North Texas brought a livelier offense out for game No. 2 of 2015, though it wasn’t good enough for the Mean Green to overcome egregious violations of two of football’s golden rules — take care of the football and get your defense off the field … or else.
North Texas yielded 31 unanswered points, none more costly than the 17 Rice scored off three turnovers, and faced too wide a disparity in time of possession in a 38-24 loss Saturday in a Conference USA opener for both at Apogee Stadium.
The Mean Green (0-2, 0-1 C-USA) possessed the football for only 18 minutes compared with more than 41 minutes for the Owls (2-1, 1-0), who ran 90 plays and converted 12 of 19 third-down attempts. Conversely, North Texas, running a new up-tempo, no-huddle scheme, ran 62 plays.
You can’t hurt your football team by being sloppy with the ball.
North Texas coach Dan McCarney
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“We have to take better care of the ball,” North Texas coach Dan McCarney said. “It’s hard to overcome those kinds of mistakes and win against a good football team.
“You’re rarely ever going to win games doing that.”
North Texas has committed seven turnovers in the first two games and was minus-3 in turnover margin Saturday.
Rice quarterback Driphus Jackson passed for 373 yards and three touchdowns, including two to Dennis Parks, who had eight catches for a career-high 163 yards. The Owls racked up 562 yards of offense.
Emman Ellerbeehad two fumble recoveries for Rice, including covering Darvin Kidsy’s drop on a punt return he shouldn’t have fielded. Kidsy fielded the ball on a hop just as a Rice special teams defender arrived.
Three plays later, Jackson and Parks hooked up on a 13-yard touchdown. Rice later turned Willy Ivery’s fumble in the red zone into three points late in the first half. That turned out to be a six- or 10-point swing, considering Ivery fumbled at Rice’s 13.
There was progress, but we can’t hurt ourselves taking points off the board or giving away possessions.
North Texas quarterback Andrew McNulty
“You can’t hurt your football team by being sloppy with the ball,” McCarney said. “You’re carrying 117 players and a coaching staff when you have that ball.”
A week after flailing on offense, the Mean Green showed some spark.
Quarterback Andrew McNulty passed for 303 yards and a touchdown, a 93-yarder to Carlos Harris during a rally from 38-10 down in the fourth quarter. Antoinne Jimmerson had 95 yards on 13 carries.
The Mean Green’s 462 total yards were appreciably better than the fewer than 240 a week ago.
“There was progress, but we can’t hurt ourselves taking points off the board or giving away possessions,” said McNulty, who also threw an interception off a tipped pass. “We have a strong belief in our defense, but we can’t continue to put our defense in positions like that.”
McNulty’s interception on the first drive of the third quarter set up Rice at its own 34. From the 38, Jackson hitParks for 54 yards and a first-and-goal at North Texas’ 8. On play later, Samuel Stewart lunged over the goal line for a 5-yard TD run that put the Owls up 24-10.
The Mean Green had 103 yards in the quarter, but 56 came on two plays in its only scoring drive of the quarter.
Three of North Texas’ four third-quarter drives averaged less than 1:30, including one three-and-out that took 24 seconds. It was comprised of three incomplete passes by McNulty before the punt.
That kept a tiring defense on the field.
“We couldn’t get off the field on third down,” McCarney said. “It seemed like they just kept converting. They executed.”