North Texas Can't Find Big Play To Spark Upset Bid
Defense Turns In Best Performance Of Year In 24-0 Loss To Tennessee
North Texas linebacker Fred Scott upends a Tennessee running back Saturday at Neyland Stadium (photo by David Pyke)
KNOXVILLE, TN - North Texas may look back on Saturday's game at Neyland Stadium as a missed opportunity for a repeat of history.
The Mean Green, which upset SEC-power Tennessee 40 years ago, dominated time of possession for most of the game and got a season-best performance from their defense. What North Texas could not find was the big play on offense to ignite its scoring, so instead left town with a 24-0 loss to the Vols.
"What a great job by our defense," North Texas head coach Mike Canales said. "It's unfortunate we didn't put the ball in the end zone. We had our chances."
On an absolutely glorious, sunny, cool day in Knoxville, the Mean Green had some early successes but could not capitalize: a stop on defense followed by a failed drive on offense; a 16-yard Willie Ivery run followed by a quarterback sack; an NT punt downed at the Vol one-yard line wiped out by penalty; three drives across midfield that immediately stalled.
But the North Texas defense took away opportunities from the Vols. Twice the Mean Green failed to convert on fourth down in their own end of the field - including once on a fake punt - to give Tennessee excellent field position, but the NT defense surrendered only three points. And, after a 22-yard punt return set up Tennessee at the Mean Green 45, North Texas defensive back Chad Davis picked off a Vol pass to deny another scoring chance.
The North Texas defense allowed just 409 yards total offense - their second-lowest total of the year - and had seven tackles for loss in holding the Vols below their season averages in yards and points. Anthony Wallace had a team-high 11 tackles, Zac Whitfield had 10 tackles (1.5 for loss loss) and forced a fumble, and Calvin Minor blocked a Tennessee punt.
North Texas, however, could find precious little offense against the Vols. NT had just 199 yards total offense, and each time the Mean Green crossed midfield, they were immediately rebuffed, either by the Vol defense or by a penalty or by a dropped pass.
What They Said
"You've got to be aggressive and take chances against teams like this."
--NT coach Mike Canales on going for it on fourth down and trying a fake punt
"Do not fear them. Go play the way we can."
--Canales message to his team prior to Saturday's game against Tennessee
DB Chad Davis had his second interception of the season for North Texas and his second of his career.
Jarrian Roberts recorded his 10th-career sack and sixth of the season.
Redshirt freshman WR O'Keeron Rutherford made his third catch of the season.
North Texas was outscored 7-0 in the first quarter, and for the year the Mean Green has been outscored 108-6. NT has failed to score a first quarter touchdown this season.
Punter Eric Keena completed a pass to Andrew Tucker on a fake punt. He is the fifth different player to thrown for a completion this season for NT. Keena had a 62-yard punt on the day, his second-longest of the season and third longest of his career.
NT was shutout for the first time since 2011 at Alabama. The Mean Green fall to 3-36 all-time against teams from the SEC.
The Mean Green has dropped 12-straight games on the road and 14-straight non-conference road games.
Carlos Harris had two receptions and is only nine away from becoming just the second player in school history with 200 career receptions.
Now at 1-9 on the season, the Mean Green need wins in their final two games to avoid double-digit losses this year. In the program's first 91 seasons, North Texas had just one campaign (1972) with 10 or more defeats. But with a loss in either of the final two games this year, North Texas will have its fourth double-digit-loss season in the last 10 years.
North Texas returns to the Volunteer State again next week for its final road game of the season when the Mean Green face Middle Tennessee on Saturday, Nov. 21. Kickoff is 11 a.m. central time.