Head coach Dan McCarney declared the starting kicking job at North Texas wide open Monday, just two days after Zach Olen continued to struggle in a loss to Troy.
Olen missed from 40 and 47 yards and was pulled in favor of freshman Zach Paul, who missed a third kick from 27 yards.
UNT went for it twice on fourth-and-long inside the Troy 30-yard line late in the fourth quarter after those three misses and failed to convert both times.
Those five blown opportunities loomed large following a 14-7 loss in the Mean Green’s opening league game in its final season as a member of the Sun Belt Conference. The loss left UNT with a 1-3 record and a long road to travel to reach its stated goal of contending for the conference title, not to mention its attempt to end a string of seven straight losing seasons heading into Saturday’s game at Florida Atlantic.
“We have to find out who the best one is and will continue to evaluate,” McCarney said during the Sun Belt’s weekly coaches teleconference. “You try to put on as much pressure in practice situations and see if the guy will make that kick when the game is on the line. That is hard to do in practice [without] crowd noise and players in different jerseys and those things.”
Olen started out well this season, hitting both of his extra points in a loss to LSU and all four of his extra points and field goals of 28 and 34 yards in a win over Texas Southern.
The season started to turn south for UNT in the kicking game after Olen made his first extra point in a loss to Kansas State.
Vai Lutui came straight up the middle and blocked a 45-yard field goal attempt on Olen’s next kick.
Olen later missed a key extra point against the Wildcats that would have tied the game at 14-14 in the third quarter.
UNT scored on a 2-point conversion pass after its last touchdown against Kansas State.
Olen bounced back to hit an extra point after a first-quarter touchdown against Troy before missing his next two kicks.
Those missed scoring opportunities overshadowed a solid effort by UNT’s defense, which held Troy in check. The Trojans came into the game leading the Sun Belt in total offense at 537.7 yards a game and had scored an average of 29 points a game, despite facing Mississippi State.
“Kicking field goals is about talent, technique and mental toughness,” McCarney said. “We have to be better. That wasn’t the only reason we lost, but it’s deflating to a team when you have a chance to kick field goals and don’t convert.”
Olen hit eight of his 16 field-goal attempts last season. Three of his misses were blocked. His best season at UNT thus far came during his freshman year in 2010, when he made all but two of his 15 field-goal attempts.
Olen was named the Sun Belt Special Teams Player of the Week three times and was a second-team all-conference selection in his first season at UNT.
“We have a lot of faith and trust in him, but we were not nearly as good as we needed to be last year,” McCarney said. “We were in the bottom four in the league last year. It’s not like he was [NFL Hall-of-Famer] Jan Stenerud. He has to get better and a lot more consistent as all of our football team does. It’s about going out there and performing on game day.”
UNT, FAU battle tested
Both UNT and FAU have faced their share of tough opponents early this season, each dropping a pair of games to teams currently ranked in the top 10 of The Associated Press Top 25 Poll.
UNT opened the season with a loss to LSU and later fell to Kansas State. LSU is ranked No. 3 this week, while Kansas State is No. 7
FAU has lost to Georgia and Alabama in back-to-back games. The Crimson Tide is the nation’s top-ranked team, while Georgia is ranked No. 5.
“It’s been a tough two weeks for us,” FAU head coach Carl Pelini said. “We are excited to get into conference play.”
BRETT VITO can be reached at 940-566-6870. His e-mail address is email@example.com .