North Texas tightens grip on C-USA West with 41-7 rout of UTEP

Posted Saturday, Nov. 09, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

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North Texas checked off an essential item on its list of things to do in order to improve its bowl résumé and prospects for a Conference USA championship on Saturday afternoon: clobber inferior opponents.

The Mean Green very coolly dismantled UT El Paso (1-8, 0-5 C-USA) at a very steady pace by whipping the Miners up front with physical, dominating line play on both sides of the ball in a 41-7 C-USA victory at Apogee Stadium.

The catalysts for UNT’s fifth consecutive victory were a defense that sacked UTEP quarterback Mack Leftwich eight times and UNT running back Brandin Byrd, who carried 18 times for two touchdowns and ran up 202 of his team’s 317 rushing yards, including an 82-yard score early in the third quarter.

Antoinne Jimmerson also had a rushing touchdown, and quarterback Derek Thompson had a touchdown pass and 154 yards passing.

“We didn’t take them lightly or play down to their level,” said defensive end Aaron Bellazin, an Everman High School product who had 2.5 sacks. “We made sure we went out and did our job.”

UNT (7-3, 5-1) sits alone atop the conference’s West Division standings after Tulane’s loss to UT San Antonio.

The Mean Green and the 26,119 who came to watch them — the fourth-largest crowd in school history — were more than happy to learn that piece of good news.

UNT is now in control of the West Division. Rice, idle on Saturday, also has one loss, but the Mean Green owns the head-to-head tiebreaker.

If the Mean Green wins the last of its two regular-season games, UNT will assure itself a spot in the conference championship game opposite the East Division champion on Dec. 7.

Defense, they say, wins championships. On Saturday, UNT defenders attacked the Miners with the gusto of a condor on a carcass.

The Mean Green harassed Leftwich, a freshman making his first start, for four quarters and held the Miners’ rushing attack, second in C-USA, to 56 yards on 42 carries, almost 145 below their season average. UNT limited UTEP to 12 yards in the second quarter.

In addition to Bellazin’s sacks, Richard Abbe and Brandon McCoy each had two. UNT also had a blocked field goal to stymie UTEP’s first — and best — possession of the game.

Special teams also accounted for a touchdown in consecutive weeks.

Redshirt freshman Rex Rollins sped around the outside to block Jim Jones’ punt, which was recovered in the end zone by Darvin Kidsy.

That covered for an offense that scored only 14 points in the first half. The Mean Green scored 20 points on offense overall, including quarterback Derek Thompson’s 42-yard pass to Carlos Harris.

“You love to see the consistency from Brandin [Byrd],” UNT coach Dan McCarney said of his leading rusher. “He’s one of the toughest guys we have around here.”

In reality, It will now be difficult for anyone to keep UNT out of one of six C-USA bowl tie-ins, especially after the Mean Green became bowl eligible last week. Among those possibilities is the Liberty Bowl, the destination of the conference champion.

After a week off, UNT returns to Apogee Stadium on Nov. 23 for a game against UTSA.

“We have a great chance to go to a bowl somewhere in the country,” McCarney said. “There’s still a lot of football to play.”

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