New Monday feature — What we learned

North Texas running back Willy Ivery carries the ball during the Mean Green's win over Rice on Saturday at Rice Stadium. (Getty Images/Thomas B. Shea)

North Texas running back Willy Ivery carries the ball during the Mean Green’s win over Rice on Saturday at Rice Stadium. (Getty Images/Thomas B. Shea)

North Texas moved its press conference from Monday to Tuesday earlier this season, which has left Monday as a bit of a dead spot on the blog.

We still have our regular Monday column, which most UNT fans have already seen. If not, here’s the link: UNT shows newfound grit in comeback win against Rice.

The plan is to add to it with a What We Learned feature here on the blog. Here goes …

The point I was trying to make in my column is that UNT showed some intestinal fortitude while coming back from 17 points down against the Owls. I also mentioned that the last time UNT showed that kind of spirit was back in 2013 and back before that during the Miracle Bowl Run of 2001-04.

The teams are different and so are the situations, but the comparison as far as the fight those teams showed is still a valid one.

Here are a few other points as far as where UNT stands ….

– The UNT fan base is giddy right now, and justifiably so. UNT is 2-2 and has exceeded its win total from last season. ESPN has UNT in its latest bowl projections. A win over Rice showed that UNT is probably capable of making a run at six wins.

The fact remains that UNT has a long way to go. The Mean Green have beaten an FCS team in Bethune-Cookman and a Rice team that is 0-4 by the skin of its teeth.

It’s far too early to start making bowl plans. The Mean Green’s next three games against Middle Tennessee, Marshall and Army will show if UNT’s upward trend will be as sharp as the Mean Green hope it will be.

– Mason Fine has grabbed the quarterback job and run with it.

It was a bit of a surprise when UNT turned to Fine so early in the season, but it certainly looks like the right decision now. He has led UNT to wins over Bethune-Cookman and Rice. The surprising aspect of it is Fine has taken a beating in the pocket, run the ball quite a bit and remained healthy, despite being a smaller quarterback.

The fact we are no longer talking about the quarterback situation is telling.

– Some of the questionable offseason moves seem to be paying off

UNT’s coaching staff raised eyebrows with a few questionable offseason moves that seem to have paid off.

UNT moved cornerback Kenny Buyers to wide receiver, signed a host of quick-fix JUCO players and took a risk on an undersized quarterback in Fine.

Fine is playing well, but he is far from the only player who has been a bit of a surprise. Buyers caught four passes for 102 yards against Rice and has made a questionable preseason move look smart.

The quick-fix JUCO strategy has also paid dividends. Linebacker Joshua Wheeler has 15 tackles two sacks and two forced fumbles. Linebacker E.J. Ejiya has 14 tackles, while offensive lineman T.J. Henson started last week in UNT’s win over Rice.

The Mean Green needed those moves to pay off. So far they are.

McClain, Wilson named C-USA Players of the Week

North Texas safety Kishawn McClain breaks up a pass intended for wide receiver Darrion Pollard during the Mean Green's win over the Owls on Saturday.  (Thomas B. Shea/Getty Images)

North Texas safety Kishawn McClain breaks up a pass intended for wide receiver Darrion Pollard during the Mean Green’s win over the Owls on Saturday.
(Thomas B. Shea/Getty Images)



North Texas safety Kishawn McClain was named the Conference USA Defensive Player of the Week, while freshman wide receiver Tyler Wilson was named the Special Teams Player of the Week on Monday.

Both were honored for their performance in the Mean Green’s 42-35 double overtime win over Rice on Saturday.

McClain finished with 10 tackles, intercepted a pass, forced a fumble and was credited with a pass breakup in UNT’s win.

McClain’s interception came after Rice had driven to the UNT 38, while his fumble recovery came at the UNT 37 late in the first half

Wilson returned three kickoffs for 100 yards.

The honors were the first UNT has received from C-USA since McClain and cornerback Chad Davis were honored for their performance in the Mean Green’s win over UTSA on Oct. 31 of last season.

The Sunday leftovers — Football, basketball visitor, et cetera

It’s Sunday night and time for the leftovers, where we pick back through the events of the weekend, reheat the good stuff — and some of the bad — while hopefully putting it all in perspective.

