Home openers are always filled with pomp and circumstance, and usually a great crowd.
North Texas head coach Dan McCarney has worked hard all summer to make sure that will be the case again this year, speaking to student groups, writing letters to newspapers and telling anyone who will listen just how important it is for the future of the program to pack the stands at Apogee Stadium.
UNT is expecting those efforts to pay off today when the Mean Green hosts Texas Southern, an opponent that could offer an opportunity to end what has been a string of disappointing home openers while getting a group of key skill-position players on track.
UNT has won all five of its games against teams from the Football Championship Subdivision since resuming play at the highest level of college football in 1995.
“We are excited to be at home, where we won four of our six games last season,” McCarney said. “Our fans know that we respond to them and our students. We only have five shots. … We need to do everything we can to get this started the right way this weekend with the help of our fans and students, so that it is really hard to win games at Apogee Stadium.”
UNT beat Indiana at home last year, arguably one of its biggest victories in recent years.
A win over TSU wouldn’t come close to matching that victory in terms of overall importance, but it would help the Mean Green bounce back from a season-opening loss to LSU. It also would give UNT its first win in a home opener since a win over SMU in 2006. UNT has lost seven of its last eight home openers.
McCarney said that ending that slump won’t be easy against TSU, a team the Mean Green says it isn’t taking lightly.
A handful of Football Bowl Subdivision teams have already lost to FCS opponents this season, including UNT’s Sun Belt Conference rival Middle Tennessee, which lost to McNeese State.
UNT saw plenty of areas in which it needed to improve after falling to LSU, but none stuck out quite as much as finding a way to get its skill-position players on track.
Junior wide receiver Brelan Chancellor lived up to his billing by catching a pair of touchdown passes against the third-ranked Tigers, including an 80-yard strike from Derek Thompson.
Those were about all the highlights UNT could muster on a night when most of its other receivers and running backs struggled against one of the nation’s elite defenses in a 41-14 loss.
“Chancellor was sensational. The other guys, as far as making a difference, making guys miss and making plays, were below average at best,” McCarney said. “We have senior receivers whom we know and respect who need to make plays.”
No UNT player other than Chancellor had more than one reception.
UNT turned to three running backs to fill the void left by the departure of Lance Dunbar, the school’s all-time leading rusher. Starter Brandin Byrd posted a run of 12 yards and Jeremy Brown added one that covered 11 yards, but the trio struggled overall.
UNT’s three-back rotation, which also includes Antoinne Jimmerson, managed only 83 yards on 30 carries.
“We did a lot of good things out there but also missed a lot of opportunities,” Thompson said. “Brelan showed up in the national spotlight. As much as I trust the other guys, we were not on cue. We are working hard this week to get those other guys involved in our offense and take some of the load off Brelan.”
Seniors Chris Bynes and Ivan Delgado, a pair of returning starters at wide receiver, combined for only one reception.
UNT’s game against TSU could offer the Mean Green a chance to break out. The Tigers beat Prairie View A&M 44-41, thanks to Robert Hersh’s 47-yard field goal as time expired, but allowed 500 yards on the day.
“We needed to be more technically sound with our calls and knowing what to do,” Chancellor said. “It will come with time and being more focused.”
UNT is hoping that time comes today, when the Mean Green will look to turn its season around and get off to a positive start at home.
“Coming home and playing in front of the Mean Green crowd will do us good,” Chancellor said. “We are not taking Texas Southern lightly. We are going to come out and play hard. We don’t want to be like those other four schools that lost to I-AA teams.”
BRETT VITO can be reached at 940-566-6870. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org .
SEARCHING FOR NEW PLAYMAKERS
North Texas relied heavily on wide receiver Brelan Chancellor in its season-opening loss to LSU. The following is a look at where UNT’s 219 yards of offense came from:
4 rec., 114 yds., 2 TD
4 rec., 29 yds
14 carries, 40 yds.
8 carries, 23 yds.
8 carries, 20 yds.
5 carries; minus-7 yds
NORTH TEXAS GAMEDAY
Texas Southern at UNT
When: 6 p.m.
Where: Apogee Stadium
Records: UNT 0-1, TSU 1-0
Last meeting: First meeting between the teams
Last week: LSU 41, UNT 14;
TSU 44, Prairie View A&M 41
TV: KTXA-TV (Channel 21)
Radio: KHYI-FM 95.3, KNTU-FM 88.1
Texas Southern (1-0) at North Texas (0-1), 6 p.m., Apogee Stadium
ON THE AIR
TV: KTXA Ch. 21; Radio: KHYI-FM 95.3, KNTU-FM 88.1
UNT DB Marcus Trice vs. TSU QB Riko Smalls
TSU is using a two-quarterback system with Riko Smalls and former Troy backup Dantavious Parker.
So far, it’s Smalls who has come up big.
Smalls threw for 212 yards in the Tigers’ season-opening win over Prairie View A&M and posted 2,172 yards and 12 touchdowns last season. Smalls is a classic dual-threat quarterback and rushed for 101 yards in the Tigers’ season opener.
UNT is beat up on its defensive front and could be without defensive end Brandon McCoy and defensive tackle Tevinn Cantly. Starting defensive tackle Ryan Boutwell will be back after missing the Mean Green’s season opener with a torn pectoral muscle, but could be limited after sitting out a large chunk of fall practice.
The situation UNT faces will ratchet up the pressure on UNT’s inexperienced defensive backfield led by safety Marcus Trice. The Oklahoma transfer is one of the most experienced players UNT has in its secondary.
The junior finished with five tackles last week against LSU and could take on an even larger role today. LSU jumped out to an early lead against UNT and didn’t have to test the Mean Green’s secondary in the passing game. TSU is more likely to take shots against UNT and Trice.
HOW THEY MATCH UP
UNT’s offense vs. TSU’s defense
UNT struggled offensively in its season opener against LSU, which was expected. The Tigers have one of the top defenses in the country and held the Mean Green in check outside of two touchdown passes from Derek Thompson to Brelan Chancellor. TSU gave up 41 points to Prairie View A&M. UNT has more overall talent.
UNT’s defense vs. TSU’s offense
UNT allowed 41 points to LSU but had its moments. Zac Whitfield intercepted a pass at the goal line, and the Mean Green had two sacks, including a terrific hit on Zach Mettenberger by cornerback Hilbert Jackson. TSU scored 44 points and rolled offensively against Prairie View A&M. Riko Smalls threw for 212 yards. UNT should have an edge in terms of talent.
Embrace the opportunity to get on track
UNT has a golden opportunity to get back on track after falling at No. 3 LSU to open the season. A win would even the Mean Green’s record heading into a game at Kansas State next week. UNT can’t afford to drop this game and must embrace the opportunity it provides.
Get the offense going after tough start
UNT scored just 14 points in its loss to LSU, with two touchdown passes from Derek Thompson to Brelan Chancellor. More skill-position players have to make plays for the Mean Green to get to where it needs to be offensively. UNT has to help get those players the confidence they need.
Hold up against a good passing attack from TSU
Texas Southern scored 44 points against Prairie View A&M in its opener and has a lot of confidence heading into today’s game. McCarney said that TSU has several players with the skill to play at the FBS level. Several of them play on the offensive side of the ball.
Get out of the game healthy and on a roll
UNT suffered a couple of injuries in its season opener, seeing defensive linemen Brandon McCoy and Tevinn Cantly go down in the first quarter. UNT will get those players back soon and can’t afford to lose players to long-term injuries heading into a tough part of its schedule.