ACU ventured out to Denton Saturday night in a lost battle with North Texas, 51-31.
The defending Conference USA champions totaled 575 yards on offense in their victory over the Wildcats. Senior quarterback Mason Fine, the nation’s leading active passer, threw for 383 yards and four touchdowns.
Senior wide receiver Rico Bussey hauled in 156 receiving yards on just four catches, including a 57 yard touchdown catch from Fine.
Despite the loss, coach Dorrel defended his team’s performance in the season opener.
“I was very proud of our team. I thought they competed at a very high level in the third and fourth quarter,” Dorrel said. “I think we played really good football against a really good football team.”
The Wildcats limited themselves to just one turnover, but struggled especially on special teams. The opening kickoff was returned for 61 yards to the ACU 32. The very next play, Mean Green delivered with the first touchdown of the evening. Later in the second quarter, UNT returned the kickoff for 96 yards to extend the lead right before halftime.
Dorrel said that while these types of miscues are unacceptable, there is something positive to take away from it.
“The mistakes we made are very correctable. We did what we wanted,” Dorrel said. “We didn’t turn the ball over a lot or have a bunch of stupid penalties. But unfortunately when you play a team of this caliber, we got punched in the mouth early on.”
It took UNT only four plays to score two touchdowns to start the game, and ACU’s offense struggled early in the first quarter with just 49 total yards of offense.
After a rough start to the game with ACU trailing 31-0, the Wildcats were finally able to answer with a 17 yard touchdown run by senior running back Tracy James. James was the bright light on a rather forgettable evening for ACU. He finished with 106 yards rushing and two touchdowns on only 16 carries.
Despite his stellar performance, he’s more focussed on the offense as a whole unit.
“It’s never just thinking about me,” James said. “it’s just over our whole offense on every aspect.”
Senior running back Billy McCrary was also a standout performer in the backfield. He finished with 80 yards rushing and a touchdown on just eight carries.
Dorrel said that during halftime, they made some key adjustments to make the running game more successful.
“Anytime you play the first game of the year, the unknowns are really hard,” he said. “We did not handle pressure early in the game very well. We finally came into halftime and realized there’s things we needed to do that we didn’t in the first and second quarters.”
Junior quarterback Luke Anthony was also under pressure throughout the game. He was sacked twice, but finished the evening 24-34 with 273 yards and a touchdown.
Following the loss in the opening week, the Wildcats return home to face Arizona Christian in their first home game of the season Saturday at 6 p.m. Meanwhile, North Texas heads to Dallas Sept. 7 to face SMU at 6 p.m.