HOUSTON — North Texas faced a couple of high-powered conventional offenses earlier this season in losses to LSU and Kansas State.
The challenge Houston presented on Saturday night at Robertson Stadium was something entirely different.
The Cougars and quarterback David Piland came out firing in their no-huddle spread attack and didn’t stop until they had run away for a 44-21 win over UNT, which came into the night looking for a milestone win in the second season of the Dan McCarney era.
UNT (2-4) had a chance to pick up its first win since 2006 over a Texas school that competes in the Football Bowl Subdivision, not to mention end a string of 19 consecutive losses following a win.
The Mean Green never had a shot at either landmark on a night when the Cougars (2-3) put up video game-like numbers in just UNT’s eighth game against another Texas school since 2006.
Piland torched UNT’s secondary for 321 passing yards to lead Houston. Charles Sims did plenty of damage as well, running through the Mean Green for 210 yards and a touchdown.
The pair helped the Cougars finish with a whopping 623 yards. Houston scored more points against UNT this season than anyone else, including LSU and Kansas State, a pair of teams ranked in the top 10.
“It looked like we were playing in sand and they were playing on grass,” McCarney said.
“Our fundamentals were poor. There are lots and lots of things we need to get fixed.”
UNT’s defense seemed like it would be pretty far down on the to-do list after the Mean Green played well in a win last week over Florida Atlantic, the second straight opponent the Mean Green had held to 14 points.
Houston had 14 points by the halfway point of the first quarter and jumped out to a 17-0 edge after scoring on each of its first three possessions.
“We didn’t play Mean Green defense at all,” UNT linebacker Zach Orr said. “We had too many missed tackles.”
Several of those missed tackles came after Piland found an opening in UNT’s secondary. Piland hit eight different receivers on his way to completing 31 of his 41 pass attempts, including two that went for touchdowns.
UNT didn’t post a sack against Houston, something McCarney and his players said they would need to do to keep the Cougars offense contained.
Those were the types of mistakes UNT couldn’t afford to make, especially with the way the Mean Green has struggled to score.
UNT came into the night averaging just 19.2 points a game, but hit on a couple of big plays that helped keep it in the game after its slow start.
Houston went for it on fourth-and-4 from the UNT 36-yard line and failed to convert when defensive tackle Richard Abbe knocked down a Piland pass intended for Larry McDuffy over the middle.
The Mean Green took over and capitalized on a 2-yard touchdown run by Antoinne Jimmerson that was set up by a 41-yard diving grab by Ivan Delgado. Jeremy Brown later added a 48-yard touchdown run.
UNT needed those big plays just to stay within reach of Houston, which added two additional touchdowns before halftime. Kenneth Farrow scored on a 48-yard run and Charles Sims scored his second touchdown of the first half on a 27-yard pass from Piland to give the Cougars a 31-14 lead.
It appeared as if the Mean Green might get back into the game in the second half after cutting its deficit to 31-21 in the third quarter on a 7-yard Derek Thompson touchdown run.
Thompson led UNT with 252 passing yards, while Brandin Byrd rushed for 96.
The Mean Green got its running game going just one week after being held to 56 yards on 30 carries by FAU, rushing for 231 yards against Houston.
“It looked like at times we did a real good job, but we were not consistent enough,” McCarney said.
UNT’s problem was that every time it scored, Houston had an answer. The Cougars followed every UNT score with one of its own and put the Mean Green away with a Piland 5-yard touchdown run late in the third quarter that gave Houston a 41-21 lead on a night its offense controlled the game.
“That’s their offense, the short passing game,” UNT cornerback Zac Whitfield said. “The way they played helped build their confidence.”
It also helped prevent UNT from reaching a series of milestones in a rare game for the Mean Green against an in-state rival.
BRETT VITO can be reached at 940-566-6870. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.