North Texas went to work this week when it came to handling third downs on both offense and defense.
That work paid big dividends for the Mean Green in a 46-43 win against UAB in both teams' Conference USA opener on Saturday at Apogee Stadium.
UNT converted 12 of its 19 third downs while limiting UAB to six conversions on its 13 attempts.
Those totals marked a dramatic improvement from the Mean Green's loss to Iowa last week. UNT didn't convert a single one of its third downs against Iowa and allowed the Hawkeyes to convert 15 of their 23 attempts.
"We cleaned up the third downs and got off the field," UNT coach Seth Littrell said. "We also did a better job of converting on offense."
That improvement helped the Mean Green explode for 46 points and make just enough stops to come away with the win.
UNT coach Seth Littrell was not sure whether Jaelon Darden would play for the Mean Green against UAB due to an injury he suffered late in the a loss to Iowa last week.
The freshman wide receiver was able to play and handled punt returns for the Mean Green. He returned one punt for 12 yards through the first three quarters.
Darden has emerged as UNT's primary punt and kick returner in the first three weeks of the season.
UNT honored Hall of Fame running back Abner Haynes at halftime as part of its Hall of Fame weekend.
Haynes and teammate Leon King became the first African-Americans to play college football in Texas when they joined UNT's freshman team 1956. Haynes went on to lead the Mean Green to the 1959 Sun Bowl.
Linebacker Joshua Wheeler made his second straight start. He missed the Mean Green's season opener. He had two sacks and two tackles for loss in the late stages of the fourth quarter.
UNT appeared as if it would score its first touchdown against UAB in the first quarter when a key mistake cost the Mean Green.
UNT pushed the ball to UAB 2-yard line on 9-yard run from Jeffery Wilson. The Blazers stuffed Wilson, picked up a yard on another carry and was then stuffed on second down.
Mason Fine couldn't handle a high snap that bounced off his hands. The sophomore chased the ball down and fell on it for an 11-yard sack.
UNT settled for a 29-yard Trevor Moore field goal.
UNT blocked a punt in the second half. Defensive back Taylor Robinson came through the middle of UAB's line and blocked an attempt from Joel Dixon.
BRETT VITO can be reached at 940-566-6870 and via Twitter at @brettvito.