North Texas coach Seth Littrell and his players pointed to their Conference USA opener against UAB as a measuring stick that would show exactly where they stood in the league.
What transpired Saturday night in the Mean Green’s 40-6 loss to the Blazers at Apogee Stadium didn’t paint a pretty picture.
UAB looked like a team prepared to make a run at another conference title after winning the league’s championship game in two of the last three years.
The defending conference champion made UNT look like a team going nowhere in the process.
UAB (2-1, 1-0) ran up and down the field all night while UNT went nowhere in a second straight blowout loss.
The Mean Green (1-2, 0-1) were hoping to build on the bright spots in a 35-12 loss to SMU last week. Those positives were even harder to find after the Mean Green were blown out in their conference opener.
“Our players didn’t play well, and our coaches didn’t coach well,” Littrell said. “We all have to look in the mirror and figure out ways to get better. You can’t just sit and get punched in the mouth. You have to flip it. We weren’t able to get there tonight.”
Perhaps the most surprising aspect of the loss was UNT’s struggles offensively.
The six points UNT scored was the second-lowest total of the Littrell era that began in the 2016 season. The Mean Green were shut out at Florida 32-0 in Littrell’s debut campaign.
UAB capitalized on UNT’s struggles while scoring on four straight drives beginning in the first quarter.
UNT never threatened to keep up while rotating quarterbacks. Jace Ruder started for the third straight game but couldn’t get the Mean Green’s offense on track.
UNT turned to Austin Aune after Ruder struggled. The change didn’t jump-start the Mean Green, who didn’t score until Detraveon Brown caught a 3-yard touchdown pass from Ruder late in the second half.
That touchdown that pulled UNT within 33-6 of UAB was far too little, far too late for the Mean Green.
UNT was banged up heading into the game and was missing wide receivers Jyaire Shorter and Tommy Bush due to injury.
Torrey was a game-time decision due to an undisclosed injury. The senior played and carried UNT’s inept offense throughout the night. The senior finished with 82 rushing yards that accounted for a big chunk of UNT’s 220 yards on the night.
Ruder and Aune combined for just 99 passing yards.
“It wasn’t anything they did,” Torrey said. “It was us executing. We had a great game plan. That is on me. They give it to me 15, 20 times, I have to do something with it.
“I tried to bring life because we were struggling in the passing game.”
The punch in the running game Torrey provided wasn’t nearly enough against UAB. The Blazers are known for their powerful running game but rode Dylan Hopkins’ arm against the Mean Green.
The UAB quarterback threw for 202 yards and three touchdowns on 6-of-7 passing.
Tight end Gerrit Prince caught two of Hopkins’ three touchdown passes and finished with three receptions for 136 yards.
“We just missed assignments and didn’t play with good technique,” UNT linebacker Tyreke Davis said. “That cost us.”
The road won’t get any easier for UNT from here. The Mean Green’s game against UAB was just the second of six straight for UNT against teams that either played in a bowl game or qualified for one that was canceled last season due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Mean Green will head to Louisiana Tech next week for a game against a team that lost to SMU on Saturday on the final play of the game.
UNT’s night got off to a rough start. The Mean Green were backed up to their 12-yard line on their opening possession and immediately turned the ball over.
UAB defensive back Keondre Swoops stepped in front of a Ruder pass on UNT’s first offensive play and intercepted it.
The Blazers scored two plays later on a 1-yard DeWayne McBride touchdown run.
“It started bad for us from the first drive,” Littrell said. “We could never get anything going offensively and move the chains. They did a great job up front. We had the numbers in the box to run the ball and couldn’t.”
It was all UAB from there in the first half, which ended with the Blazers up 30-0.
UAB brought Hopkins in off the bench early in the first half. The junior threw three passes in the first half. All three went for touchdowns.
Prince caught scoring strikes from 61 and 42 yards out. Trea Shropshire added a 38-yard scoring grab late in the first half.
The Mean Green managed just 134 yards in the first half. Hopkins finished with 141 yards on his three touchdown strikes.
UNT never responded and played in front of largely empty stands in the second half.
“It’s tough,” Torrey said. “We are not blind to what is going on. We saw the fans leaving halfway through the game. We had high hopes coming in.
“I don’t want my teammates to think this is who we are. That is not us. We have proven that this season. We have to get back to the drawing board and what we do well.”