NEW ORLEANS — Derek Thompson knew he was going to be leveled late in the fourth quarter with North Texas’ game against Tulane on the line.
The senior stood there, delivered the ball anyway and kept UNT in the game a little while longer on a day when the Mean Green struggled at times offensively in a 24-21 loss in its Conference USA opener at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
Darnell Smith hauled in the high-arching toss for a 62-yard touchdown.
The connections Thompson found with Smith and fellow wide receiver Brelan Chancellor accounted for most of UNT’s offensive production on yet another big day for the three-year starter.
Thompson finished with 326 passing yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions as UNT struggled to run the ball and finished with 360 total yards.
“They had been sitting on the out-ball that we had been throwing most of the game,” Thompson said. “Darnell was the one who made the call for the double move, the out-and-up. I knew we had a free play because they were offsides. I had to stand in there tough. They were coming pretty hard. He made a great play and tied up the ballgame.”
Thompson eclipsed the 300-yard mark for the sixth time and is now tied with Steve Ramsey for the most 300-yard games in UNT history. Smith finished with 130 receiving yards, while Chancellor added 103.
The problem for UNT was that Thompson and his two favorite targets once again accounted for pretty much all of UNT’s offense.
The Mean Green tallied just 34 rushing yards on an average of 1.7 yards per carry. UNT had just seven rushing yards in its loss to Georgia two weeks ago.
Thompson was UNT’s leading rusher against Tulane with 19 yards. He carried the ball 3 yards to the goal line in the third quarter before fumbling. Offensive lineman Mason Y’Barbo jumped on the ball, which was rolling around in the end zone, for a touchdown.
Reggie Pegram was UNT’s leading rusher among running backs with nine yards on five carries. Antoinne Jimmerson had fiver yards on two carries, while starter Brandin Byrd finished with a net total of zero yards on six carries.
UNT was shut out in the first half before rallying behind Thompson in the second half, when he threw for 275 yards.
“They did some good things and we didn’t handle some of the blitzes as well as we thought we could have in the first half,” UNT coach Dan McCarney said. “We didn’t revamp our offense at halftime. We simply executed. We came back and played much better.”
Thompson led the charge on a day he accounted for nearly all of UNT’s offensive output.
“It’s hard when we can’t run the ball,” Thompson said. “It feels like we are beating our heads into the wall at times. We have to get it fixed and be more balanced.”
BRETT VITO can be reached at 940-566-6870 or via Twitter at @brettvito.