When North Texas football coach Seth Littrell congratulated his team on becoming bowl eligible after Saturday’s win, the locker room was silent without any cheers from players.
Littrell said his team looked at him with blank stares after just beating Southern Mississippi 30-7 to improve to 6-1. He said he, too, was taken back when someone congratulated him with a handshake after the game for reaching the feat for the third straight season. It was a mark Littrell hadn’t even realized until then.
“Getting bowl eligible wasn’t one of our high goals or anything like that,” Littrell said.
The mood of Littrell’s players after the game mirrored his words. Quarterback Mason Fine, linebacker E.J. Ejiya and safety Khairi Muhammad participated in the post-game press conference, all stating that they and their teammates wanted more out of both the game they just played and the season.
“We have our eyes set on something bigger than (bowl eligibility),” Ejiya said. “We want a ring. We’re looking for a conference championship ring. In order to do that, we just gotta come back every week and just keep on resetting and keep on moving. Bowl eligible is amazing, but we got a bigger picture.”
UNT started slow after the game kicked off 30 minutes late because of lightning in the area, leading 10-7 at halftime. The Mean Green had a lead at the break largely thanks to Ejiya and the defense, which intercepted a pass and kept Southern Miss out of the red zone. But that’s how the UNT defense wants it. The group put an emphasis this season on being the reason UNT wins games despite the Mean Green being known for its prolific offense.
“That’s something we’ve seen, and know we can accomplish that,” Littrell said. “... When they’re locked in and on the same page, they’re playing hard together and they start getting that momentum, it’s extremely hard to move the football on them. But as we’ve talked about, it only takes a little bit to just being average. But I do think when they’re locked in this is a special group.”
UNT’s offense got rolling in the second half just as the run game did. The Mean Green had 29 rushing yards at halftime, with Fine accounting for 22, before posting 165 at the end. DeAndre Torrey played a vital role in jolting the ground game after a 6-yard touchdown run in the third quarter. He was responsible for all of UNT’s second-half points, tallying three touchdowns and 95 yards on 17 carries.
Fine hit Jalen Guyton for a 53-yard pass early in the second quarter for the game’s first points. Guyton had seven catches for 124 yards and the score. Fine was 24-of-38 for 292 yards, as well as six rushes for 30 yards.
“Offensively, we haven’t reached our full potential yet,” Fine said. “It upsets me, to be honest with you. Our defense has had our back all season, so it’s time for our offense to step up. That’s what we’re gonna do.”