When Mason Fine fumbled at the six yard line early in the 4th quarter, it was only fortunate that the referees — already hated by both sides of the internet fandom — blew the whistle way to early because it prevented a sure UAB touchdown return.
As it was, UAB’s QB AJ Erdely completed a 36-yard bomb to Xavier Ubosi — his only grab on the night — to get them out of the shadow of their own end zone. That set up a long UAB drive that ate up 6:14 and went 87 yards in 13 plays. It resulted in a Nick Vogel field goal that put the Blazers up by the winning score margin.
Mason Fine’s final pass to Jalen Guyton on 4th down was a yard short — clearly — and the potential game-tying drive ended at the UAB 18.
The Mean Green started well, scoring an electric 21 points in the first half. Rico Bussy Jr. had a 57-yard TD score on a quick slant that saw him out run everyone on the way to the end zone. Jaelon Darden pulled off some highlight-reel moves on the way to accumulating a career-best 10 catches and 143 yards to go with his 2 first half scores.
Those three touchdowns — all in the first half — were all of Mason Fine’s scores, as he put up 336 on 29/40 passing. He out-dueled Erdely, who had 189 on 14/22. Both QBs were sacked four times — Brandon Garner, EJ Ejiya, Joe Ozougwu, and Rod Young combined — but the run game for UAB did the most damage.
UAB’s big offensive line and powerful back Spencer Brown were able to lean on the Mean Green in the third and fourth quarters, extending drives and killing the clock long enough to keep the Mean Green off the field.
Echoing the performance against the Louisiana Tech Bulldogs back in September, the Mean Green only had the ball for 4 minutes of the third quarter. A failed 4th down attempt gave the ball to UAB at midfield. The Blazers drove 3:53 before fumbling at the six. Mason Fine was forced into an intentional grounding by Garrett Marino that caused a safety. Then UAB drove for another three-and-a-half minutes for a TD. It was 21-10 and NT had not had the ball in ages.
The offensive rhythm gone, and the defense unable to get off the field thanks to 3rd down penalties, NT struggled to find the form of the first half. The adjustments the Blazers made were along the lines of hitting Mason Fine more. The possession after the TD, Mason Fine hit Kelvin Smith for five yards, then was harassed into two incomplete passes while taking big hits from the defensive line.
In the fourth, after going down 26-21, yet another 4th down conversion failed when Mason Fine threw incomplete when Jack LB Stacy Keely knocked down Mason Fine’s pass.
The defense did enough to get the ball back once more, but the drive ended on the six when Mason Fine clearly fumbled. After UAB drove, NT had one last gasp in them but could not convert. A mishandled snap cost NT a third down and on fourth down, Fine avoided pressure and found Guyton for 9-yards, just a yard shy of the first down that could have extended things.
The offense came out, well, blazing. Mason Fine was accurate, quick with his passes and finding playmakers in space. North Texas has 222 total yards to UAB’s 140 at the half, and 212 passing. The run game was a concern, and that never improved. DeAndre Torrey and Nic Smith ran hard, but could not find much space against the huge UAB defense.
In the second half, NT simply could not execute. Misfiring on 4th and 2 (run game) gave the ball away. A sack in their own end zone ended another drive. A misfire on 3rd and 2 (run game) and the failed subsequent 4th and 1 (pass game) killed another.
Finally, the fumble by Mason Fine ended yet another possible scoring drive. North Texas was good enough to win this game — much like they were in the Louisiana Tech game — but mistakes against good teams — like against Tech — will cost you wins.
This was unsurprising — both aspects — as North Texas has been playing this inconsistently all season. Every post-game review has remarked on how the offense struggles for a quarter or two, but also puts together a remarkable run of points where it looks like the team we expect it to be.
In this game, the total numbers mask the fact that NT had an awful third and fourth quarter. NT went scoreless in the second half and largely through their own doing. Credit UAB for making things difficult — the defensive line was good — but there were too many mistakes in short yardage to think that NT was simply overpowered. They just did not execute when it mattered.
The defense has been the most consistent and best unit this season. They held this UAB defense and gave the offense more than a few opportunities to win things. Nate Brooks ripped the ball away from a UAB running back that saved a scoring drive — shades of last week when Khairi Muhammad did the same against Southern Miss. EJ Ejiya racked up 10 tackles and flew all over the field. AJ Erdely was sacked four times and the run game was held in check until late, when the defense played way too much.
Even then, they held UAB to a FG in their final drive, giving Mason Fine one more shot to tie things with a TD+two point conversion.
UAB had a huge return that set up a short field. That drive resulted in a TD for UAB. Outside of that, NT did not have any return chances. No one muffed a return. Kentworthy punted four times and had one over 50 and two inside the 20.
What It Means
Well, as we explained earlier this week, it is all but over for NT. This UAB team — a very good one — would have to drop three of their next four to the likes of UTEP, UTSA, Southern Miss, and Middle Tennessee.
NT falls to third in the division behind UAB (4-0), and LT (3-1).
Rice. The Owls played better this week but are still struggling.