The big news of the weekend was UNT’s dramatic double overtime victory over Rice on Saturday. UNT came back from a 17-point deficit to pull out a 42-35 win.

We went over it all in today’s paper. Here’s a link to the UNT section of our website, where our three stories from the game are still sitting at the top of the page.

A couple of UNT players posted video from inside the locker room. One of the better ones is at the top of this post.

UNT will now turn its attention to a tough stretch of games beginning with a game against Middle Tennessee on Saturday. The Blue Raiders are 3-1 and 1-0 in conference play. UNT will take on Marshall and Army after MTSU.

I just posted on the blog that the UNT men’s basketball team hosted Javon Levi over the weekend.

The details are in that post, in case you missed it.

As far as other UNT sports go, the Mean Green soccer team had its game against Louisiana Tech today rained out. The UNT volleyball team split its weekend matches, losing to Southern Miss before beating Florida International.

And in other news, it was a good weekend for former UNT players in the NFL. Zach Orr had the game-clinching interception for the Baltimore Ravens, while Lance Dunbar just scored his first touchdown for the Cowboys.

Top PG prospect Javon Levi enjoyed visit to UNT

North Texas recently picked up its first commitment for its 2017 recruiting class in forward Zach Simmons.

The Mean Green turned their attention to the perimeter over the weekend while hosting Killeen Shoemaker point guard Javon Levi.

“It went really well,” Levin said Sunday night. “They have a nice campus, good coaches and I liked the players.”

Levi is ranked No. 18 on’s list of the top prospects in the state in the Class of 2017.

The 5-10 point guard averaged 10.0 points and 5.0 assists a game as a junior last season for Shoemaker.

Texas State and Texas-Rio Grand Valley have also offered Levi a scholarship. He has visited Texas State and will visit Texas-Rio Grand Valley in October.

“I’m looking for a place I can get a great education, a place that has a family atmosphere, a team with a style of play that fits me and somewhere I can play right away,” Levi said. “I want to play with a fast-paced team that gets up and down the floor and pressures the ball on defense. North Texas fits that style of play.”

Levi said UNT director of basketball operations Todd Shelton is playing a key role in UNT’s efforts to sign him. He is in no hurry to make a decision.

“I am not leaning any way,” Levi said. “I have no clue when I will make a decision.”

Five thoughts on UNT’s win over Rice

North Texas knocked off Rice 42-35 in double overtime at Rice Stadium. Here are five thoughts on the Mean Green’s victory.

1. Any way one slices it, this was huge for the Mean Green

UNT is rebuilding under Seth Littrell and needs all the momentum/building blocks/positive momentum it can get. A win over Rice certainly qualifies. Was it a perfect game? No, but the Mean Green did what they needed to do to win. That is all that matters.

2. Jeffrey Wilson was big for the Mean Green tonight

Wilson is UNT’s best offensive player and really came through when the Mean Green needed him. Wilson finished with 157 yards and three touchdowns. He is a special player for the Mean Green.

3. UNT has some secondary offensive weapons who were overlooked tonight

Kenny Buyers caught four passes for 102 yards, Willy Ivery scored two touchdowns, including the game-winner. UNT might not win this game without them.

4. Mason Fine continues to develop

UNT’s freshman quarterback continues to get better every week. He threw for 224 yards and a touchdown and managed the game well.

5. UNT’s offensive line is still a work in progress. 

UNT changed its lineup, but still allowed five sacks. Elex Woodworth and T.J. Henson started, but Fine was still on the run quite a bit.

UNT-Rice running blog

North Texas will open Conference USA play today at Rice.

There is a lot riding on this game for a pair of teams looking to turn their seasons around.

UNT is 1-2 with its lone win coming over FCS Bethune-Cookman. Rice is an even worse spot at 0-3 with a conference loss to Western Kentucky already in the books.

A win today for UNT would give the Mean Green a whole lot of momentum heading into a tough stretch of games against Middle Tennessee and Marshall at home followed by a game at Army. A loss leaves UNT at 1-3 and in a world of hurt.

