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Bulldogs fall to North Texas

Fourth quarter comeback not enough
Monday, September 18, 2023
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Louisiana Tech defenders Jeslord Boateng (3) and Cecil Singleton (2) tackle a North Texas receiver in the Bulldogs' 40-37 loss. Photo by Josh McDaniel

A furious fourth quarter comeback wasn’t enough as North Texas stormed into Joe Aillet Stadium and walked out with its first win of the season in a 40-37 battle.

Despite holding the worst run defense (292 ypg) and second worst scoring defense in the country (52 ppg), the Mean Green established itself as the better team on the field, scoring on eight of their 11 drives, rolling up 562 yards of offense in the process, while holding the Bulldogs to 4-11 on third down and frustrated.

The latter stat was the difference for UNT throughout the night, with the Mean Green acting as rude house guests refusing to leave to finish 11-18 on third down, capped off poetically in the game-sealing drive. And it felt even more deflating after Smoke Harris brought Bulldog fans to an uproar on a game-tying 36-yard touchdown catch and run at 37-37, only for UNT to take the ball at its own 25 with just 1:04 left in regulation.

Two third downs staring UNT down. Two back-breaking conversions, with UNT quarterback Chandler Rogers completing a seven-yard pass to Roderic Burns on 3rd and 4 and a 21-yard run from Ayo Adeyi to set up the ideal kicking position.

And just like that, North Texas nailed its 31-yard field goal and headed back to Denton as victors.

“I was proud of well we fought, how well we competed,” LA Tech head coach Sonny Cumbie said postgame. “There’s just too many mistakes that we made early in the game on offense in the first quarter. We were not productive at all with six plays in the first quarter. Our defense played 54 snaps in the first half. That’s just way too many. We played 20. We got to execute better from the start of the football game.”

As for the startling third down disparity for UNT and Tech, Cumbie boiled it down to execution – or lack therof.

“I think the quarterback made some good throws. He made some throws in some tight windows and they had a good plan on third down in terms of attacking us in terms of freezing plays and looking and seeing what we were doing. They made plays and we didn’t. You get 18 third downs; we need to get them off the field. And we’ve got to convert on offense. We didn’t help ourselves at all not converting out third downs.”

Rogers went 5-7 for 97 yards on third down against Tech.

The night started about as poorly as you could think: two three-and-outs with four total yards for Tech while UNT scored 10 points over its first two drives. Tech’s defense was the one that looked near bottom of the country, unable to get stops in crucial down and distances often, as UNT walked into halftime 5-11 on third down and 2-2 on fourth down.

The Bulldogs managed to put points on the board off two touchdowns from Hank Bachmeier to Cyrus Allen for 12 yards and Smoke Harris from 19 yards out.

The score to Harris seemingly brought Tech right back in the ballgame, cutting the UNT lead to 16-14 at that point, set up running back Tyre Shelton bounced outside for a 56-yard run to the UNT 19.

But like much of the rest of the game, Tech’s defense failed to get a stop as North Texas drove 89 yards on eight plays to take a 23-14 lead into halftime.

Shelton isn’t sure why the Bulldogs have been outscored 45-10 in the first quarter this year, but he knows the trend has to stop before it’s too late.

“That’s a good question. I don’t really have the answer to it. I don’t know,” Shelton said when asked why the offense continues to start slow. “We practice situations where there would be times we start practice with a fast paced situation to get practice going, get everybody going. And right now, we’re just not translating to the game.”

Shelton was one of the line bright spots for the Bulldogs, finishing with 16 carries for 152 yards and a touchdown.

Cumbie didn’t have specifics on to why the offense continues to struggle out of the gate, but once again brought up failed assignments.

“Tonight, I can pinpoint it directly on lack of execution in terms of throwing and catching the ball,” Cumbie said.

Along with the sloppy loss, Bachmeier’s health took a hit that left him sidelined for most of the second half after sustaining a big shot to the right shoulder in the third quarter. Cumbie elected to put in backup quarterback Jack Turner to close the game, who finished with respectable numbers of 9-14 passing for 145 yards and a touchdown.

Cumbie said it was too risky to let Bachmeier finish the game without knowing the full extent of his injury, and wouldn’t project who will start next week at Nebraska.

“With his [Bachmeier’s] health, that’s the biggest thing,” Cumbie said. “A right shoulder injury to a quarterback is pretty significant, and so it’s just making sure he’s able to throw the football effectively, and that was really the main concern in the second half. I have a lot of belief in Hank and a lot of belief in Jack. We’ve said that since we started fall camp. In the third and fourth quarter, just didn’t know how his right shoulder was in terms of keeping Jack out there. We’ll evaluate that tomorrow [Monday] and the effectiveness as we go through the week of practice.”

Louisiana Tech travels to Lincoln, Nebraska, for its last non-conference matchup against Nebraska on Saturday.