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September 16, 2010Jeremy Phillips, Darius Carey and Derek Thompson were freshmen last year when their North Texas football team lost in the final minutes to Army.
All of them are determined to contribute more on Saturday to change this year's outcome, a game scheduled to start at Michie Stadium at 12:04 p.m.
For these guys, preparation for Army started not long after their last-minute loss to Rice last weekend.
Phillips, more than anyone, remembers the late-game play that resulted in last year's close defeat, 17-13 down there. "I had a big missed tackle in that game,'' the sophomore linebacker said.
The play took place late in the final quarter after Army blocked a field goal attempt. On the very next snap, quarterback Trent Steelman scrambled on a pass play, broke Phillips' tackle and wound up going 55 yards down to the two.
Two plays later he scored. "That was a big missed tackle on my part,'' Phillips reiterated.
Carey had a good day at wide receiver in that game, making nine catches for 67 yards. He has caught one TD pass this year, and if he scores another it will be coming from the team's new quarterback.
Thompson, 6-foot-4, 225, didn't play against Army last year, instead watching on the sidelines as Nathan Tune lit up the Black Knights. Tune had hip surgery earlier this week from a hit he took against Rice.
Thompson has about five minutes of live action under his Mean Green belt, but on a team that puts up big numbers on offense the switch appears to be seamless.
"Army has a lot of experience on defense,'' Carey offered, "so we're going to have to earn every point we put up. We're actually playing pretty well. We just have to stay focused and get the job done.''
North Texas, 1-1, got the job done offensively last year, nearly doubling Army's yardage. "We moved the ball very well,'' coach Todd Dodge said on his video show this week. "But we let it get away late. One of the few times (Army tried to pass) and he scrambles, then we kind of ran out of time.''
Phillips, 6-foot-3, 212, said that just like in last year's game against Army, this year his team has been giving up too many big gainers.
"We just have to cut that out,'' he said. "The big plays are killing us; they will kill anybody if you don't stop long touchdown passes. We gotta come up with big plays on offense, and we are doing a lot more stuff this year.''
A former high school quarterback, Phillips is more familiar with the triple-option than most defensive players - especially since he ran an option offense in school. "It's a little bit different stuff, but I've been studying up to get ready for it again. It's helpful that we saw it last year, too. You really have to disciplined,'' he said in an unmistakable Texas drawl. "You have to be ready for everything. You got the back, you got the pitch, you got the quarterback This offense can break it real quick.''
He found that out the hard way last year.
Having grown up in Waller, Tex., located less than an hour northwest of Houston, Phillips, like many of his teammates, has never been to New York. In fact, the team was scheduled to depart earlier than usual on Friday in order to spend some time seeing the sites at West Point before busing to their hotel.
"I'm looking forward to it,'' Phillips said. "I've seen pictures of it and stuff, and it looks very nice. I mean, I respect every last one of those guys. I know it's a lot of work and I appreciate what they do a lot. I mean, they put in so much work, I couldn't tell you what it takes to do that.''
Of course, that doesn't mean Phillips and his Mean Green will take it easy on those future soldiers that will defend their freedom. "Oh no, sir,'' Phillips said, his smile coming through the phone. "Just like they're not gonna take it easy on us.''
Not after last year.
Freshman slot-back Raymond Maples is currently listed as probable for Saturday's contest. If Maples
is unable to go, look for fellow freshman Jonathan Crucitti or sophomore Kelechi Odocha to fill in as starter Patrick Mealy's backup.
Although sophomore cornerback Josh Jackson had a tough outing against Hawaii as he registered his first collegiate start, it has yet to be determine who will get the nod opposite Antuan Aaron. Both, Jackson and Richard King have been receiving equal reps in practice this week. Perhaps by the end of today's practice, the starter will be named.