Dan McCarney hasn’t been at North Texas long, at least not by coaching standards.
He’s just into his second year with the Mean Green. And yet there are already a few trends that are starting to emerge when it comes to UNT’s personality under McCarney and his staff, including one the Mean Green hopes will continue today in its second game of Sun Belt Conference play.
UNT heads into today’s 4 p.m. game against Florida Atlantic at FAU Stadium reeling a bit after losing consecutive games.
Under McCarney, those downward trends haven’t lasted long.
In fact, the Mean Green’s two-game slide heading into today’s game looks like a downright drought by the new standards of the program.
UNT lost its first three games under McCarney in his initial campaign last year.
Since then the Mean Green has been the “bounce back kids.”
UNT (1-3, 0-1) has lost its share of games early in the rebuilding process, but hadn’t dropped consecutive contests until falling to nationally ranked Kansas State and then turning around and falling to Troy at home in its Sun Belt opener last week.
“Everyone handles adversity differently,” McCarney said. “Some handle it better than others. Some go in the tank, point fingers, make excuses and cover their rear ends. Some people forge ahead, correct their mistakes, share the blame and then cinch it up tighter and move forward so you have a chance to win the game. That’s what we are going to do.”
It’s what UNT has always done under McCarney after that initial three-game slide.
The latest example came earlier this season when UNT came back from a season-opening loss to LSU to hammer Texas Southern 34-7.
That is what was so disappointing for the Mean Green about its loss to Troy last week.
UNT played well defensively, but missed three field goals and failed to covert on five trips inside the Trojans’ 30-yard line in a 14-7 loss.
“I thought we had the best week of practice since I have been here,” UNT quarterback Derek Thompson said of the days leading up to the Troy game. “It just didn’t translate. It wasn’t because of a lack of focus. We were ready to go.”
McCarney and his players say they will be ready to go again today in a game against FAU (1-3, 0-1) that will be vital in any plan UNT has to turn its season around.
UNT plays five of its final eight games on the road, including next week’s game at Houston. If the Mean Green is going to make a run at winning six games and becoming bowl-eligible, it will likely have to beat FAU.
“I wouldn’t say it’s desperation time,” UNT offensive lineman Mason Y’Barbo said. “We are confident in the team that we have. We let Troy slip through our fingers. It made me physically sick.
“We know what kind of team we have. It’s time to prove it and make a stand.”
Today’s game against FAU could provide that opportunity.
The Owls have struggled just as much as UNT. FAU’s one win came in its season-opener against Wagner, a 7-3 nail-biter.
Since then, the Owls have dropped their Sun Belt opener at Middle Tennessee and have been hammered the last two weeks by Georgia and Alabama.
“It’s been a tough two weeks for us,” FAU head coach Carl Pelini said. We are excited to get into conference play.
“Our goal is to get better every week. There is so much that we need to improve. If we do that, we will be competitive this week.”
The key to the game could be which team improves the most offensively.
FAU ranked No. 118 out of 120 Football Bowl Subdivision teams nationally with an average of 12.8 points a game. UNT has been better, but not much better, averaging 19.0 points a game, a total that ranks 109th.
UNT believes it could be ready to break out, especially if Thompson can get back on track after a tough game last week against Troy. Thompson hit on only 12 of his 28 pass attempts against the Trojans.
“There were a couple of plays we could have made that would have changed that game,” Thompson said. “We have to be able to make them.”
Since McCarney took over the program, UNT has shown the ability to bounce back from those types of missed opportunities.
BRETT VITO can be reached at 940-566-6870. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org .
NORTH TEXAS GAMEDAY
North Texas at Florida Atlantic
When: 4 p.m.
Where: FAU Stadium
Records: UNT 1-3, 0-1 Sun Belt, FAU 1-3, 0-1 Sun Belt
Last meeting: UNT 31 FAU 17 (2011)
Last week: Troy 14, UNT 7; No. 1 Alabama 40, FAU 7
Series: FAU leads, 6-2
Online video streaming: ESPN3
Radio: KHYI-FM 95.3, KNTU-FM 88.1
UNT RB Antoinne Jimmerson vs. FAU LB David Hinds
UNT head coach Dan McCarney said this week that he will always look to establish the run first offensively as long as he is coaching.
