It might not have been the prettiest win in the world, but the Mean Green started the season off right with tonight's victory over Ball State in Muncie, Indiana.
Going into the game, all eyes were on Riley Dodge, the son of UNT head coach Todd Dodge, in his first collegiate start as quarterback. He performed admirably, completing 23 of 33 passes for 216 yards, one touchdown and one interception. He scrambled for another 73 yards as well. His lone mistake was an ill-advised pass in the endzone that was picked off: a freshman error that he will learn not to repeat.
Dodge and the passing game aside, and as I suspected in my season preview, the Mean Green relied on the ground game, amassing 296 yards and chewing up the clock in the process (North Texas held the ball for over 37 minutes). In addition to Dodge's scrambles, running backs Cam Montgomery (17 carries for 149 yards) and Lance Dunbar (16 carries for 63 yards and a touchdown) were both as good as advertised in this effort.
The much-maligned Mean Green defense also had a great evening, allowing Ball State a total of only 309 yards and a single touchdown (which occurred following a UNT fumble will inside their own territory). UNT's defense was especially effective in third-down situations, holding the Cardinals to only two conversions on 15 attempts.
To be sure, there were still some problems. Mean Green special teams struggled, as kicker Jeremy Knott missed two field goals (although, to be fair, both were from 47 yards out). North Texas also committed 9 penalties for 81 yards, including an unnecessary hold by linebacker Tobe Nwigwe on Ball State quarterback Kelly Page that negated a Royce Hill interception return for a touchdown. But these are all problems that can be rectified over the course of the season. The main thing is that the Mean Green put together a solid game on both sides of the ball and, in the first game of the season, equaled their entire win total of last year.
It could be argued that Ball State, which has lost a lot of last year's talent especially on the offensive side of the ball, is going to be in for a rough season. But that shouldn't take away from the fact that a team that finished 1-11 last season went on the road to upset a team that finished 12-2 last season. This is an encouraging start to UNT's 2009 campaign, and after last year's disaster it is a performance that Mean Green coaches, players and fans alike can be happy about.