If there was one area where North Texas appeared as if it would have an advantage heading into its game against Florida Atlantic last week, it was the running game.
UNT entered the weekend averaging 191 rushing yards per game, a total that ranked third in the Sun Belt Conference, while the Owls were allowing an unsightly 252.5 yards a game.
The fact that the Mean Green posted only 56 rushing yards was surprising, but it didn’t matter as UNT picked up a critical 20-14 win.
Now that the Mean Green has had a chance to look back, evaluating what went wrong and how to fix it has become a priority heading into a game at Houston on Saturday.
UNT head coach Dan McCarney said that there were multiple factors that were problematic when it came to the Mean Green’s running game against FAU, including the absence of tight end Andrew Power and the way the Owls stacked the line of scrimmage.
Power did not play due to injury and might not play again this week.
“When people bring extra guys to the line of scrimmage, which we will see the rest of the season, we still don’t want to go in after the game and see 56 yards rushing,” McCarney said. “That is not how we are going to build this program.”
UNT had run the ball well for most of the year before facing the Owls. The Mean Green rushed for a whopping 352 yards and four touchdowns in a win over Texas Southern and also reached the 150-yard mark against Troy (186) and 15th-ranked Kansas State (150).
LSU, which is tied for ninth nationally in rushing defense with an average of 83.0 yards allowed a game, was the only team to hold UNT under 100 yards until the Mean Green faced FAU. UNT posted 76 yards against the Tigers.
UNT believes it has the ability to get back on track against Houston, even if Power doesn’t play. Offensive lineman Cory Brown is making the transition from offensive line to tight end to give UNT another option.
“Power is a major contributor. We need him,” McCarney said. “If we had a guy who could step right in and not miss a beat, that would be fine. We don’t. We like to get into two- and three-tight end formations, but is it a situation where Andrew Power is gone, go ahead and rush for 56 yards? No. That is unacceptable.”
Despite an off day against FAU, the Mean Green still has two running backs averaging more than 50 rushing yards a game.
Redshirt freshman Antoinne Jimmerson is posting 66.0 yards a game, while junior Brandin Byrd is averaging 56.8.
Jimmerson rushed for 25 yards on 12 carries against FAU, while Byrd added 21 yards on 11 attempts.
Warner’s status up in air
The chances that sophomore defensive back Freddie Warner will redshirt this season continue to increase by the week.
Warner played in seven games last season and started three before being lost for the season due to injury. The former Dallas Pinkston standout returned to participate in spring practice, but tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his knee.
UNT had hoped to bring Warner back some time in October.
McCarney said Warner suffered a setback and will not be ready to return for Saturday’s game at Houston.
Warner is considered UNT’s best defensive back and best player in coverage. His return would have provided a boost heading into the game against the Cougars, who rank eighth nationally in passing offense with an average of 350.3 yards a game.
UNT is waiting for test results on Warner’s knee.
“I don’t think he will have to go back in for more surgery, but he isn’t ready to go,” McCarney said. “We miss him. He was clearly our best defensive back. He could be back soon; he could not be back the rest of the season. We don’t know. His status is really up in the air.”
The longer UNT waits, the more likely it is that Warner will redshirt.
“It is a day-to-day, week-to-week thing,” McCarney said. “Redshirting him is definitely a consideration. He did play last year. If we have to redshirt him, we probably will.”
Two to redshirt
UNT will redshirt backup quarterback Andrew McNulty and wide receiver Nick Schrapps due to injury.
Schrapps landed awkwardly on his shoulder during practice, while McNulty has a cracked bone in his hand that prevents him from gripping the ball.
McCarney said that the injury to Schrapps was a blow because it will hinder the development of one of UNT’s young skill-position players.
McNulty played as a true freshman last year as UNT’s backup quarterback. He scored the first touchdown in the history of Apogee Stadium and started against Tulsa when Derek Thompson went down with an injury.
The loss of McNulty leaves junior Brent Osborn as UNT’s backup quarterback.
McNulty and Osborn were listed as co-backups behind Thompson.
UNT still waiting on Feldt
Highly regarded Arkansas transfer and former Pilot Point standout Cam Feldt has yet to work his way into a significant role at UNT.
Feldt was expected to play a major role when he transferred to UNT, where he sat out last season.
“Cam’s progress has been slow,” McCarney said. “It’s a disappointment. If he was ready to play, we would have him out there on Saturdays. It’s not that he doesn’t care. It’s not that he doesn’t work hard.”
Feldt is a sophomore.
Safety Lairamie Lee will play against Houston after missing most of UNT’s win over FAU after taking a hit to the head. UNT held him out the rest of the game for precautionary reasons. … Linebacker Mike Stojkovic is still on UNT’s roster and will spend the season as a redshirt player after pleading no contest to two counts of misdemeanor assault last week.
UNT getting on track
UNT will head into a pair of matches this weekend against Florida Atlantic and Florida International on an offensive roll.
The Mean Green has scored multiple goals in each victory during a four-game winning streak and posted nine goals over the weekend while sweeping South Alabama and Troy.
UNT beat USA 4-0 before topping Troy 5-1.
The Mean Green (9-3-1) and Middle Tennessee are the only teams that have yet to drop a Sun Belt game. Both are 4-0 in league play.
“I really like the way we are playing right now,” UNT head coach John Hedlund said. “We are finally getting our offense where it needs to be. We still have a lot of youth in our offense, but now those players have more games under their belt. You are starting to see the chemistry.”
Kelsey Hodges has seven goals to lead UNT, while Michelle Young has six. Karla Pineda has six assists.
What has helped UNT is having so many players who are contributing other than its starters.
Hedlund has said throughout the season that this is his deepest team.
“We are getting really good play from players coming off the bench,” Hedlund said. “I think that is really wearing these teams down. You can see it in their faces.”
UNT heads into key home match off split
UNT will head into a key match against Western Kentucky, a nationally ranked Sun Belt rival, off a split of a weekend road trip to Arkansas.
UNT swept Arkansas State before falling in five sets to Arkansas-Little Rock.
The Mean Green won seven straight before losing at UALR and will try to get back on track against No. 20 WKU. The Hilltoppers (17-3, 4-0) are atop the Sun Belt East Division standings, while UNT (17-6, 3-1) is a game behind UALR in the West.
“They are good and have a lot of veterans who have returned,” UNT head coach Ken Murczek said of WKU. “I have seen them. They are as good as advertised. I’m ready for a battle in here on Friday night.”
UNT had hoped to enter that match unbeaten in league play but couldn’t complete an Arkansas sweep.
“It was a long trip to bus there, but that is a part of Division I athletics,” Murczek said. “You have to bring it night in and night out.”
While UNT didn’t get the sweep, it did see middle blocker Courtney Windham pick up the Sun Belt’s defensive player of the week award. Windham posted a league-high 17 blocks over the weekend, including 11 against ASU. No player has recorded more blocks in a three-set match in the Sun Belt this season.
BRETT VITO can be reached at 940-566-6870. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org .