On the surface, it didn’t seem like North Texas’ defense gave up much in the Mean Green’s home finale Saturday at Apogee Stadium.
UNT was convinced after a 21-13 loss that if one looks a little deeper, it is apparent the Mean Green could have done a little more to extend a five-game winning streak.
Texas-San Antonio converted 14 of its 20 third-down opportunities, held the ball for 33:30 and scored on both of its trips into the red zone, the most costly of which was a 10-yard run from quarterback Eric Soza late in the fourth quarter that essentially finished UNT off.
“There were series that we played well defensively, but they [the Roadrunners] had way too much consistency and efficiency on third down,” UNT coach Dan McCarney said. “We have been good on third down and in the red zone. They dominated on many snaps on third down. We didn’t get off the field.”
Both areas are ones in which UNT had thrived throughout the season, and specially during a five-game span in which the Mean Green had not given up more than 16 points in a game.
UNT entered the game allowing opponents to score on just 58.6 percent (17 of 29) of their trips into the red zone. Soza cashed in both of the Roadrunners’ opportunities, scoring on a 2-yard run in addition to his 10-yard run on a designed draw.
“We had them in third and long all day and couldn’t get off the field,” UNT linebacker Zach Orr said. “We are normally good on third down. They were almost 80 percent. You are not going to win football games playing like that. They flat-out beat us today.”
UNT also forced just one turnover after entering the day leading Conference USA with 29 turnovers forced. Safety Marcus Trice intercepted a pass for UNT’s only turnover.
UNT had a chance to make a play late when UTSA was up 14-6, but gave up four third-down conversions on a 12-play, 75-yard touchdown drive.
“That is the time we needed to rise up and make a play,” McCarney said. “They kept rising up and, boom, first down — boom, first down.”
That happened too often for UNT, even though the Mean Green only allowed 21 points.
Trice blocks punt
Trice blocked a punt in the third quarter, his third block of the season and the sixth blocked kick for UNT.
UTSA tried to punt the ball from its 31-yard line, but Trice got free and blocked it before the ball skipped out of bounds at the UTSA 40.
UNT cashed in with a 21-yard Zach Paul field goal a short time later.
Review goes UTSA’s way early
UNT appeared as if it might pick up a key turnover on special teams in the second quarter when Mean Green punter Blake Macek sent a ball skipping toward UTSA’s end zone from the 39-yard line.
The ball took an odd hop and was recovered by UNT. The play was reviewed and the ball awarded to UTSA.
Shanked punt keeps UNT out of hole
UNT caught a break in the second quarter after UTSA had driven to the Mean Green’s 34-yard line.
UTSA wide receiver Kam Jones was called for offensive pass interference, forcing the Roadrunners to punt from their 39-yard line and squandering a chance to pin UNT deep in its end of the field when UTSA punter Kristian Stern’s punt traveled only 14 yards.
Missed field goal leads to TD
UTSA capitalized when UNT failed to convert on a scoring opportunity in the third quarter.
The Mean Green drove all the way to the Roadrunner 25 before stalling out. Paul missed a 42-yard field goal.
The miss turned out to be one of the key plays of the game when UTSA took over and marched 75 yards in nine plays to score on a 2-yard Soza run that put the Roadrunners up 14-3.
BRETT VITO can be reached at 940-566-6870 and via Twitter at @brettvito.