ATHENS, Ga. — North Texas has shown signs of improvement offensively and came into its game against Georgia on Saturday with a load of momentum following a win over Ball State.
UNT came from behind and scored 18 second-half points in a win over the Cardinals.
The Mean Green couldn’t replicate that kind of production against the ninth-ranked team in the country in a 45-21 loss to the Bulldogs at Sanford Stadium.
UNT’s offense scored just once, when Darnell Smith caught a 20-yard touchdown pass from Derek Thompson, and finished with 7 rushing yards on 25 carries.
“You are never going to win a game only scoring seven points on Saturday with your offense,” UNT coach Dan McCarney said. “We moved the ball at times, but seven points is unacceptable.”
UNT’s special teams unit came through with a pair of touchdowns. Brelan Chancellor returned a kickoff 99 yards for a touchdown, and cornerback Zac Whitfield recovered a blocked punt for a touchdown.
The Mean Green needed a little extra punch from its offense to hang with Georgia and came up short.
“Unfortunately, we were not able to move the ball in the second half as well as we wanted to,” Thompson said. “We moved the ball, but when you are not putting points on the board, it’s hard to justify that.”
Thompson threw for 202 yards and was forced to carry UNT’s offense on a day the Mean Green struggled to run the ball. Brandin Byrd finished with 23 yards on 11 carries.
Georgia shut UNT’s offense out in the second half.
UNT had the ball with a chance to take the lead in the third quarter with the score tied at 21 but went three-and-out. Georgia took advantage on the ensuing possession when quarterback Aaron Murray snuck the ball into the end zone from a yard out to give the Bulldogs a 28-21 lead.
UNT drove to the Georgia 27 on the next possession, but a missed signal led to Thompson lofting a pass toward the sideline where he expected Smith to run a fade pattern. Smith missed the signal and Georgia safety Tray Matthews picked it off.
Murray hit wide receiver Chris Conley for a 4-yard touchdown 12 plays later to essentially put UNT away.
“They are an SEC defense and put a lot of pressure on you,” Thompson said. “We did some good things but struggled in the run game. We have to find a way to be balanced.”
UNT adds to turnover total
UNT entered its game with Georgia having forced 11 turnovers to lead the Football Bowl Subdivison and added two in its loss to the Bulldogs. The biggest of those turnovers came in the first quarter.
UNT was locked in a scoreless tie with Georgia when Bulldogs receiver Chris Conley caught a 43-yard strike from Aaron Murray. Georgia had the ball at the UNT 6-yard line and pushed it to the 3 before linebacker Will Wright intercepted a pass from Murray in the end zone, keeping the game scoreless.
“When you get an interception and hold a team to no points when they are in the red zone, that’s a good feeling,” UNT linebacker Derek Akunne said. “It was a big play for us.”
Akunne helped UNT come up with a second turnover in the fourth quarter when he forced a fumble by Georgia running back Todd Gurley that cornerback Kenny Buyers recovered at the Georgia 34.
Change of strategy early works for UNT
UNT won the opening coin toss for the fourth straight game, but it changed strategy when it elected to receive and saw the move pay off.
UNT picked up a first down on its opening possession and pinned Georgia deep when punter Blake Masek had a punt downed at the Bulldogs’ 15-yard line.
McCarney said that he was considering electing to receive to open games after the Mean Green allowed its first three opponents to score on their opening possession. UNT ended that streak when it forced Georgia to punt after just three plays.
Wright and fellow linebacker Zach Orr forced Murray out of bounds short of the first-down marker on third-and-13 when he pulled the ball down and scrambled to the Georgia 23
Trick punt finds hedges
UNT lined up as if it would attempt a 52-yard field goal on fourth-and-11 in the fourth quarter.
Kicker Zach Paul caught a direct snap and tried to pin Georgia deep, only to see his punt sail out of bounds and wedge in the hedges surrounding the field. The punt covered just 12 yards.
The 21 points UNT scored against Georgia was the most the Mean Green has scored against a team ranked in the top 10 and the most it has scored against a team ranked in the Top 25 since a 48-28 loss to No. 16 Texas A&M in 1986.
BRETT VITO can be reached at 940-566-6870 or via Twitter at @brettvito.