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UNT notebook: UNT defense overcomes slow start

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By Brett Vito

HOUSTON — North Texas got off to a rough start defensively in its game against Rice.

The Mean Green made the plays they needed to defensively at the end to make up for that slow start.

UNT defensive end Jareid Combs and linebacker Brandon Garner made a key stop on fourth-and-1 by stoning Darik Dillard at the line of scrimmage to preserve as 42-35 double-overtime win.

There were plenty of players who made key plays and units that came through.

UNT’s defense was at the top of the list.

“We were poor early and had five offside penalties,” UNT coach Seth Littrell said. “They weren’t as solid as we were in earlier games, but they found a way to win at the end.”

Linebacker Cortney Finney led UNT with 12 tackles and the Mean Green finished with seven tackles for loss.

UNT held Rice to 11 points in the second half.

Roughing call key for UNT

A roughing the passer penalty called on Rice defensive lineman Roe Wilkins played a key role in UNT’s win.

Rice appeared to have UNT stopped in the second overtime when a Mason Fine pass fell incomplete on third down.

UNT picked up a first down and went on to score the game-winning touchdown on Willy Ivery’s 4-yard run when Wilkins plowed into Fine and was flagged.

Second quarter continues to be UNT’s period

UNT continued to thrive in the second quarter of games this season.

UNT trailed 17-0 after the first quarter of its game against Rice but came back to outscore the Owls 14-7 in the second period.

The Mean Green have outscored their opponents 45-28 in the second quarter this season.

Briefly …

UNT changed its lineup along the offensive line. Redshirt freshman Elex Woodworth started at tackle in place of Jordan Murray. T.J. Henson started at guard in place of Garrett Gunter. The Mean Green made those moves after they struggled to get anything going offensively in a 32-0 loss to Florida last week.

While UNT has thrived in the second quarter of games this season, it continued to struggle in the opening period. The Mean Green came into the game having been outscored 29-7 in the first quarter. The Owls led 10-0 after the first period.

UNT appeared to come up with a key stop on third down deep in its own end of the field in the first half when Tyler Stehling’s pass fell incomplete on a play from the Mean Green’s 12-yard line. Rice elected to settle for a field goal, and Haden Tobola converted. The Owls received a second chance when UNT defensive end Jareid Combs jumped offside. The penalty gave the Owls a first down at the UNT 7. Rice converted when Emmanuel Esukpa punched the ball in from a yard out to give the Owls a 17-0 lead.

Jeffrey Wilson’s 75-yard touchdown run in the third quarter was by far the longest run of his career. Wilson’s previous career long covered 38 yards.

UNT came into the night looking to change its fortunes in Conference USA play. The Mean Green won just one game in C-USA play in 2015. UNT started 0-4 in conference play in 2015 before knocking off Texas-San Antonio. The Mean Green finished 1-7 in conference play last season.

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