North Texas got just a little taste of what it’s like to get on a roll the last two weeks, when the Mean Green put together back-to-back wins for the first time since 2004.
That little bit of success made UNT’s players hungrier for more.
The Mean Green went out and got more — winning one more game and taking one more step toward its first bowl berth in nine years — with a 55-14 thrashing of Southern Mississippi at M.M. Roberts Stadium on Saturday night.
The win extended UNT’s winning streak to three games, its longest run since winning seven straight heading into the 2004 New Orleans Bowl, the Mean Green’s last postseason appearance.
“When you win your second one in a row, you get hungry,” UNT offensive lineman Mason Y’Barbo said. “You want to keep it going. We can see the confidence building.”
That certainly was the case in a win over Southern Miss that ranked among the Mean Green’s most complete performances in years.
UNT rolled up 529 yards of offense, forced five turnovers and was never threatened by the Golden Eagles, despite turning the ball over four times.
Southern Miss saw its losing streak reach 19 games.
UNT (5-3, 3-1 Conference USA) is just one win short of the sixth win it needs to reach its baseline goal of at least breaking even this season, setting up what will be a huge showdown on Halloween night against Rice in a nationally televised game.
The Owls (6-2) beat UTEP 45-7 on Saturday to improve to 4-0 in C-USA play.
“We know that this challenge is going to step up immensely,” UNT coach Dan McCarney said. “Rice is already bowl-qualified and had a huge win today. They have been going to bowl games and winning. We haven’t. It makes for a great matchup.”
UNT will enter that game on a roll after pounding Southern Miss (0-7, 0-3) behind quarterback Derek Thompson. The senior threw for 300 yards and two touchdowns.
Thompson now has seven 300-yard games in his career, breaking the school record of six he shared with Steve Ramey.
Brelan Chancellor caught four passes for 127 yards, including a 46-yard touchdown strike that got UNT rolling early.
Nick Mullens threw for 210 yards to pace Southern Miss, which couldn’t keep up with UNT.
The Mean Green blew the game open with 28 consecutive points to close the first half, a run Brandin Byrd began with a 1-yard touchdown run with 9:13 left in the half.
Antoinne Jimmerson tacked on a 15-yard touchdown catch on a pass from Thompson, who later scored on a 3-yard run. UNT safety Marcus Trice intercepted a Mullens pass on Southern Miss’ first play from scrimmage after Thompson’s touchdown run and returned it to the Southern Miss 13.
Jimmerson scored on a 6-yard run three plays later to cap the surge.
“We knew we could do some things against them,” Thompson said. “We knew we had big-chunk plays in the passing game and had to be on point with what they were trying to do to us. We were able to hit on some big plays.”
UNT continued to move into uncharted territory as a result.
“That is one of our most complete performances of the season,” Trice said.
It was an outing that will send UNT into one of its biggest games in recent years this week against Rice on a roll.
“A lot of people did a lot of really good things,” McCarney said. “How about scoring 55 points and still turning it over four times? It’s inexcusable. We have to get that fixed in a hurry. In five days we play on national television.”
BRETT VITO can be reached at 940-566-6870 or via Twitter at @brettvito.