BOWLING GREEN, Ky. — Dan McCarney was hoping to see North Texas’ offense develop a killer instinct, not to mention an ability to take advantage of key opportunities when the Mean Green’s defense provided them this season.
UNT had a few of those chances and failed to capitalize on them in a 25-24 loss to Western Kentucky in its season finale Saturday at L.T. Smith Stadium.
The Mean Green forced three WKU turnovers, plus a turnover on downs, and managed just a field goal on the ensuing possessions.
When UNT’s head coach looked back on a lost game — and a lost season — he saw those missed opportunities as being particularly costly.
“One of the things that we have not been able to do this year is complement our defense when we have gotten stops or turnovers,” McCarney said. “That is when really good teams — and programs — rise up and start winning games. You get a turnover, you go knock it in the end zone. Today was another example of that.”
The most costly of those missed opportunities came in the second quarter when linebacker Derek Akunne made one of the biggest plays of the game for the Mean Green’s defense.
UNT led 14-7 when Akunne intercepted a Kawaun Jakes pass on third-and-8 from the WKU 35-yard line and returned it to the Hilltoppers’ 10.
The Mean Green had a chance to punch the ball into the end zone and extend its lead but came up short.
UNT picked up just 2 yards on a pair of Brandin Byrd runs. Derek Thompson completed a 3-yard pass to Byrd on third down, but he didn’t come close to getting into the end zone.
Zach Olen kicked a field goal to give UNT a 17-7 lead.
That missed opportunity upset McCarney more than any other.
“Those kinds of situations, you have to go and knock it in and get six points,” McCarney said. “We were not able to do that.”
UNT came up with another stop when defensive end Aaron Bellazin sacked Jakes on fourth-and-7 from the UNT 33.
The Mean Green drove to the WKU 32, but Olen missed a 49-yard field goal.
Safety Marcus Trice forced an Antonio Andrews fumble at the UNT 8-yard line, but the Mean Green punted six plays later.
Akunne forced another Andrews fumble in the third quarter, but UNT again went three-and-out after recovering.
“It’s all about finishing,” Byrd said. “We weren’t able to do that.”
BRETT VITO can be reached at 940-566-6870. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.