BATON ROUGE, La. — There were several questions North Texas faced heading into the 2012 season after losing its all-time leader rusher Lance Dunbar and several other key seniors.
The Mean Green’s defensive backfield might have been the biggest question of them all.
UNT didn’t have a starter back and rolled out two players who had never played a down for the Mean Green in Zac Whitfield and Marcus Trice for its season opener Saturday night.
The group took its lumps in a 41-14 loss to No. 3 LSU at Tiger Stadium, but also showed some signs of developing as a unit.
Whitfield turned back one of LSU’s best scoring chances late in the first half with the first interception of his career, while cornerback Hilbert Jackson posted a highlight-reel hit on Zach Mettenberger that forced the Tigers’ starting quarterback to temporarily leave the game.
“They showed signs at times, but we are so far away right now,” UNT head coach Dan McCarney said. “It will be a good learning experience. We have to build on some of the positives. We did some good things, but didn’t sustain it.”
UNT replaced seven of the eight defensive backs on its depth chart at the end of last season, including all four starters.
Whitfield helped fill that void when he made his first appearance for UNT after spending last season as a redshirt. The former Sherman standout started out as a running back before moving to cornerback in fall practice. He earned a starting job and came up with a key play when he intercepted a Mettenberger pass after LSU had reached UNT’s 7-yard line.
Trice, who transferred from Oklahoma and sat out last season, finished with five tackles in his first game with the Mean Green.
Arguably the play of the game for UNT was produced by one of those new starters in the defensive backfield. Jackson came on a blitz and leveled Mettenberger.
LSU was forced to pull Mettenberger, who went to the locker room but returned later.
“Coach called a blitz for me, so I just came off, saw him there and I struck him,” Jackson said. “That’s it. I was just trying to do something to get my team going. I was trying to bring a lot of energy to the defense, my team. I was trying to get us going.”
BRETT VITO can be reached at 940-566-6870. His e-mail address is email@example.com.