Pick Six with North Texas beat writer Brett Vito

Each week during the season we will be visiting with a beat writer who covers LSU opponent and firing six questions at them about their team and this week’s game. Hence, for you clever folks out there, the title “Pick Six.”

We begin this week with Brett Vito, who is pretty much the man on North Texas as he covers the Mean Green for the Denton Record-Chronicle.

What style of offense can LSU fans expect to see from North Texas?

North Texas lost Lance Dunbar, the school’s all-time leading rusher who made its offense go, but I don’t anticipate a big change from last year. UNT has been a run-first team for years. It’s the way the team has been built, which is a little different than what you see from most non-BCS or mid-major type programs that like to throw the ball around quite a bit. UNT’s best asset by far is its offensive line.

With the loss of  Dunbar, will the Mean Green go with one primary ball carrier or will it run the ball by committee?

UNT has three running backs who will carry the ball against LSU, and none of them have played a lot. That lends a bit of mystery to the team this year. Brandin Byrd will start and is a bruising running back, while Antoinne Jimmerson and Jeremy Brown have a little more wiggle and are faster. UNT will try to get those guys going and then hit on some plays in the play-action passing game.

Unless either Byrd, Jimmerson or Brown clearly show that they are by far the best of the bunch, I fully expect UNT to rotate running backs this year. I just don’t see that happening. UNT coach Dan McCarney has said he plans to rotate backs.

Please give us an update on coach Dan McCarney’s health following his stroke in February.

McCarney’s never looked better. The guy’s a tank. He runs the stairs at Apogee all the time and is in better health than pretty much anyone you are ever going to run across at his age (59). He’s about the last guy you would ever believe would have a health problem. I was floored when the news came down that he had a stroke.

Certainly the North Texas coaches and players don’t feel they are a six-touchdown underdog to LSU, but short of an actual upset what sort of result would allow the Mean Green to leave Baton Rouge feeling good about itself? 

UNT’s players are coaches are sticking to the party line that they are aiming for the win. McCarney talked about how upset he was that some of his older players were talking about the atmosphere at Alabama on the bus after losing 41-0 last year. He is trying to install a new culture around the program, where losing isn’t acceptable. With that being said, if UNT can move the ball, score and say get out of town on the wrong end of a 42-21 score, I think there would be a lot the team could take from that.

With its new football stadium showing a commitment to UNT football, what is the future for this program sitting in the middle of such a football-crazed area?

Well, that used to be the million dollar question. To a certain degree it was answered a couple of months back when UNT was invited to Conference USA. That is where UNT wanted to be. The school will have Texas rivals now with Rice, UTEP, et cetera, and will be back in the same league with long-time rivals Tulsa and Louisiana Tech. UNT has wanted out of the Sun Belt for years and is now heading somewhere school officials believe they can build their program.

What has been the general attitude of people at North Texas (administration and fans) over Johnny Jones returning to coach at his alma mater? Would UNT be willing to play LSU in basketball?

I don’t know a person on the face of the planet who doesn’t like Johnny Jones, who is one of the best guys you are ever going to meet. There were some people in Denton who were upset that he left and there are always those who think the next guy is going to take the program to greater heights (and I am in no way saying that a good new coach in Tony Benford won’t). Outside of the people on the extremes are the majority of UNT fans. They are happy for Johnny, who landed his dream job and gave up his title as the unofficial mayor of Denton. A lot of people are really pulling for him to do well at LSU. I don’t know how UNT officials would feel about playing LSU. It would be interesting, but I think something like that might be a few years down the line.


LSU football chat with Advocate beat writer Scott Rabalais

It’s official: Game on Saturday between LSU and North Texas

After earlier indications from athletic director Joe Alleva, LSU officially confirmed Thursday afternoon that the Tigers and North Texas will play at 6 p.m. Saturday as scheduled.

“Our options are limited as far as opportunities to play this game and there was minimal damage to the stadium, so we are proceeding with the season opener on Saturday night,” Alleva said in a university statement. “We understand there are portions of the state that are still recovering from the storm and there may be some fans that cannot, for various reasons, make it to Tiger Stadium. We wish those people and everyone adversely affected by the storm our best wishes for a full recovery.”

The game will be televised on ESPNU.

LSU had to navigate a number of concerns to procede with the game in the wake of Hurricane Isaac. The school had to make sure it had enough police and support personnel and LSU’s Pete Maravich Assembly Center and Carl Maddox Field House are serving as medical facilites for hurricane victims.

“Safety is our biggest concern,” Alleva said.

Alleva said neither the campus nor Tiger Stadium suffered much damage from the effects of Hurricane Issac. The only visible damage to the exterior of the stadium was a torn banner on the exterior of the south scoreboard which lists LSU’s three national championship seasons.


LSU kickoff unchanged as evaluation continues

As of late Thursday morning LSU’s football game against North Texas was still scheduled to be played at 6 p.m. Saturday in Tiger Stadium.

Senior associate athletic director Herb Vincent said school officials were working hard to be able to have the game played as scheduled in the wake of Hurricane Isaac. A final determination of the date and time for kickoff was expected later Thursday.

The Maravich Assembly Center and Maddox Field House are being used as medical facilities and must continue to function as such with a football game going on with potentially 90,000 fans nearby.

LSU and North Texas don’t have the same open dates so every effort is being made to play the game this weekend. If the game weren’t played as scheduled a postponement until Sunday would be a possibility.

LSU cancels Wednesday practice, waits

LSU canceled practice Wednesday because of Hurricane Isaac and will adapt its plans for the rest of the week based on developments with the storm, coach Les Miles said.

