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DENTON, TX - A dominant Mean Green defense registered a pair of blocked kicks, tied the school-record for quarterback sacks and allowed a season-low 184 yards total offense as North Texas extended its winning streak to five with a 41-7 homecoming victory over Texas-El Paso Saturday night.
"We wanted to collapse the pocket," North Texas coach Dan McCarney said. "They had a new quarterback and he has talent. We wanted to keep him pinned in and keep him contained, try to heat him up. But it started with controlling the running game. They've been going for 200 yards. They didn't get near that today."
The North Texas offense, meanwhile, continued to pick up the slack left by the loss of running back Reggie Pegram to season-ending injury two weeks ago. Against Rice, it was Antoinne Jimmerson going to 62 yards and two touchdowns. Saturday, it was senior Brandin Byrd turning in a career-best 202 yards and two touchdowns, including an 82-yard scoring run in the second half, as North Texas piled up 317 yards on the ground and 471 total yards for the game.
"You love to see the consistency from Brandin Byrd," McCarney said. "He's one of the most unselfish guys we got. He's one of the toughest players, one of the most respected players we have in this program."
The win keeps North Texas (7-3, 5-1) atop the Conference USA West-Division standings, half a game up on Rice. The Mean Green, by virtue of last week's 28-16 victory over Rice, holds the tie-breaker advantage over the Owls.
The North Texas defense battered UTEP and its freshman quarterback, Mack Leftwich, who was sacked eight times, the most by the Mean Green since North Texas sacked Texas' Chris Simms eight times in 2002. Marcus Trice, Aaron Bellazin, Brandon McCoy, Richard Abbe and Zach Orr had sacks, and Orr had a game-high 12 tackles, moving him into sixth place on the North Texas all-time career tackles list.
North Texas was up 7-0 when the Mean Green got its third punt block of the season. Redshirt freshman Rex Rollins blocked a UTEP kick and freshman Darvin Kidsy recovered for touchdown and a 14-0 lead. UTEP never threatened the rest of the way, held to 56 yards rushing (1.3 yards per rush) and 184 yards of total offense.
What They Said
"There's a chance we're going to be invited somewhere in the country. I didn't want that bus ride from Tulsa to be our last time together, and it won't be. We hit seven today. Now let's go hit eight."
--North Texas coach Dan McCarney on his team's probable bowl future
"It was just a big hole. Drew Miller came off and cut his guy. He did it in the first half and I didn't hit it where I was supposed to. In the second half, it was there and I just attacked the grass and made sure I didn't get caught."
-- Running back Brandin Byrd on his 82-yard touchdown run
"We made sure we did our job."
-- Defensive lineman Aaron Bellazin on the team's eight sacks, which tied a team record
"You can't do it without the o-line. They just opened it up for me and the other backs."
-- Byrd on his 202-yard game and the team's 317-yard rushing performance
• The Mean Green's path to the C-USA West Division title is now open. Saturday afternoon, Tulane suffered its second league loss in as many weeks, falling 10-7 to UTSA and falling out of first place in the West for the first time. North Texas is now half a game ahead of Rice, over which the Mean Green own a tie-breaker edge courtesy of last week's 28-16 decision. If North Texas wins its final two regular-season games, it will win the West Division and advance to the C-USA championship game on Dec. 7.
• Saturday's homecoming crowd of 26,119 is the second largest at Apogee Stadium and the fifth largest home crowd in North Texas history.
• The Mean Green recorded two block kicks in the first quarter, running their total for the season to five. Austin Orr blocked a 46-yard field goal (the second field goal block of the year) and Rex Rollins blocked a punt, which was recovered by Darvin Kidsy for a touchdown.
• North Texas has been running reverses to Brelan Chancellor this year, and did so again Saturday. But the Mean Green also ran a double-reverse from Chancellor to Carlos Harris for 26 yards, abetted by a block by quarterback Derek Thompson on UTEP's 6-2, 325-pound team captain Marcus Bagley. The run set up Antoinne Jimmerson's second-quarter TD run.
• Senior defensive lineman Richard Abbe had his first multi-sack game with two sacks of UTEP quarterback Mack Leftwich.
• Brandin Byrd had a career day, rushing for 202 yards and two touchdowns, the biggest performance by a Mean Green running back since Lance Dunbar's 313-yard effort against Middle Tennessee in 2011.
• Byrd's day was the first game of more than 100 yards by a North Texas running back since Byrd's 139 against Middle Tennessee earlier this year.
• Sophomore wide receiver Carlos Harris celebrated his birthday Saturday with a 42-yard touchdown pass from Thompson in the fourth quarter. It was the longest pass reception of Harris's career.
• Junior defensive end Quinton Brown saw his first action of the season since suffering a knee injury in spring practice.
• With Saturday's win over UTEP, Dan McCarney has reached 16 victories fewer games than any North Texas coach since Rod Rust. McCarney's 16 wins in 34 games is the fifth fastest to that mark in school history, behind Rust (16 in 20), Odus Mitchell (16 in 21), J.W. St. Clair (16 in 25), and Jack Sisco (16 in 29).
• The Mean Green's five-game win streak is the longest since 2004, when North Texas won seven straight.
• North Texas extended its streak of scoring 21 points or more to 10 games, the longest such streak in program history.
• Senior linebacker Zach Orr now has 96 tackles for the season, just 18 away from entering the top 10 for a single season in school history. Lester Harper's 114 tackles in 1982 is currently 10th.
• Orr's career-tackle total of 329 is now No. 6 all-time at North Texas, surpassing Lance White (325) and closing on Burks Washington (351) at No. 5.
• North Texas has 32 touchdowns this year, and with two games left in the regular season, the Mean Green already has more touchdowns than it scored a year ago, when it had 31 TDs.
• After winning four games a year ago and now at 7-3 this year, North Texas has its biggest single-season turnaround since 2001-2002.
After a week off, North Texas wraps up its three-game homestand on Saturday, Nov. 23, against another in-state rival, UT-San Antonio. Kickoff is scheduled for 2:30 p.m.