North Texas fell on the road to No. 15 Kansas State, 35-21, and is now 1-2 on the season. What does it all mean? Glad you asked.
This loss stings a little bit more than the one against LSU. Kansas State is clearly the better team, but North Texas hung around long enough to have a fighting chance.
You know who says, "Oh well, we tried?" Programs expecting to lose.
This was a game of missed opportunities for NT. When a team like Kansas State comes out sleepwalking, you have to take advantage. That's how upsets happen.
Special teams were a killer for NT and a savior for K-State. There are some things about winning football that never change. Solid special teams are one of 'em.
NT's secondary got carved up.
But it wasn't all bad. North Texas was far more physical in the trenches than I anticipated they would be.
Quarterback Derek Thompson had his best performance of the early season.
Regarding the K-State incompletion in the end zone that was overturned for a touchdown: sometimes, you just don't get the call. Not much you can do about that.
I am continuously in awe of Wildcats coach Bill Snyder. He does things his own way - the old fashioned way - and somehow it works. It's like he's from another galaxy or something.
K-State linebacker Arthur Brown is a tackling machine, even with a bum ankle.
On Second Thought
When North Texas lost to LSU in Week 1, 41-14 felt like a moral victory of sorts. The Mean Green didn't have much business being on the same field as the defending SEC champs, and even though the outcome wasn't a traditional slaughter, the game was never in doubt either.
Not this time. NT was very much in a position to pull a shocker in The Little Apple. Part of that can be attributed to Kansas State going through motions - K-State players and coaches admitted as much afterward - but NT came with its collective chinstrap buckled. North Texas even delivered the first blow by going up 7-0, and went jab-for-jab with the Wildcats through three rounds before KSU's size and strength took over. If you called that, then you're either extremely bold, lucky, some kind of sorcerer or a combination of the three.
The strength North Texas showed in the trenches on both sides of the ball? Not sure anyone saw that coming, but it was refreshing to watch.
McCarney has to be pleased with the toughness he saw from his team. The execution elsewhere? Like, say, special teams? Yeah, not so much. If you want to raise a coach's blood pressure, allow a kickoff return for a touchdown, miss an extra point, have a field goal blocked* and average 34 yards a punt. That'll just about do it. If we're going to play the "woulda, coulda, shoulda" game - that's what Mondays are for, right? - North Texas could have been leading K-State 17-7 at the half just by taking away special teams miscues. Instead, the difference swung in KSU's favor and the Wildcats led 14-7 heading into the locker room.
(*Armchair coaching rant: midway through the second quarter, NT faced a fourth-and-1 at the K-State 28-yard line. The drive until that point was six plays for 66 yards, five of which were runs for 57 yards. McCarney opted for the 45-yard field goal, which was blocked. Going for the fourth-down conversion purely out of reckless abandon doesn't make a lot of sense in a close game, but that was a calculated risk worth taking.)
To pull an upset in a game like that, North Texas needed to play above and beyond its normal level with Kansas State simultaneously playing down to its competition.
And that happened in some areas. For one, the passing game finally came together (sort of). It's not where it needs to be yet, with the prime example being the two opportunities NT had at the end of the first half to drive half the field and come away with some points. The Mean Green offense couldn't convert on either chance.
Derek Thompson had just three incompletions all night - remember, he had eight total completions against LSU - and passed for 208 yards and a touchdown. Part of that is due to the fact that the passing game was generally short, controlled and designed to keep Kansas State's offense off the field. Part of it was because someone other than Brelan Chancellor made plays in the receivers corp. Ivan Delgado is a big target at 6-foot-2 and 209 pounds and he finally played like a real weapon with nine catches for 86 yards.
Speaking of Chancellor, McCarney followed up on his promise from last week to get his playmaker the ball more. Chancellor scored first on a six-yard fly sweep and had 10 total touches on offense. If you're new to Mean Green Talk, you'll find out quickly that we're big fans of Chancellor.
What we don't like is how badly NT's defensive secondary got torched against a team that doesn't pass the ball all that much. K-State receivers were so open that, well, there just isn't an analogy for it. That's the danger of Kansas State's running game: the play-action off of it can be lethal. I have no scientific evidence to actually back this assertion, but K-State's play-action feels like it takes longer to develop. Come to think of it, most of Kansas State's offense is slow-developing. By the time NT's secondary saw the play-action, receivers were open by five yards or more.
Still, I would be remiss if I didn't point out NT defensive back Marcus Trice. The Oklahoma transfer overcame a careless horse collar penalty and forced a Kansas State fumble right at the goal line, which he recovered. That's refusing to give up no matter how bad things get, something we've seen from this defense already this season.
Remember when Troy ruled the Sun Belt conference? It wasn't that long ago, but the Trojans regressed to a 3-9 season in 2011. Like NT, Troy is 1-2 with its lone win coming in Week 1 against UAB. Similarly, the Trojans hung tough with a superior opponent in Week 3, losing to Mississippi State 30-24 last Saturday.
The first month or so of the season isn't prudent for trying to gauge Sun Belt teams because they're usually getting knocked around by bigger opponents, but there are a few things that can be said about Troy: it has talent in key spots, and it can rack up yards and points. Once again, NT's secondary is going to be tested.
North Texas' ability to bring pressure and force bad decisions/turnovers is going to be the key to winning at a place it hasn't since 2003. But, get overzealous with the blitz and Troy will hurt you elsewhere. In a way, the Mean Green defense needs to disguise its blitz packages like its own Trojan Horse.
Yeah, that analogy just happened.
But, seriously, keeping the game close and executing a slow-it-down game plan is how North Texas wins because there is no way this team competes in a shootout with Troy.
By The Numbers (Courtesy of North Texas Sports Information)
Since its return to 1-A football in 1995, North Texas has never started the season 2-1.
Dan McCarney has two victories over Kansas State dating back to his days as the head coach of Iowa State.
That's one more win than North Texas has over the Wildcats. NT's only victory over KSU came in 1985
Heading into Saturday's game, North Texas' offensive line had allowed zero sacks. Derek Thompson was sacked three times by Kansas State, two of which came on the final offensive drive of the first half.
North Texas' defense had allowed 51 points per game in the previous three trips to Manhattan. On Saturday, the Mean Green allowed 16 fewer points (35).
The last two games between K-State and NT have been decided by an average of 11 points. Compare that to the two previous games in 2005 and '08 where NT lost by an average of 43 points to the Wildcats.
Heading into last Saturday's game, only one other freshman defender had as many interceptions as NT's Zac Whitfield. That would be Arizona State linebacker Carlos Mendoza. Both have two.
Texas has faced 12 teams ranked in the top 10 since 2000, including eight that were ranked in the top five. The only year in that span in which NT did not face a top-10 team was 2010.
Ben Kercheval is s 2009 graduate of North Texas and is a writer for and co-manager of the NBC Sports website, CollegeFootballTalk.com.
Previous Ben Kercheval Columns
Week 1 - LSU (9/4/11)
Week 2 - Texas Southern (9/10/12)