Rice has already played the toughest part of its schedule with games against Army and Baylor in addition to WKU. A win today gives the Owls hope that they can make a run at becoming bowl-eligible with six wins.

UNT is riding a 14-game losing streak in road games dating back to the 2013 season.

The key to ending that streak will be getting something going on offense and stopping Rice’s running game. The Mean Green were shut last week in a loss to Florida and also struggled at times in their season-opening loss to SMU.

Stopping Rice’s running game will be equally important. The Owls are averaging 143.7 yards a game, despite facing a tough early-season slate.

Stay tuned. I will update the blog all night.

4:39 — There are no scratches of note tonight for UNT. The Mean Green are pretty healthy considering they played at Florida last week.

4:55 — It looks like attendance is going to be pretty horrible tonight. There are quite a few UNT fans who made the trip.

Kickoff — Rice won the toss, received and will start at its 25-yard line.

9:31 — Rice drove deep into UNT;s end of the field, but Nate Brooks made a key play on third down to force a sack. Rice still cashed in with a field goal is up 3-0.

8:38 — UNT went three-and-out on its first possession. Rice has the ball back at its 23-yard line. The Mean Green had a drop on that possession. Elex Woodworth started at tackle for UNT.

3:17 — Rice has just scored the game’s first touchdown on a crossing pattern to Lance Wright from 14 yards out. Rice is up 14-0 and has been  on the field for 26 plays. UNT has run just three. The Owls are up 10-0.

2:21 — Rice just called a timeout after sacking Mason Fine for a 10-yard loss. UNT is facing a third-and-22 situation.

1:24 — Rice has the ball back at its 38.

End of the first quarter — UNT is down 10-0 at the end of the first quarter and Rice is driving. The Owls have the ball at the UNT 23-yard line. Rice has a 157 to minus-17 yard edge

13:02 — Rice has extended its lead to 17-0 on a 1-yard run from Emmanuel Esukpa. UNT had held Rice to a field goal, but was offside. Rice got a first down and the touchdown.

10:28 — UNT is on the board., Mason Fine threw his first career touchdown pass, a 16-yard strike to Willie Ivery. UNT converted two key third downs on its last drive and now trails 17-7.

9:11 — UNT has made a big play to cut short a Rice drive. Joshua Wheeler recovered a Rice fumble at the UNT 41-yard line. Rice still leads 17-7.

7:46 — UNT was just stuffed on a fourht-and-1 run at midfield. Rice has the ball back.

6:41 — UNT’s defense made a key stand after the Mean Green turned the ball over at midfield. The Mean Green have the ball back at their 20.

4:31 — Rice has forced a turnover in UNT’s end of the field. Mason Fine fumbled. Rice has the ball at the UNT 33.

2:31 — UNT’s defense has come up with a big stop in its own end of the field. Kishawn McClain intercepted a Stehling pass. UNT immediately came up with a 75-yard pass to Kenny Buyers and has the ball at the Rice 7.

:45 — UNT has bunched the ball in from a yard out on a Jeffrey Wilson run. UNT has cut its deficit to 17-14 late in the first half.

:30 — Rice completed a deep pass to UNT’s 37, but fumbled the ball. UNT has the ball back after a challenge.

Halftime — UNT couldn’t get anything going on the few seconds its had left following Rice’s turnover. The Mean Green will head to halftime trailing 17-14.

Second half — UNT has the ball to start the second half at the 41.

12:47 — UNT had a touchdown pass called back on a hold and had to punt. Rice has the ball back after a UNT punt at its 21.

9:55 — UNT was forced to punt on its last possession. Rice has the ball back at its 28-yard line.

7:35 — Rice has tacked on a field goal and leads 20-14.

7:27 — UNT has its first lead of the game after Jeffrey Wilson broke free for a 75-yard touchdown run on a run to the perimeter. UNT leads 21-20.

11:15 — UNT has the ball back at its 14-yard line after a Rice punt. The Mean Green lead 21-20.

4:37 — UNT will have the ball back at its 25-yard line after Rice had to punt the ball away on its last possession.

