We got this one entirely wrong, and honestly neither result would have surprised us. It’s just that kind of season in C-USA.
North Texas was without their starting QB, freshman Mason Fine, and star RB Jeffrey Wilson was also out following knee surgery. USM was without QB Nick Mullens, but surely their backup could hold his own? That turned out not to be the case as Keon Howard finished 10/26 with 130 yards and three interceptions. Those slip ups (and an outstanding Mean Green defense) proved the difference, as the game finished by just a touchdown difference. 29-23.
Outside of Howard, USM had running back Ito Smith to rely on, who banged it out with 113 rushing yards on the day. The next two leading rushers only managed 90 yards combined. Whatever coach Jay Hopson is doing is not working, as UNT jumped out to an early lead that amounted to a 20-7 differential at halftime. Despite some challenges early in the third quarter, the Mean Green held on for the victory.
Alec Morris, senior and backup QB for North Texas, had been less than exceptional in two previous starts for the Mean Green, with two touchdowns and five interceptions over that span. He finally settled down this week after being given the chance to shine. Morris threw only a single interception, to go with 267 yards and 2 touchdowns. If he does that well against UTEP next week (and all signs point to Yes), North Texas might just grab that bowl bid after all.
Willy Ivery was the standout running back for the Mean Green this week, carrying the ball 18 times for 111 yards and a touchdown. Andrew Tucker, a prime contributor last week against WKU, wasn’t much of a factor.
Wide receiver Turney Smiley racked up 162 yards receiving and two touchdowns of his own, proving what we said in our preview, that North Texas has the better coach. Offensive-minded Seth Littrell took backups and leftovers from last year’s 1-11 team and found a way to win. This will be a team to watch not just going into 2017, but going into December.
North Texas moves to 5-6 (3-4), and travels to UTEP next week for the regular season finale. And for doubting their bowl chances, we apologize.
USM drops to 5-6 (3-4) on the season, and will lick its wounds going back home to host a surging Louisiana Tech squad. If today was any indication, the Golden Eagles can look forward to an ugly day, and a lot of uncertainties heading into the offseason.