North Texas has been playing catch-up a lot lately, a trend head coach Dan McCarney and his players feel like they will have to end quickly if they are going to make a run at the .500 mark late in the season, starting with a game against Arkansas State on Saturday.
UNT (3-5, 2-2 Sun Belt) dug itself 17-0 holes in the first quarter of losses to Middle Tennessee last week and Houston three weeks ago. The Mean Green picked up a win over Louisiana-Lafayette between those setbacks but had to crawl its way out of a 20-6 second-half hole to pick up its third win of the year.
UNT has been outscored 40-0 in the first quarter of its last three games.
Coming back from those types of deficits might be a whole lot tougher in the last four games of the season, when UNT will face just one team with a losing record in South Alabama.
UNT has games remaining against three of the top four teams in the Sun Belt Conference standings. ASU (5-3) is 3-1 in league play and has won three straight.
Games at league leader Louisiana-Monroe (6-2, 4-0) and Western Kentucky (6-2, 3-1) are also left on the schedule.
“We don’t like starting slow,” McCarney said. “It’s not what we are about. We talk about starting fast, try to start our practices fast and try to take the field with energy. If you are punting on offense, that’s not a good start, or letting them go down and score touchdowns or kick field goals as we have the last three weeks, that’s not a good start.”
UNT quarterback Derek Thompson threw an interception on the Mean Green’s first possession against MTSU, which quickly cashed in with Anthony Amos’ 18-yard touchdown catch from Logan Kilgore.
The Mean Green didn’t pick up its second first down against MTSU until the second quarter.
UNT has been outscored 61-28 in the first quarter this season.
“We have to work on it. It can really deflate a football team,” McCarney said of falling behind early. “Does that mean the game is over? Of course not. We just have to do better.”
Chancellor’s surgery today
Wide receiver Brelan Chancellor will have surgery today to repair the broken collarbone he suffered in the first quarter of UNT’s loss to MTSU.
Chancellor did a little bit of everything for UNT and ranks second on the team in receptions (25) and receiving yards (450), first in punt return yards (10), kick return yards (351), is tied for first in scoring with running back Antoinne Jimmerson (42 points) and leads the team in all-purpose yards (966).
“[Chancellor] will have surgery [today] on his collarbone, which is really unfortunate, but the good news is the surgery will get him back to full speed, he will be available for spring football and he has another year of eligibility at North Texas,” McCarney said.
Backup QB to leave early
Backup quarterback Brent Osborn will leave UNT after his junior season and is considering transferring to use his final year of eligibility, McCarney said.
Osborn has served as UNT’s backup quarterback all season but does not have a pass attempt on the year. The former Northwest Mississippi Community College standout threw for 127 yards and two touchdowns as a sophomore in 2011.
Osborn will graduate before leaving UNT. McCarney said Osborn is considering transferring to a school where he could immediately use his final year of eligibility.
Thompson, UNT’s starter, is also a junior.
“Unless we have injuries, he won’t be on the field,” McCarney said of Osborn. “He will be introduced next week as a senior. This will be his last few games here at North Texas. It sure would be nice to get him in there, but we are here to win games. Whoever will give us the best chance to do that will be out there at quarterback.”
UNT is redshirting Andrew McNulty, a sophomore who served as the Mean Green’s primary backup last season. Brock Berglund, a highly regarded transfer from Kansas, will be eligible next season and is expected to compete with Thompson for the starting job.
While he has not played a major role on the field during his time at UNT, Thompson said, Osborn has been a key contributor to the team’s progress under McCarney.
“Brent absolutely contributed,” Thompson said. “He’s not a very loud guy and does not do a lot of talking, but he was our Iron Eagle award winner in offseason conditioning. He was my lifting partner and was always pushing me to get better. A lot of people didn’t see that, but it definitely showed inside this locker room.”
Case to be honorary captain
UNT Hall of Fame member Jordan Case will serve as the Mean Green’s honorary captain against ASU.
Case threw for 2,608 yards in two seasons as UNT’s starter from 1978-79 and guided the Mean Green to a 9-2 record in 1978. UNT posted wins over Oklahoma State, Southern Miss and Memphis with Case as its starter.
“He’s in the Hall of Fame and is a tremendous guy who was a tremendous player,” McCarney said. “I’ve gotten to know him really well in the short time that I’ve been here at North Texas. He’s a winner through and through. His resume is pretty darn strong if you look back at what he accomplished when he was here and the victories that he had, the records that he set and the wins he engineered as the starting quarterback.”
Case is a longtime UNT booster and was the chairman of the volunteer committee that raised private donations for Apogee Stadium, UNT’s football venue that opened last season.
UNT to face SFA tonight
The UNT volleyball team will travel to Stephen F. Austin and look to build on a two-match winning streak.
UNT beat Louisiana-Lafayette in its only match of the week and improved to 20-10 on the season. The Mean Green has posted only six 20-win seasons in its history.
BRETT VITO can be reached at 940-566-6870. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org .