MURFREESBORO, Tenn. — The first season following Mason Fine’s remarkable tenure as North Texas’ quarterback was always going to be a messy affair.
Replacing a legend is never easy.
We’re just five games in and have already seen more twists and turns than your average spy novel.
UNT has swapped starters, flip-flopped in the middle of games and seen Jason Bean and Austin Aune both thrill and fall flat.
After what transpired Saturday in the Mean Green’s 52-35 win over Middle Tennessee, it’s worth asking.
Are we there yet?
Is UNT on the verge of having a starter in Bean who is going to hang on to the job and get the Mean Green where they need to go?
That remains to be seen, but of this we can be sure, Bean has earned a second crack at guiding the Mean Green.
UNT turned to Bean after Aune struggled early against MTSU in a game the Mean Green desperately needed to win.
UNT was down 14 before the former Mansfield Lake Ridge standout came on and came up with a terrific all-around performance that showed why the Mean Green’s staff was enamored with him in the first place.
Bean offers the type of dual-threat ability UNT has rarely had at quarterback over the years. He might not be as refined of a pocket passer as Aune. That didn’t matter in the Mean Green’s win over MTSU because he poses a constant threat in the running game.
Bean broke free for a pair of 48-yard touchdown runs, guided UNT to 768 yards of offense and pulled the Mean Green out of a three-game slide.
“The way I can run changes things a little bit,” Bean said.
Yeah, it does. Bean rushed for 169 yards and three touchdowns to help move UNT to 2-3 on the season and 1-2 in Conference USA play.
What made the performance even more impressive was Bean did enough in the passing game while throwing for 181 yards and two touchdowns to keep MTSU honest.
And don’t forget Bean came into UNT’s game against the Blue Raiders stone cold. He was planted firmly on the Mean Green’s bench the last two weeks while Aune cleared the 300-yard mark in passing yards in losses to Southern Miss and Charlotte.
“Jason stepped in and made some huge plays,” UNT coach Seth Littrell said. “I’m proud of the way he stayed ready. That takes maturity. At some point in time we are going to need both of those guys.”
Littrell has been channeling his inner Rob Base and DJ EZ Rock and telling us it takes two to make a thing go right — in this case a quarterback depth chart — ever since he showed up in Denton. He turned out to be right for at least one Saturday.
The question now is if Bean can build on what he accomplished against MTSU and hang on to the starting job.
UNT appeared to arrive at a decision on a long-term starter twice already this season.
Bean played well in a season-opening win over Houston Baptist. He threw for 217 yards and three touchdowns while also rushing for 48 and another score.
Bean struggled early against SMU and was yanked in favor of Aune, who went on to throw for 276 yards and two touchdowns. Aune got the call against Southern Miss and Charlotte. UNT lost both games, but Aune threw for 339 yards against Southern Miss and 382 against Charlotte.
At that point, Aune appeared to be firmly entrenched as UNT’s starter.
That changed in a hurry in the Mean Green’s win over MTSU. Aune threw two first-half interceptions and lost a fumble that Gregory Grate returned for a touchdown that put MTSU up 21-7.
The game flipped largely because of Bean’s dual-threat ability that MTSU wasn’t prepared to handle.
“Jason made a difference in the run game,” Littrell said. “He did a great job of understanding what we are trying to get accomplished.”
It’s obvious where UNT is going from here. The only sensible move is for Bean to get a second crack at starting.
The Mean Green have plenty of time to adjust their offensive package with Bean under center with a bye week coming up. UNT doesn’t play again until traveling to UTEP on Oct. 31.
The Mean Green will soon find out if Bean can start stacking solid performances together on a weekly basis.
One knew coming into the season that UNT would have to endure some ups and downs after replacing Fine.
Bean provided one of the more memorable performances as the Mean Green work through that process on Saturday.
We’ll soon find out if he can make what has been a wild quarterback race a little less dramatic.