Miles, speaking from his office in the LSU football operations building on the Southeasten Conference coaches weekly teleconference, said players had the options of staying in the dorm rooms inside Tiger Stadium, in the indoor practice facility, or their regular housing.

“The stadium would be the safest,” Miles said. “We’re in the facility, hunkered down, letting this thing blow. ”

The university announced that classes had been canceled for Thursday. The Tigers season opener against North Texas is still scheduled for 6 p.m. Saturday in Tiger Stadium.

The university issued a statement saying it will re-evaluate the situation after Isaac has passed through Baton Rouge.

Two other LSU athletic events have been changed.  The soccer match against Stephen F. Austin has been postponed from Friday until Tuesday, though the soccer match against Houston is still scheduled for 1 p.m. Sunday.

 The Tiger Classic Volleyball Tournament, which was scheduled for the Pete Maravich Assembly Center on Friday and Saturday, was moved to Houston because of travel complications involving opponents.

LSU will provide information of any changes concerning athletics events through its website – LSUsports.net


Alfred Blue says he will start at RB

Junior Alfred Blue confirmed to reporters Monday that he will be the starting running back for Saturday’s season opener against North Texas. Blue said he was told by LSU’s coaches at the start of preseason camp.

Blue was the Tigers’ third-leading rusher last season with 78 carries for 439 yards and seven touchdowns. His 6.9 yards per carry was best on the team among LSU’s running backs.

Earlier Monday, LSU coach Les Miles said Blue and sophomore Kenny Hilliard will be the Tigers’ first two running backs to see action Saturday.

That comes amid news that junior Michael Ford, who led the team with 756 yards rushing last season, is facing an academic appeal process to be eligible Saturday. The same is true for junior Tahj Jones, who was LSU’s projected starter at strongside linebacker.


LSU AD Joe Alleva on Issac, North Texas game

LSU athletic director Joe Alleva issued this statement Monday afternoon on approaching Tropical Storm Issac and its potential impact on the Tigers’ season and home opener at 6 p.m. Saturday against North Texas:

“We are continuously monitoring weather conditions and considering potential impacts as we prepare for this weekend’s football season opener in Tiger Stadium and other athletic events.  At this time we are planning to hold the game at 6 p.m. on Saturday as scheduled.  We will evaluate the impact of the storm and its aftermath as we learn more throughout the week.”

Shortly before Alleva’s statement was released, LSU announced it is canceling classes for Tuesday and Wednesday.



LSU football chat with Les East

Mo Isom tweets she didn’t make LSU team

Apparently, Mo has no more hopes of making the LSU football team.

The former LSU soccer goalkeeper went through tryouts this week to make the team as a walk-on, but apparently that was not to be according to a Twitter message she sent out Friday afternoon.

“I am heartbroken,” Isom tweeted, “but my head is held high. Knowing I gave everything I had is the greatest victory. Unending thanks to my LSU football fam(ily).”

Isom was one of three kickers trying to walk on to the LSU team. It was not immediately known whether one of the others will be included on the squad, which features senior place-kicker Drew Alleman and sophomore James Hairston.

Isom’s bid to become LSU’s first female football player began during spring practice in March. She didn’t make the team then, but made it clear to LSU coach Les Miles that she would try again in August.

Since then Isom, who was also LSU’s homecoming queen last fall, has made national headlines for her attempt as well as her inspirational story. Isom has overcome an eating disorder and a life-threatening car crash as well as the death of her father in an apparent suicide.

In another tweet, Isom mentioned Alleman, LSU punters Brad Wing and Jamie Keehn and deep snapper Reid Ferguson, thanking them for their help during her efforts to become the first woman to ever play football for the Tigers.

“Amazing men who selflessly took me under their wing …” Isom tweeted.

“Best special teams unit in the nation & even better men. Can’t wait to cheer them on.”

LSU coach Les Miles was likely to address the Isom situation after practice Friday.

LSU Tigers go through final preseason scrimmage

The LSU football team ran through an extended scrimmage Tuesday afternoon in Tiger Stadium, the final one before the Tigers’ Sept. 1 season opener against North Texas.

Starting quarterback Zach Mettenberger apparently got the vast majority of the work on offense in what were his best scrimmage numbers of the three LSU has held. According to coach Les Miles, Mettenberger was 26 of 36 for 336 yards.

Miles didn’t say how many touchdowns Mettenberger threw, but he did say that James Wright, Jarvis Landry and Russell Shepard all caught TD passes. Odell Beckham Jr. again led the way with four catches for 100 yards, followed by Wright (4 for 60), Landry (4 for 20) and Shepard (3 for 20).

Kenny Hilliard and Alfred Blue led a 218-yard effort on the ground. Hilliard had 11 carries for 67 yards and three TDs while Blue had six carries for 67 yards and two scores. Freshman Jeremy Hill had eight carries for 43 yards and two scores, and Miles said even fullback J.C. Copeland got some touches.

Running backs Spencer Ware and Michael Ford both sat out of the scrimmage with injuries, though Miles said he believes both will be ready in time for North Texas.

Senior right tackle Alex Hurst, who has been slowed with an ankle injury, did scrimmage, as did left tackle Chris Faulk despite being slightly injured, Miles said.

Strong safety Craig Loston, who was seen recently leaving the LSU facility on crutches, missed the scrimmage. Miles said that paved the way for sophomore Ronald Martin to see extended playing time.

Free safety Eric Reid, the only true returning starter in the secondary after the dismissal of cornerback Tyrann Mathieu, had an interception according to Miles.

The Tigers will have an abbreviated walk-through session Wednesday and return to practice Thursday through Saturday before taking the day off Sunday. The Tigers will then begin their normal game week preparations on Monday.