DENTON – As the matchup with Southern Miss looms this Saturday, a focal point undoubtedly for the visiting Golden Eagles will be trying to slow down No. 8, Rico Bussey, Jr.
He has as many touchdown receptions as the number on his jersey through just six games, which ranks second in the country.
Memories of the last meeting with Southern Miss include a huge receiving day for another Mean Green receiver, in Jalen Guyton
. The Allen native hauled in a career high 14 catches for 211 yards and a score in a big 43-28 road win in Hattiesburg.
Bussey, Guyton and the Mean Green passing attack will be again looking to take advantage of what the talented Southern Miss defense gives them. That doesn't necessarily mean it will be Guyton again, or Bussey with a big day, but that is the benefit to having several weapons to prepare for.
"I feel like it would be very tough for opponents [to prepare for us] considering the fact that you can't focus on any one person," Bussey said. "If you do, you'll get beat by someone else."
Those outside the program may be just realizing Bussey's emergence within the offense, but this was evident the second half of last season as well. Despite dealing with a lingering hamstring issue in 2017, Bussey hauled in 47 passes for 677 yards and seven scores, doing most of his damage the final six games.
The Lawton, Oklahoma, native had 33 receptions for 527 yards and five touchdowns from the October 28 matchup with Old Dominion through the New Orleans Bowl, and hasn't slowed his pace to start 2018.
One of the biggest takeaways from the Mean Green's offseason was all of the work put in with the strength and conditioning staff across the board. Bussey credits that to maintaining his success on the field this fall.
"This is all just a product of all the work I put in over the summer," Bussey said. "I didn't really focus on anything specific, but I didn't do any skill training. It was all trying to get my body in the best shape possible."
That work has certainly paid off for the junior, who was just added to the Biletnikoff Award watch list, where he joins teammates Guyton and Michael Lawrence
According to Pro Football Focus
, Bussey's receptions in 2018 have resulted in either a first down or a touchdown 47.4 percent of the time, illustrating how much of an impact he has for the Mean Green offense that is eighth nationally in first downs (153) and top 20 in terms of points per game (41.5).
"Rico's production is a product of him being healthy," junior quarterback Mason Fine
said. "He has a lot of confidence and he's really talented. In the previous two seasons he wasn't as healthy and now he is feeling good and has done the right things to get his body right. He's just out there making plays and catching the ball."
Fine certainly has his pick of a talented group when the Mean Green dial up a passing play, and Bussey is the one leading the way at this point in the season.
North Texas hosts Southern Miss Saturday at 1 p.m. from Apogee Stadium, and tickets can be purchased by clicking here
or calling 940-565-2527.