Dion Novil

Mean Green nose tackle Dion Novil (97) sacks Rice quarterback Mike Collins (4) during Saturday’s game. “Dion was huge,” coach Seth Littrell said. “It’s started to click for him in our last game.”

North Texas coach Seth Littrell and his staff issued a simple challenge to defensive tackle Dion Novil over the last few days.

They are well aware of the havoc the senior can cause. Defensive coordinator Clint Bowen and defensive line coach Eric Mathies pleaded for it.

“Mathies and Bowen told me throughout the week I needed to be in the backfield and start making plays,” Novil said.

That’s exactly what Novil did on Saturday during the Mean Green’s 27-17 win over Rice at Apogee Stadium.

Novil finished with five tackles for loss among eight total stops and also forced two fumbles as he continued to cement his place in program history.

The former Abilene Wylie standout came into the day with 23 tackles for loss in his career. That total left him just outside of the top 10 in the statistic that has been kept since 1996.

Novil jumped all the way to seventh in program history, past UNT Hall of Famer Zach Orr and a handful of other recent program standouts, with his performance against Rice.

“Dion was huge,” Littrell said. “It’s started to click for him in our last game. He is understanding how to play in this defense. He’s strong, powerful and is tough to block.”

Rice certainly couldn’t handle Novil on a day when UNT finished with seven sacks and allowed just 49 rushing yards.

Novil said he is starting to get a better handle on what UNT needs from him in the closing stretch of his college career. Novil posted two tackles for loss in UNT’s win over Middle Tennessee in the Mean Green’s last game on Oct. 17.

“I am coming on late in the year,” Novil said.

He added a signature performance in UNT’s win over Rice that helped turn around the game after Rice jumped out to a 10-0 lead.

“Once we got settled in defensively, our coaches did a great job of adjusting some run fits,” Littrell said. “After that they completely dominated the game. Defensively, it was as well as we have played. We attacked up front.”

Novil led the way.

BRETT VITO can be reached at 940-566-6870 and via Twitter at @brettvito.

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