Mean Green’s physical style, third-down conversions wear down Rebels

DALLAS — UNLV couldn’t have played much better defense in the first half, holding North Texas to seven points as the teams took a tie game into halftime.

But not only did North Texas begin to move the ball against the Rebels in the second half, the Mean Green also kept UNLV’s defense on the field.

They kept the ball for 19 minutes, 18 seconds in the final two quarters Wednesday, using their physical style to wear down UNLV in their 36-14 victory in the Heart of Dallas Bowl.

North Texas had just 142 yards at halftime. The Mean Green gained 255 after that.

“We played a lot of plays there,” Rebels coach Bobby Hauck said. “There were some long drives. I don’t have the numbers in front of me, but we had a couple of drives where we were on the field a whole bunch and probably too many plays on defense in the second half.”

UNLV had chances to end drives without points or at least limit the damage.

No play stood out more than when the score was 7-7 early in the third quarter. Derek Thompson threw a 17-yard pass to wide receiver Brelan Chancellor to the Rebels’ 49-yard line to convert a third-and-16.

The Mean Green converted all four third downs in that drive in going 74 yards in 12 plays to take a 14-7 lead.

North Texas made the score 21-7 early in the fourth quarter by using a 10-play, 75-yard drive. The Mean Green converted two third downs on that drive.

They went 10-for-17 for the game in turning third downs into first downs.

UNLV defensive tackle Tyler Gaston, who made 10 tackles that included two for loss and a sack, said the missed chances on third down were difficult to take.

“It just kind of messes with you, and picks at you kind of like that thorn in your side, when you know you should have had a better play or a better turnout in that drive,” Gaston said.

He said no one play was the key, not even the third-and-16 conversion. But add them all up, and it was trouble for the Rebels.

“I feel like any time they gain enough yards for a first down it affects us,” Gaston said. “It’s not just focused on one play. Every play is important, and we didn’t execute on every single play.”

UNLV linebacker Tim Hasson said execution rather than fatigue did in the Rebels.

“It’s frustrating, especially because we could have made the play, but after they get it we just have to let that go,” Hasson said. “We can’t hang our heads with anything. We just got to let that go and get on to the next play.

“A lot of times we were right there, but we just didn’t execute like we wanted to. We just didn’t execute, but you’ve got to give them credit. They played hard.”

North Texas coach Dan McCarney said his team is built to be physical and wear down opponents, and from his vantage point on the sideline, that’s what the Mean Green did to UNLV.

Even the quarterback, Thompson, ran keepers right at the line to pick up a key yard or two.

“We ask that (toughness) out of every position on our football team,” McCarney said. “If you don’t have a tough, hard-nosed, physical quarterback, you’re going to have trouble winning games. Thank God we do.”

Contact reporter Mark Anderson at manderson@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2914. Follow him on Twitter: @markanderson65.