North Texas football coach Dan McCarney couldn’t remember a night quite like the one the Mean Green put together Saturday in a win over Idaho — at least not when it comes to special teams performance.
UNT came up with its best outing in more than a year returning punts and was solid in every other special teams facet except for kicking extra points. The Mean Green missed two, but even that major concern couldn’t completely spoil a performance that marked a step forward for UNT heading into a game Saturday at Ohio.
“Our kicking game was better on Saturday than it has been the first 22 games I was here,” McCarney said. “A lot of things were much better.”
The performance of wide receiver Brelan Chancellor in the return game topped the list.
The senior finished with 111 yards on three punt returns and exceeded UNT’s punt return yardage total from all of last season on his first attempt, when he picked up 48 yards.
UNT finished 117th out of 120 teams nationally last season with an average of 2.13 yards per return. The Mean Green posted just 17 punt return yards on the year.
Chancellor recorded 283 all-purpose yards on the night and took back the only kickoff he returned 28 yards.
“Brelan had a sensational day as a receiver and return guy,” McCarney said. “We went from nonexistent — as bad as there was in America in punt returns — to getting some things done.”
UNT got a lot done, not only in the return game but across the board on special teams.
Defensive back Marcus Trice blocked an extra point. Kicker Zach Olen forced Idaho to down four kickoffs for touchbacks, and UNT executed a fake field goal perfectly when backup kicker Zach Paul lofted a kick high into the air that UNT downed at the Idaho 3-yard line.
McCarney credited UNT’s performance largely to special teams coach Tommy Perry, who joined the staff in the offseason.
UNT will turn to Perry this week as it looks to solve its kicking issues.
Olen hit 11 of his 16 field goal attempts last season and all but one of his 29 extra points. While his overall numbers were solid, he missed two field goals in a loss to Troy and briefly was replaced by Paul.
Olen missed an extra point and had another blocked Saturday before being replaced by Paul, who hit two attempts in the second half. McCarney said UNT’s snap and hold were both good on each miss.
McCarney said UNT will evaluate both kickers in practice this week. Olen, who has the stronger leg, will handle kickoffs. Olen and Paul will compete for the job of kicking extra points.
“He hits them in practice,” McCarney said of Olen. “Take it to the field. I have to take it to the field. So does my quarterback, so does my starting defensive line, so do my cornerbacks, so does my punter, my snapper and my holder.”
UNT not reading much into Ohio’s 49-7 loss
UNT’s players and coaches gathered Sunday to watch Ohio take on Louisville. None of them believes the Mean Green can take much from the the way No. 8 Louisville dominated the Bobcats in a 49-7 decision.
Louisville entered the game ranked ninth and has one of the nation’s top quarterbacks in Teddy Bridgewater.
“I don’t pay much attention to what happened on Sunday,” McCarney said. “We break it down and look at it, but Louisville is going to do that to pretty much everyone on their schedule this year. They have all the pieces in place.”
Ohio is one of the favorites in the Mid-American Conference and beat Louisiana-Monroe 45-14 in last season’s Independence Bowl.
The Bobcats return several of their key players from that team, including quarterback Tyler Tettleton and running back Beau Blankenship. Frank Solich is in his ninth season as head coach at Ohio.
“They are very sound in what they do,” UNT quarterback Derek Thompson said. “Coach Solich doesn’t throw a lot at you, but they are sound in what they do.”
Brown could return soon
Defensive end Quenton Brown is progressing in his recovery from the torn anterior cruciate ligament he suffered in his right knee during spring practice and could be back in the Mean Green’s lineup in October.
McCarney did not have an exact time frame for Brown’s return but said he is progressing well in the rehabilitation process.
Brown appeared to be on course to start at defensive end before being injured during a scrimmage March 30.
UNT receives vote in poll
UNT received one vote in the National Soccer Coaches Association of America poll that was released Tuesday after nearly pulling off a pair of upsets over the weekend.
UNT took No. 10 Wake Forest to double overtime before falling 2-1 and was deadlocked in a 2-all tie in the second half with Virginia Tech, which received votes in last week’s poll. UNT came back from a 2-0 deficit to tie that game before falling 4-2.
“We have to find a way to close these top teams out and get the result that we want,” UNT coach John Hedlund said. “You are never going to get the calls on the road. You have to find a way to overcome some of that stuff. We have to do a better job of closing teams out.”
While UNT missed out on a chance to knock off a ranked opponent, it will have an opportunity to pick up a key victory Sunday when the Mean Green will take on rival TCU in a noon road game that will be broadcast on Fox Sports Southwest.
“We earned a lot of respect this weekend,” Hedlund said.
UNT to host tourney
UNT will host the North Texas Invitational this weekend when Prairie View A&M, Utah, Northwestern State and Texas State will travel to Denton.
UNT will open the event Friday with a noon match against Prairie View before taking on Utah at 7:30 p.m.
The Mean Green was swept 3-0 in each of its first two matches, against Loyola Marymount and 12th-ranked UCLA, before bouncing back to beat Albany 3-0.
UNT hosted Texas-Arlington on Tuesday night.
Mean Green wins meet
The UNT men won the team title at the Bear Twilight Invitational in Waco on Friday.
Junior Alejandro Valencia finished third with a time of 18:38.9 to lead UNT, which had six runners finish in the top 20. The women placed fifth out of eight teams.
BRETT VITO can be reached at 940-566-6870 or via Twitter at @brettvito.