Brandin Byrd rushed for 184 yards and three touchdowns in a 35-10 win over Tulsa (photo by David Pyke)
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TULSA, OK - In the final regular-season game of his career, senior running back Brandin Byrd turned in a career-best performance to power North Texas to a 42-10 victory over Tulsa.
Byrd rushed for a career-high 251 yards on a career-high 26 carries with a career-high three touchdowns, then capped a memorable day by topping the century-mark for the season with 1,023 - also a career high.
"It was a great job by him," North Texas coach Dan McCarney said of Byrd's performance. "We gave him one more carry and he broke a long one (to get to 1,000 yards). I'm proud of him."
The Mean Green moved to 8-4 on the year and 6-2 in its first campaign in Conference USA, earned a share of second place in C-USA's West Division, and will now await an invitation to a bowl game for the first time since 2004.
"It started last January, when we started talking about what we needed to do to make sure last season (a 4-8 record) didn't happen again," McCarney said. "It's a day-at-a-time process, and these seniors have one more game. They're going to leave a great legacy."
A suffocating North Texas defense allowed Tulsa just 82 yards in the first half and forced six three-and-out possessions, while the North Texas offense piled up 266 yards total offense. Despite the domination, however, North Texas trailed most of the half due to its own mistakes. The Mean Green lost a fumble that was returned for a touchdown, had seven penalties for 51 yards and missed a 32-yard field goal, leaving Tulsa with a 10-7 lead.
It took two huge special-teams plays by Mike Marshall to finally turn the scoreboard in North Texas' favor. Marshall blocked a punt in the first quarter to set up the Mean Green's first touchdown, then blocked another Tulsa punt in the second period that was returned by Jarrian Roberts for the touchdown giving the Mean Green its first lead, 14-10.
From there, North Texas overpowered the Golden Hurricane. A 91-yard touchdown run by Byrd - the fourth longest rushing play in North Texas history - in the third quarter gave the Mean Green a commanding 28-10 lead, and North Texas prevented Tulsa from crossing midfield from the middle of the first quarter until the final two minutes of the fourth period, holding the Hurricanes to 236 yards of total offense.
What They Said
"Really a dominant defensive performance. If your defense allows just three points, that's a big-time day for your defense."
--McCarney on his North Texas' defensive effort.
"We practice that during the week. There's a scout-team punter back in Denton whose pretty banged up. We tee off on him pretty good."
--Mean Green special teams coach Tommy Perry on blocking punts
"There's not a better human being than Brandin Byrd."
--Perry, also Mean Green running backs coach, on Byrd after his big day in Tulsa
"Everyone on the team took it in our heads to execute and play hard, and I was just going to give it everything I had."
--Byrd after his career-best performance Saturday
"It'll be my 21st bowl game. I'm so proud to bring to a bowl this team and our fans. I want our fans to turn out in huge numbers no matter where we go, and let's let the nation know there's something special at North Texas."
--McCarney on his team earning a bowl bid, which is expected to come in the next week
• As has been their annoying habit, North Texas allowed the first points of the game for the ninth time in 12 games - a truly remarkable statistic considering the Mean Green's 8-4 record. North Texas is 5-4 in games in which the opponent scored first.
• North Texas has blocked eight kicks this year.
• This was the Mean Green's first win over Tulsa since 1969.
• Behind Byrd's 251, North Texas had a season-best 377 yards rushing. Antoinne Jimmerson had 85 yards and two touchdowns.
• For the season, junior wide receiver Mike Marshall now has one pass reception and two blocked punts. The kick blocks were the first and second of his career.
• Sophomore Zac Whitfield got his third interception of the season, tying him for second on the team with Laraimie Lee and matching the three picks in his freshman year.
• Quarterback Derek Thompson surpassed North Texas great and All-Century quarterback Steve Ramsey for second place in passing yards all-time for the Mean Green. Thompson needed 58 yards coming into the game to take over the Mean Green Hall of Famer, and he eclipsed that mark in the first half. Thompson has 7,191 yards passing for his career.
• Thompson also passed Ramsey for second on the NT all-time passing attempts lead, with 1,025 for his career.
• Thompson has 2,640 yards passing this season, which is the fifth best in North Texas history, just nine yards short of his 2012 total.
• The NT defense allowed Tulsa just 82 yards in the first half, a season-best for the Mean Green. North Texas allowed 83 yards to Uteo
• Senior linebacker Zach Orr had 8 tackles Saturday and has 114 for the season, tying Orr with Lester Harper (1982) for tenth place all-time for a single season.
• Tulsa returned a Brelan Chancellor fumble 97 yards for a touchdown on the game's opening drive. It was the fifth time this season that a North Texas opponent scored a touchdown on either defense or special teams.
• In the five games that North Texas took the opening kickoff of the game, the Mean Green failed to score any points on its initial drive. North Texas was forced to punt four times and fumbled the ball at the Tulsa 5-yard line today.
• North Texas missed a possible game-tying 32-yard field goal in the second quarter. It was Zach Paul's only miss from 35 yards or less this season.
• North Texas outgained Tulsa in the first half 266-82 in total offense. That is more offense than the Mean Green had total in games against Georgia and Rice.
• Senior running back Brandin Byrd had a career-long 91-yard touchdown run in the third quarter. It was also the longest rush by a Mean Green player since Cedric Cromer went for 95 vs. Idaho State in 1995.
• Junior Sheldon Wade grabbed his first career interception with a pick in the end zone on the final play of the game.
• North Texas had a strong contingent of fans make the drive to Tulsa, and by the fourth quarter green shirts out-numbered blue shirts on the east grandstands.
The regular season complete, bowl-eligible North Texas now waits for an invitation to a bowl game, which would be the Mean Green's first since 2004.