Tom Trieb has been telling anyone willing to listen that he’s a whole lot faster than one would expect for a defensive end ever since arriving at North Texas last winter.
The College of DuPage transfer finally got a chance to show it in UNT’s first Saturday scrimmage of fall practice at Apogee Stadium. The sophomore jumped in front of a pass from Austin Aune, hauled it and raced 30 yards for a touchdown.
Trieb’s return highlighted a solid day overall for UNT’s defense, which got off to a fast start and cruised the rest of the way.
“The defense did really well,” UNT coach Seth Littrell said. “They came out with a great mindset and got momentum with an early three-and-out. They never gave the offense any momentum. They had energy and played well together.”
Expectations are high for UNT’s defense as the Mean Green prepare for their season opener at UTEP on Aug. 27. UNT took a huge step forward last year when they allowed 27.5 points per game in its first season under coordinator Phil Bennett.
The Mean Green struggled while allowing 42.8 points per game in 2020, the season before Bennett’s arrival.
UNT’s defense is in position to build on what it accomplished a year ago as it continues its run through what has been a productive offseason. The Mean Green are more comfortable in the system and added key players who improved the group’s talent level.
Treib has been one of the biggest of those additions and reiterated his vow to find a way to show off his speed before Saturday’s scrimmage while talking with defensive line coach Matt Passwaters.
“Coach Passwaters was asking me if I was finally going to get a pick today,” Trieb said. “I told him 99% yes, but there is always that 1% chance that I don’t get one. The 99% hit today.”
That interception was just one of the big plays UNT made. Cornerback Zahodri Jackson intercepted a pass from backup quarterback JD Head and the Mean Green recovered a fumble with their backs to the goal line.
Jackson transferred in from Utah State in the offseason and is expected to be another key addition. UNT’s transfers have quickly meshed with its veterans.
“We have a lot more experience,” Littrell said. “It’s year two in the system. They are more comfortable and we have added some faces that have really helped us with Tom and [Mazin] Richards.”
Richards, a linebacker who arrived from Eastern New Mexico in the offseason, was just one of a few players who made life tough on UNT’s quarterbacks. Aune got the start and continued to battle with Memphis transfer Grant Gunnell for the job.
Aune rebounded from his early interception to guide UNT on a field goal drive. Damon Ward Jr. dropped what would have been a 13-yard touchdown pass from Aune before Ethan Mooney connected on a 29-yard field goal.
Gunnell was the second quarterback on the field and connected with Latrell Neville on a 25-yard touchdown strike. He also guided an 80-yard touchdown drive Ayo Adeyi capped with an 11-yard run.
“I have felt really good about how we have done offensively,” Littrell said. “We have moved the ball and had really good days. Today just wasn’t one of them.
“We have to learn and grow from it. If someone has more energy than you do, you’re not going to be very successful. Once you get back on your heels, it’s hard to overcome. It’s a lesson we had better learn. It’s good to learn it in fall camp.”
Neville’s touchdown catch was the highlight of the day for UNT, which was a good sign for the Mean Green. UNT lost two of its biggest threats in the passing game to season-ending injuries early last year.
Wide receivers Tommy Bush and Jyaire Shorter are still working their way back to form. UNT brought in Neville as a transfer from Nebraska in the offseason in the hope that he can bolster its wide receivers corps.
Neville showed signs that he is ready to do just that in the scrimmage.
“I can help this team not only as a deep threat, but also as a reliable threat,” Neville said. “That is one of the reasons North Texas brought me here. I’m someone who can make plays and someone they can trust.”
The challenge for UNT is to get Neville and several of its new skill position players to find a comfort zone with its quarterbacks as the competition between Aune and Gunnell continues.
“We need some time to jell,” Neville said. “The first scrimmage everyone has some jitters. Once we get back to work and get to the next scrimmage, everything will roll. Today was a learning experience.”
Going through that learning process against UNT’s defense that appears ready to build on its improvement from a year ago, makes the process all the tougher.
“We brought energy straight from the jump and kept building on it,” Trieb said. “The offense couldn’t seem to get any momentum after that.
“Every day is a little different, but we are starting to come together. Once we find our groove, we will be a really good defense.”