North Texas will likely be without one of its top offensive weapons Saturday at Louisiana-Monroe, which is holding out hope that it might have its top player back in the lineup.
UNT running back Antoinne Jimmerson injured his shoulder in UNT’s win over South Alabama last Saturday. UNT head coach Dan McCarney said after the game that the redshirt freshman would be evaluated early in the week.
His status was a little clearer Monday, although UNT has not reached a definitive conclusion about that status for the Mean Green’s two remaining games.
ULM is in a similar position when it comes to quarterback Kolton Browning.
“Jimmerson is very doubtful this week,” McCarney said. “We don’t know anything more, if he will have surgery, if he won’t have surgery.”
Jimmerson was knocked out of UNT’s game against USA after only three carries.
The former DeSoto standout has been a vital part of UNT’s offense while working in a three-back rotation with Brandin Byrd and Jeremy Brown.
Both helped fill the void after Jimmerson was lost for the day.
Byrd broke free for an 85-yard touchdown run and finished with a career-high 109 rushing yards against USA. Brown scored on a 51-yard run and posted 61 yards.
While both Byrd and Brown picked up long touchdown runs against USA, Jimmerson has been arguably the Mean Green’s most consistent big-play threat among its running backs.
Jimmerson scored the game-winning touchdown in UNT’s 30-23 win over Louisiana-Lafayette on a 78-yard pass, one of his seven plays of 20 or more yards this season.
Jimmerson had UNT’s only 100-yard rushing game — a 139-yard outing in a win over Texas Southern — until Byrd eclipsed the mark against USA.
“We focused on getting better in the running game since we didn’t do very well last week,” Byrd said after the game. “We came to work today and it showed.”
UNT will need both Byrd and Brown to bolster its rushing attack if Jimmerson cannot play against ULM, which features a stout rushing defense.
The Warhawks rank second in the Sun Belt Conference with an average of 135.0 rushing yards allowed a game.
The injury to Jimmerson is the latest in a series of setbacks that have affected some of UNT’s top skill position players. UNT has already lost wide receiver/kick returner Brelan Chancellor for the season with a broken collarbone.
Chancellor had been one of UNT’s big-play threats, posting nine plays of at least 20 yards in the first eight games of the year, including six on receptions from quarterback Derek Thompson.
Losing Jimmerson in addition to Chancellor could severely hamper UNT’s offense that has struggled most of the season and is averaging 21.1 points a game, a total that ranks eighth in the 10-team Sun Belt.
ULM knows all too well how difficult it can be to overcome losing a key offensive player to injury after seeing Browning go down with an injury to his left foot.
Browning scored the game-winning touchdown in overtime to give ULM a win over Arkansas, which was ranked eighth heading into the game Sept. 8. The Warhawks nearly knocked off Auburn and Baylor and then went on to win five straight games behind Browning, but they haven’t been the same since he went down early in a game against rival Louisiana-Lafayette on Nov. 3.
ULM lost to the Ragin’ Cajuns and then fell to Arkansas State to drop to 6-4.
Browning was back on ULM’s depth chart behind Cody Wells heading into the Warhawks’ game against UNT.
“I don’t know,” ULM head coach Todd Berry said Monday when asked if Browning would play this week. “He did practice [Sunday] and he’s not 100 percent. Is he going to be close to that by the end of the week? I really don’t know. Could he functionally play? Yes. Would he be better than Cody Wells? I don’t know. We will know better closer to game time.”
Browning leads the Sun Belt with an average of 301.6 total yards a game.
Wells has been effective when he has been called, throwing for 659 yards while completing 63.8 percent of his passes. He threw for 357 yards last week in ULM’s loss to ASU.
“No one was playing better football in the Sun Belt at any position than Kolton Browning when he got hurt, no one,” McCarney said. “But then they bring in a senior like Cody Wells who completed 37 out of 53 in their last game. He makes good decisions and takes care of the ball. It’s nice if you do have an injury at quarterback to be able to bring in a player like Wells. It hasn’t changed who they are or what they are doing.”
BRETT VITO can be reached at 940-566-6870. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org .