NEW ORLEANS — Just looking at the final score of North Texas’ showdown with Tulane in its Conference USA opener on Saturday would seem to indicate that the Mean Green had a pretty good outing defensively.
UNT coach Dan McCarney knew better following the Mean Green’s 24-21 loss to the Green Wave.
UNT played terrific defensively most of the way on a day that could be considered both good and bad for the Mean Green.
UNT did play well and allowed just 10 points defensively, but also gave up a game-winning, clock-eating drive that Cairo Santos capped with a 27-yard field goal that sent UNT home with a loss.
“We played great defense most of the day,” McCarney said. “Giving up 10 points on a normal Saturday gives you a chance to win the game, and it did today. It came down to the last play of the game. We couldn’t get a stop when we needed to and get off the field.”
UNT allowed just 227 yards of total offense against Tulane, which scored on a blocked field goal and an interception return.
Safety Marcus Trice forced a key fumble early in the game. Tulane had driven to the UNT 16-yard line before the senior safety knocked the ball free from running back Rob Kelley.
Cornerback James Jones recovered the fumble for UNT.
“We stopped the run in the first half and were able to get up the field quickly,” UNT linebacker Derek Akunne said.
UNT needed another big play late in the game, but ended up allowing an 11-play, 66-yard drive that Santos capped with the game-winning field goal.
“We knew what we had to do,” Tulane quarterback Nick Montana said. “I was really proud of everyone responding on the last drive when we needed to. We got it done”
Johnson returns from injury
Left tackle Antonio Johnson returned to UNT’s offensive line rotation after missing the Mean Green’s Sept. 21 loss to Georgia due to injury, one that McCarney said required a minor surgical procedure.
Johnson was injured in UNT’s win over Ball State on Sept. 14 and did not play against Georgia the following week, forcing the Mean Green to juggle its lineup.
Cyril Lemon shifted from right guard to right tackle, while right tackle LaChris Anyiam shifted to left tackle. Backup center Shawn McKinney was elevated to the starting lineup to fill in for Lemon at right guard.
UNT stuck with that lineup to start its game against Tulane.
UNT wins toss again
UNT won the opening coin flip for the fifth straight game and elected to receive for the second consecutive game.
UNT went three-and-out on its first drive and gave Tulane good field position after a 34-yard Blake Macek punt left the Green Wave with the ball at its own 36-yard line.
Tulane couldn’t take advantage and punted the ball away after three plays.
BRETT VITO can be reached at 940-566-6870 or via Twitter at @brettvito.