Tennessee attempting to avoid overlooking North Texas
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) Tennessee is taking nothing for granted as it gets ready to host 41 1/2-point underdog North Texas.
''You definitely want to take it seriously and understand no game is set in stone,'' Tennessee offensive tackle Kyler Kerbyson said. ''No game is. You've got to go in with the same mentality as you do any other game.''
While Tennessee (5-4) sees Saturday's game at Neyland Stadium as a chance to test its focus, North Texas (1-8) views this as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to face a Southeastern Conference program at one of college football's most famous venues.
It hardly matters to North Texas' players and coaches that nobody outside their own family expects them to put up much of a fight.
''Probably the only person in the country that thinks we can win is my mom,'' North Texas interim coach Mike Canales said this week. ''She said to me this morning that on any given day, anybody can beat anybody.''
This is the type of game that could test that theory.
North Texas has allowed 45.6 points per game this season. New Mexico State and Kansas are the only Football Bowl Subdivision programs that have given up more points per game.
Half of North Texas' opponents have scored at least 50 points against the Mean Green. That includes a 66-7 loss to Football Championship Subdivision program Portland State that led to the firing of former coach Dan McCarney.
''Let's accept it for what it is,'' Canales said. ''We're going in to play an SEC team that's going to be favored by a bunch. We all know that. It's our job to go play with great pride, determination and purpose. I want them to play hard. I believe they can play hard.''
While North Texas emphasizes the need to play hard, Tennessee has discussed the importance of delivering a complete performance.
The Vols don't believe they played particularly well last week in a 27-24 victory over South Carolina. They don't want to use a meeting with an overmatched opponent as an excuse to lose the momentum they've gained in winning three of their last four games.
''Every snap is meaningful because you can learn something from every snap you take,'' Kerbyson said. ''You can get better as a player - or get worse.''
Here are some things to watch Saturday when Tennessee hosts North Texas.
FIRST-QUARTER MARGINS: This game has the potential to get ugly early. Tennessee is outscoring teams 93-45 in the first quarter and 192-98 in the first half. North Texas has been outscored 101-6 in the first quarter.
THIRD-DOWN FRUSTRATIONS: North Texas has allowed opponents to convert 55 percent of their third-down opportunities, giving the Mean Green the worst third-down defense of any FBS program. That could spell trouble against Tennessee quarterback Joshua Dobbs, who was 9 of 12 for 142 yards on third-down pass attempts last week against South Carolina.
RUNNING WILD: Tennessee has averaged 207.3 yards rushing per game and could have plenty of running room against North Texas, which has allowed 5.8 yards per carry. North Texas also has allowed 32 touchdown runs and is giving up 254.2 yards rushing per game.
TENNESSEE'S RETURN GAME: Tennessee has the nation's top kickoff returner in Evan Berry and also ranks fourth among all FBS teams in punt return average. Berry has scored on three kickoff returns. Cam Sutton and Alvin Kamara have each scored touchdowns on punt returns.
OVERDUE REVENGE? In the only previous meeting between these two teams, North Texas won 21-14 at Neyland Stadium in 1975. That constitutes one of three all-time wins that North Texas owns against an SEC team. Forty years later, Tennessee has its chance to make amends.
AP College Football: collegefootball.ap.org