Mean Green Defense Records Seven Takeaways In 35-18 Win
Jenkins Has Two Interceptions, One Fumble Recovery; Wilson Rushes for 160 and Three TDs
WEST POINT, NY - The exploits of military-academy option offenses against North Texas is seared into the memory of many a Mean Green football fan.
Saturday's game against Army will be just as memorable, but for the right reasons.
The North Texas defense contained Army's powerful triple-option attack, forced it into some long-yardage situations and had seven turnovers, including three by defensive back Eric Jenkins, who returned a pick for a touchdown for the second week in a row and had an interception and a fumble recovery in the fourth quarter to stop Army's attempts at a rally.
The Mean Green offense, meanwhile, exploded in the second half behind a 160-yard, three-touchdown rushing performance by running back Jeffery Wilson, who had 153 yards in the second half, for a 35-18 North Texas victory over the Black Knights at Michie Stadium.
North Texas is 4-3 for the first time since 2013, when it last earned a bowl berth, and is within two victories of being bowl eligible. Army, which had not allowed a 100-yard rusher or more than 23 points in a game this year, slips to 4-3.
"The defense did a great job all night," North Texas coach Seth Littrell said. "They worked hard all week against the triple option, and it was awesome to watch them make plays all night."
The game was played in cold, windy and intermittently rainy conditions, a gray gloom that transformed the surrounding forest of gold, orange and red at the height of its fall brilliance into muted wintry drab.
The wet weather, however, did little to disrupt Army's triple-option and its frequent laterals and pitches. That task was left to the Mean Green defense.
Facing Army's multiple angles of attack, requiring each defender to handle his responsibility and trust his teammates to handle theirs, the Mean Green gave up some yards but made the stops when needed. When North Texas forced Army into passing situations, the Mean Green allowed just seven completions and had four interceptions.
Unfortunately, North Texas was unable to make much use of this largesse in the first half. After recovering a fumble at midfield on Army's opening possession, the Mean Green threw an interception two plays later. And after Army's first punt attempt resulted in a high snap and the punter tackled at the Black Knight 32, North Texas could not move and came up short on a 48-yard field goal into the gusty wind. For the half, North Texas had just 56 yards total offense and ran the ball only seven times.
Yet North Texas led 14-10 at halftime. The Mean Green offense had one solid possession in the opening half, a 76-yard scoring march capped by a game-tying 36-yard touchdown catch by Terian Goree, who fought off tight coverage for his first TD reception of the season to tie the game at 7-7. North Texas had four of its five first-half completions on that drive.
Two plays later, Army's first pass attempt of the game deflected off the intended receiver's fingertips and was intercepted by Jenkins, who returned it 34 yards for his second pick six in as many weeks and a 14-7 lead.
It was a radically different North Texas offense in the second half. The ground game, which had -2 yards at halftime, found its footing. Wilson used speed, power and some ankle-snapping cutbacks to slice up the Army defense for 85 yards in the third quarter alone, scoring twice in the period to balloon a precarious four-point lead to 28-10.
"He's a special player," Littrell said. "We've got to run the ball more."
After Army narrowed the gap to 10, it was Wilson scoring again to build the lead back to 17. From there, it was all North Texas defense, which had four takeaways in the final quarter, ripping the ball from the grasp of Army ball carriers to deny the Black Knights' comeback hopes.
• This is the Mean Green's first non-conference road win since 2009, when North Texas defeated Ball State, 20-10.
• Linebacker Brandon Garner's first-quarter fumble recovery was his second of the season.
• North Texas' 14 first-quarter points equaled the total number Army had allowed in the first quarter of its first six games.
• Dee Baulkman got a sack and forced fumble late in the first half.
• Jeffery Wilson's 41-yard touchdown run was the longest run allowed by Army this season - until he broke loose on a 56-yard run later in the half.
• Sophomore corner back Nate Brooks recovered a fumble early in the third quarter to set up another Mean Green touchdown drive.
• North Texas' 35 points are the most Army has allowed all season (23 at Buffalo).
• This marks the second road win of the season, the first time a North Texas has done so since 2013.
• Defensive back James Gray had an interception late in the fourth quarter, his first of the season.
• Saturday, North Texas wore green helmets for the first time this year.
North Texas returns to Conference USA play when it travels to the Alamodome to face Texas San Antonio.