How UNT and running back Antoinne Jimmerson fare in reaching that goal this week could go a long way toward determining if the Mean Green can improve to 2-3 for only the third time since 1997.
FAU enters today’s game ranked last in the Sun Belt Conference and 116th nationally in rushing defense with an average of 253.8 yards allowed a game.
That total is somewhat deceiving after FAU played Georgia and Alabama in back-to-back weeks, but there is no doubt the Owls are struggling to stop opponents’ running attacks, despite the presence of linebacker David Hinds. The senior finished with 110 tackles last season and already has 33 this year.
Hinds was a key reason FAU was able to hold Wagner without a touchdown in a 7-3 win to open the season, finishing with 10 tackles.
UNT will look to Jimmerson to help the Mean Green take advantage of FAU’s struggling defense.
The freshman has shown signs of developing into an impact player for UNT.
Jimmerson has rushed for at least 68 yards in three straight games and had 139 in a win over Texas Southern in the second week of the season.
Last week, Jimmerson carried the ball a career-high 16 times for 75 yards.
UNT’s chances to end a two-game losing streak will increase exponentially if the Mean Green can get Jimmerson and the rest of its running backs going.
HOW THEY MATCH UP
UNT’s offense vs. FAU’s defense
UNT has struggled all season long offensively outside of a 34-7 win over Texas Southern, a Football Championship Subdivision opponent. The Mean Green ranks eighth out of 10 teams in the Sun Belt in scoring offense at 19.0 points a game. Only FCS move-up South Alabama and FAU have scored less than UNT among Sun Belt teams.
FAU ranks eighth in the league in scoring defense with an average of 32.5 points allowed a game.
Both units had their best outings against overmatched opponents. UNT’s best game of the season was in its win over TSU, while FAU held Wagner in check in a 7-3 win.
UNT has more talent overall.
UNT’s defense vs. FAU’s offense
UNT posted one of its better defensive performances in the last several seasons last week in a 14-7 loss to Troy. Corey Robinson, one of the Sun Belt’s best quarterbacks, threw two touchdown passes for the Trojans, who couldn’t get much going against UNT. The Mean Green ranks second in the Sun Belt in scoring defense at 24.2 points a game.
FAU ranks last in the Sun Belt with an average of 12.8 points a game and relies heavily on quarterback Graham Wilbert, who is throwing for only 150.8 yards a game.
UNT would be able to pressure Wilbert and force him into some bad throws, especially if defensive end Brandon McCoy returns from an injury he suffered in a season-opening loss to LSU.
Convert on offensive opportunities
UNT had converted on all but one of its 11 opportunities in the red zone heading into its game against Troy last week before struggling to finish drives against the Trojans. UNT failed to score on five trips inside the Trojans’ 30-yard line. The Mean Green will have to fare better against FAU.
Get Thompson going in the passing game
Derek Thompson followed up a remarkably efficient performance in a loss to Kansas State with one of his worst outings of the year in a loss to Troy. Thompson completed only 12 of his 28 attempts against the Trojans after going 25 for 28 against the Wildcats. UNT will need Thompson to be at his best today.
Build on a solid outing against Troy on defense
UNT posted one of its best defensive performances in recent years last week in its loss to Troy, limiting the Trojans’ high-powered offense to a pair of touchdowns in a 14-7 loss. UNT should have a chance to build on that outing against a struggling FAU offense that is averaging 12.8 points a game.
Get something going heading to Houston
UNT still has a chance to get to where it wants to go this season and end a streak of seven consecutive losing seasons. Those chances will dwindle significantly if UNT cannot beat FAU and head to Houston with some momentum. A 1-4 start would leave UNT a long road to travel to become bowl-eligible.