LAS VEGAS — North Texas coach Seth Littrell has an unwavering belief when it comes to his team in situations that can make or break a game, and in some cases a season.
If UNT needs a yard, Littrell believes UNT should be able to line up and, even if everyone knows what’s coming, run the ball to pick up that yard.
The Mean Green didn’t come through nearly enough in those situations on Saturday and saw a golden opportunity for a milestone win get away in a 58-27 loss to UNLV at Allegiant Stadium.
UNT was stuffed on fourth-and-1 running plays three times and was also stopped on a run up the middle on first-and-goal from the UNLV 2.
Those mistakes were too much for the Mean Green to overcome.
“They did a better job executing than we did,” Littrell said. “I feel like any time we have fourth-and-1 or less than a yard, we should be able to pick that up 100% of the time — if we have the mentality. That is my confidence in it.
“I have to go back and look at it and see if we are doing the right things and make sure we are putting our guys in the right situations. When we do, we have to execute.”
UNT didn’t fare much better converting third downs in a 3-for-11 performance.
The difference between how UNT fared in key situations compared to UNLV (2-1) was striking. The Rebels converted both of their fourth downs and went 9-for-15 on third downs while methodically keeping drives alive.
“We could do other things, but we pride ourselves in being physical,” quarterback Austin Aune said. “We were 90 something percent on third- and fourth-and-short last year. That is what we take pride in and what we practice. We need to execute and get the job done.”
UNT didn’t reach that goal and saw an opportunity to reach multiple milestones in what was expected to be a close game slip away.
The Mean Green (2-2) were looking to move to 3-1 or better for just the third time in program history. UNT was also aiming for its first nonconference road win since 2018, the second of back-to-back nine-win seasons under Littrell.
The challenge now for UNT will be to pull together at what looks like a key time for the program. The Mean Green will have to win on the road at Memphis next week to avoid falling under .500 for the first time this season.
The opening of Conference USA play looms the following week in a home game against Florida Atlantic.
UNT heads into that stretch looking for solutions to its short-yardage woes. Oscar Adaway III was thrown for a 1-yard loss on fourth-and-1 in the second quarter from the Mean Green 34.
Aidan Robbins scored on a 33-yard run on the next play to put UNLV up 23-10.
UNT had a chance to regain the lead at halftime after Adaway caught a 7-yard touchdown pass from Aune, who threw for 305 yards and two touchdowns with two interceptions. The former Argyle standout led a perfect two-minute drill and had the Mean Green at the UNLV 2 in the closing seconds of the first half while trailing 23-17.
Ikaika Ragsdale was stuffed at the line of scrimmage on a run up the middle. UNT settled for a field goal.
“It was frustrating to not get the touchdown at the end of the first half,” Aune said. “We have to work on that. You win by scoring touchdowns. Field goals aren’t going to cut it.”
UNT was still within 30-27 in the third quarter after Aune hit tight end Var’Keyes Gumms for a 54-yard touchdown.
It was all downhill from there for UNT. UNLV finished the game with 28 unanswered points.
UNT missed far too many opportunities and made too many mistakes in key spots to overcome that run.
UNLV BJ Harris blocked a UNT punt that rolled out of the back of the end zone for a safety that gave the Rebels a 9-7 lead.
The Mean Green had momentum on their side at the end of the first half.
UNT started at its 16 with 1:23 left in the half. The Mean Green zipped right down the field behind Aune, whose 36-yard strike to Roderic Burns had UNT at the UNLV 2 and in position to take the lead while trailing 23-17.
Even though UNT managed just a field goal, it was still very much in the game.
The Mean Green just couldn’t capitalize on a day they failed to produce when it came to converting on third and fourth down and stopping UNLV from doing the same.
“We lost the momentum in the second half and couldn’t get it back,” running back Ayo Adeyi said. “When adversity hits, we have to rebound as a team and get the momentum. We didn’t do that today.”