North Texas Succumbs To Powerful WKU, 55-28
QB DaMarcus Smith Provides Spark In First Start For Mean Green
Tee Goree leaps over a WKU defender to pull in a touchdown pass. (photo by Rick Yeatts)
DENTON - Thursday night, North Texas stepped up its effort and found the fire it so desperately lacked last weekend. Unfortunately, the Mean Green also stepped up in class of opponent.
Western Kentucky, tied for the best record in Conference USA, overpowered and outlasted North Texas, fending off the Mean Green's early challenges and taking control late in the first half on the way to a 55-28 victory at Apogee Stadium.
North Texas quarterback DaMarcus Smith, making his first start, displayed his remarkable athletic ability, rushing for 122 yards, passing for four touchdowns and 228 yards. However, he was also inconsistent, completing 17 of 35 throws and struggling in the first half.
"This was a very difficult week to put together a plan against a very good football team after what we endured this week," said North Texas coach Mike Canales, in his second stint as interim head coach at North Texas but his first game in that role this season. "Our kids were resilient and they battled. I'm very proud of them."
Just five days after perhaps the worst Saturday in the program's history, North Texas faced the monumental task of dealing with league-leading WKU and C-USA's top passer in quarterback Brandon Doughty. Doughty came into the game completing almost 75 percent of his throws with only three interceptions this year, but the Mean Green limited Doughty to underneath throws through the first 25 minutes, denying his deep passes and getting an interception from senior cornerback Zac Whitfield in the second quarter.
The pick sparked the North Texas offense, and Smith directed the Mean Green into scoring position. From the WKU 20, Smith threw for his second TD of the season, made possible by wide receiver Tee Goree's spectacular leaping catch over a WKU defender for the first touchdown of his career, pulling North Texas within 14-7.
But the Hilltoppers piled up yards after the catch on those short and mid-range passes, their running game totaled 283 yards, and WKU methodically built a 20-7 lead. Doughty finally struck late in the first half with a pair of long touchdown passes for a 34-7 advantage.
North Texas, however, kept pushing, scoring late in the first half and twice more in the fourth quarter, an effort - if not a result - that pleased Canales.
"We're going to win," Canales said. "I promise you. It might not happen this week or next week. It's not about moral victories, and I get that. But we're going to win. I'm trying to build passion and enthusiasm, and I'm going to do everything I can to make that happen.
"I just want our kids to win, and I think they're starting to buy in," he added. "You could see that."
What They Said
"He created some plays with his feet, and we knew he could do that. He's going to get better, and that's why we left him in the whole game. He needs the reps. He gets excited and wants to make the big play, but it's about making the right play, not the big play. He made the right plays toward the end of the game. You could see him getting more confident."
--NT head coach Mike Canales on quarterback DaMarcus Smith
"I'm my biggest critic. I'm not satisfied. It's not about my personal stats, it's about wins and losses. I saw some progress but there were a lot of throws I wish I had back."
--DaMarcus Smith on his performance Thursday
"I've got to create more situations where I get them spread out so he can see the field and use his feet as a weapon."
--Canales on creating opportunities for DaMarcus Smith
"I was ready for this. It's been a humbling experience going through everything to get to this point."
--DaMarcus Smith on getting the start
• Catch of the year thus far goes to Tee Goree for his acrobatic reception in the second quarter that drew North Texas within 14-7. The redshirt freshman wide receiver's defender had good position and appeared lined up for an interception, but Goree went high and stretched above the defender's hands to take the ball away, then got both feet inbounds in the back of the end zone for the first touchdown of his career.
• True freshmen Nate Brooks and Ashton Preston made their first-career starts at cornerback, the first freshman duo to start at cornerback since redshirt freshmen Antoine Bush and Desmon Chatman started the last game of the 2006 season.
• Brooks had his first pass broken up, stripping the ball out of a receiver's hands on a deep ball.
• Not Hail Mary: with two seconds left in the first half, North Texas had the ball at the WKU 46. QB DaMarcus Smith dropped back, but instead of the classic heave-and-hope pass into a crowd, Smith found Darvin Kidsy wide open in the end zone on the left sideline for a touchdown.
• North Texas has now lost seven consecutive games dating back to the last game of 2014. That ties for the fifth-longest losing streak in school history, and is the longest since 2009-10.
• The Mean Green has lost three-straight at Apogee Stadium for the first time.
• DaMarcus Smith made his first career start, drawing the start against his former team in Western Kentucky, where he spent the 2012 and 2013 seasons.
• For the fourth-straight year, North Texas played a weeknight home game, and for the third-straight year, North Texas played a Thursday night home game. The Mean Green move to 2-2 in those weeknight contests and 1-2 in those Thursday night contests.
• Zac Whitfield intercepted Brandon Doughty in the second quarter. It was the eighth of Whitfield's career, the Mean Green's first interception of the season, and it was just the fourth time that Doughty had been picked off this season.
• Darvin Kidsy hauled in his first-career receiving touchdown on a 46-yard touchdown pass from DaMarcus Smith on the last play of the first half. It was his fourth-career touchdown and the third different way he has scored a TD, scoring twice previously on punt returns and another on a kickoff return.
• Jeffrey Wilson broke off a 26-yard run in the third quarter, the longest of his career.
• DaMarcus Smith rushed for 122 yards on 16 carries, the most rushing yards by a quarterback since Scott Davis rushed for 203 yards in 1990 against SMU. Smith is the first NT QB to throw for four touchdowns since Riley Dodge in 2009, also against Western Kentucky.
The Mean Green travel to West Virginia to take on the Marshall Thundering Herd on Saturday, Oct. 24. Kickoff is 2:30 p.m.