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UNT's defense shines in loss to Iowa

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Brett Vito, Staff Writer

IOWA CITY, Iowa — Khairi Muhammad wasn't particularly happy with the way the North Texas defense played last week in a loss to SMU.

The Mean Green's starting strong safety and a host of teammates made sure they bounced back Saturday in what looked like an even bigger challenge against Iowa.

The Hawkeyes have Big Ten talent, but had big-time problems with Muhammad and the Mean Green for most of the night before pulling away for a 31-14 win at Kinnick Stadium.

"We gave it all we had," Muhammad said. "I tip my cap to the defensive linemen. We played hard but came up short."

The Mean Green appeared to have a chance to pull off what would have been a monumental upset most of the game because of their defense.

The Mean Green allowed just 10 points in the first half and helped keep UNT in the game until the closing moments of the fourth quarter, when Iowa scored a pair of touchdowns.

That was a big change from a week ago in a 54-32 loss to the Mustangs.

UNT gave up 435 yards of total offense, but 130 of them came on Iowa's last two drives.

The Mean Green just wore down on a night Iowa held the ball for a whopping 40 minutes, 45 seconds.

"We got worn down," UNT coach Seth Littrell said. "They had 86 snaps to our 46. After a while that takes its toll. I am proud of the way we competed. It's a good learning experience. It will help us get better."

Muhammad played a key role in UNT's outing while finishing with 13 tackles. Linebacker Colton McDonald added 10.

The Mean Green forced two fumbles and recovered both of them.

Iowa's coaches and players attributed their win largely to the way they were able to control the ball and eventually wear down UNT.

"The long drives are a lot of fun," Iowa tight end T.J. Hockenson said. "It gets the crowd into it when we are on the field for a long time. It gets us into a rhythm when we get going."

UNT linebacker Brandon Garner didn't feel like UNT wore down. He and Littrell pointed to the Mean Green's struggles on third down as their main problem Saturday.

Iowa converted 11 of its 18 third downs and four of five fourth-down tries.

"We didn't wear down," Garner said. "We just have to get off the field on third downs. They didn't do anything special."

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

Featured photo: Iowa wide receiver Nick Easley fumbles the ball during the first quarter as he is hit at the goal line by North Texas cornerback Kemon Hall. Iowa won 31-14.