North Texas has struggled at times this season with giving up big plays that have ended up costing the Mean Green in a series of losses.
UNT turned the tables in its Conference USA home opener against Middle Tennessee on Saturday at Apogee Stadium.
The Mean Green didn’t give up hardly any big plays and produced them in just about every phase of the game during a 34-7 win over the Blue Raiders.
UNT scored on defense for the first time this season, made a couple of critical plays on special teams and also came up with game-changing plays offensively, even though they weren’t always ones that were overly dramatic or covered huge chunks of yards.
Arguably the biggest play of the game came late in the second quarter after Brandin Byrd scored on a 1-yard run to give UNT a 14-7 lead.
UNT safety Lairamie Lee intercepted an Austin Grammer pass that was tipped at the line of scrimmage by Will Wright and returned it 20 yards for a touchdown.
“That was the first time we scored on defense this year,” UNT defensive lineman Richard Abbe said. “That was a big one. We always want to force turnovers. That is one of our key goals.”
UNT linebacker Zach Orr also blocked a Cody Clark 32-yard field-goal attempt in the first quarter, while wide receiver Brelan Chancellor returned a punt 55 yards to set up a Zach Paul field goal in the second quarter.
Byrd had a 32-yard carry and helped UNT convert on 10 of its 17 third downs.
Replay turns into big play for UNT
MTSU wide receiver Kyle Griswould appeared as if he scored a touchdown in the first quarter before a review overturned the call.
Officials ruled that Griswould landed out of bounds.
The call turned into a huge turn of momentum for UNT two plays later when Orr blocked Clark’s field-goal attempt. Cornerback James Jones returned the ball deep into MTSU territory, but a personal foul on Wright during the return left UNT with the ball at its own 32-yard line.
Heads-up play from Trice nets field position
A heads-up play from Marcus Trice helped UNT begin a scoring drive deep in MTSU territory.
MTSU was forced to punt from its 28-yard line, where punter Josh Davis sent a high kick toward midfield.
The punt went just 20 yards and bounced back toward the MTSU goal line. Trice, who was in the game as a blocker, picked the ball up and returned it 23 yards to the MTSU 25-yard line.
Paul helped UNT convert on the opportunity when he kicked a 22-yard field goal at the end of a seven-play drive that covered 20 yards.
UNT wins another toss
UNT won the opening coin toss for the sixth straight game and deferred its choice to the second half.
The Mean Green had taken the ball to open the game in each of its last two contests.
Paul comes up short on field goal
UNT came up empty on a drive into MTSU territory in the third quarter.
The Mean Green reached the MTSU 31-yard line, where UNT faced a fourth-and-4 situation. UNT elected to kick a field goal and saw Paul come up short from 48 yards. Paul was 2-for-3 from 40 to 49 yards on the season with a long of 48.
BRETT VITO can be reached at 940-566-6870 or via Twitter at @brettvito.