If you’re a regular reader of this site, you’ll recall we predicted a huge win for North Texas, 42-10. More so than at any point this season, the ball was dropped the prediction could not have been more wrong.
So what happened?
To put it quite simply, Aaron Jones happened. The running back for the Miners ran all over North Texas on Saturday, and the usually solid Mean Green defense had no answer for him. Jones finished the day with 24 carries and 301 yards. The entire North Texas offense finished with 304.
Earlier in the season, this is what UNT’s Jeffrey Wilson had been doing, their most talented player dashing through opposing defenses with ease. As it turned out, his recent knee surgery made him a non-factor, as Wilson carried only 7 times for a total of 22 yards. The Miner defense, as it turned out, did something they hadn’t done all season— stopped the opposition. It may not be enough to keep Sean Kugler’s job, but it was enough to keep North Texas in line with our preseason prediction: 5-7 and no bowl game this year.
Taking the snap, senior Alec Morris played his last game for North Texas, going 23 for 42 with 197 yards, two touchdowns and (unusual for him) zero interceptions. Freshman Mason Fine remained out with injury, though Morris was still quite a bit better than his counterpart, Ryan Metz, who’s been far and a way the better QB this season. Metz was a mere 12/17 with 171 yards and two TD’s. Doing the math, that’s 4.7 yards per pass for Morris, 10.1 for Metz. That right there will swing any game faster than you can say “rebuilding year.”
Beyond Aaron Jones, UTEP really didn’t have much going for them. Metz was solid but not exceptional, and was also his teams second leading rusher on the day, finishing with 43 yards. The Miners top receiver? Hayden Plinke, who had three receptions for— wait for it-- 84 yards. The Mean Green defense took a nap in the desert heat, it appears, and will find they won’t be waking up until Fall 2017.
The game was over by the 2nd quarter, during which the Miners outscored the Mean Green, 21-10. That made it 31-17 going into halftime, and the Miners never looked back.
Despite North Texas’ missteps, this was their game to lose and the blame on losing it should be placed squarely on their shoulders, because— as we said in our preview— Seth Littrell has had one recruiting class to add to last years 1-11 squad. To even challenge for a bowl game is something special, and with another year to recruit, the Mean Green will absolutely be a team to watch out for in 2017— particularly with the step backwards we’ve seen at Southern Miss and, yes, UTEP too.
The Miners, meanwhile, finish 4-8 in Sean Kugler’s fourth year, and word on his return is still up in the air. With UNT’s loss, their 5-7 record means only six bowl-eligible teams in a conference with seven bids. We’ll keep an eye on those over-achieving Sun Belt teams as bowl selection approaches, and despite today’s result, we’ll also consider this a successful season for North Texas. We can’t wait to see how they build on it.