Two of the biggest questions North Texas faced heading into spring practice were how its quarterback battle would turn out and if its defense would continue to improve under coordinator John Skladany.
The Mean Green felt like it answered the second question during its spring game on Saturday, but head coach Dan McCarney wasn’t close to answering the first after the Green Team rallied to knock off the White Team 33-26 at Apogee Stadium.
UNT’s first- and third-team players made up the Green Team that got on a roll offensively in the second half against the White Team that was comprised of second- and fourth-team units.
Second-team quarterback Andrew McNulty led a pair of second-half touchdown drives with the Green Team, while returning starter Derek Thompson added a 14-yard strike to wide receiver Carlos Harris.
“I am really pleased with everyone,” McCarney said. “We had a really productive spring. I am proud of how hard [UNT’s players] worked.”
That does not mean McCarney doesn’t have some lingering questions heading into the fall, the biggest of which is at quarterback.
Thompson has started each of the last two seasons and will be a senior in the fall. He was expected to battle transfer Brock Berglund for the starting job this spring.
It was McNulty, who sat out last season with a broken hand, and who challenged Thompson instead after Berglund missed more than a week of practice with a hamstring injury.
The spring game didn’t provide many answers when it came to who will start next season. If anything, it might have raised more questions.
McNulty helped get the Green’s offense on a roll in the second half after both teams failed to score an offensive touchdown in the first half. McNulty threw a 38-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Brelan Chancellor and later led a seven-play drive that culminated in a 4-yard Brandin Byrd touchdown run.
McNulty went 18-for-25 passing for 214 yards and a touchdown.
Thompson started a three-touchdown surge by the Green’s offense in the second half with his scoring strike to Harris.
Thompson held down the starting job throughout the spring and appeared to have the lead in the quarterback race heading into Saturday’s game.
“I think I had an excellent spring and did what I needed to do to be the starter coming out of spring,” Thompson said. “There is always stuff to improve on. The summer is going to be big for us.”
McCarney indicated it would particularly important when it comes to UNT’s quarterback battle.
“We are going to grade this thing,” McCarney said of the spring game. “It is who leads, who produces and who leads their team to the end zone. It was great competition all spring that will continue right up until game week against Idaho. I am not naming a starter right now.”
UNT’s game agianst Idaho will be its first season opener at home since 2001, not to mention the school is paying a $410,000 guarantee to the Vandals to make the trip to Apogee. Those circumstances make it particularly important for McCarney to make the right decision when it comes to a starting quarterback.
UNT’s situation on defense appears more certain after Saturday’s game. The Mean Green posted big play after big play, including a 55-yard interception return by cornerback Hilbert Jackson and a safety by cornerback James Jones.
“There were a lot of expectations,” said Jones, a JUCO transfer who arrived at UNT at the semster break. “I came out and did what I was supposed to do.”
McCarney attributed UNT’s solid outing largely to Skladany and the comfort level the Mean Green has developed with his scheme. UNT will play under the same defensive coordinator in consecutive seasons for the first time in three years this fall.
“It was a good day for us defensively,” defensive end Aaron Bellazin said. “This is my third year being here and it’s the first time I have gone through spring practice twice with the same defensive coordinator. Everyone knows the system. That makes it easier.”