Turnovers Doom Mean Green In Home Opener, 38-24
McNulty's 303-Yard Passing Day Overshadowed By Fumbles, Tipped-Ball Interception
DENTON - North Texas put up some impressive first-half numbers in the first home game of the season Saturday. Quarterback Andrew McNulty completed 65 percent of his passes for 171 yards, the ground game rushed for 98 yards and averaged 7.5 yards per carry, the offense converted five-of-seven third downs, and the defense recorded three sacks. It should have added up to a nice lead in the Conference USA opener against Rice.
And it was all undone by turnovers.
Two critical, crippling lost fumbles - one on a punt return and one that cut short a Mean Green drive deep in Rice territory - led to 10 first-half Rice points, and a third-quarter tipped-ball interception led to another Rice touchdown, sending North Texas to a 38-24 loss at Apogee Stadium.
"The thing we built this program on, the foundation that is so important to winning, is turnover margin and taking care of the football," North Texas head coach Dan McCarney said. "When you're minus three on the day against a good team, you're going to have trouble winning."
North Texas is now minus four for the year in the all-important takeaway margin, and turnovers have led to 24 opponent points in two games. On the otherside of the ball, the Mean Green came up with no turnovers against Rice.
"No turnovers by your defense is not Mean Green football," McCarney said.
Rice, which chewed up an astonishing 96 plays a week ago against Texas, demonstrated its ball-control offense from the opening kick. The Owls ran 26 plays on its opening two drives but was held scoreless by the North Texas defense, led by six tackles from Blake Bean and a sack from Jarrian Roberts. But the Mean Green wasted the effort when it fumbled a punt return at its own 18-yard line to set up Rice's first TD.
North Texas bounced back and took a 10-7 lead on a 33-yard pass from McNulty to Carlos Harris. McNulty, in perhaps the best performance of his career, completed passes to convert third-and-long situations three times.
Trailing 14-10, the Mean Green was again driving for a go-ahead score when it fumbled at the Rice nine-yard line, and the Owls were able to add a field goal before halftime, and went up 24-10 early in the third quarter after intercepting a pass that deflected off the receiver's hands.
What They Said
"We've just got to rally together and make plays. We had small mistakes that led to big plays."
--North Texas defensive end Jarrian Roberts
"It's not lack of effort. We just have to do our best to eliminate those things happening."
--Mean Green quarterback Andrew McNulty on NT's turnovers
For the second straight game, North Texas scored first and grabbed a 3-0 lead.
McNulty threw for a career-high 303 yards, the first 300-yard passing game by a North Texas player since Derek Thompson threw for 300 yards in a 55-14 win at Southern Miss on Oct. 26, 2013.
Harris hauled in eight passes for 193 yards, the 10th most single-game receiving yards in school history and his fourth career 100-yard receiving game. He also moved into sole possession of fifth place all-time with 149 career receptions.
Antoinne Jimmerson moved into 14th place all-time in career rushing, carrying for 13 times Saturday for 94 carries and giving him 1,713 career rushing yards.
Jarrian Roberts set career highs with 2.5 sacks and four tackles for loss. His 2.5 sacks ties for the sixth most by a North Texas player since 1998. His four tackles for loss ties for the third most since 2001.
The North Texas defense finished with four sacks, its most in a game since recording five sacks in a 31-10 win over Florida Atlantic on Nov. 8, 2014.
A.J. Ezzard rushed for his first career touchdown, a plunge from five yards out.
Kishawn McClain set a career high with 16 tackles.
Blake Bean finished with a career-high 12 tackles, his second-straight game with double-digit tackles.
Jordan Murray made his first-career start at left tackle.
Thaddeous Thompson made his first-career start at wide receiver.
North Texas travels to Iowa to face the Hawkeyes of the Big Ten on Saturday, Sept. 26, at 2:30 p.m.