7:31 — UNT has extended its lead to 28-20 on a 1-yard run by Willie Ivery.

2:34 — And we are all tied up. Rice has scored and hit on a two-point conversion to tie the game up at 28-28.

:34 — UNT has punted the ball away. Rice has its at its 19.

Overtime — UNT has won the toss and will be on defense to start the overtime period].

Rice is up 35-28 after Darik Dillard scored on a 3-yard touchdown run. UNT needs a touchdown here to keep the game going.

UNT has answered with a Jeffrey Wilson 5-yard touchdown run. We are headed to a second overtime.

UNT has the ball first-and-10 from the Rice 13 and just called a timeout.

UNT has gone up 42-35 thanks largely to a roughing the passer call on Rice when the Owls had UNT stopped on third down.

UNT stopped Darik Dillard on a fourth-and-1 from the 16-yard line. UNT wins 42-35.

Friday Q&A with Adam Coleman of the Houston Chronicle

Rice quarterback Tyler Stehling throws a pass during a loss to Baylor last week in Houston. North Texas will face the Owls in the Mean Green’s Conference USA opener on Saturday at Rice Stadium. (Eric Christian Smith/Associated Press)

Rice quarterback Tyler Stehling throws a pass during a loss to Baylor last week in Houston. North Texas will face the Owls in the Mean Green’s Conference USA opener on Saturday at Rice Stadium. (Eric Christian Smith/Associated Press)

It’s Friday afternoon and that can only mean one thing, it’s time for our weekly Q&A with a writer who covers North Texas’ opponent. We are fortunate this week to welcome Adam Coleman to the blog.

Adam covers Rice for the Houston Chronicle. One can find Adam’s work on the Rice section of the Chronicle’s website and can also catch up with him on Twitter at @RiceChron.

Here is what Adam had to say about tomorrow’s game:

1. Rice had a brutal schedule the first few weeks of the season. Do the Owls view this game as a chance to turn it around?

Absolutely they do. They lost to, in my opinion, one of the best G5 teams out there in Western Kentucky, a much improved Army and a ranked Baylor. Oddly enough, the Baylor game is where Rice made the most strides. The defense held Baylor to zero points in the first quarter – hard for anyone to do – and got their first interception in nearly a year. The offense is still worrisome. Rice has not scored more than 14 points in a game this year. But they feel like Saturday is the chance to finally put a complete game together and get a win.

2. The Owls have some talented running backs. Is that the strength of Rice’s offense?

It was thought to be heading into the season. And what made it a strength was depth. Rice believes they have about four or five backs they can throw back there and get results. The results hadn’t come until the Baylor game, though. Darik Dillard rushed for 124 yards – the first 100-yard performance of the year from a Rice tailback. They believe that has a lot to do with a young offensive line coming together better than expected. Expect Rice to rely on running the ball to set up quarterback Tyler Stehling again.

3. Talk about Tyler Stehling. How is he coming along at quarterback?

It’s been mixed results with Stehling. Keep in my he’s a fifth-year starter getting his first chance. And the team around him hasn’t truly put it together. He’s shown some flashes with some big time throws. But against Baylor, he was just 8-of-25 for 33 yards. Rice will use Nate German in their Owl Package at quarterback, too. Nate is a quarterback turned receiver turned back to quarterback if need be. He’ll give the Owls a spark in the offensive backfield. But as far as Stehling is concerned, I’m not sure he’s played his best game yet. We’ll see if he can do it this week. The fans want to see more from him.

4. Rice’s defense has struggled early on. Talk about that unit’s strengths and weaknesses.

This team’s weakness the last two years has been inexperience. Last year, they played so many freshmen (31) out of necessity because of injuries. This year those now-sophomores are still in the lineup. So with youth comes ups and downs. They took a step forward against Baylor if only for one quarter but at Western Kentucky and at Army, there wasn’t much of a pass rush and they constantly got beat on big plays. So the strength? There is talent capable of taking over a game like defensive end Blain Padgett, linebackers Emmanuel Ellerbee and Ale Lyons and defensive back JT Blasingame. Call it potential, but it’s definitely there with this team.

