2016 Heart of Dallas Bowl Preview

Surprise is important in football. One of the reasons #WakeyLeaks was effective was because the guy leaked trick plays and formations that were only used in preparation, but not in games.

Teams usually only meet once per season and the slightest edge gained by surprise can turn a game.

North Texas is in a relatively unusual position in college football in facing a rematch against Army. Most of the MGN preview of the October game applies here. Defending the option is still about stopping the dive, hitting the QB, hitting the QB, and hitting the QB.

When we are watching North Texas play defense — and given the time of possession for Army this season, that will be a good portion of the game — we should watch the interior lineman. Monken will call a few straight handoffs to see how Mike Ekeler and company are defending the run, and adjust accordingly. Watch for them leaving DL unblocked and attacking the second level. That will mean it is an option play.

Projections

ESPN FPI: North Texas chance of winning 26%. NT #117 Army #76
S&P+: North Texas #111 22.4-29.9 Army #82 with an NT chance of winning at 33%
SRS: North Texas #114 Army #81
Sagarin: North Texas #147 15.94 – 27.76 Army #94
Massey Ratings: North Texas #144 20 – 28 Army #98 with an NT chance of winning at 25%
[FEI:][11] North Texas #111 19 – 32 Army #79. NT chance of winning .204.

The chances of winning are only slightly better than they were in October. The point spread was 18 then, and it is 11 now. North Texas is still and underdog, but the major difference being the venue. This bowl game is about as close to a home game as is possible.

At least three North Texas starters are compromised from that game, however.

A list of guys that will not play on offense:

  • Willy Ivery is out for academic reasons. He comprised 156 yards (98 rushing + 58 receiving) of the team’s 304 against UTEP in the final regular season game of the year. He had 108 (111 rushing + -2 receiving) of the 378 against Southern Miss.
  • Tee Goree is out permanently, kicked off the team for disciplinary reasons. His numbers are mediocre (36 catches 328 yards, only 2 TDs) and that is largely a function of the quarterback play. Still, he did not live up to the hope we had for him (see below).
  • Willie Robinson. His loss is more of a depth problem. After his 8-catch 73-yard debut against SMU, he never topped more than 2 catches nor 39 yards in any game after.
  • Mason Fine. The starting QB for much of the season hurt his arm. Mason Fine and Alex Morris are very comparable throwing the ball — especially at this point in the season — but Mason can make plays with his legs that Morris cannot.

Army will be out a couple of DBs who hurt their knees. That bodes well for the depleted North Texas WR corps led by Turner Smiley. Smiley was projected to be The Guy in preseason (by lazy magazines) on the strength of his returning numbers (read: having any numbers). He has only come one in the last couple of weeks thanks largely to some trickeration in the Southern Miss game.

Army

Since we saw them last, Army went 3-2.

  • W at Wake Forest 21 -13
  • L Air Force 12 – 31
  • L N1 Notre Dame 6 – 44
  • W Morgan State 60 – 3
  • W N Navy 21 – 17

The win over Navy was impressive at first glance, but upon close inspection the circumstances favored Navy greatly. Army had sat idle between Nov 19 and Army-Navy on December 10th, while Navy had six straight weeks of games including the previous week’s conference title game.

Army beat Navy and ended a 14-year losing streak but needed a late score and stop to pull the game out. Things lined up perfectly for Army and not so great for Navy, which was suffering from multiple injuries. Army is about as dangerous as they were in the beginning of the season and will not have any appreciable advantage in rest.

Offensively, they are still a triple option team, and the turnover-plagued team in October should be more prepared and more careful with the ball. When they weren’t turning it over at home, they did a nice job of moving the ball against NT’s defense on 4th downs. When you are lacking in size and strength, you need to pull out all the stops. Army did then and will again on Tuesday.

Given all this down time, Army has no doubt been game-planning the hell out of this one. NT presents a nice second chance for Army to right some wrongs after winning their most important game of the year. They will be looking to correct mistakes with the confidence of a team that has thrown off a decade-plus long yoke.

North Texas

Our guys are coming into the finish line barely fielding required numbers. This kind of depth problem was always going to be an issue and ironically the success of the season has heightened the concern. If NT did not qualify for this bowl game, then we would not be as concerned about Jeff Wilson’ knee, Willy Ivery’s grades, or Mason Fine’s shoulder.

Alec Morris will start, as Seth has hinted throughout the month. What is new is that he probably would have gotten time even if Mason Fine were healthy. Morris has shown some of the ability we hoped he would preseason, but still is frustratingly iffy when throwing deep. Mason Fine was at his most fortunate against Army in West Point in one of the signature wins of the year (The signature win?) and so Alec Morris does not have much to live up to in this one.

