Are you surprised at the performance thus far? I am. I thought NT would be 4-2 at this point, but with a more effective offense and a solid defense. Instead, the offense is led by the freshman instead of the highly touted graduate transfer.
Perhaps we should have known that Alec Morris would underwhelm, but we could not know that Mason Fine would be the starter.
Those who closely follow the program had an inkling that the run game would be the most potent aspect of the offense, that the attacking defense would bring improvement but give up some big plays, and that the offensive line would be thin.
Seth Littrell’s pragmatism has been refreshing. Instead of sticking with Alec Morris early, a player much discussed throughout the offseason, he made the boldest of choices and went with youth. Mason Fine’s performance has been worth of the praise he had on signing day and beyond.
I recognize that we often overreact and want the exact opposite personality or coaching style after firing a coach. So I tried to temper my enthusiasm at the quick benching of Morris in favor of Fine. Danny Mac famously stuck with his QBs until after they imploded. Alec Morris was not awful against SMU. The three interceptions could be excused away easily and there were other (more stupid) reasons for sticking with Morris to consider.
Instead of that, he made the switch. He said the right things in the press conferences that followed so as to not embarrass anyone. Littrell’s rationale — that you always need two quarterbacks — was always iffy. I mostly did not believe it.
Do we take that as a sign that he is willing to make bold decisions against conventional wisdom? I do. There is very little pressure at NT from the media, and the local stuff was going through the motions of praising the new guy because he was from ALABAMA. One piece went so far as to question the rationale of starting Morris because of the damage it would do to local recruiting. Awful.
Let us review the games thus far and some of the decisions:
North Texas hosted a poor team overly reliant on Matt Davis to generate points. The defense showed some signs of being potent, but ultimately broke down. The 3rd-and-45 converstion, 70+ yard TD, and long runs up the middle all were results of the kinds of mistakes teams in transition make. The defense got TFLs and chased Matt Davis around even if they did not catch him very often. Courtland Sutton had himself a day — which is not unusual in the grand scheme.
A win at home vs an FCS team usually does not move the fanbase very much. This game was the first against an FCS opponent after being obliterated last season agianst Portland State so we had more interest in this game than we otherwise would. Unfortunately, this is the game where we learned the front five was questionable in pass protection and so the pass game was going to struggle. The fade routes into the endzone that frustrated fans were For The Future. They have yet to pay off in actual touchdowns (on those routes).
The annual body-bag game was a moral victory. Casuals saw NT pull off a couple of goal line stands and most importantly, not get obliterated on defense. While you and I were concerned about the offense, this showing was a positive one all around. The Luke Del Rio injury created a mini-buzz around the program also. Is that terrible? Yes it is.
Coming into this game MGN readers knew we did not think very highly of Rice and for good reason. They are bad. They are not 2015 NT level, but the other kind where they lose close games. Rice Stadium would be a great home venue if the Owls could get more fans in there but a road win is a road win. NT came back from down 17 here, highlighted by a Kenny Buyers catch-and-run, a O’Keeron Rutherford catch in double covverage, and a 75-yard Jeff Wilson scamper. Oh yeah, and the NT defense stuffed Rice on their 100th play of the night in double OT on 4th and 1. The defense committed penalties (offside, offside, offfside) but managed to grab a couple of huge turnovers and pressure a desperate Rice squad. Seth Littrell and Graham Harrell learned from the Florida game and called plays that got the ball to play makers, and shuffled the front a bit. Elex Woodworth came in for Jordan Murray at LT and NT looked more solid there.
The Blue Raiders came in as 17 point favorites in Denton. They run the same offense, and have more talent on defense. North Texas came out with an 18-play drive on the first possession, overcoming their own penalties and sacks. Jeff Wilson scored yet another touchdown. The defense harrassed Brett Stockstill all game and the Blue Raiders only led 20-7 entering the 4th quarter but North Texas could not run. MTSU basically dared the Mean Green to throw the ball. While Mason Fine managed 300 yards, a nice chunk of that was in the final, desperate two drives. We could take away some good feelings that North Texas’ defense played well against one of the conference’s best offenses but there were more questions about the offense.
Marshall had not played well up to this point and they looked at this game as a way to bounce back. Head coach Doc Holliday said the right things in the press conference and Marshall did not look like they were slacking, but the NT defense harassed Chase Litton and the Marshall run game all night. The Special Teams played their worst game, allowing a TD, but the NT offense managed to unleash Jeff Wilson at the right time. He is good.
In lieu of grades or ratings we’ll just dole out meaningless awards:
Best QB: Mason Fine. Totally though Alec Baldwin Morris would have been here, continuing my 0-for-everything streak on picking QBs that would lead the team in passing.
Best QB Nickname: Finedozer.
Best Offensive Player: Jeff Wilson. When he is hurt: Thad Thompson?
Best Defensive Player: Kishawn McClain.
Most Surprising Off Player: Thadd Thompson. Had him 5th on my list of guys that would be leading pass catchers this season.
Most Surprising Def Player: Josh Wheeler. Brandon Garner had a hell of a game against Marshall, but I had him on my mini-watch list. I thought he showed some good things in 2015.
Best Tweet: any of mine.
Best article: any of mine
Best Administrator: Neal
Best AD: Wren
Write in: S/O to whoever is running the coaches’ twitter accounts. They are less boring than the last regime.
Best confirmation of a point I have made: Defense making playyyyyys. I thought the defense would be stout. They have been so (relatively speaking)