots. Williams made up for a tough shooting night from the field by hitting all but one of his 12 free throws. In an odd twist, UNT’s other four starters scored just 10 points on the night with Colin Voss and Carrington Ward going scoreless on the night.

Say what?

“We did a good job of attacking and getting to the line. I challenged these guys the other guys to shoot 73 or 74 percent. If we do that, we are going to be pretty good. We are not the biggest team. We are big on getting the ball inside because that gets us to the line.”

– UNT coach Tony Benford on the Mean Green’s performance at the free-throw line, where UNT hit 34 of its 44 attempts, 77.3 percent.

Our take:

UNT needs to capitalize on a series of winnable games to open the season and took another step toward that goal tonight after pulling away late to beat Nicholls to improve to 2-0. It wasn’t the prettiest performance ever. UNT shot just 34 percent from the floor, but made up for it at the line.

Ok, now that we’ve got the basics out of the way, let’s get down to the real issue.

Who the heck is on this team anyway?

After asking the key questions after the game, here’s the latest, at least the on-the-record latest.

– Junior guard Maurice Aniefiok was suspended for one game for a violation of team rules. He should be back on Wednesday.

– Freshman forward Greg Wesley is dealing with personal issues off the court. He is still a member of the team, but there is no timeline for when he might finally make his debut.

– The official stance on J-Mychal Reese is that UNT is still waiting on word from the NCAA on his appeal for immediate eligibility. Benford was adamant that no decision has been made.

– T.J. Taylor made his return from preseason knee surgery and looked really good while scoring 14 points.

– We also JUCO transfer DeAndre Harris for the first time. He had seven points in 10 minutes.

UNT attributed some of its offensive struggles to having a whole bunch of new pieces on the floor and guys who have never played together. UNT also committed 21 turnovers.

Benford said UNT will work more on its offense after focusing in on its zone early in the season. He credited assistant Scott Monarch with helping UNT make some serious headway with it. I would expect to see a lot of what UNT showed tonight defensively the rest of the way.