Inability To Stop USM On Third Down Dooms North Texas
Mean Green Drops Third Game In A Row, Falls 30-20 To Southern Miss
Wide receiver Carlos Harris had 15 receptions for 216 yards Saturday, both career highs (photo by Rick Yeatts)
DENTON - It was a perfectly-executed third-quarter fake punt that ignited the Southern Miss offense in the second half, but it was a game-long inability by the North Texas defense to get off the field that sent the Mean Green to its third-straight loss.
The Golden Eagles converted seven of their first 11 third-down chances, fueling a 506-yard total-offense onslaught in a 30-20 win over North Texas Saturday night at Apogee Stadium, a loss that drops the Mean Green to 0-3 in league play for the first time under head coach Dan McCarney.
"We've struggled all year on defense," McCarney said after his team slipped to 2-5 on the season. "We're not even close to playing Mean Green defense. We don't do that, we're not going to win games."
For the first time in a season in which the Mean Green has been floored by double-digit deficits in all four of its losses, North Texas fought back, rallied, and overcame an early 10-point Southern Miss lead to take a 13-10 lead in the second quarter. But the Mean Green could not sustain the momentum, allowing a tying field goal before halftime and surrendering two third-quarter touchdown drives, the first of which was made possible by the successful fake punt from the North Texas 42-yard line.
"They just out-lasted us, made more plays, and were better on third down," McCarney said. "That's been an issue all year long."
USM went up 10-0 in the first quarter and rolled up 288 yards total offense in the first half, but interceptions by the Mean Green's Kishawn McClain and Lairamie Lee, both deep in North Texas territory, kept the Mean Green close.
After Lee's pick, the North Texas offense began to move, led by quarterback Andrew McNulty, in his first start of the year, and wide receiver Carlos Harris. The McNulty-to-Harris combination was good for a 45-yard pass to set up a two-yard Antoinne Jimmerson touchdown run, a 36-yard pass to set up a 36-yard field goal, and a 27-yard pass to set up a 27-yard Reggie Pegram touchdown run to level the game at 20-20.
But USM controlled the game from that point on, gouging the Mean Green on the ground to the tune of 136 yards rushing in the second half alone, and 201 yards rushing for the game. The Golden Eagles went up 30-20 early in the fourth quarter, then held off two late Mean Green threats.
What They Said
"We've got what we've got. Coaches got to coach better, players got to play better."
--North Texas coach Dan McCarney, summing up his team's situation at 2-5 on the year.
"We still have a chance to get to 7-5."
--Linebacker Derek Akunne on the outlook for the rest of the season.
"I don't like musical chairs at quarterback. But because of inconsistency at quarterback, we had to open it up."
--McCarney on going with his third different starting quarterback this year.
• With his start Saturday, Andrew McNulty became the third player to start at quarterback for North Texas this season. It's the first time the Mean Green have used as many as three different starting QBs since 2009, when North Texas used four different starters. This year, Josh Greer started the first three games and Dajon Williams took over the next three games.
• Junior wide receiver Carlos Harris had a monster night Saturday. He had a career-high 15 receptions for a career-high 216 yards, the most receiving yards by a Mean Green player since Casey Fitzgerald's 231-yard performance in 2008.
• True-freshman Kishawn McClain, in his first career start, grabbed his first career interception, picking off a USM pass in the first quarter. He also had a career-high nine tackles.
• The connection of McNulty to Carlos Harris has been responsible for three of the Mean Green's five longest pass plays this year, including a 45-yard completion at the end of the first quarter to set up the first North Texas score.
• In his first game back after missing the UAB game due to injury, senior defensive back Lairamie Lee had his second interception of the season to turn back a USM scoring drive. A Golden Eagle pass, from the North Texas eight-yard line, was broken up by Anthony Wallace, and Lee caught the deflected ball in the end zone. It was Lee's sixth-career interception.
• True-freshman place kicker Trevor Moore, who was six-for-six in field goals coming into the game, made 36- and 24-yard field goals in the second quarter before finally missing on a 34-yard attempt in the fourth quarter.
• Senior linebacker Derek Akunne continued his tremendous play, following up his 17-tackle effort a week ago by recording 14 tackles against Southern Miss.
• North Texas is now 0-5 when the opponent scores first.
• The Mean Green has been repeatedly bitten by early mistakes this year, and Saturday was no different. On USM's opening drive, North Texas stuffed the Golden Eagles on third and three, but a facemask penalty gave USM a first down. On the next play, the Golden Eagles went deep for a 40-yard touchdown pass.
• Saturday's game was even, 13-13, at halftime, the first time North Texas has been tied at intermission since the Heart of Dallas Bowl.
The Mean Green travels to Houston to play the Rice Owls next Saturday, Oct. 18. Kickoff is slated for 11 a.m. The game will be telecast on Fox Sports Southwest.