There was little doubt that Saturday morning would be a turning point in the ongoing competition to see who will start at quarterback for North Texas.
Four players were in the hunt heading into the final major scrimmage of fall practice, including returning starter Derek Thompson, who might have done enough to hang on to the job.
Head coach Dan McCarney and offensive coordinator Mike Canales took a long look at the players in the running over the course of a workout that lasted approximately 120 plays at the Darrell R. Dickey Practice Facility.
McCarney left himself plenty of wiggle room when it comes to making a final decision on who will start at quarterback while also crediting Thompson for taking advantage of the opportunity the scrimmage presented.
“I see all four of those quarterbacks doing some really positive things,” McCarney said. “None of them wants to watch. They all want to play. They all want to be No. 1, but you can only run one quarterback out there for the first series against Idaho, and probably after today it could be Derek Thompson.”
Thompson has started in each of the last two seasons but has been locked in a heated battle since the beginning of spring practice to hang on to the job.
Thompson competed with returning backup Andrew McNulty in the spring. The competition has only become tougher in the fall, when Kansas transfer Brock Berglund jumped into the fray after missing most of spring practice with a hamstring injury and freshman Dajon Williams emerged as a contender for the job.
McCarney praised Williams during UNT’s annual media day earlier this week, saying that the former Pflugerville Connally standout could start as a freshman.
Those comments only heaped more pressure on Thompson, who made a big impression in a tough situation.
“I thought Derek Thompson was really sharp today,” McCarney said Saturday. “It was his best day since we started. He has had some really good days and some really average days. He really did a nice job.”
UNT’s offense struggled in its first scrimmage of fall practice last week, but rebounded Saturday while cutting down on the number of penalties it committed, although McCarney and offensive lineman Antonio Johnson said the team still has room to improve.
“I feel good about where we are at, but penalties killed us,” Johnson said. “We can’t have that many. Coach has stressed that.”
Johnson and running back Brandin Byrd expressed confidence in the ability of all of UNT’s quarterbacks to help the Mean Green build on its performance in the scrimmage. Both said they believe the Mean Green can win with any of the players in contention to start under center.
“We have good options,” Byrd said. “All of them bring something different to the table. Whoever it is, we will be able to win with him.”
There is a chance UNT could end up trying to win with more than one of those quarterbacks contributing on a regular basis.
“We would like to have a starter, but I could see us playing two or three quarterbacks,” McCarney said. “What I don’t want is to get into a situation where a bad throw is made and the next thing you know a guy feels like he is being jerked out of a game.”
McCarney and his staff planned to take a deeper look at their quarterbacks after making their initial analysis of what they saw during the scrimmage.
“We are going to go watch tape and grade it, but just standing out there watching it today, Thompson’s body of work was really strong,” McCarney said. “Sometimes you have a feeling in your gut and might be a little wrong when you watch that tape.”
UNT had plenty of film to look at after a long scrimmage it completed without any major injuries, which in part could have been because of the Mean Green’s approach.
“I thudded my starters, which I have only done about two times in my career as a head coach,” McCarney said of limiting contact to hitting without taking opponents all the way to the ground while tackling. “It’s about trust. I knew those guys would still come to work today.”
Thompson did, and improved his chances to start at quarterback for a third straight season.