North Texas went right back to focusing on the next task at hand on Sunday afternoon following its win over Louisiana Tech. Dan McCarney made certain of that.
UNT’s head coach wanted to make sure his team doesn’t squander what he believes is a grand opportunity to build on a budding confidence among his players and coaches, not to mention the growing enthusiasm among its fans and supporters.
UNT was sitting at 2-3 just a few weeks ago, but is suddenly riding a wave of momentum after beating Middle Tennessee and Tech in consecutive games.
That two-game winning streak is a modest one, but it’s also the Mean Green’s first since 2004.
The run is one UNT (4-3, 2-1 Conference USA) will look to build on Saturday when it takes on a struggling Southern Miss team that is sitting at 0-6 and has lost 18 straight games.
“People are excited because this is the first time we have won two games in a row and the first time that halfway through the season we are over .500,” UNT linebacker Zach Orr said. “We have a chance to make some good things happen.”
Good things have been happening for UNT already the last two weeks.
UNT continued to play well at home when it rolled past Middle Tennessee 34-7 and then essentially broke new ground by rallying from a 10-point deficit to knock off the Bulldogs 28-13 and snap a seven-game road losing streak.
McCarney mentioned earlier this season that he believes the best time to crank up the pressure and the expectations for a team is when it is having success. He stuck by that stance after UNT’s win over the Bulldogs.
“We have to keep building on the positives that are so well documented and look at what we are not doing well, zero in on it and improve on those things,” McCarney said.
McCarney pointed to what he considered a poor performance on special teams and another slow start as issues he would address this week following the win over Tech.
UNT’s players were already zeroing in on those issues Monday, one day before cranking up their preparations for the Eagles.
“We have two wins in a row and have played well the last two weeks,” Orr said. “There are a lot of things we can improve on after watching the game on film. That’s the neat thing. We are nowhere close to reaching our potential.”
Just getting close has the Mean Green feeling good about the way it is playing heading into its game at Southern Miss. Coming back from an early 10-0 deficit against Tech certainly didn’t hurt the Mean Green’s confidence.
“We are getting on a roll,” linebacker Derek Akunne said. “Everyone has a little swagger to them.”
UNT plans on buckling down this week to make sure it doesn’t squander the opportunity to maintain that swagger this week.
“I’m on the USA Today Coaches Poll committee and there were nine teams in the Top 25 that just got beaten,” McCarney said. “None of those teams went into the week thinking they were going to lose. They did. There are great teams that get beaten by teams that don’t have the record their opponent has. I don’t want to be that team, that program and that head coach. I can only imagine how hungry Southern Mississippi is because I’ve been in those shoes before. Sooner or later that streak will end. We don’t want it to be against us.”
Whitfield earns C-USA, team honors
Zac Whitfield was named the Conference USA Defensive Player of the Week on Monday for his performance in UNT’s win over Louisiana Tech on Saturday.
Whitfield, who was pulled from the starting lineup after struggling in the Mean Green’s first two games of the season, intercepted two passes in the 28-13 win over Tech and returned the first 56 yards for a touchdown that gave the Mean Green the lead for good.
The sophomore was also named UNT’s team MVP for the game.
“It speaks to the competition and depth on this football team and the type of young man he is,” McCarney said of the way Whitfield responded to coming off the bench. “He has had some tough days and some good days in his career. We could not have won that game last week without the plays he made.”
Orr gets game ball after win
Senior linebacker Zach Orr received a game ball after UNT’s win over Louisiana Tech, not only for his performance against the Bulldogs but also for the scope of his contributions throughout his career.
Orr posted a whopping 17 tackles against Tech, the most for a UNT player since Cody Spencer finished with 17 during his senior season in 2003, and crossed the 300-tackle threshold for his career.
Orr came into the game with 298 stops and now has 315.
“What a milestone and a phenomenal young man,” McCarney said. “Orr got the Mean Joe Greene award, which we give out after wins only. It’s for playing the way Joe Greene would want you to play — with toughness, with tenacity, with effort, with pride and great heart.”
BRETT VITO can be reached at 940-566-6870 or via Twitter at @brettvito.