Football

North Texas trying to avoid matching school’s worst season

Saturday is likely the last game at North Texas for interim coach and offensive coordinator Mike Canales.
Saturday is likely the last game at North Texas for interim coach and offensive coordinator Mike Canales. AP

A victory Saturday in North Texas’ season finale won’t heal all the wounds suffered during the Mean Green’s season of bitter reality.

But it wouldn’t hurt.

North Texas (1-10, 1-6 Conference USA) is coming off three consecutive losses on the road losses and is trying to avoid the school’s second 11-loss season against UTEP (4-7, 2-5).

Kickoff at Apogee Stadium is 2:30 p.m.

It’s not so much a bad season that has caused the irritation, but rather the trend. North Texas has lost 10 or more games in five seasons, including four in the past 10 years. A loss would match the worst season in school history, 2008.

It will be the last game for 20 seniors and likely most, if not all, of the coaching staff of Dan McCarney, who was fired as head coach after the fifth game of this season.

“It will probably be my last game here,” interim coach Mike Canales said Monday. “It probably won’t hit me until Saturday. Right now, I’m concerned about getting the kids ready to play Saturday.

“I want them to walk out of here with their heads held high. It’s not an embarrassment what’s happened; it’s disappointing, but you have to have a lot of pride in understanding who we represent.”

Later in that weekly press availability, Canales read a formal statement, expressing his gratitude for the opportunities extended to him at North Texas. It was the strongest indication yet that not only has he been told he won’t be the next head coach, he won’t even be considered for a job on the staff.

I believe I am a head coach. I believe I have the character, personality and what an AD is looking for.

UNT interim coach Mike Canales

Five years ago, when he took over for the fired Todd Dodge, Canales — the offensive coordinator then and now — politicked hard for the permanent job that eventually went to McCarney.

Canales hasn’t done that this time around, though he has made subtle hints with statements that he could fix the North Texas program.

It won’t be in Denton, but the longtime assistant, still a young man at 54 and with 30 years of experience as a coach, still wants to be a head coach.

“I want it even more,” Canales said. “I believe I am a head coach. I believe I have the character, personality and what an AD is looking for.”

Offense sputters

The season won’t be a highlight on Canales’ résumé. Only 12 FBS teams are worse offensively than North Texas, according to the numbers.

Instability at quarterback since the graduation of Derek Thompson after the 2013 Heart of Texas Bowl team and a lack of playmakers — specifically, speed — have sent the Mean Green into a spread, stall formation.

121 North Texas’ rank in red zone offense, out of 127 teams

An observer need go no further than the first quarter to understand the Mean Green’s struggles.

North Texas has been outscored 122-6 and has not scored a first-quarter TD this season while averaging only 55.3 yards. The Mean Green is also 121st — out of 127 teams —in red-zone offense

“I’ve dissected it,” said Canales, who neither took the blame nor absolved himself completely. “No. 1 team in the country in the red zone last year. Is it play-calling? No. It’s our ability to execute.”

Senior benchmarks

Senior wide receiver Carlos Harris will be looking to pad his legacy. Harris ranks in the top 10 in school history in receptions, receiving yards and all-purpose yards. Antoinne Jimmerson, at 1,833 career rushing yards, needs 32 yards to pass Abner Haynes for 12th place all time.

Zac Whitfield is one interception shy of becoming the eighth player in school history with 10 career interceptions. He stands ninth among active FBS players.

“They’ll tell you right now they’d give that up for a victory,” Canales said.

North Texas vs. UTEP

2:30 p.m. Saturday, FSSW

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