North Texas was on quite a roll defensively earlier this season, when it held Troy and Florida Atlantic to 14 points each in back-to-back games.
Posting those types of performances has been a struggle for UNT over the last few weeks.
UNT gave up 20 second-quarter points in a 37-19 loss to Arkansas State on Saturday and has now given up at least 37 in three of its last four games.
The source of the Mean Green’s issues has stemmed largely from a single aspect of the game — defending opponents’ passing attacks.
UNT went nearly four full games without a sack before posting one late against ASU and has dropped from 31st nationally in passing defense after its first five games into a tie for 80th with Tulane heading into Saturday’s showdown with South Alabama in its final home game of the season.
UNT is allowing 250.6 passing yards a game on the season, up from the 198.4 yards it allowed in its first five games.
The trend is one head coach Dan McCarney believes the Mean Green (3-6, 2-3 Sun Belt) will have to reverse over the last three games of the season if it is to make a late run at the .500 mark, beginning Saturday against the Jaguars (2-7, 1-4).
“It’s very important,” McCarney said of getting pressure on opposing quarterbacks. “A lot of times these days, everyone knows that the ball comes out of there very fast. It’s a little harder to get there unless there is the combination of good coverage and a good pass rush. You still have to collapse the pocket, disrupt quarterbacks and the timing of receivers. We have a lot of room to improve there.”
UNT believes it has too often left opposing quarterbacks standing and surveying the field late in the season and has seen them take advantage.
ASU quarterback Ryan Aplin threw for 328 yards and two touchdowns while completing 25 of his 32 pass attempts Saturday. He went a remarkable 14 for 18 for 263 yards in the first half alone. UNT didn’t post a sack of Aplin until late in the fourth quarter when defensive end K.C. Obi got one. It was the first sack for the Mean Green since its win over FAU on Sept. 29.
Aplin was the Sun Belt Conference’s Player of the Year last season and is the third quarterback to hit on a high percentage of his passes in UNT’s last three losses.
Middle Tennessee’s Logan Kilgore connected on 20 of 30 attempts for 349 yards and three touchdowns, while Houston’s David Piland hit on 31 of 41 for 321 yards and two touchdowns.
UNT fared much better in a win over Louisiana-Lafayette, holding Terrance Broadway to 265 yards on a night he hit on 26 of his 41 attempts.
The Mean Green has allowed an average of 315.8 passing yards in its last four games.
“We have some of the same issues we had in spring football,” McCarney said. “There are some personnel issues, and we have some guys who are not doing the things we know they can do or would like them to do. In the secondary, you have to play with your eyes. Of course it’s also about speed, quickness, technique and talent, but if you don’t play with your eyes back there and don’t play with good technique, you can look silly.”
UNT allowed a few long pass plays in its loss to ASU, including a 59-yard touchdown strike from Aplin to Julian Jones and a 63-yard pass to Josh Jarboe.
UNT has four new starters in its secondary this season but has seen the unit play well at times. The Mean Green held FAU quarterback Graham Wilbert to 142 yards in win over the Owls.
UNT intercepted eight passes in its first five games of the season, a total that ranked seventh nationally.
UNT has only one interception since.
“We’re just not executing,” UNT linebacker Zach Orr said after UNT’s loss to ASU. “We’re not giving ourselves a chance. It’s really frustrating.”
For McCarney, that is especially true after UNT played well early in the season and gained experience against top opponents like Kansas State and LSU.
“We are in November,” McCarney said. “There are no rookies this time of year and inexperience is a bad excuse. We have all been coaching since the first week of August. We have to do better, improve and be more consistent. One or two guys can make a unit look bad. That is where we are right now. We didn’t have any effort problems. We played hard against a fine football team.”
BRETT VITO can be reached at 940-566-6870. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org .
North Texas has struggled defensively against opponents’ passing attacks over the last few weeks. The following is a comparison between UNT’s first five games and its last four: