When North Texas head coach Dan McCarney and his staff looked back on the 2012 season, there might not have been a problem they wanted to address more than the Mean Green’s offensive efficiency.
UNT saw potential wins against Troy and Western Kentucky slip away partly because of its season-long struggles to score, keep drives alive on third down and score in the red zone.
For a team that finished 4-8, those two losses loomed large and prompted UNT to take a long, hard look at what it was doing offensively.
UNT talked about a new plan that includes using its quarterback in the run game more before the beginning of spring practice, and took a key step toward implementing it Saturday when the Mean Green worked out in pads for the first time.
“The change for us has to be good,” McCarney said. “We didn’t score enough points, were really poor on third down and were really poor in the red zone. That is the heart of your offense. If you don’t score enough points, are not good on third down and not good in the red zone, it’s no wonder why we struggled. Those things have to get better.”
UNT ranked eighth out of 10 teams in the Sun Belt Conference in scoring (20.9 points per game), ninth in third-down conversion percentage (33.1) and last in red-zone scoring (71.4 percent).
UNT’s quarterbacks had a chance Saturday to begin adjusting to the new system the Mean Green’s coaches say will help them address those problems. Returning starter Derek Thompson, Andrew McNulty and highly touted transfer Brock Berglund are rotating evenly with the first, second and third teams.
Each shined at times and showed the ability to pick up key yards running the ball when the situation called for it.
“They are pretty good at running it,” offensive coordinator Mike Canales said of his quarterbacks. “We had some missed reads, but in terms of what we asked them to do, they made some good decisions and made some nice runs.”
Thompson posted some of those runs while showing that he has improved his ability to be a threat in the running game after losing weight in the offseason. The former Glen Rose standout said that he has dropped about 15 pounds, mostly by cutting fast food from his diet.
The senior said that small change in UNT’s offense he prepared for by losing weight will make a big difference.
“Last year there was no threat of the quarterback run,” Thompson said. “Chico [Canales] ran the zone-read at South Florida and put a lot of points on the board. It gives the defense something else to think about. We are not going to break 60-yard runs, but we can pick up first downs on third-and-3, third-and-4.”
Canales said that UNT could incorporate the pistol offense into its game plan this year. The offense that has the quarterback in a short shotgun formation with a running back behind him has quickly spread throughout the college game and the NFL.
Canales and McCarney say the schemes fit their quarterbacks, especially Berglund, who was rated among the top dual-threat quarterbacks in the country when he signed with Kansas.
“D.T. is moving better than he ever has, McNulty is moving around pretty darn good and Brock did that on the scout team last year,” McCarney said. “We are not trying to put a square peg in a small, round role.”
The quarterback run game is just part of UNT’s overall plan that will include spreading the ball around more. The Mean Green used a pro-style offense last season to take advantage of the talent it had at tight end.
The power running game isn’t going away, but UNT’s coaches say they have the quarterbacks, running backs and wide receivers the Mean Green needs to diversify.
“With the receivers we have coming back and guys who transferred in, they bring a lot of speed,” Canales said. “Darnell Smith has gotten so much faster. Now Brelan [Chancellor] is healthy and we have some threats out there. It will be multiple like we were at South Florida.”
UNT is hoping that change will give it a boost as it makes the move to Conference USA after 12 years in the Sun Belt.
Louisiana Tech, one of UNT’s new conference rivals, led the country in scoring at 51.5 points a game last season. Marshall ranked seventh (40.9) and Tulsa 30th (34.7).
Louisiana Tech coach Sonny Dykes has since left for California, but that has not changed the urgency UNT feels when it comes to improving its offense to keep pace in its new league.
“We know we have to open up the offense going into a new league that has explosive teams,” Thompson said. “We are going to have to score points and know we have to change things up. We are going to spread the ball out more and get more playmakers on the field. Adding the little wrinkle of the quarterback run can open up so many things for us.”
BRETT VITO can be reached at 940-566-6870. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org .