There was a time not too long ago when North Texas was rolling offensively.
UNT scored 38 points in wins over Troy and Louisiana-Monroe, saw Derek Thompson clear the 250-yard mark in passing three times and scored a whopping 59 points in a season-ending win over Middle Tennessee — all in the final five games of the 2011 season.
That performance in the stretch run and the return of nine starters raised expectations heading into 2012. Those expectations have yet to be met.
The Mean Green will head into a game at Florida Atlantic on Saturday averaging only 19.0 points a game, a total inflated by a 34-point outburst against Texas Southern, an overmatched team from the Football Championship Subdivision.
UNT scored only once last week in a 14-7 loss to Troy, its lowest output against a Sun Belt Conference opponent since being drubbed 33-6 by Louisiana-Monroe in its sixth league game in 2009.
“We are extremely disappointed with ourselves,” UNT offensive lineman Mason Y’Barbo said. “We have the coaches, the players and an awesome system. Everyone just has to do better.”
That is especially true if UNT wants to jump into the Sun Belt title chase. Only twice in the 11-year history of the league has a two-loss team won at least a share of the conference title.
Louisiana-Lafayette became the only team in Sun Belt history to recover from an 0-2 start in league play to win a share of the league title in 2005, when three two-loss teams ended the season tied atop the standings.
UNT head coach Dan McCarney said that he talks to his team about where it stands in the Sun Belt every week, but isn’t going to overreact to dropping one game.
“It’s one game,” McCarney said. “We are getting ready for the next one and have many more opportunities, none more important than Florida Atlantic.”
UNT knows that if it is going to take advantage of that opportunity, it will have to get its offense back on track.
The Mean Green could write off minimal offensive outputs in a 41-14 loss to LSU and a 35-21 loss to Kansas State that included a late touchdown because of the level of competition. The Tigers and Wildcats are both ranked in the top 10.
A seven-point outing against Troy was a lot harder to explain and served as a wake-up call.
“We have to execute,” UNT quarterback Derek Thompson said. “It starts with me. I have to execute. We ran the ball well again on Saturday [against Troy]. Once they start stacking the box, a play here and there can change the game.”
UNT hasn’t made enough of those big plays this season. The Mean Green has four pass plays and eight running plays of more than 20 yards, and half of them came against Texas Southern.
“[UNT offensive coordinator] Mike Canales and I have talked about not being conservative about anything that we are doing,” McCarney said. “Let’s turn it loose. We have nine starters back from last year’s offense. We are capable of playing much better than we did last week.”
UNT believes in its ability, despite the absence of its best offensive player from a year ago— running back Lance Dunbar.
Dunbar made everything go for UNT last season, when he rushed for 1,115 yards, including a whopping 313 in UNT’s season-ending win over MTSU.
UNT is still running the ball effectively with a three-back rotation. The Mean Green is averaging 191 rushing yards a game and has six rushing touchdowns, but hasn’t been as explosive as it was at the end of last season, when it posted 12 rushing touchdowns in four games.
“As you go into the season, you think more about that, but I don’t sit and watch tape on Sunday and think, ‘God bless it, we can’t get it done’ or think that there is a huge drop-off,” McCarney said of the impact of losing Dunbar, who is now with the Cowboys. “Those guys are doing a good job. Lance was capable of turning a bad play into a good play and a good play into a great play, but I think we have some guys who are capable of that.”
UNT has one big-play threat in Brelan Chancellor and has leaned on him heavily. The junior wide receiver has scored five of UNT’s six touchdowns against FBS competition.
Running back Antoinne Jimmerson is the only player other than Chancellor to score against an opponent other than Texas Southern.
UNT knows it needs to get some of its other skill-position players going when it comes to scoring.
“We have to be more explosive on offense and take advantage of our opportunities,” Thompson said. “There were a couple of plays we could have made that would have changed that game [against Troy]. We have to be able to make them.”
UNT is confident it has the players to do that.
“We have to make plays when our opportunities come,” Chancellor said. “I have confidence in the guys.”
BRETT VITO can be reached at 940-566-6870. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org .