One of North Texas’ top defensive players from a year ago was yanked from the starting lineup Monday in a shakeup UNT hopes will help it avoid the big plays that have put the Mean Green in a hole early the first two weeks of the season.
Cornerback Zac Whitfield, who was a second-team All-Sun Belt Conference selection as a redshirt freshman last season, was beaten twice in key spots on Saturday in a 27-21 loss to Ohio and will be replaced by Kenny Buyers this week when UNT takes on Ball State.
Buyers, a former walk-on, intercepted a pass that killed a Ohio drive late in the third quarter with UNT trailing by seven.
“Buyers is going to start the game this week, barring any problems in practice performance,” UNT head coach Dan McCarney said. “He did a really good job and made a heck of a play on the interception. We had those guys [Whitfield and Buyers] on the same line. We are not going to stand around and watch guys be in position to go make plays and not make them.”
Quarterback Tyler Tettleton hit Chase Cochran twice in key spots in the Bobcats’ win. Whitfield was in man-to-man coverage on both plays.
Cochran beat Whitfield deep for a 75-yard touchdown on the first play of the game and also hauled in a 23-yard pass in the fourth quarter when he was matched up with Whitfield that was just as big a play — maybe bigger. Ohio led 24-21 at the time and faced a third-and-3 situation and again went to Cochran down the sideline.
“We are not deserting Zac Whifield, but he has to make plays,” McCarney said. “I have seen him make that play in practice and scrimmages, but you have to carry it over to game day. We are all measured by what we do on Saturdays. He has to carry it over to the game field.”
UNT also gave up a long pass play in its season-opening win over Idaho, a 59-yard strike from Chad Chalich to Michael LaGrone on the second play from scrimmage.
The Mean Green has allowed six pass plays of 20 yards or more in the first two games of the year, an issue UNT will try to address before facing Ball State and Keith Wenning this week.
Wenning ranks 10th nationally with 665 passing yards through two games and has five touchdowns with no interceptions.
“We come into the game focused and ready to play,” UNT cornerback Hilbert Jackson said. “We need to hold it throughout the game.”
Loving to be redshirted
UNT will redshirt junior college transfer Chris Loving, a highly regarded tight end the Mean Green had hoped would be an impact player this season.
Loving was an honorable mention All-Southwest Junior College Athletic Conference selection last season, but did not arrive at UNT until the beginning of fall practice. He never cracked UNT’s rotation led by seniors Drew Miller and Daniel Prior.
“He was not ready,” McCarney said. “He has a chance for two years after this. He was not here for winter ball and spring practice. He was way behind. With Danny Prior and Drew Miller being seniors, he will have a major role next year.”
DE spots at full strength
UNT will be back to full strength at defensive end this week, when Daryl Mason is expected to return from a shoulder injury.
Mason started UNT’s season opener against Idaho and was replaced by Chad Polk in the lineup against Ohio.
Brandon McCoy made his return Saturday from a sprained ankle that kept him out of UNT’s season opener against Idaho and finished with six tackles.
UNT will have McCoy and Mason available this week for its game against Ball State.
“McCoy played 48 snaps, which was more than I thought he would play based on the limited practice time he had over the last month,” McCarney said. “It was good to have him back.”
Time set for Georgia game
UNT’s game against Georgia on Sept 21 will kick off at 11:21 a.m. and will be broadcast on SEC TV.
UNT will have nine TV games this season.
BRETT VITO can be reached at 940-566-6870 or via Twitter at @brettvito.