The beginning of North Texas’ game against Ball State on Saturday had an all-too-familiar feeling for linebacker Zach Orr and the other members of the Mean Green’s defense.
The way those players responded to that adversity was one of the aspects head coach Dan McCarney was most pleased about in UNT’s 34-27 win over the Cardinals at Apogee Stadium.
UNT didn’t play well defensively early, but it made a few adjustments and stuck to its basic principles — none more important than finding a way to force turnovers.
The Mean Green forced five in all while guiding a dramatic turnaround.
UNT gave up 27 points and 366 yards in the first half. Ball State didn’t score after halftime, when the Mean Green’s defense stiffened after regrouping.
“We were in position to make plays in the first half and didn’t,” McCarney said. “We did in the second half.”
The biggest of those plays were turnovers. Without them, UNT might have fallen too far behind to come back.
Ball State scored on four possessions in the first half. UNT came up with three fumble recoveries and an interception to stop four other Cardinal drives.
“The turnovers just killed us and we couldn’t keep the momentum,” Ball State coach Paul Lembo said. “They have a bend-but-don’t-break mentality defensively wherein they will give up some yards, make stops and eventually force teams into making bad plays.
“I can’t remember another time we have had five turnovers.”
Orr and defensive backs Kenny Buyers and Marcus Trice each recovered a fumble. Lairamie Lee and Will Wright each intercepted a pass.
UNT tried to knock the ball away from Ball State’s players every chance it had.
“We always want to force turnovers, and they were big for us in this game,” Orr said. “They kept us in it.”
UNT needed those turnovers after Ball State became the third straight team to score on its opening possession against the Mean Green. Willie Snead caught a 2-yard touchdown pass from Keith Wenning to open the game.
Ball State’s lead grew to 27-9 before UNT’s defense stiffened, allowing the Mean Green to rally.
“We emphasized getting off to a good start this week,” Orr said. “It shows our resilience to fight back when we didn’t.”
BRETT VITO can be reached at 940-566-6870 or via Twitter at @brettvito.