GAME NOTES: The ninth-ranked Georgia Bulldogs will continue their three-game homestand on Saturday afternoon when they play host to the North Texas Mean Green.
North Texas has started the year a promising 2-1, with a pair of home wins over Idaho (40-6) and Ball State (34-27) sandwiched between a tough road defeat at Ohio University (27-21). The Mean Greens managed to score 10 unanswered points in the fourth quarter last week to take down Ball State.
"That's the difference between this team and the last couple of years," said North Texas quarterback Derek Thompson, who ran in the game-winning 26-yard touchdown. "We're never out of it."
Georgia was put to the test in a prime time showdown on opening night at nationally-ranked Clemson and came out on the wrong end of that back-and-forth battle, 38-35. The Bulldogs bounced back in a big way on Sept. 7, however, with a 41-30 triumph over rival South Carolina to put them in control of their own destiny in the SEC Eastern Division.
"This year, we get a chance to sit in the driver's seat," Georgia head coach Mark Richt said. "We haven't been 1-0 in the league in a while because South Carolina's been getting us. Today, we got them, and I'm so thankful."
The Bulldogs enjoyed an off week following their crucial win over the Gamecocks, and Richt is eager to get back on the field.
"We got done what we needed to do this week, and we're looking forward to playing ball again next week," he said.
This will be the first-ever matchup between these two football programs.
North Texas has one of the top offenses in Conference USA, ranking fourth in scoring (31.7 ppg) and third in yardage (465.0 ypg), all while converting an impressive 47 percent of its third-down attempts.
The improvement of quarterback Derek Thompson has been a large reason for the Mean Green's success. The senior is completing greater than 70 percent of his passes for 818 yards with five touchdowns and two interceptions. He is also a threat to move outside the pocket (85 rushing yards, TD).
Darnell Smith is Thompson's most trusted receiving option, catching 22 passes for 232 yards and a touchdown. Combined with Brelan Chancellor (16 receptions, 256 yards, two TDs) and Carlos Harris (12 receptions, 141 yards, TD), North Texas has one of the top receiving corps in C-USA.
Brandin Byrd (35 carries) and Reggie Pegram (33 carries) have nearly split the workload right down the middle in the UNT backfield. The duo has combined for 298 rushing yards and four touchdowns.
While the Mean Green defense looks solid in terms of scoring (20.0 ppg) and yardage (437.3 ypg) numbers, their biggest asset is their propensity for the big play, having recorded an outstanding 11 turnovers, tied for the most in the FBS.
Zachary Orr has proven himself to be one of the top linebackers in the nation in the early going, recording 32 tackles, a sack, two forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries. Marcus Trice, Lairamie Lee and Kenny Buyers have all registered multiple takeaways as well.
Georgia was expected to have one of the nation's top offenses coming into the season and it has yet to disappoint, putting up 38.0 ppg and 540.5 ypg against two top-quality opponents.
The unit is led by Heisman hopeful Aaron Murray, who has completed 71.2 percent of his pass attempt for 632 yards with five touchdowns (one rushing) and an interception. All of Murray's passing scores came against a strong South Carolina defense last week.
Todd Gurley has devastated defenses early in the 2013 campaign, rushing for 286 yards (6.8 ypc) and three touchdowns. The sophomore running back logged 30 carries last week, a workload that his head coach is confident he can handle.
"He's a big, physical man," Richt said of his running back. "He is a special player. There are not many things he can't do."
Keith Marshall is also utilized out of the backfield both as a rusher (101 yards, TD) and a receiver (82 yards, TD). Michael Bennett (107 yards) and Justin Scott-Wesley (171 yards, TD) are Murray's top targets out wide, combining for 15 catches.
While the UGA offense has been as advertised, the defense has greatly underperformed, allowing teams to amass more than 460 yards per contest and 34.0 ppg. Unlike the Mean Green, the Bulldogs have not forced many turnovers, with just a pair of fumble recoveries counting towards their takeaway total.
Amarlo Herrera leads the squad with 24 tackles with a forced fumble. Sterling Bailey has 14 stops and recorded one of the team's three sacks.
North Texas appears to be a vastly improved team from a season ago and has the talent to make noise in C-USA, but it will simply be overmatched against an elite Georgia squad. Expect the Bulldogs to take advantage of their first unranked opponent in posting a relatively easy win.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Georgia 45, North Texas 17