There were plenty of signs of progress for North Texas in its win over Louisiana-Lafayette last week.
Running back Antoinne Jimmerson continued to emerge and came up with the play of the game, a 78-yard catch-and-run for the decisive touchdown in the 30-23 victory. Linebacker Zach Orr made a series of big plays and was named the Sun Belt Conference’s Defensive Player of the Week.
What might have been lost in the individual accolades was the Mean Green’s best overall offensive performance in years in terms of moving the ball.
UNT racked up a whopping 524 yards of offense, and offensive coordinator Mike Canales made what appeared to be the perfect call on Jimmerson’s game-winning touchdown.
The performance is one on which the Mean Green will need to build heading into a critical season-ending stretch of five games beginning at Middle Tennessee on Saturday.
UNT (3-4, 2-1 Sun Belt) is still alive in the Sun Belt title chase, not to mention the push for six wins and bowl-eligibility after posting its best performance in terms of yards in a game since a win over Western Kentucky in 2009.
“We ran the ball effectively,” UNT head coach Dan McCarney said Monday during the Sun Belt’s weekly teleconference. “We want to establish a good running game, and [we] had some guys step up and make plays in the second half.”
Jimmerson made the biggest play of the game when he took a short pass from Derek Thompson and weaved his way down the field and into the end zone.
“He’s a really good player and he made an exceptional play,” ULL head coach Mark Hudspeth said of Jimmerson, “They had the right call against us. We were in the worst defense. Everyone was in man and they ran off all of our guys with vertical routes. Once they blocked the guy who was covering the running back, he was free.”
Those are the kinds of plays UNT struggled to make throughout the first half of the season. The Mean Green came into the day averaging only 19.5 points a game and had not scored more than 21 points in a game against an FBS opponent this season.
UNT broke through behind solid performances from several of its key skill position players. Thompson threw for 282 yards and two touchdowns.
Jimmerson caught both of Thompson’s touchdown passes and finished with 106 receiving yards to go along with 35 rushing yards. Brandin Byrd led UNT with 88 rushing yards and Jeremy Brown added 72.
UNT had to settle for three field goals after stalling in ULL’s red zone and was stuffed at the ULL 1-yard line on fourth down in the third quarter, but made enough plays to win on a night the Mean Green moved the ball effectively.
When UNT needed a big play, Jimmerson came through. His touchdown catch and run came on third-and-8, just when it looked like ULL would get the ball back with good field position and plenty of time to move into range for a potential game-winning field goal late in the fourth quarter.
“We executed that play,” McCarney said. “No. 22 [Jimmerson] is getting better. He continues to learn, improve and grow.”
The same could be said of UNT’s offense. The Mean Green struggled early but came up with a series of big plays after ULL took a 20-6 lead in the third quarter.
“It is never easy to come from behind,” McCarney said. “It’s a credit to our kids. There wasn’t any panic when we fell behind.”
Orr earns SBC honor
Orr became the first UNT player to earn player of the week honors from the Sun Belt this season.
UNT’s middle linebacker finished with nine tackles and intercepted a Terrance Broadway pass to set up a 25-yard Zach Olen field goal for UNT’s first points of the game.
BRETT VITO can be reached at 940-566-6870. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org .