DALLAS — Most coaches say they value special teams, but North Texas lives by that belief.
Coaches tend go conservative on special teams, preferring to set up a punt return rather than go after the kicker. The Mean Green go after the punter and still get strong returns.
“It excites a team as much as anything in a football game when you get big plays on special teams,” North Texas coach Dan McCarney said.
The Mean Green, who play UNLV at 9 a.m. PST today in the Heart of Dallas Bowl at Cotton Bowl Stadium, have blocked seven kicks. Three blocked punts were returned for touchdowns.
“You block a kick, and it changes the entire dynamic of a game,” said safety Marcus Trice, who leads North Texas with three blocked kicks.
Trice said one of the reasons for the Mean Green’s ability to get to the punter is the presence of an outstanding return man in Brelan Chancellor, the Conference USA special teams player of the year. Chancellor has returned a kickoff and a punt for a touchdown, and he averages 28.1 yards per kickoff return and 16.8 yards on punt returns.
His ability to go the distance, Trice said, helps create opportunities for blocked kicks.
“We’re an aggressive team,” Trice said. “We’re a physical team, and we feel like if we see a weakness in your protection or whatever the case may be, then we’ll go and get the ball.
“We have one of the best return men in the country, so every now and then, (punters) may get a little nervous and bobble a snap or try to angle the kick to where they can kick it away from him. We might just be bringing pressure from that way.”
■ TRIP THROUGH TIME — McCarney was Iowa State’s coach when previous UNLV coach Mike Sanford went ballistic in a Sept. 9, 2006, game in Ames.
Sanford was upset because he didn’t think the final play received the proper review and kept his team on the field for about 15 minutes while yelling to speak to the Iowa State athletic director and tripping over a cable while running back on to the field.
Iowa State won 16-10, and McCarney waited to shake Sanford’s hand but finally gave up and left the field.
“I tried,” McCarney said. “I had never not shaken the hand of a head coach after a game. Some more friendly than others.”
When asked where he was as Sanford protested, McCarney said, “I might’ve been having a Grey Goose in my office.”
■ DOLLARS AND CENTS — UNLV athletic director Tina Kunzer-Murphy said the program has received financial support for this trip, though she didn’t know if the school would break even.
“I don’t think you put a price on” the experience, Kunzer-Murphy said. “You have to be wise, and you have to be really responsible, but it’s pretty great for our university, and I think you’re going to see the dividends over the years.”
She said about 300 tickets were sold out of UNLV’s allotment to fans expected to attend the game. More tickets were sold supporters who wanted to financially assist the Rebels, but those tickets will go to charities.
Tracking how many UNLV fans bought tickets is difficult because of secondary sellers such as StubHub! Kunzer-Murphy was hopeful that 2,500 Rebels supporters would attend.
■ GAME-TIME DECISION — Rebels safety Frank Crawford, who missed the past two games because of a leg injury, might play, but probably just a few plays and in a reserve role.
Contact reporter Mark Anderson at email@example.com or 702-387-2914. Follow him on Twitter: @markanderson65.