BOCA RATON, Fla. — Solid defensive outings are quickly becoming commonplace for North Texas under defensive coordinator John Skladany.
The latest — and maybe the most important thus far — came in UNT’s 20-14 win over Florida Atlantic on Saturday at FAU Stadium.
UNT shut out the Owls in the first half, forced three turnovers, posted five sacks and came up with the key stands the Mean Green needed to pick up its second win of the season.
“We really showed some improvement,” UNT head coach Dan McCarney said. “We got sacks, tackles for loss, three turnovers and easily could have had five. We did a lot of really good things. We toughed it up and gritted it up at the end.”
It was the final two series of the game that made McCarney particularly proud. FAU had a chance to drive for a go-head touchdown twice in the final eight minutes.
The Owls failed to pick up a first down either time.
Cornerback Hilbert Jackson forced an incomplete pass on fourth-and-6 from the FAU 24 to ice the game.
“At the end of the game, when we made a play on fourth down to get off the field, that is when you can really see a defense growing up — making a play to get the offense on the field to take a knee,” McCarney said.
UNT’s solid defensive outing against FAU might have been its best performance of the season, but it was far from its only good showing.
UNT limited Troy to two touchdowns last week in a 14-7 Mean Green loss and also allowed just one touchdown in a 34-7 win over Texas Southern in the second week of the season.
UNT came into the FAU game ranked second in the Sun Belt in scoring defense with an average of 24.2 points allowed a game and continued to play well, even without starting safety Laramie Lee, who left the game after being hit in the head. UNT turned to Devante Davis and saw him finish with four tackles.
“We played good team defense,” said linebacker Derek Akunne, who finished with nine tackles and an interception. “Everyone did their job. We communicated very well.”
McCoy returns to lineup
Brandon McCoy made his return to UNT’s lineup against the Owls and posted a tackle.
The junior defensive end went down with an undisclosed injury in the first half of the Mean Green’s season-opening loss to LSU and missed the next three games.
McCoy made just one tackle against LSU, but he was one of the Mean Green’s most productive players in 2011, finishing with 44 tackles and 4 1/2 sacks.
Fake punt proves costly
UNT took advantage after FAU failed to covert on a fake punt in its own end of the field in the first half.
The Owls faced fourth-and-11 from their 37-yard line and lined up to punt before snapping the ball to Daniel McKinney, who ran the option with punter Sean Kelley trailing.
McKinney was cut down after a 7-yard gain.
UNT took over at the FAU 44-yard line and cashed in when Zach Olen hit a 48-yard field goal to give the Mean Green a 10-0 lead.
UNT comes up short on third-and-1 try
UNT had a chance to add to an early 10-0 lead when it drove to the FAU 33-yard line, where the Mean Green faced a third-and-1 situation.
UNT went to Antoinne Jimmerson, who was stopped for a 2-yard loss.
The Mean Green had an opportunity to attempt a 52-yard field goal, but passed on the attempt to punt the ball away.
Olen’s career-long field goal is 53 yards.
BRETT VITO can be reached at 940-566-6870. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.