Football: Sacks stifle UTEP offense

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David Minton/DRC
North Texas defensive ends Aaron Bellazin, left, and Brandon McCoy, right, converge on UTEP quarterback Mack Leftwich, center, on Saturday at Apogee Stadium.

North Texas on Saturday put together one of its finest pass rushing performances since it fielded one of the nation’s best defenses more than a decade ago.

UNT finished with eight sacks in a 41-7 win over UTEP at Apogee Stadium.

The total was the Mean Green’s best since a 2002 loss to Texas, when UNT sacked Longhorn quarterbacks Chris Simms and Chance Mock eight times.

The Mean Green chased UTEP quarterback Mack Leftwich all over the field while limiting the Miners to 184 yards of total offense.

“The sacks, the hits, the pressures, the collapsing of the pocket made it hard on them to execute today,” UNT head coach Dan McCarney said.

Five players posted sacks for UNT. Senior defensive end Aaron Bellazin led UNT with 2 1/2, while fellow defensive end Brandon McCoy had two and defensive tackle Richard Abbe had two. Safety Marcus Trice was credited with one and linebacker Zach Orr had half a sack while assisting on one of Bellazin’s sacks.

UNT knew it would face an inexperienced quarterback in Leftwich, who was making his college debut, and got after him.

“We came in not knowing a lot about him,” Bellazin said. “He is a small guy, but he has a lot of heart. We hit him a few times.”

That was the plan all along. Leftwich is small for a quarterback at 5-foot-10 and 190 pounds, but he is quick and can run the ball.

Leftwich gained 39 yards running the ball but ended the day losing a total of 17 yards when 56 yards in losses were taken into account. UNT held UTEP, which entered the day averaging 200.5 rushing yards per game, to 56 yards.

“He’s a good athlete,” McCarney said of Leftwich. “We watched high school tape on him once we found out that he was going to start. He’s mobile and athletic. Overall our defense did a good job of not letting him make a lot of plays.”

UNT’s performance in containing Leftwich was reminiscent of the Mean Green’s defense that harassed Texas in a 27-0 UNT loss in 2002. UNT finished third nationally that season in scoring defense with an average of 14.8 points per game.

UNT is on a similar roll after holding a fifth straight opponent to 16 points or fewer.

“Giving up eight sacks and the inability to run the football were key [today],” UTEP coach Sean Kugler said. “We did some shuffling on the offensive line, and that — coupled with the fact that their defense is one of the better defenses we had seen — made for a long night.”

BRETT VITO can be reached at 940-566-6870 or via Twitter at @brettvito.


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