North Texas coach Seth Littrell seemed a little worn out at the end of the game, and it was understandable. The Mean Green had beaten Army for the first time in five tries and he had repeatedly jumped and spun around on the sidelines amidst a flurry of turnovers by the Black Knights.
Facing the second-rated defense in the nation, Jeffrey Wilson rushed for 160 yards and three touchdowns and North Texas beat Army 35-18 on a wet, raw Saturday at Michie Stadium.
"We ended up getting seven turnovers, and that's key," Littrell said. "Defensive guys did a great job of making those opportunities count. I was a bonehead in the first half, to be honest. We should have run the ball more."
Fresh from a bye week, North Texas (4-3) rallied in the second half behind Wilson, who was coming off a career-high 188-yard performance two weeks ago against Marshall. Wilson scored on a 41-yard run and 1-yard plunge in the third quarter as the Mean Green stunned the Black Knights.
"Without a doubt, there's no other answer, simply our O-line," Wilson said. "They came out today with fire in their eyes and I could see if from the jump. We knew we wasn't going to start off fast, but we know that if we keep on picking away and picking away and picking away that we'll eventually do what we came to do. And that's exactly what happened."
Army (4-3) entered the game ranked second against the run, allowing just 99 yards per game.
Wilson, held to seven yards rushing on two carries in the first half, staked the Mean Green to a 21-10 lead early in the third when he slithered through the left side of the defensive line and raced untouched for 41 yards and a touchdown. He had 153 yards on 13 carries in the second.
The Black Knights seemed ready to counter right back, but quarterback Ahmad Bradshaw fumbled a snap on fourth-and-inches at midfield and the Mean Green took possession.
"It's hard to score when you don't have the ball," Army coach Jeff Monken said. "To give the ball back to them is agonizing. Those plays kill drives, kill the momentum."
Moments later, Army defensive back Elijah Riley was poised to make an interception but slipped down as he turned to catch the ball. That left Willie Robinson all alone for a 26-yard catch and Wilson's 1-yard run boosted the lead to 28-10 midway through the third.
"They did a good job defensively against our offense in the first half," Littrell said. "What they do against the run game has been impressive, so I probably was trying to get the back end going a little bit. We had some stuff we missed early. The way our offensive line came off the ball and Jeffrey ran the ball, that was the difference."
North Texas sealed the victory on a turnover. Army was driving at midfield early in the fourth, but after a long gain on the first reception of his career that had caught the North Texas defense off-guard, tight end Dalton Mendenhall had the ball stripped by Eric Jenkins and the Mean Green recovered at its own 12-yard line.
Army finished with 302 yards rushing, 53 yards below its nation-leading average. Bradshaw led with 90 yards on 24 carries.
Monken had a simple explanation for the loss.
"We got whipped in every phase," he said. "I don't know if there's much more to say."
ARMY: If the Black Knights can control the turnovers, they still can contend to play in the postseason. Army can't afford to make those mistakes to have a chance to win, with the likes of Wake Forest, Notre Dame, Air Force and Navy still on the schedule.
NORTH TEXAS: With a freshman quarterback at the helm and a solid running game, the Mean Green can be a contender in Conference USA. When Wilson is on, they win. In the team's first three victories, he averaged 142.7 rushing yards, just 44.3 in the losses.
Army: Travels to play Wake Forest of the Atlantic Coast Conference on Saturday.
North Texas: Plays at Texas-San Antonio on Saturday.