North Texas runs wild in 34-7 rout of Middle Tennessee State

Posted Saturday, Oct. 12, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

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North Texas used a time-tested cure as reliable as penicillin to shake a two-game losing streak Saturday.

A resurrected running game working in concert with a defense that turned havoc into opportunities did the trick.

North Texas rushed for a season-high 303 yards and three touchdowns, and defensive back Lairamie Lee returned an interception 20 yards for a touchdown in the Mean Green’s 34-7 Conference USA victory over Middle Tennessee State at Apogee Stadium.

Brandin Byrd had 139 yards rushing and a touchdown, and backfield teammate Reggie Pegram scored twice among his 22 carries and 88 yards.

It was a completely different look from a Mean Green team that rushed for only 41 yards total in consecutive losses to Georgia and Tulane, which topped North Texas a week ago in the last seconds of the conference opener.

“All week long … we’ve been hearing that North Texas can’t run the ball,” said guard Mason Y’Barbo, who added that the criticism motivated the unit. “It clicked tonight. We got called out [by coaches].

“Maybe what was missing was a hard-edge mentality. There’s no acceptance for not getting it done.”

North Texas improved to 1-1 in C-USA and 3-3 overall, its best record after six games since 2003. The Mean Green remain undefeated at Apogee in 2013 and 10-4 in coach Dan McCarney’s two-plus seasons at the school.

The Blue Raiders, led by quarterback Austin Grammer’s 118 yards rushing and a touchdown, dropped to 1-2 in C-USA and 3-4 overall.

McCarney believed the loss to Tulane worked to his team’s advantage as a motivator this week. He called the preparation “as good as I’ve been here.”

North Texas’ defense turned in another solid performance, holding Middle Tennessee to 205 total yards. Grammer was persistently tormented and held to 36 yards passing.

The Mean Green defense had trouble early holding Middle Tennessee on third down, including the first drive when the Blue Raiders converted twice.

The final third down of the series ended with Zach Orr pouncing on Kyle Griswould’s fumble, forced by James Jones. North Texas was unable to take advantage, though, when quarterback Derek Thompson (13-of-19 passing, 113 yards) threw the first of his two interceptions off deflections.

Later in the quarter, Jones raced for an apparent North Texas touchdown after picking up Orr’s block of Cody Clark’s 32-yard field-goal attempt, but the score was nullified when Will Wright was flagged for an illegal block on the return.

Making matters worse was that the block had no effect on the play.

Wright made up for his miscue, at least in part, when he tipped Grammer’s pass, which floated in the air and into Lee’s arms for North Texas’ third touchdown and 21-7 lead with 6:42 left in the second quarter.

The touchdown was the Mean Green’s first off a turnover this season.

“We should’ve had two [Saturday] if it wasn’t for a stupid penalty,” McCarney said. “We have to learn from it.”

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