North Texas Battles Iowa But Can't Finish Upset Bid

Quinn Shanbour threw his first career touchdown pass after entering Saturday's game when starting QB Mason Fine was injured. (photo by Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports)
Sept. 16, 2017

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IOWA CITY, IA - The Mean Green didn't just bounce back from last week's disheartening loss in Dallas. They battled back. They attacked the Iowa Hawkeyes with aggressive play calling on offense, a hard-hitting performance on defense and some big plays on both sides of the ball, and gave themselves a chance for an upset victory Saturday afternoon at Kinnick Stadium.

But in the end the Mean Green made far too many mistakes to win. North Texas was flagged 13 times for 119 penalty yards, failed to convert a third down all day and missed multiple scoring opportunities. With their offense defused in the second half and their defense wearing down in the final period beneath Iowa's power offense, which ran 40 more plays than UNT, the Mean Green finally succumbed in a 31-14 loss.

"I think they went out there and believed they could accomplish something no one else thought they could," North Texas head coach Seth Littrell said. "We played extremely hard and did a lot of good things. We had some mistakes in the first half that cost us. But we talked all week about having a chance to in the fourth quarter to win, and they gave themselves that chance."

The game was even most of the first half and North Texas (1-2) moved the ball well, getting a 41-yard touchdown run from running back Jeffery Wilson for a 7-0 lead. With Iowa up, 10-7, late in the half, North Texas quarterback Mason Fine was injured when Iowa roughed the sophmore play caller. Backup QB Quinn Shanbour responded, engineering a 66-yard scoring drive and connecting with Jalen Guyton on a 13-yard scoring toss for a 14-10 lead at halftime. It was the first touchdown pass of Shanbour's career.

However, the Mean Green missed two other scoring chances in the first half. A 40-yard field-goal attempt by Trevor Moore was blocked, and North Texas appeared to have a golden opportunity when linebacker E.J. Ejiya sacked Iowa QB Nate Stanley and forced a fumble. Defensive tackle Ulaiasi Tauaalo recovered the loose ball and returned it deep in Hawkeye territory, but he was stripped of the ball by Iowa's James Butler, who recovered the second fumble of the play to end the threat.

Fine returned in the second half, but the Mean Green could not find the momentum of the opening half. North Texas had 93 yards and six first downs in the second half, managing just 20 yards total offense in the fourth quarter.

As hard as the Mean Green defense played Saturday, it was stung by the same issue that has dogged this team: the inability to stop opponents on third down. Iowa converted 11-of-18 third downs, made good on four-of-five fourth downs, and punted only once.

"We've got to do a better job getting off the field on third down," Littrell said. "We've got to get that fixed."

Iowa (3-0) just pounded the ball most of the second half and controlled the clock and the game.

"That's what they do," Littrell said. "You're not going to get as many possessions against them."

Iowa took the lead for good in the third quarter, scoring on one of those fourth-down conversions to go up 17-14. North Texas could not mount a comeback, crossing midfield only once the rest of the way. The Hawkeyes added two touchdowns in the fourth quarter to put the game away.

What They Said

"There was a lot of energy. Again, that's what we talked about all week. There was a lot of energy, a lot of excitement. I felt like guys believed that we were going to win the football game and that's what it takes. You got to start getting that belief to finish off games. We just didn't make enough plays there at the end."
   --North Texas coach Seth Littrell on his team's effort

"Quinn is such a great teammate. It's a long season, and we need both of those guys to be successful. He's always in the game, he's a very good quarterback and he was prepared to come in there when the opportunity presented iself."
   --Littrell on Quinn Shanbour's performance

"I was proud of the way our guys competed. I'm not disappointed in our men, I'm disappointed in the outcome. It was a great experience, a great learning experience, one that will help forward our program along moving forward and help us get better."
   --Littrell on the takeaway from Saturday's game

Quick Hits

  • Iowa moved impressively on the opening possession of the game. But on second and goal from the 6-yard line, North Texas' junior defensive back Kemon Hall ripped the ball from the grasp of Hawkeye receiver Nick Easley inches from the goalline. The loose ball bounced into the end zone and out of bounds, good for a touchback to deny Iowa a touchdown. It was the first forced fumble for Hall, who a week ago recorded his first-career interception.
  • North Texas' 7-0 lead was the first time the Mean Green have led a Power-Five opponent since UNT led Kansas State, 7-0, in 2012.
  • Senior running back Jeffery Wilson bounced back against Iowa after a tough night a week ago. Wilson exploded up the middle for a 41-yard touchdown run on the Mean Green's opening drive, exceeding in one play his 36-yard rushing total against SMU. Wilson had 50 yards rushing on the opening drive and finished the day with 95 yards.
  • Wilson moved into sixth on the North Texas career rushing list, surpassing Bernard Jackson (1978-80).
  • Wilson's touchdown gives him 21 career rushing TDs and sole possession of sixth place on the UNT career rushing-touchdowns list.
  • The Mean Green got a strong effort from its offensive line, which helped running back Wilson rush for 95 yards on 12 carries and provided good protection to Fine and Shanbour, allowing just one sack and one quarterback hurry.
  • North Texas had two run stops on third and short early in the game. On Iowa's opening drive, senior defensive lineman Andy Flusche got penetration to disrupt the Hawkeye ball carrier and senior linebacker Cortland McDonald made the tackle. On Iowa's second possession, Flusche again got into the Iowa backfield and made the tackle.
  • Sophomore defensive end LaDarius Hamilton batted an Iowa pass on third and goal from the NT 8-yard line in the first quarter. Unfortunately, the deflected ball wobbled into the end zone and into the hands of Hawkeyes' tight end T.J. Hockenson for a game-tying touchdown.
  • There were a few head-scratching penalty calls Saturday, including unsportsmanlike calls against each team for rather tame touchdown celebrations.
  • Sophomore safety Khairi Muhammad had a career-high 10 tackles. His previous best was seven, which came in week one against Lamar.
  • Senior linebacker Colton McDonald had nine tackles, a career best.

What's Next

North Texas opens Conference USA play on Saturday, Sept. 23, against UAB. Game time is 5:30 p.m.



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