Dan McCarney called an extra meeting of his coaches early this week to discuss the special teams issues that plagued North Texas early in the season.
That extra time didn’t help the Mean Green one bit in a critical 14-7 loss to Troy on Saturday night at Apogee Stadium in the opening game of its final season in the Sun Belt Conference.
UNT starting kicker Zach Olen missed two field goals and his backup, Zach Paul, missed another.
The Mean Green made only one kick all night, an extra point.
By the end of the night, UNT’s head coach had lost so much faith in his special teams units that he went for it twice on fourth down with his team within field goal range in the second half.
UNT failed to convert either time and was left to ponder the opportunity it squandered in front of a crowd of 21,832. The Mean Green (1-3, 0-1 Sun Belt) could have evened its record at 2-2 for the first time since 1997, but will now have a long road to travel to post its first winning season since 2004.
“It was extremely frustrating and disappointing,” McCarney said. “I don’t know if I can allocate more time or coaches or organization or reps or exposure or explaining to our team about how important it is. Frustration is an understatement when you stand on the sideline and watch some of the things I saw tonight.”
What made the loss so hard for UNT to take was that it played well enough to win in several areas other than the kicking game, which has been troubling the last two weeks. UNT struggled in the return game and had a field-goal attempt blocked last week in a loss to Kansas State.
The Mean Green held the Trojans, who came into the game leading the Sun Belt in total offense at 537.7 yards a game, to a season-low 14 points, and didn’t commit a turnover outside of the two times it failed to convert on fourth down.
UNT just couldn’t convert offensively.
The Mean Green drove inside the Troy 30-yard line five times without scoring.
UNT quarterback Derek Thompson threw for 236 yards but missed on several key throws, including overthrowing Ivan Delgado in the end zone on fourth-and-11 from the Troy 17-yard line in the fourth quarter.
The miss was the first of two for Thompson on key plays late in the game. He also failed to connect with Brelan Chancellor on fourth-and-16 from the Troy 30-yard on UNT’s last possession of the game.
Thompson also missed Drew Miller when he was open in the end zone in the second quarter.
“I didn’t make the throws I usually make,” Thompson said. “It all starts with me. I have to get better.”
The score was tied at 7 at the end of a first half full of missed opportunities for UNT.
Chancellor caught a 50-yard touchdown pass from Thompson to give the Mean Green a 7-0 lead in the first quarter, one UNT had plenty of opportunities to build on.
Thompson overthrew tight end Drew Miller when he was wide open in the end zone on a trick play from the 35-yard line. Thompson handed the ball over to Chancellor, who threw a lateral back to Thompson while Miller ran past Troy’s secondary.
UNT settled for a 40-yard field-goal attempt from Olen, who missed that kick and another from 47 yards in the first half.
Troy broke through after Olen’s second miss, driving 70 yards and scoring with a minute left before halftime on Corey Robinson’s pass to Jaquon Robinson from 15 yards out.
Troy took the lead on Robinson’s second touchdown pass of the game, a 76-yard strike to Chip Reeves.
Robinson threw for 274 yards, while Reeves caught seven passes for 120 yards.
That was all the Trojans would need on a night UNT failed to convert when it got deep into Troy territory.
“Those kind of things are deflating for a team,” McCarney said. “We’ve got to get them fixed because we’re going to kick a field goal next week and the week after that and the rest of the season.”
UNT will have a tougher road to travel to get to where it wants to go the rest of the way after missing out on its chances against Troy.
The Mean Green will play its next two games on the road, including a trip to in-state rival Houston.
“It’s very frustrating,” Thompson said. “We know our next two games are on the road, so we’ve just got to keep working. Like [McCarney] said, we’ll come back tomorrow and get back to work.”
BRETT VITO can be reached at 940-566-6870. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.