DENTON - North Texas got another strong performance from its defense and a massive night from running back DeAndre Torrey to earn a 41-17 win over Rice in Saturday night's homecoming at Apogee Stadium.
Torrey, a sophomore from from Gautier, Miss., rushed for a career-high 130 yards and three touchdowns and added a 5-yard TD reception to his resume, igniting the North Texas attack to a 24 unanswered points and blowing open a game that was tied in the third quarter.
"He did a nice job," North Texas coach Seth Littrell said of Torrey. "He broke some tackles, and it was nice to get back to running the football much better. I was proud of the way he ran."
"I knew I had to step up this week," Torrey said. "I'm putting it on my shoulders to get the job done."
The Mean Green (7-2 overall, 3-2 in Conference USA) survived a pair of turnovers that led to 10 points for the Owls. In addition to Torrey's big game, UNT got a 333-yard, two-touchdown effort from quarterback Mason Fine, a career-best 145-yard receiving night from wide receiver Rico Bussey, Jr., and a defense that allowed the Owls only one sustained drive.
The leaders on defense were legion. North Texas linebacker Joe Ozougwu, a redshirt sophomore from Alief, Texas, had seven tackles, including two for loss and a sack. E.J. Ejiya and Khairi Muhammad each had eight tackles, Nate Brooks had a pair of pass breakups, defensive lineman Dion Novil had six tackles and batted down a pass, and Brandon Garner had two tackles for loss and a sack.
Rice, which fell to 1-8 and lost its eighth in a row, took a 7-0 lead with a 75-yard drive on the opening possession of the game, mixing run and pass between a pair of local true freshmen, quarterback Wiley Green of Plano and running back Juma Otoviano of Arlington.
The Mean Green defense, however, rang up five tackles for loss, including a sack by Garner, and surrendered just 91 yards on Rice's next five possesions, while the offense got a 68-yard touchdown pass from Fine to Bussey and a 44-yard run by Torrey - which led to a Torrey 11-yard TD run - to wipe out the early deficit and give North Texas a 17-7 lead late in the half.
But the North Texas offense vacilated between those explosive plays and crippling mistakes. Fine was under almost constant pressure from the Rice pass rush and was sacked three times and hurried into incompletions four more times, and the Mean Green surrendered two fumbles that set up a Rice field goal to end the first half and a touchdown to start the second, leveling the game at 17-17.
"We've got to clean up some protection things and make sure we're protecting our quarterback," Littrell said.
The Mean Green, however, took control again behind its suffocating defense. After the Owls drew even, North Texas allowed Rice just 28 yards on 17 plays over its next five possessions.
The offense, meanwhile, got a jolt of life when Fine again went deep to Bussey, this time for 40 yards to set up a 23-yard field goal by Cole Hedlund and a 20-17 lead. Torrey's second touchdown of the night then gave the Mean Green breathing room at 27-17.
North Texas sealed the win when Joe Ozougwu's sack shook loose a fumble that Garner recovered at the Rice 14-yard line. On the next play, Torrey scored his third TD of the night for a 34-17 lead.
"I'm really proud of the way our men finished the game," Littrell said. "We've got a lot of things to clean up, but after nine weeks, we're coming into a much-needed off week."
The Mean Green's 7-2 start is their best since 1978, the last year under coach Hayden Fry, when North Texas went 9-2.
Junior wide receiver Rico Bussey, Jr., (Lawton, Okla.) had a career-high 145 yards receiving, besting his 128-yard game earlier this year against Incarnate Word, and his 68-yard first-quarter TD reception was UNT's longest play of the season.
Bussey has 10 touchdown receptions this season, tying John Love (1966) for sixth most in a single season at North Texas.
Redshirt senior kicker Cole Hedlund (Argyle, Texas) hit two field goals Saturday, giving him 15 this season and moving him into the top 10 in single-season field goals at UNT. He is tied for third with Trevor Moore (2014) and Dennis Hopovac (2016), and he surpassed Nick Bazaldua (2004), Garrett Courtney (1997), Jeff Graham (1996), Keith Chapman (1987) and Whit Smith (1980).
Sophomore running back DeAndre Torrey's 44-yard run in the first quarter was the longest of his career. He finished with a career-best 130 yards, the first 100-yard game of his career.
With his 333-yard effort against Rice, junior quarterback Mason Fine (Peggs, Okla.) has 8,503 career passing yards, moving him within 16 of UNT's all-time career mark of 8,519 held by Mitch Maher (1991-94).
Fine moved into second place in UNT career yards of total offense with 8,647 yards, surpassing Scott Davis (1987-90).
Fine has thrown 276 passes without an interception, the longest such streak in the nation.
Senior linebacker Brandon Garner (Mansfield, Texas) had two tackles for loss, giving him 12.5 for the season, tying him with Aaron Belazin (2013) for eighth most in a single season school history.
With two quarterback sacks against Rice, North Texas has 28 sacks this year, the ninth best team total in school history.
With 7 yards receiving Saturday, sophomore wide receiver Jaelon Darden topped 500 yards for the season. Along with Bussey and Jalen Guyton, he gives UNT three receivers with 500 yards receiving this year.
Rice quarterback Wiley Green, a true freshman from Plano, made his first career start for the Owls.
