Carlos Harris' career night wasn't enough for the Mean Green on Saturday, falling to Southern Miss 30-20 and allowing more than 500 total yards for the second time in three games.
Harris set career-highs with 216 receiving yards and 15 receptions, helped by soft Southern Miss coverage that consistently left him open on the 10-yard out route. Outside of his production, though, no one else on the Mean Green offense proved to be a threat.
After leading the offense the last three games, Dajon Williams was benched at quarterback in favor of career backup Andrew McNulty, who last started a game in 2011. McNulty finished with 20 completions in 35 attempts for 287 yards but was hardly spectacular. Several of his completions were under thrown or off target, forcing his receivers to go to the ground or slow down on a route in order to complete the catch.
But McNulty also didn't turn the ball over, a crucial detail for quarterbacks on every McCarney-led team -- especially after Williams committed five in the last two weeks combined.
"I don't like musical chairs at quarterback; I never have on any teams," McCarney said after the game. "But if you're my starting quarterback and you turn it over seven times in two weeks, would you expect to be my starting quarterback? Of course not. Neither should Dajon, because he was clearly at the top of the list at turning the ball over. We're not going to do that; we're not going to tolerate that. We're not going to keep putting someone out there who doesn't respect the football."
After falling behind 30-20 early in the fourth quarter, the Mean Green answered back with a drive that took them into Southern Miss territory. Antoinne Jimmerson broke free on a short screen for what would have been a 51-yard touchdown, but the play was called back on an unnecessary holding penalty.
North Texas still managed to get into the red zone before the drive stalled, but freshman kicker Trevor Moore missed his first field goal of the season from 33 yards away. Instead of making it a one score game, Southern Miss took over with eight minutes to go up 10 and effectively ended the game with their ensuing drive that killed four minutes before punting.
McCarney still showed complete faith in his kicker after the game, despite the unfortunate miss: "Not many kickers make it this far into a season before missing their first field goal," he said. "What coach wouldn't want that in their freshman kicker? He'll be special. He'll break a lot of records here at North Texas."
After taking a 13-13 tie into halftime, the Mean Green surrendered a fourth down conversion off a Southern Miss fake punt that set up a five-yard George Payne run to put the Golden Ealges up 20-13. North Texas answered back with a 27-yard Reggie Pegram touchdown, but it would be the team's last points of the game.
The only time the Mean Green was able to slow down Southern Miss was by intercepting a pass, something the defense did twice in the first half. But the Golden Eagles, the worst rushing team in Conference USA entering the game, easily moved the ball throughout the game, finishing with 201 yards on the ground and 305 through the air.
Next week, North Texas will try to earn its first Conference USA win of the season in Houston against Rice University.
- It wasn't a great start for the Mean Green offense, moving the ball inside Southern Miss territory before throwing an incompletion on third and short. Worse, instead of going for it on fourth and one, they punted for a touchback. That type of playcalling is way too conservative for a 2-5 team in my estimation, and it's been that way for a while in the hands of Mike Canales. Oh well.
- While the soft coverage helped Harris and he certainly had his fair share of open catches, he still made plenty of plays throughout the game. He said after the game that Southern Miss left him in man-on-man coverage for most of the game, which was a motivator.
- Tonight, McNulty was essentially Derek Thompson 2.0 -- except this team doesn't have nearly the talent that last year's Heart of Dallas Bowl winning team did. Dan McCarney knows that. The team, especially the defense, lost too many important seniors. When asked about whether winning out and making a bowl was a realistic option (it's not), McCarney hesitated, then answered by saying, "Yeah, I don't know about all that. I know right now we've got to correct some things."
- McCarney couldn't say it wasn't a realistic goal, but his non-answer was answer enough. He probably thought the team would be better, but it's clearly a rebuilding season in Denton.