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.
"This one has a lot of special implications. It is Homecoming, which sometimes, I think, gets a negative connotation of who you pick for your opponent. The history shows that we played Louisiana Tech last year for homecoming. That tells you that we're trying to pick our toughest opponent for Homecoming. We're playing for Children's Harbor and the recognition of the patients there with their names on the back. We're playing for more than ourselves, literally. We're going to be playing for the names on the back. Each player will receive a card in their locker today that talks about who their patient or former patient of Children's Harbor is. Last year, it was amazing to me how our players embraced that and got to know these stories. They knew who they were playing for. We're also going to have a former patient who is going to speak to the team for a few minutes today. That really just lets them know what they're playing for."
"We've just got a great opponent coming here. They're really, really good. They had the one loss to Louisiana Tech on a blocked field goal. They beat a really good Southern Miss team. They have the MVP of our league at quarterback. He is phenomenal. They do a lot of great things offensively. Defensively, they improved during the offseason. They're a lot better defensively. You've seen what they do on special teams with the punt return that they had against Arkansas. They've thrown it all the way back across the field. Coach Litrell had done a terrific job. They're doing really great things there. It's one of the fastest-growing areas in the country and they're taking advantage of it. We will have our hands full but this is why we play the game. We are really excited about the game. We are really excited about our crowd. I would love to see a tremendous turnout for all the many reasons. If our fans want to see a really good football game, they'll come out and support us and come see us Saturday night."
On North Texas quarterback Mason Fine and the challenges that he presents:
We got to see him last year. He's just not a really big guy. Their offensive coordinator, who was a Texas Tech quarterback, made a comment last year that he is the most accurate quarterback that he has ever seen. That's pretty high praise when you say that. He can literally throw it 70 yards. He has a cannon for an arm. He is unbelievably accurate. We know what kind of pass rush that Louisiana Tech has. They were all over him and he was making throws. We saw it last year in person. He's super accurate and they have a very innovative offense. They have a different run game with all the counters and reads. They get their backs out of the backfield. With the tight ends, it's a lot of block and release. They have a head coach who was a fullback at Oklahoma, so you have some of the tough run game in there. They have this Texas Tech offensive coordinator who has this mixture of run and throw. Balance is not how much you do of one or another. It's how well you can and they can do both. The quarterback is as good as advertised.
read more: https://uabsports.com/news/2018/10/15/football-clark-previews-north-texas-homecoming-and-childrens-harbor.aspx