Interception, long TD pass not enough for Mean Green
By sheldon mickles
September 07, 2012
After having nothing go right in the first 271/2 minutes of Saturday night’s game with third-ranked LSU, North Texas finally had something to smile about going into the locker room for halftime.
While the Mean Green trailed 24-7, they went in with momentum created by a touchdown pass that netted 80 of their 137 first-half yards and a goal-line interception that kept LSU from building an even larger halftime lead.
That was all the positive vibes North Texas could muster, however.
LSU kept the Mean Green at arm’s length in the second half in a 41-14 victory in the season opener in Tiger Stadium after holding the visitors to 55 yards and three first downs on their first 30 offensive plays.
North Texas thought it had something going late in the first half when, trailing 24-0, LSU’s Drew Alleman missed a 34-yard field-goal attempt.
Twenty-five seconds later, North Texas got only its second touchdown in four-plus games all-time against LSU when wide receiver Brelan Chancellor turned a short pass from quarterback Derek Thompson into an 80-yard score.
That was followed by an interception by freshman cornerback Zac Whitfield with 1:03 to play in the half after LSU threatened to match UNT’s first score following a 60-yard run by Kenny Hilliard.
Suddenly down only 17 at halftime, North Texas felt a lot better about itself than it did a bit earlier.
“We really made some plays,” second-year UNT coach Dan McCarney said. “The touchdown pass to Chancellor, obviously, that’s hard to do. You don’t see many people do that to LSU’s defense, so it does give you some juice.
“It gives you some momentum … it gives you some hope,” he added. “But there were just too many big plays by them and not enough by us.”
A slow start was too much to overcome for North Texas, which managed just 22 total yards in the first quarter.
The Mean Green offense had five three-and-outs to start the game, and, after getting their initial first down with 14:07 to play in the second quarter, had to punt for a sixth straight time before Thompson was intercepted by LSU free safety Eric Reid.
“You can’t do that, you just can’t do that,” McCarney said after his team managed nine first downs and 219 yards in the game. “(LSU) is so talented and so fast. I’ve coached against national championship teams and I’ve been a part of national champion teams, and I know what those defenses look like.
“The Tigers sure have one of those again this year. They just don’t stay blocked very long. That’s what I saw standing on the sideline. That’s a fast, physical, well-coached defense, as usual, at LSU.”
Things were so rough that North Texas used all of its three first-half timeouts by the 11:45 mark of the second period.
But it would be wrong to think the Mean Green didn’t just struggle on offense.
McCarney’s team had its troubles on defense and special teams as well.
The defense gave up a 38-yard TD run to Hilliard on the Tigers’ first possession and special teams allowed LSU wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. to return a punt 70 yards for a score after his 76-yard TD return earlier in the first quarter was wiped out by a penalty.
Even when something went right, it went wrong for UNT.
LSU backup punter Jamie Keehn, who was filling in for an injured Brad Wing, had the ball go through his hands on the first punt of his career, but he scrambled to recover the ball and get the kick off.
The 38-yard punt rolled dead at the North Texas 16, helping LSU dodge a potential bullet.
After Beckham returned a North Texas punt for a touchdown, Hilliard got his second touchdown of the night on a 5-yard run on the first play of the second period to make it 21-0.
That score by Hilliard, who gained 141 yards on just 13 carries, was set up on a 37-yard run by Alfred Blue, who added 123 yards on 16 attempts as the Tigers piled up 316 rushing yards and 508 total yards.
Alleman pushed the LSU lead to 24-0 when he kicked a 44-yard field goal with 6:26 to play in the half before UNT finally responded a few minutes later with Thompson’s touchdown toss to Chancellor.
“That was big,” said Thompson, who was 8-of-21 for 143 yards with two TDs. “We got the touchdown, then we came back and got the pick in the red zone. That was a huge momentum-builder going to halftime.”
But after having a ray of hope in the final 21/2 minutes of the first half, it was more of the same in the final two periods.
Alleman kicked a 30-yard field goal in the third quarter before the Tigers got their final touchdown on a 34-yard pass from Zach Mettenberger to wide receiver Kadron Boone on the first play of the fourth period.
North Texas pulled a little closer when Thompson teamed up with Chancellor for a 15-yard touchdown to cap their best drive of the night midway through the final quarter.
“We did some things that we can improve on, but we did some good things, too,” Thompson said. “But we had at least 10 three-and-outs and that’s unacceptable. That’s one of the things we have to pinpoint.”