HATTIESBURG, Miss. — North Texas didn’t have one of its better games of the year in terms of hanging on to the ball offensively.
The four turnovers UNT committed didn’t matter much Saturday, not with the way the Mean Green’s defense continued to thrive when it comes to getting the ball back for its offense.
UNT entered the night tied with Tulane for second in Conference USA with 20 turnovers forced and continued to tag on to that total while forcing five more in a 55-14 pounding of Southern Mississippi at M.M. Roberts Stadium.
UNT intercepted three passes and forced two fumbles on the night.
“It’s outstanding defense any time you can take it away,” UNT head coach Dan McCarney said. “That’s why we are one of the best in the country right now with takeaways.”
UNT had several players contribute to that total. Cornerback James Jones and safeties Marcus Trice and Lairamie Lee each intercepted passes. Defensive linemen Daryl Mason and Sir Calvin Wallace recovered fumbles.
“We prepared with tenacious effort,” Trice said. “I think it’s starting to show on the field. We are getting a lot of turnovers lately.”
Mean Green’s first-half run a notable one
UNT put together one of its best halves offensively in recent memory to open its game with Southern Miss.
The Mean Green scored on six of its eight possessions and ran out to a 41-7 lead.
UNT had 383 yards at halftime behind quarterback Derek Thompson, who had thrown for 264 yards and two touchdowns.
Brelan Chancellor caught three of Thompson’s passes and racked up 113 receiving yards. Nearly half of those yards came on a 46-yard touchdown pass that gave UNT an early 7-0 lead.
UNT had a few big plays in the first half, including a 36-yard reception by Carlos Harris, but spent most of the half methodically grinding down Southern Miss’ defense. UNT ran 49 plays in the first half, when the Mean Green covered seven of its eight third downs and held the ball for 20:04.
UNT defense comes up with several key stands
UNT’s defense came up with a series of big plays following turnovers throughout the Mean Green’s win over Southern Miss.
Perhaps the biggest of those stands came in the first half before UNT built a 41-7 lead.
Southern Miss safety Ed Wilkins intercepted a Thompson pass down the sideline in a scoreless game.
The Golden Eagles took over at the UNT 37-yard line, but they failed to cash in when Corey Acosta missed a 35-yard field goal.
UNT committed two turnovers in the third quarter and saw its defense respond again.
Thompson threw an interception that gave Southern Miss the ball at its 34-yard line. The Golden Eagles managed to run just one play and turned it right back over when defensive end Chad Polk hit Southern Miss quarterback Nick Mullens and forced a fumble that UNT recovered.
UNT immediately turned the ball back over when Antoinne Jimmerson fumbled on a run up the middle.
Southern Miss recovered at the 10-yard line but couldn’t crack UNT’s defense, which came up with another turnover when cornerback James Jones intercepted a Mullens pass.
Paul misses extra point
Sophomore Zach Paul saw his string of consecutive extra points made this season end at 21.
Paul took over the kicking duties in the Mean Green’s season-opening win over Idaho and had been perfect on extra points until pushing a kick wide left in the first quarter.
BRETT VITO can be reached at 940-566-6870 or via Twitter at @brettvito.