MURFREESBORO, Tenn. — North Texas has struggled at times offensively this season even with its full complement of weapons.
Playing without two of its top receivers made a tough situation even worse Saturday in a 38-21 loss to Middle Tennessee at Floyd Stadium.
UNT started out shorthanded after head coach Dan McCarney suspended leading wide receiver Ivan Delgado for the MTSU game for a violation of team rules. What started out looking like a bleak situation got a lot worse when Brelan Chancellor — the Mean Green’s second-leading receiver and one of its most explosive players — broke his collarbone returning the opening kickoff, an injury that ended his season.
The Mean Green struggled to get anything going without them, at least when the game was still competitive.
MTSU shut UNT out in the first half and took a 31-0 lead early in the third quarter.
The Mean Green’s offensive performance was particularly disappointing because it came just 11 days after UNT rolled up 524 yards in a 30-23 win over Louisiana-Lafayette.
UNT came into the night averaging 21.0 points a game.
“We were obviously surprised and very disappointed,” McCarney said. “The guys wanted to play a lot better than we did today. There are a lot of guys who are hurting in that locker room right now.”
UNT was particularly inept offensively in the first half, when it managed just 97 yards and five first downs. Derek Thompson threw for just 19 yards while going 7-for-13 with two interceptions.
McCarney said losing Chancellor hampered the Mean Green’s offense because he is one of the team’s few players capable of breaking a big play.
Thompson came back from his slow start to throw for 221 yards. Brandin Byrd added 87 rushing yards and Antoinne Jimmerson added 85.
UNT posted most of its yards after MTSU had pulled away.
“We had some mental mistakes and just need to get back to work,” Jimmerson said. “We have to push past today.”
What a difference a year makes
UNT posted one of its best offensive outings in years when it took on MTSU in its 2011 season finale.
Lance Dunbar, who now is with the Dallas Cowboys, rushed for 313 yards and the Mean Green posted 464 yards on the ground overall. UNT didn’t have nearly as much success in the rematch.
UNT rushed for 211 yards and had just 78 yards in the first half when the game was still competitive.
Backups called upon
UNT turned to several players who had seen minimal action when it lost Chancellor.
Chris Bynes, who had not caught a pass in UNT’s last three games, finished with a team-high four receptions for 50 yards. Darnell Smith posted a career-high 76 yards on two catches, and freshman Carlos Harris saw extensive action on a night he caught the second pass of his career, which covered 13 yards.
Fourth-down gamble fails
UNT took a risk at the end of its best drive of the first half and failed to convert on fourth down.
The Mean Green drove from its 31-yard line all the way to the MTSU 24, where UNT faced a fourth-and-3 situation.
UNT was down 17-0 and went for the first down. The Mean Green failed to convert when Thompson’s pass fell just out of the reach of Harris, who was angling toward the front corner of the end zone.
BRETT VITO can be reached at 940-566-6870. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org .