In October NT came out and tried to exploit some things in the pass game and went away from a healthy Jeff Wilson in the first half. Seth Littrell said “that was our (coaches) fault”. He believed the Mean Green are the more talented team, and in the second half the line and Jeff Wilson imposed their will. Mixed in with this were a few choice lucky catches.

Oh yeah and seven turnovers.

Lucky Seven: North Texas 35 Army West Point 18

The run game will be led by a hobbled Jeff Wilson. If he is a shadow of his October self that would be a blessing. Willy Ivery was coming into his own in the last two games, but Jeff Wilson remains special. North Texas had a semblance of a pass game with Morris able to move the chains enough to mount a TD drive or two. Efficiency remains a problem and a couple of weeks of practice likely will not have improved that. We can hope, but we cannot expect a jump in efficiency against an Army team that has been preparing.

NT’s depth problem and subsequent attrition mean that there is no one with a Go-To tag in the receiving corps. Unlike the rest of the league, which has showcased their talented wide receivers, NT is still tossing passes to Thaddeus Thompson and hoping someone else will make a play. It is here that Terian Goree will be missed most, although Turner Smiley has finally used his speed to stretch the defense a bit.

The Game

Army’s advantages: Relatively healthy, rested, confident, out for revenge, removed element of surprise.

NT’s advantages: De Facto home game, confidence of previous win, better athletes man-for-man.

To win North Texas will have to rely on the defense that played so well early in the year, and hope the version that (didn’t) show up against UTEP does not allow gashing runs. Aaron Jones took advantage of every crease to explode for gobs of yards. Army has good players but no one of the NFL caliber that can make every mistake fatal. Last game the secondary played outstandingly well, the defensive line shed blocks and stopped the dive, and the linebackers made enough plays. In essence, they played brand of smart football that is necessary against a good triple option team.

If the defense is not helped by turnovers again, they make get tired and allow some bigger gains late. It will not necessarily mean they are playing worse.

Offensively, the Army linebacking corps is smart and tough. There were not as fast as Jeff Wilson (or Willy Ivery) last time, and so the question becomes: can NT score with a recovering Wilson, and Tucker? One reason the run game was so effective in the second half was that they did not have to pass protect and thus hurt themselves with holding penalties. Littrell chalks up some of the sacks (and holding calls) to the QB, for not getting rid of the ball quickly. We will defer to the expert on this, but the effect is still the same: stalled drives.

The pass game is good enough to stay on schedule, but is not good enough to overcome a loss of ten yards. To be fair, most offenses are not good enough to do this.

Without Ivery and with Wilson struggling, the offense that for the last few weeks could reasonably get five scoring drives — three TDs, two FGs —will likely struggle. The run game —and the threat of a run game — was usually good for a couple of those drives. The answer against Southern Miss was some trick plays.

So I expect some unusual formations and maybe some fun stuff from Harrell and Littrell.

Other Stuff, Poetic and What Have You

I am old enough to know these games Do Not Matter but mature enough to recognize that That Is Fine. Bowl games are about money but knowing this does not prevent us from enjoying the time with friends and family and this moment in our lives. I will be at the game with my wife and kid and I will enjoy the little moments.

The cash grab that is a bowl game should not stop you from enjoying the day. At the very least it gives you a reason to spend some time together.

Goodbye Tee Goree

In three years Terian Goree had three touchdowns. Two were spectacular( here and here ), and one tied the game against Army in West Point.

He leaves under relatively mysterious circumstances. Littrell never announced the reason (and won’t) for kicking Goree and Willie Robinson off the squad for whatever happened at the team hotel prior to the Southern Miss game. He tweeted a picture of himself in a SFA jersey, where he will look to fulfill his potential.

This bowl season has put the conferences’ wideout talent on display. Southern Miss’ Allanze Staggers balled out at the New Orleans Bowl while both Trent Taylor and Carlos Henderson turned heads at the Armed Forces Bowl. While Goree’s numbers suggest it was not probable that he would explode for a bowl record, his exit from the team ensures that it he definitely will not.

The Coulda Shoulda Woulda wide receiver list at North Texas is lengthy, and we will add Terian Goree’s name as the lastest. While some members (Darius Terrell) never really shone, Goree’s scores and spring game prowess make his departure all the more frustrating. While a good portion of his struggles can be attributed to the previous staff, his punishment was his own doing.


  1. Neutral site game at San Antonio