North Texas didn’t exactly take it easy in the early stages of the 2013 season.
UNT traveled to Ohio and took on a national powerhouse in Georgia. Even a home game against Ball State on a sizzling Saturday was no walk in the park for the Mean Green.
Those challenges made last week’s not-quite-off week all the more important for UNT, which had a chance to rest and reflect heading into its Conference USA opener on Saturday at Tulane.
That time to regroup came at a perfect time for the Mean Green.
“We went back and took a look at the good and the bad, what we are doing and what we can improve on,” head coach Dan McCarney said. “We really made the most of that open week. It was a combination of good work, getting a head start on Tulane and getting guys some rest for the race.”
That would be the Conference USA race.
UNT is about to enter its first season in the league, one chalk full of Texas and regional rivals, including Rice, UTEP and UT-San Antonio.
The Mean Green wasn’t expected to be a factor in the race at the beginning of the season. That might have changed over the last few weeks.
Rice and Tulsa were expected to be among the favorites in C-USA’s West Division, but have both had their struggles thus far. Rice barely squeaked by Florida Atlantic last week to get to 1-0 in league play and is just 2-2 on the season. Tulsa is 1-3.
Tulane and UTSA are also 1-0 in league play, but every team in UNT’s division has at least two losses on the year.
UNT’s 2-2 record might not sound all that impressive, but puts the Mean Green right there with just about everyone else in the division, at least when it comes to overall records at this point in the season.
“It’s up for the taking,” UNT quarterback Derek Thompson said. “There hasn’t been a team that has blown anyone away. There is no one in the Top 25 or anyone who has done anything spectacular.”
Thompson is just one of several players who said they spent some time on the weekend scoreboard watching, or at least went back and saw how the C-USA games turned out.
UNT felt a little better about where it stands after what transpired when it comes to how the other teams in C-USA fared, not to mention with how much it benefited from a few days off.
“The bye week was good for us,” UNT linebacker Zach Orr said. “We came back in Sunday and refocused and set our sights on getting this first conference victory.”
While a tough early schedule presented its challenges, it’s one that UNT’s coaches and players believe prepared them for what they will face in league play, starting with a game against an improved Tulane team.
The Green Wave beat Louisiana Tech earlier this year and hammered Louisiana-Monroe 31-14 last week.
“It was a hard run going against three teams that won a combined 30 games a year ago and are really good again,” McCarney said of Georgia, Ball State and Ohio. “You have to exhaust yourselves physically, emotionally and mentally when you face teams like that.”
A week off served as a refresher for UNT.
UNT could have all offensive linemen available
McCarney said that he hopes to have all of his offensive linemen available for UNT’s game at Tulane and has not ruled any linemen out, opening up the possibility that starting left tackle Antonio Johnson will be back, baring a setback.
Johnson missed UNT’s loss to Georgia on Sept. 21 after being injured in the Mean Green’s win over Ball State on Sept. 14. McCarney does not reveal the nature of injuries unless they are season-ending, but did say that Johnson underwent a minor procedure.
UNT shuffled its lineup dramatically to fill the void left by Johnson’s absence, shifting right tackle LaChris Anyiam to left tackle, moving right guard Cyril Lemon to right tackle and elevating backup center Shawn McKinney into the starting lineup at right guard.
UNT fared well against Georgia at times despite those changes and allowed just two sacks on the day.
UNT will be without players early in season
UNT will be without three players for various amounts of time to start the season, head coach Mike Petersen said Monday following the Mean Green’s first practice of the year.
Redshirt freshman guard Kiara Davis has a strained Achilles’ tendon that could keep her out anywhere from two to eight weeks. UNT is also waiting on the results of an MRI on senior forward Ash’Lynne Evans’ knee.
Evans could be out up to six weeks, if the injury requires surgery on what could be a torn meniscus.
Junior guard Taylor Hooker is expecting a child in early November and will likely not play until the end of December.
BRETT VITO can be reached at 940-566-6870 or via Twitter at @brettvito.