Offense Struggles In 30-13 Mean Green Loss

Kelvin Smith pulls in a touchdown pass from Mason Fine in the fourth quarter of Saturday's game (photo by Rick Yeatts Photography/Manny Flores)
Oct. 1, 2016

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DENTON - North Texas opened Saturday night's game against Middle Tennessee with a coach's dream drive. Seventeen plays. Eighty-four yards. Ate half the first quarter clock and scored a touchdown for its first first-quarter lead of the season.

Unfortunately, that was the extent of the Mean Green offense.

North Texas managed just 114 yards and went without a first down in eight of the nine possessions following the opening score. The North Texas defense limited Middle Tennessee's attack - statistically the second best in Conference USA - below their season averages in total yards and passing yards, but the Blue Raiders converted 11-of-19 third downs to fuel a 30-13 victory at Apogee Stadium.

"I thought our defense fought hard and gave us a chance to win," North Texas head coach Seth Littrell said. "We just didn't execute offensively. We just didn't make enough plays."

The Mean Green were completely dependent on their passing game Saturday. North Texas had just five total yards rushing on 22 carries, while quarterback Mason Fine completed 33-of-54 attempts for a career-high 303 yards with no interceptions. But he spent much the night on the run and was sacked four times.

"That's a lot of pressure to put on your quarterback," Littrell said of the anemic run game.

"We've got to be more balanced," Fine said. "You're not going to win games like that."

North Texas (2-3 on the year, 1-1 in C-USA) looked primed for a big night on the opening possession. Fine completed 8-of-10 passes for 75 yards, including a pair of connections with Thaddeous Thompson to convert third downs, and running back Jeffery Wilson finished the march with a 1-yard scoring run.

However, North Texas produced just 51 yards offense the rest of the half and didn't pick up another first down until the middle of the second quarter. North Texas spent much of the half attacking the perimeters of the MTSU defense, but the Blue Raiders quickness and some slow-developing plays kept the Mean Green from exploiting the edges.

The Mean Green defense, meanwhile, made the lead hold up for awhile. NT forced two three-and-outs and made a pair of stands inside the North Texas 20, getting pressure on MTSU quarterback Brent Stockstill to limit the Blue Raiders to field goals.

The Blue Raiders, however, dug themselves out of a third-and 13 hole at their own 13-yard line late in the first half, and that propelled MTSU (4-1, 2-0) on an 84-yard touchdown drive and a 13-7 halftime lead.

The second half belonged to Middle Tennessee. While the North Texas defense continued to keep the game close, the offense was not able to threaten until the closing minutes, when the Mean Green drew within 23-13 on a touchdown pass to Kelvin Smith with 1:57 to play. A two-point conversion attempt failed, and MTSU tacked on a 46-yard touchdown run a few seconds later.

What They Said

"When you're 2.4 (yards per play) on first down, you're in way too many third and longs."
   --NT head coach Seth Littrell on NT's struggles on early downs

"You just start stressing and pressing."
   --Littrell on the offense's struggles

"That first drive is an example of our potential. Everybody did their job."
   --NT quarterback Mason Fine on the first drive of the game

"Mason has a long way to go. I really like what I see from him and he's a competitor, but he made some freshman mistakes tonight."
   --Littrell on QB Mason Fine's night

"We'll do better next week, I know that."

Quick Hits

• Punter Eric Keena flipped the field for North Texas with his 68-yard punt in the first quarter, moving the ball from the Mean Green 20 to the MTSU 12.

• Early in the second quarter, a blitz by defensive back Kishawn McClain flushed MTSU quarterback Brent Stockstill on third and goal from the NT 8-yard line, forcing an incompletion and holding the Blue Raiders to a field goal.

• Defensive back Eric Jenkins had a nice pass break-up on a route over the middle, going up to tear the ball out of the intended receiver's grasp.

• Junior running back Jeffery Wilson scored on a one-yard touchdown run, his career-best seventh rushing TD of the season to put North Texas on top 7-0.

• The opening-drive touchdown was North Texas' first since they scored a TD on the opening possession against FIU in a 17-14 win on November 22, 2014, in Denton.

• Junior safety Kishawn McClain, the reigning C-USA Defensive Player of the Week, intercepted his third pass of the season early in the third quarter, which leads the team.

• Spanning the second and third quarters, North Texas had six consecutive three-and-outs, totaling 16 yards.

• Redshirt freshman tight end Kelvin Smith caught his first pass in three weeks, a 16-yard grab late in the fourth quarter to convert a third down.

• Smith also had a 5-yard touchdown reception, his team-leading second TD reception./p>

• McClain finished with a team-high 11 tackles (nine solo) and an interception.

• Redshirt sophomore wide receiver Terian Goree caught nine passes for 100 yards, both team highs.

• Senior wide receiver Thaddeous Thompson finished with four catches for 85 yards.

• Defensive end Joshua Wheeler had half a sack Saturday, giving him a team-best 2.5 sacks for the year.

• Defensive back Dee Baulkman got the other half of NT's sack Saturday, his first sack of the season.

What's Next

The Marshall Thundering Herd make their inaugural appearance at Apogee Stadium and their first trip to Denton to take on the Mean Green on Saturday, Oct. 8, at 6 p.m.



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