North Texas Daily

Owls’ defense shuts down Mean Green as FAU wins Conference USA championship

Owls’ defense shuts down Mean Green as FAU wins Conference USA championship

December 02
16:35 2017

When the North Texas defense held Florida Atlantic University to a field goal on the opening possession of the game, the Mean Green needed their offense to come out and answer right away.

A score on the ensuing drive would have given the team confidence in the Conference USA Championship game against the Owls – something North Texas so desperately needed after getting throttled by FAU back in October.

But the Mean Green did just the opposite.

Sophomore quarterback Mason Fine completed a pass to Michael Lawrence for an 8-yard gain on the first play, but then the offense couldn’t move the chains. FAU stuffed back-to-back Nic Smith runs, forcing North Texas to punt.

The Owls needed just two plays to get into the end zone, using some trickery when Kamrin Solomon found John Franklin on a 22-yard touchdown pass. That first three-and-out set the tone for the rest of the game, as the Mean Green offense sputtered in a 41-17 defeat.

“We struggled in the first half and obviously you can tell that on the scoreboard,” Fine said. “I felt like we were a little hesitant – specifically me. I came out a little hesitant and didn’t play loose. That’s what happens.”

North Texas, which entered the game with the No. 2 ranked offense in Conference USA, was unable to get anything going consistently against the FAU defense. The Mean Green finished with 437 yards, but were outgained 382-141 in the first half as FAU pulled away.

The struggles started up front with the offensive line, as North Texas had no answer for the pressure the Owls brought throughout the game. FAU sacked Fine nine times and had eight different players record a sack in the win.

“They’ve dominated a lot,” head coach Seth Littrell said. “They’ve won a lot of football games. They haven’t been beaten in a long time. I just think they’re a really good team – they’ve got great players.”

FAU’s offensive domination doesn’t come as too much of a surprise, especially when taking into account the overwhelming success the Owls have had scoring throughout the year. The bigger storyline was FAU’s ability to shut down an equally explosive North Texas offense.

FAU held the Mean Green to just 81 yards rushing on 35 carries – an average of just 2.3 per touch. The absence of star running back Jeffery Wilson hurt and North Texas finished with less than 100 yards on the ground for the first time since losing to Iowa.

“I think I can attribute that to our defensive staff,” FAU head coach Lane Kiffin said. “Our players played really well. That’s what they did – they had a good scheme. You always talk about running the ball and stopping the run. You’re going to win a lot of games if you don’t turn the ball over.”

The Mean Green fell short of the C-USA title after struggling in the first half, but Littrell and company managed to stay positive when discussing the idea of bouncing back for a bowl game later this month. For now, the Owls gave North Texas something to work toward.

“Now we have a measuring stick for where we need to be in the future,” Littrell said. “Hopefully we get the opportunity next year and play much better. Sometimes it takes learning to play in these games in this environment with a championship on the line. That’s all of us – players and coaches alike.”

Featured Image: North Texas freshman running back Evan Johnson (26) gets tackled against FAU in the Conference USA Championship Game. Colin Mitchell

About Author

Brady Keane

Brady Keane

Brady Keane is the Sports Editor of the North Texas Daily. He previously served as Deputy Sports Editor (Jan. 2017-May 2017) and as a Staff Writer (Aug. 2015-May 2016).

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