North Texas juggled the lineup on its offensive front in a loss to Georgia on Saturday and could end up using the same mix of players in its Conference USA opener against Tulane.
That wouldn’t be the optimal situation for UNT, but it’s not one head coach Dan McCarney would be completely uncomfortable with as the Mean Green waits for Antonio Johnson to return.
UNT lost its starting left tackle to injury in a win over Ball State on Sept. 14. The junior did not play against the Bulldogs and could be out when the Mean Green visits the Green Wave on Oct. 5.
McCarney’s policy is to not reveal the nature of injuries unless they are season-ending, but he did say that Johnson underwent a minor procedure.
UNT filled the void left by Johnson’s absence by moving right guard Cyril Lemon to right tackle in place of LaChris Anyiam, who shifted to left tackle.
Backup center Shawn McKinney took Lemon’s place at right guard.
McCarney was happy for the most part with the way UNT’s line performed.
“We are building some depth because of injuries,” McCarney said. “McKinney did a lot of really good things.”
UNT settled on the switch because McKinney is the best player among the Mean Green’s backup linemen. That change moved Lemon into an unfamiliar spot on the outside at tackle, one he handled well.
“Lemon will get better and better, the more he has to play tackle,” McCarney said. “He can play any of the five offensive line positions. Rarely do you have an offensive lineman who can do that.”
UNT gave up two sacks against Georgia, both to highly regarded freshman outside linebacker Leonard Floyd, and finished with just 7 rushing yards, but did move the ball at times.
The Mean Green finished with 245 total yards and was locked in a 21-all tie in the third quarter before the Bulldogs pulled away.
Depending on how Johnson progresses this week, Lemon, Anyiam and McKinney could be back in the same spots they played last week.
“If Antonio can’t go, that is exactly the lineup you will see,” McCarney said.
McCarney, players hear from friends, fans after loss
UNT captured a piece of the national spotlight Saturday when it appeared for a short time as if the Mean Green might upset Georgia.
McCarney and his players quickly found out this week how many people tuned in to see at least part of the game after UNT tied the score at 21.
“You don’t realize sometimes how many people get to see the game,” McCarney said. “I didn’t know it at the time, but they switched the game to national coverage and talked about, ‘Can North Texas pull it off?’ They were putting the highlights on of the special teams plays that tied the game up. All those things are positive. We had a lot of people pulling for us. Some of them who I know, some of them I didn’t.”
Brelan Chancellor returned a kickoff 99 yards for a touchdown late in the first half. UNT tied the score up in the third quarter when Marcus Trice blocked a punt that Zac Whitfield recovered in the end zone for a touchdown.
Georgia put UNT away by scoring 24 straight points to close the game.
“We heard about it in class today,” UNT linebacker Zach Orr said. “There were people in the dorms crowded around the TV, watching the game. A lot of people’s Twitter accounts and Facebook pages blew up.”
Kunstadt: Combs a steal for Mean Green program
Dallas Carter forward Jeremy Combs committed to UNT on Monday night, an addition that noted Texas high school basketball analyst Mike Kunstadt described as an important one for the Mean Green.
Kunstadt runs TexasHoops.com, a website that has the 6-7 forward at No. 14 on its list of the top prospects in the state that will be released in the next few days.
Combs previously was ranked 15th.
“I love him,” Kunstadt said. “He’s energy plus. He has a natural knack for being around the basketball and getting loose balls and scoring. He’s a scoring machine. He scores mostly inside and gets to the rim. His motor is his main strength. He’s a great get for North Texas.”
Combs led Class 4A players with an average of 23.2 points per game to go along with 7.7 rebounds.
Texas Tech hosted Combs on an official visit last weekend. Kunstadt said he believes Combs has the kind of ability that would make him a good Big 12 player.
“He will be a big piece for North Texas and will only get better as he gets stronger,” Kunstadt said. “He plays hard and has good speed and quickness.”
Combs said the comfort level he developed with UNT’s coaches and players was a key reason he committed to play for the Mean Green.
“It will be a good fit for me,” Combs said. “I like the coaches and the players.”
UNT hosts Ladyjacks today
UNT will host Stephen F. Austin at 6 p.m. today in its final match before the beginning of Conference USA play.
The Mean Green (7-8) lost two of three over the weekend at the Flo Hyman Collegiate Cup in Houston and has lost four of five overall.
UNT will look to rebound today against SFA (10-4).
“We had a tough weekend with a couple of those matches, but we are getting better,” UNT coach Andrew Palileo said. “After looking over the film, it was like they say: It’s never as bad as you think it is or as good as you think it is. We are making progress and are getting closer.”
UNT is still adjusting to a new system in Palileo’s first season with the Mean Green.
“We have a lot of work to do this week,” UNT middle blocker Courtney Windham said.
Henard gets C-USA honor
UNT freshman Amy Henard was named Conference USA Setter of the Week on Monday for her performance at the Flo Hyman Collegiate Cup.
Henard averaged 10.0 assists per set and posted 110 for the tournament. She handed out 52 assists and had 11 digs in a five-set loss to LSU.
UNT’s shutout streak comes to end in loss
The second-longest shutout streak in UNT history came to an end in the Mean Green’s 2-1 loss to Oklahoma State on Sunday night.
OSU’s Allie Stephenson scored on an assist from Courtney Dike at the 40:51 mark of the first half, ending a run of 422:62 in which the Mean Green did not allow a goal.
UNT had not allowed a goal since a Sept. 1 loss to Virginia Tech.
The Mean Green had posted four straight shutouts, two of which came against Big 12 opponents. UNT shut out TCU 2-0 and Oklahoma 5-0.
UNT will open Conference USA play on Friday at home against Southern Mississippi.
BRETT VITO can be reached at 940-566-6870 or via Twitter at @brettvito.