Dodge's offense turning heads at North Texas

Updated: September 27, 2007, 4:47 AM ET
Associated Press

LITTLE ROCK -- Daniel Meager had the type of game that could have earned some serious national attention: 46-of-64 for 601 yards and three touchdowns.

If only his team had won.

That's been the story of North Texas' season so far. Under new coach Todd Dodge, the Mean Green are moving the ball at an impressive rate. But that hasn't translated into any wins, and North Texas (0-3) is a decided underdog against this week against Arkansas.

"Completions and first downs and yardage and all that -- that moves the chains," Dodge said. "But bottom line, our goal on offense is to outscore the opponent. We're not doing it right now."

Dodge came to North Texas under circumstances familiar to Arkansas fans. After achieving great success as a high school coach at Southlake Carroll in Texas, he moved up to the college ranks. But unlike Gus Malzahn -- hired from Springdale High School after the 2005 season to be Arkansas' offensive coordinator -- Dodge immediately became a head coach.

Malzahn left the Razorbacks after one season. Arkansas never used much of the no-huddle offense he employed at Springdale. Dodge, on the other hand, says North Texas is running the same spread offense he used at Southlake Carroll.

"We knew coming in that we believed in what we did offensively," Dodge said. "I think the thing that we're doing a pretty good job of offensively right now is -- whatever we on a particular week ... what we're putting a real big emphasis on, we're getting nice execution on those things. That's encouraging."

Early returns are mixed. North Texas dropped its opener 79-10 to Oklahoma, but the following week against SMU, Meager had his huge day passing in a 45-31 loss. Equally amazing in that game was the performance of Casey Fitzgerald, who caught 18 passes for 327 yards.

"We know they'll be explosive on offense," Arkansas coach Houston Nutt said. "That's the philosophy (Dodge) believes in, and he's selling that to his team, and they're trying to execute, and they've gotten better at it."

Last week Meager went 38-of-61 for 301 yards and a touchdown, but he threw three interceptions -- key turnovers in a 30-20 loss to Florida Atlantic. The Mean Green still showed signs of how dangerous the offense can be -- Jamario Thomas rushed for 117 yards.

"The thing that I felt for the evening that Florida Atlantic did a nice job of, and obviously it was part of their gameplan, was to not give up the big play in the passing game," Dodge said. "We've just got to continue to work on our unforced errors."

Arkansas (1-2) might try a similar approach to Florida Atlantic. Linebacker Freddie Fairchild indicated that the Razorbacks will be ready for plenty of passing in Saturday night's game in Fayetteville.

"This weekend's game against North Texas will be a different kind of look. It'll be a little easier on us," he said. "We'll just be in a lot more zone coverage and stuff. It'll be a good little game to get back into the swing of things -- you know, an out-of-conference game."

Dodge hopes this game will be more than a tuneup for Arkansas, but he admits his players have some more to learn. They can focus on improving in certain areas each week, but the offense isn't coming naturally quite yet.

"We're not doing a tremendous job right now of, once the game gets into its flow, getting back into some things that we didn't get a whole lot of reps on during the week," he said.

Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press

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