NT Gets Much-Needed Win Going Into KSU Game

Ben Kercheval's Mean Green Talk

Ben Kercheval
Ben Kercheval

North Texas defeated Texas Southern 34-7 in the Mean Green's home opener. What does it all mean? Glad you asked.

First Impressions

 It feels good to win and win big no matter the opponent considering what this university's fan base (you know, the ones who show up and care) has endured over the better portion of the past decade.

 I mean when you've had your butt kicked for that long, you want to do it to someone else occasionally. It's your basic, insecure bully psychology.

 That said, Texas Southern is bad. Like, woof.

 NT's defense played fast, smart and forced four turnovers. This team is going to need that unit to win at least a couple more games this year.

 Why? Quarterback Derek Thompson just isn't playing that great. It's not entirely his fault; he needs some more playmakers out wide.

 The running game worked, though, and Dan McCarney went with the "well, if it ain't broke" play calling approach.

 Maybe that's why receiver Brelen Chancellor had just one touch the entire game. Armchair coaching alert: get that guy the ball more.

 NT's third down conversion rate (5-of-14) wasn't up to par, but the defense was able to get off the field on third down (TSU went 3-of-15).

 Finally, there's a provision in my contract with North Texas athletics that allows me to make one irrational statement that only a fan could conjure up, so here it is: LSU, the Mean Green's Week 1 opponent, beat Washington 41-3 on Saturday. Recall that North Texas lost 41-14 to the Tigers. Ipso facto, NT > Washington #winning.

On Second Thought

One thing jumped out when listening to McCarney's post-game interview on TV: the second-year head coach made a point to say that Texas Southern was the first opponent NT has defeated in a home opener since 2006 when it beat SMU 24-6. After an entire day of preparation and coaching, McCarney still remembered to make that a talking point.

That's not a coincidence. McCarney, a relentless recruiter/salesman in every aspect of his job, was asked to build up Iowa State's program when he became the head coach of the Cyclones in 1995 and that's what he's being asked to do now. For a university located on the outskirts of a talent-rich metroplex in a football-mad state, North Texas has only recently gotten around to consistently committing to its football program. There is no worse attitude than apathy, and NT has had it for a while.

There are no quick fixes for that either, so McCarney's point about winning the home opener was equivalent to saying "baby steps." It may have been against a beatable team - okay, a loss would have been traumatizing - but NT can say it did one good thing in Week 2: it got a win -- and in front of a pretty packed student section, no less.

Those students will eventually become alumni. Like all habits, the university has to make a commitment to arousing people's interest early. And it is. But North Texas has to win too. That's, uh, pretty important.

So McCarney was happy, right? Well, yes and no.

"We'll always take a win," McCarney said. "We didn't execute nearly as well as we need to. We're one of those teams right now that really needs to grow and mature together."

Take the final score for example. Just as NT's 41-14 loss to LSU a week ago wasn't completely indicative of the how the game played out, Saturday's 34-7 win over TSU wasn't all puppies and rainbows. The Mean Green racked up 352 rushing yards, but there weren't many explosive plays. Bottom line: the Mean Green could run just fine, but there wasn't a whole lot of running away from the Tigers.

Keep in mind that no one's complaining about six yards a carry here. Every coach will take that, but having to grind it out against a bad 1-AA team - again, there was practically no passing game for the second week in a row -- shows just how much work needs to be done on the recruiting trail. When you consider what the state of Texas has to offer in the way of high school talent, there's no reason why North Texas can't do at least a little better on that front given the foundation that's been laid with the new stadium and facilities building.

Not to mention heading into Conference USA, a league that has far better television exposure than the Sun Belt.

Now, it's a matter of winning.

That might have to be done with defense this year. Good thing McCarney has a defensive background. Offensive coordinator Mike Canales has plenty of skins on his wall from his time at Arizona and South Florida, but North Texas has serious question marks so far at quarterback and receiver. That limits what kind of game plan Canales can draw up and what McCarney can call. Simply put, this is not a real multiple team offensively right now, nor is it one built to come from behind. That puts an added pressure on the defense.

That side of the ball has responded well so far and guys like Hilbert Jackson and Zac Whitfield have come up big for the secondary. Whitfield already has two interceptions on the year. TSU had over 500 yards in its season opening win against Prairie View A&M and NT's D was able to hold the Tigers to 185 total yards; about one-third of that came on one play that resulted in TSU's lone score of the game. A busted coverage aside, the Mean Green defense did about everything it was supposed to do.

Looking Ahead

Enjoy the win now. Up next is No. 15 Kansas State, which throttled Miami 52-13 in its Week 2 game. The Wildcats are the hipster Big 12 team. There's no high-flying offense, no five-wide formations for Bill Snyder's group. Kansas State likes to grind it out on the ground much like North Texas did this past week. Except, you know, K-State's a little bit better and stuff.

At 6-foot-5 and 230 pounds, quarterback Collin Klein is more like a short yardage back that occasionally throws the football. The defense is a solid, high-IQ group led by Arthur Brown.

K-State is totally old school, but it works for them. Snyder has himself a smart, disciplined football team that is physical up front. That's not good for North Texas. The biggest reason the Mean Green struggled against LSU was because of how physical (and freakishly huge) the Tigers were up front (and how utterly helpless NT was to do anything about it).

It would be nothing short of a season-defining miracle if North Texas pulled off the upset. But, hey, if Louisiana-Monroe can beat Arkansas...

By The Numbers (Courtesy of North Texas Sports Information)

Speaking of home openers, North Texas is 55-24-2 all-time in that category.

 With its win over TSU, North Texas is now 2-0 all-time against the SWAC. The Mean Green beat Alcorn State 20-7 in 1990.

 NT won two-thirds of its home games last season, its best home winning percentage since 2004.

 With 11 scholarship seniors, North Texas is the eighth-youngest team in college football at the 1-A level.

 Derek Thompson is the only NT quarterback in the last 10 years to start consecutive openers. Scott Hall (2002 and '04) and Daniel Meager (2005 and '07) have started two openers but in a span of three years.

 As well as the Mean Green defense played against TSU, it's been 101 games since NT posted a shutout.

 Kansas State ran the ball 60 times against Miami in Week 2 for 288 yards. North Texas ran the ball 57 times for 352 yards against TSU, averaging almost 1.5 yards more per carry.

Ben Kercheval is s 2009 graduate of North Texas and is a writer for and co-manager of the NBC Sports website, CollegeFootballTalk.com.

Previous Ben Kercheval Columns
Week 1 - LSU (9/4/11)




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