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. - North Texas was up 21-10 and going in for the kill to start the second half in Saturday's showdown for the Conference USA West-Division lead at Legion Field. But when the UAB defense stopped the Mean Green on fourth down near midfield, momentum switched sidelines.
From that point, the Blazers dominated, scoring 19 unanswered points to overthrow the UNT halftime lead while putting intense pressure on quarterback Mason Fine to slow the Mean Green offense, sending North Texas to a 29-21 loss.
In the second half, North Texas (6-2 overall, 2-2 in C-USA play) was stopped three times on fourth down on UAB's side of midfield, gave up some critical pass-interference penalties to keep Blazer possessions alive, missed some tackles against the UAB running game, and could not recreate the offensive success it enjoyed in the first half. The final fourth-down stop came on the Mean Green's final possession of the game, when North Texas was driving for a tying touchdown but came up a yard short on fourth and 10 from the UAB 27-yard line.
"We've just got to do a better job," North Texas coach Seth Littrell said. "We've got to do the things necessary to win football games.
"I just wish we could have played with more discipline in the second half," he added.
UAB (6-1, 4-0) solidifies its grip on the top of the division and remains undefeated at home since its program returned in 2017, has won five straight this year, and is off to the best start in program history.
Fine passed for 336 yards and three touchdowns and became the second quarterback in North Texas history to throw for 8,000 career yards, wide receiver Jaelon Darden had a career-day with 10 receptions for 143 yards and two scores, and the Mean Green defense recorded four sacks on the game and held the UAB run game to just 51 yards in the first half.
North Texas gave up a sack on its first play of the game, but, despite being under pressure much of the night, Fine threw for 212 yards in the first half, becoming the first quarterback to throw for more than 200 yards against UAB this season. The Mean Green converted three of their first four third downs against a defense that was allowing opponents to convert just 23.4 percent of third downs, and Fine threw for three touchdowns against a defense that had allowed just 14 points in its previous three league contests.
The Mean Green exploited the Blazer defense across the middle, hitting slants to Bussey, Jaelon Darden and Cudjoe Young, then throwing wide to Jalen Guyton and Michael Lawrence and Darden.
North Texas was up 14-3 when a 61-yard kickoff return ignited the UAB offense, and two plays later the Blazers drew within 14-10. The Mean Green responded however, with a 24-yard TD pass from Fine to Darden and a 21-10 halftime lead.
But UAB roared back in the third period, fueled by the stop of the Mean Green on fourth and 2 at the UAB 43 on UNT's opening possession of the second half. The turnover on downs and the ever-present UAB pass rush eventually led to a safety, which was followed quickly by a Blazer touchdown to narrow the North Texas advantage to 21-19.
The Blazers kept coming in the fourth quarter. They escaped a third-and-24 when North Texas was flagged for interference, then found the end zone on a 3-yard run to take their first lead of the game at 26-21.
North Texas responded with its best drive of the second half, driving deep into the red zone, but the Mean Green fumbled at the UAB 4-yard line and the Blazers recovered, then drove 96 yards for a field goal with just over two minutes remaining.
The Mean Green again marched into UAB territory, reaching Blazer 27-yard line. But after three incompletions, a fourth-down pass netted nine of the 10 yards needed, ending the North Texas rally.
Junior wide receiver Rico Bussey, Jr.'s 55-yard touchdown reception in the first quarter is the longest play of the season for North Texas.
Bussey (Lawton, Okla.) has 17 career touchdown receptions, tying him with John Love (1965-66) for most career receiving TDs at UNT. Bussey has nine TDs this season, tying him for seventh most in a single season at North Texas with Charlie Murray (1978), Johnny Quinn (2004) and teammate Jalen Guyton (2017).
Sophomore defensive back Tyreke Davis (Denton) had a big pass break-up, knocking away a third-down pass at the NT 3-yard line for force a field goal.
Senior linebacker Brandon Garner (Mansfield, Texas) had a tackle for loss to lift his career total to 27.0, tying him with Corbin Montgomery (1996-99) for sixth on the all-time list.
Sophomore wide receiver Jaelon Darden (Houston) had career highs for receptions with 10, receiving yards with 143m and receiving touchdowns with two.
Redshirt sophomore linebacker Joe Ozougwu (Alief, Texas) had his first career sack, dropping UAB's A.J. Erdely for a 7-yard loss.
Junior quarterback Mason Fine (Peggs, Okla.) moved ahead of Derek Thompson (2009-13) for second all-time at North Texas in career passing attempts with 1,041.
Fine's 336-yard performance sets the school record for most 200-yard passing games in a career with 24.
Senior defensive back Nate Brooks (Whitehouse, Texas) had his first forced fumble and first recovery on the same play, when he stripped UAB running back Jarrion Street at the North Texas 1-yard line.
Senior linebacker E.J. Ejiya (Blaine, Minn.) had 1.5 tackles for loss, giving him 15.0 for the season and moving ahead of Adrian Awasom (2004) for the fifth-best single-season total in program history.
UAB had allowed just five sacks this year, but the Mean Green defense recorded four sacks, courtesy of Joe Ozougwu, E.J. Ejiya, Roderick Young and Brandon Garner.