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North Texas covers the spread but falls to Cal 23-17

Despite some big plays late in the game, Cal’s 20 first-quarter points proved just out of reach, despite a much-improved Mean Green squad

NCAA Football: North Texas at California
Golden Bears safety Jaylinn Hawkins forces a first-quarter fumble by UNT’s Mason Fine, en-route to a 20-0 first quarter lead. It was Fine’s only fumble of the game.
Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

When is a loss not a loss?

After getting hammered all day in Dallas last week, North Texas made the necessary adjustments on Saturday, put the ball where it needed to go, and... covered the spread, but lost anyway.

UNT came into this game as two-touchdown underdogs, and against Pac-12 competition plus last week’s 22-point loss, things could’ve got ugly here very quickly. The Golden Bears roared to a 20-0 lead in the first quarter, which the Mean Green could only answer with a second-quarter field goal, leaving the score 20-3 at halftime.

What we’ve learned about Cal is, they’re a conservative team by nature, and don’t look to put up big points, but rather, stop you with their oppressive defense and wait for their offense to grind it out. It happened last week when they beat nationally-ranked Washington 20-19, and it nearly happened this week, as after that initial first-quarter onslaught, the Mean Green settled down and held them to only three points the entire rest of the game.

This is, in fact, consistent with what we’ve seen in a lot of North Texas conference games in recent years. A number of their games saw the team completely asleep in the first quarter, and then once they settled down, the defense would start to make stops, and the offense started to connect, often having to dig them out of a hole from the first-quarter lethargy.

The Cal Golden Bears are by no means a historically bad team, and in fact have been on the upswing since head coach Justin Wilcox came on board, culminating in their victory against UW last week. For a Conference USA team— any Conference USA team— to come in and start firing on all cylinders, even if only for a quarter or two, means good things for the Mean Green once conference play starts.

Mason Fine outpaced Cal quarterback Chase Garbers, as Fine finished up with 210 passing yards, going 21/40 with two touchdowns and one interception. Garbers was held to only 9/22 for 129 yards and one touchdown, though Cal hasn’t been a pass-happy team this year.

Where the game got close was on the ground, where Cal totaled 149 rushing yards, led by Garbers and his 70 yards rushing. One could make the argument that Cal was just saving their big guns for Ole Miss next week, but it’s still fun to look at the stat line and see their two big RB’s held to 47 and 28 yards.

On the Mean Green side of the ball, new bright spot Tre Siggers finished with 88 yards on 18 carries, with DeAndre Torrey back in the mix with another 23 yards.

At the end of the third quarter, the score stood at 23-10, after a 68-yard bomb from Fine to Jaelon Darden for a score, one of only two passes caught by Darden on the day.

Sadly, the comeback fell short, as North Texas managed only one score in the fourth, an 18-yarder to Jyaire Shorter with 3:07 left in the game. Shorter finished second among UNT receivers, accumulating 68 yards on five passes.

Covering the spread is no small feat, though is still a feat that the Mean Green managed regularly last season, and this year they’re up to their old tricks, making things interesting in Berkeley.

North Texas now stands at 1-2 on the season, and returns to Denton to host upstarts UTSA, who also stand at 1-2 after a loss today to Army.