It’s a simple case of cause-and-effect for North Texas quarterback Derek Thompson once he enters Snyder Family Stadium on Saturday.
If he can’t show he can throw the ball effectively against No. 15 Kansas State, the Wildcats will, undoubtedly, stack the box on defense.
And that could mean trouble for the Mean Green, already four-touchdown underdogs.
“I know (Kansas State defensive coordinator) Tom Hayes,” North Texas coach Dan McCarney said. “And he’ll be grinning out the side of his mouth if he sees our passing game isn’t working.”
Through two games, the Mean Green’s passing attack has indeed struggled. Thompson, a 6-foot-4, 226-pound junior, was 8 of 21 passing for 143 yards and one interception in a season-opening loss to LSU, and 11 of 24 with 145 yards and one interception in a 34-7 win over Texas Southern last Saturday.
He threw for 1,759 yards, 11 touchdowns and six interceptions in 2011, his first year as full-time starter.
“(Thompson) has just misfired on some throws he usually makes,” McCarney said. “We don’t have draft picks all over the place on the offensive side of the ball, but that doesn’t mean you can’t be successful. Our first two games left a lot to be desired.”
The protection has been there for the Mean Green – sophomore left tackle Antonio Johnson, sophomore left guard Mason Y’Barbo, sophomore right guard Cyril Lemon and senior center Aaron Fortenberry are all returning starters.
“We have chemistry,” Fortenberry said. “We know each other’s strengths. Having one year to play together has really helped us develop into a unit.
“Cyril was all-conference last year, Mason is our quick, pulling guard that just destroys people and Antonio is a guy with NFL size.”
North Texas rushed for 352 yards against Texas Southern, and running backs Brandin Byrd and Antoinne Jimmerson both went over 100 yards. Through two games, the Mean Green offensive line has not given up a sack.
“They roll their sleeves up and go to work,” K-State coach Bill Snyder said. “They work awfully well together and they’re hard-nosed, aggressive. Their venue is to run the ball. They’re good about getting on blocks and staying on blocks.”
Defensively for North Texas, junior linebacker Zach Orr sets the tone. Orr, 6-foot-1, 223 pounds, led the Mean Green with 70 tackles last season and has 14 tackles and one sack this season.
“Our defense is really young overall, and Zach is the leader,” McCarney said. “He’s not a physically imposing guy, just a darn good football player.”
Orr had eight tackles two years ago in Kansas State’s 49-41 win over North Texas.
“I remember it was a fight to the finish,” Orr said. “It’s been amazing to watch the development of (K-State quarterback) Collin Klein since then. He throws like a quarterback, runs like a tailback and around the goal line, he turns into a fullback. He’s one of the best in the nation, a Heisman candidate.”
The Mean Green’s defense could be without defensive end Brandon McCoy for the second straight game after McCoy suffered an undisclosed injury against LSU. McCoy was second on the team with 7 1/2 tackles for loss and 4 1/2 sacks last season.
Junior transfer Marcus Trice has made a quick impact for the Mean Green after two unsuccessful seasons at Oklahoma — he’s got nine tackles and one interception. Sophomore safety Laramaie Lee leads the team with 16 tackles and one interception.
McCarney, who coached at Florida from 2008 to 2010, said Klein reminded him of one of the great Gator quarterbacks — Heisman Trophy winner Tim Tebow.
“I was a big fan of (Klein) last year, when I didn’t have to coach against him,” McCarney said. “I think any coach in America would love to have him taking snaps for them. He’s like Tebow in that he elevates the guys around him.”