DENTON, Texas - North Texas learned some hard lessons a week ago in Baton Rouge, and they put some of that instruction to use in the home opener against Texas Southern at Apogee Stadium.
Plays that didn't work in Week 1 clicked in Week 2. A ground game that could find no running room in Week 1 pounded the Tiger defense and controlled the game in Week 2. And a defense that struggled to slow a high-powered offense in the opener was suffocating Saturday night.
"It was a good win," said North Texas head coach Dan McCarney following a 34-7 victory over the Tigers, the Mean Green's first win in a home opener since 2006. "There's not a great feeling of satisfaction. We were inconsistent running the ball, and we have to execute our passing game better."
Texas Southern (1-1), which rolled up 544 yards of offense in a 44-41 win last week, could do nothing against the Mean Green defense. At halftime, the Tigers had -2 yards rushing and just 16 yards total offense, and their only first-half first downs came by way of North Texas penalties. For the night, North Texas (1-1) held Texas Southern to just 31 yards rushing, the lowest total by a Mean Green opponent since 1992, and 185 yards total offense.
"We just had to keep playing defense," defensive end Aaron Bellazin said. "Eventually we knew the offense would score."
The North Texas offense piled up yards but struggled to finish. After totaling just 219 yards in four quarters a week ago, the Mean Green had 206 by halftime, led by junior running back Brandon Byrd's 83 first-half rushing yards on 16 carries. North Texas amassed 350 yards rushing and Byrd and redshirt freshman Antoine Jimmerson both topped 100 yards for the game. Byrd had 142 on 24 carries and Jimmerson had 139 on 15 attempts, and for each, it was their first 100-yard game of their collegiate careers.
Yet in spite of dominating every facet of the game, the Mean Green failed to put the Tigers away, leaving the out-manned Texas Southern in the game well into the fourth quarter. TSU was still within two scores as the final period began.
"We're going to have to be a lot better next week (against Kansas State)" McCarney said.
The Mean Green held just a 10-0 lead midway through the second quarter after failing to take advantage of a pair of chances to blow the game open early. A deep ball to Ivan Delgado was narrowly missed, and Zac Whitfield had an interception and a sure touchdown bounce off his chest.
Whitfield, however, made up for the mistake with a leaping interception later in the second quarter and another pick in the fourth quarter, giving the redshirt freshman three interceptions this year.
North Texas scored on its opening possession, an eight-play, 75-yard drive, highlighted by a 46-yard reverse by Brelan Chancellor and capped by a Byrd two-yard touchdown run. The lead went to 10-0 an a 28-yard Zach Olen field goal early in the second quarter, and Byrd made it 17-0 at halftime with his second two-yard touchdown run of the night.
Another Olen field goal early in the third period put North Texas up 20-0, but Texas Southern finally found a spark when Daniel McKayhan got behnd the Mean Green secondary to haul in a 59-yard touchdown pass with 3:25 to play in the third quarter, drawing the Tigers within 20-7.
An fourth-quarter interception from Marcus Trice - the Mean Green's third pick of the season - and a pass deflection from Bellazin on a fourth-down play blunted Texas Southern's comeback attempts, and Jeremy Brown's five-yard touchdown run with 4:26 remaining sealed the win.
Jimmerson capped the scoring with a 12-yard run.
North Texas's next game is next Saturday against 24th-ranked Kansas State in Manhattan, Kansas, The Mean Green return home on September 22 when they open Sun Belt play against Troy.