Courtesy UNT Athletics
DENTON - What a start to a season of high expectations.
North Texas scored the most points in its first two games in program history, registered consecutive 400-yard passing games by a quarterback for the first time, and is 2-0 for the first time since 1994.
For the second week in a row, North Texas got strong efforts from its defense and quarterback Mason Fine to go along with three-touchdown performances from running back DeAndre Torrey and wide receiver Rico Bussey, Jr., to roll to a 58-16 victory over Incarnate Word Saturday at Apogee Stadium.
"We still have a lot of work to do," North Texas coach Seth Littrell said. "I was proud of the way our guys competed for four quarters. I felt like in all three phases we were competitive and dominated.
"We got a week better."
Fine completed 19 of 33 for 281 yards and two touchdowns in the first half to lead North Texas to a 41-6 halftime advantage, on his way the third 400-yard effort of his career and the 10th in program history.
"I think we improved from last week," said Fine, who finished 25 of 40 for 418 yards and four touchdowns, three of them to Bussey, who had a career-best 128 yards receiving. "We're moving this program in the right direction."
Torrey, a sophomore running back from Gautier, Miss., capitalized on all those passing yards with three 1-yard scoring runs in the first half.
"Torrey did a nice job inside the red zone," Littrell said. "We need to run the ball much better. We're still not where we need to be."
The Mean Green have led by 20 or more at intermission of both games this year, and, coupled with the 46 points scored a week ago, has scored 104 points this year - the most points scored in the first two games in UNT history.
The defense, meanwhile, followed its throttling of SMU a week ago by holding UIW to just five first-half first downs while coming up with three first-half takeaways, including defensive back Kemon Hall's second interception in as many weeks. North Texas held an opponent to under 300 yards for the second week in a row, this time against an opponent that amassed 566 yards total offense in its opener against New Mexico. Linebackers E.J. Ejiya, Brandon Garner and Jamie King led the Mean Green assault, combining for 21 tackles, seven for loss.
The defensive performance was marred only a 55-yard touchdown run by UIW's Ra'Quanne Dickens, who pulled Cardinals within 10-6 late in the first quarter. That, however, was UIW's last flirtation with challenging the Mean Green. North Texas out-scored UIW 31-0 in the second period to put the game away.
- Junior quarterback Mason Fine (Peggs, Okla.) moved up to third in career completions in school history with 544, passing Scott Davis (1987-90) and Giovanni Vizza (2007-08); to fourth in career touchdowns with 44, slipping past Davis and Derek Thompson (2009-13); and to fourth in career total offense with 6,601 yards, eclipsing Scott Hall (2000-04) and Steve Ramsey (1967-69).
While the returns are extremely early, trends are forming regarding the areas of concern on this team:
- Place kicking - the void left by the graduation of record-setting placekicker Trevor Moore is being filled by former Parade All-American and USA Today All-USA first team member Cole Hedlund. So far, so good. Hedlund made four field goals in the opener, including a 51-yard effort, and three against Incarnate Word without a miss. He has also been perfect on extra points.
- Punting - North Texas averaged 39.6 yards per punt a year ago. This year, the Mean Green are averaging 42.5 yards. Punt coverage has been good as well.
- Run game - Still a work in progress. The Mean Green are averaging 2.6 yards per carry, and the leading-rusher, DeAndre Torrey, has 52 yards for the year. "We have to get better at our running game," Littrell said.
- Defense - it's worth repeating that its very, very early, but a reading of the two-game-old tea leaves shows a defense not satisfied with being the sidekick to the prolific North Texas offense. A year ago, the Mean Green allowed 426.7 yards and 35 points per game. This year the UNT defense is surrendering just 276 yards and 19.5 points per game, numbers slightly skewed by the fourth quarter of the opener when SMU scored all of its points and gained all but 46 of its yards long after the outcome had been decided.
- Senior defensive back Kemon Hall (Calhoun City, MS) recorded the third interception of his career and second of the season.
- Redshirt junior wide receiver Jalen Guyton is tied with Bussey for the team high in receiving touchdowns. Guyton had five catches for 11 yards and a TD on a 15-yard toss from Fine in the second quarter.
- Redshirt freshman quarterback Cade Pearson (Texarkana, Texas) and true freshman QB Kason Martin (Manvel, Texas) made their collegiate debuts Saturday.
- In the second quarter, senior defensive back Nate Brooks (Whitehouse, Texas) had the third interception of his career and the Mean Green's second of the season.
- Two plays later, North Texas threw its first interception of the season.
- And on UIW's ensuing possession, the Mean Green stonewalled the Cardinals on third and one then on fourth and two with tackles for loss by senior linebacker E.J. Ejiya (Blaine, Minn.) and junior linebacker Jamie King (Azle, Texas) to force UIW to turn the ball over on downs.
- Ejiya registered a career-high three tackles for loss, along with his first career fumble recovery and a blocked PAT.
- Torrey's third one-yard trip to the end zone marked the first time a Mean Green back had three scores in a game since Jeffrey Wilson did it against Southern Miss on Sept. 30, 2017.
North Texas hits the road for the first time this season, facing the Arkansas Razorbacks in Fayetteville. The game is scheduled for 3 p.m. and will be telecast on SEC Network.