5. How do you see this game playing out?

North Texas has new leadership and a new look and while Rice is 0-3, the Owls believe they’ve turned a corner. I think this game is really close, but Rice wins in the end. If not, their bowl hopes could vanish.

Friday morning notes — UNT soccer team moves to 2-0 in C-USA

It’s Friday morning and time for a quick rundown of what is going on in North Texas athletics before getting out of town in advance of the Mean Green football team’s game at Rice tomorrow.

The good news is that the UNT soccer team keeps on doing what it always does, and that’s win. The Mean Green are off to a 2-0 start in Conference USA play after coming back from a one-goal deficit to beat Marshall 3-1 last night.

UNT was picked to win the league again in the preseason and has already beaten Rice and Marshall, which were picked to finish second and fourth, respectively.

The Mean Green volleyball team opens conference play tonight at home against Southern Miss. UNT has struggled early on and is 6-9 on the season.

And finally, UNT is hosting Killeen Shoemaker point guard Javon Levi on an official visit this weekend. Levi is ranked No. 18 on’s list of the top players in Texas in the Class of 2017.

Levi has offers from UNT and Texas State.

Prediction: UNT will end its road losing streak at Rice

North Texas quarterback Mason Fine throws a pass while under pressure from Florida defensive back Marcus Maye in the Gators' 32-0 win last week. UNT opens Conference USA play at Rice on Saturday. (Associated Press/Phelan M. Ebenhack)

North Texas quarterback Mason Fine throws a pass while under pressure from Florida defensive back Marcus Maye in the Gators’ 32-0 win last week. UNT opens Conference USA play at Rice on Saturday. (Associated Press/Phelan M. Ebenhack)

North Texas at Rice

When: 5 p.m. Saturday, Rice Stadium (Houston)

Records: UNT 1-2, 0-0 C-USA; Rice 0-3, 0-1

Last week: No. 23 Florida 32, UNT 0; No. 21 Baylor 38, Rice 10

Last meeting: Rice 38, UNT 24 (2015)

What’s on the line?

Saturday’s game looms large for a pair of Conference USA teams looking to rebound from tough starts to make a run at a bowl game.

UNT is 1-2 and will face two of C-USA’s better teams in Middle Tennessee and Marshall following its showdown with the Owls. The Mean Green need all the momentum they can get heading into that stretch. There will be a whole lot more enthusiasm and hope about the remainder of UNT’s season if the Mean Green can come home with a 2-2 record.

Rice has also endured a tough start with losses to C-USA power Western Kentucky, an Army team that is 3-0 and No. 21 Baylor. The Owls desperately need to get something going after clearing the toughest part of their schedule. A win over UNT will make reaching the six-win mark look possible. A loss would all but end Rice’s bowl hopes.

When UNT has the ball:

UNT is coming off one of the worst offensive performances in recent program history. The Mean Green were not only shut out at Florida, also they managed just 53 yards of total offense, the lowest total the Gators have ever allowed. UNT finished with negative 13 yards rushing and managed just eight first downs.

The Mean Green will have a chance to get back on track against a Rice defense that has also struggled. The Owls are allowing 38.3 points a game. The Owls opponents are averaging 320 passing yards a game.

When Rice has the ball:

UNT enters C-USA play off an encouraging outing defensively against Florida. The Gators were never seriously threatened by UNT, but the Mean Green came up with two fourth-down stops and didn’t let the game get completely out of hand. Cornerback Nate Brooks had a terrific game with an interception, two pass breakups, a forced fumble and eight tackles.

The question for UNT is if it can build on that performance against Rice, which has run the ball well against good competition. The Owls are averaging 143.7 rushing yards a game and have a deep group of running backs, including Darik Dillard, who is averaging 65 rushing yards a game.


UNT is riding a 14-game road losing streak that dates back to the 2013 season heading into its game at Rice. The Mean Green desperately need to end that slide to have a chance to making their 2016 season interesting after starting 1-2. The Owls are also desperate after their 0-3 start. The game could do either way in a showdown between evenly matched teams. UNT will make one or two key plays to pull out its second win of the season.

UNT 23, Rice 21