I promised a podcast. That kind of fell through because of a scheduling snafu. So I owe you some Spring Game thoughts.
When there is a long gap between News Events, the last News Event gets over-analyzed and relatively minor or unimportant things become Big Important Story Lines.
In our case, we have Quinn Shanbour, who had himself some nice plays in the Spring Game. He threw for something like 315 yards and three scores. Two were long catch-and-runs. This is already being magnified into more than it was. Now, I’m not getting all Bret “it was deep backups” Vito, but I have a healthy realistic view of what this was. He had a good practice within the system but nothing to go crazy over. I feel the same about Alex Morris, he threw some poor passes but had some nice ones to balance that out.
To state the glaringly obvious, practices have a much different dynamic than real games. While some coaches go to great lengths to simulate the real life pressures of a game, nothing can be the real thing. Some guys excel at practices, where a player’s full concentration can be on the actions required without the pressures of the fans, parents, television, tailgates, and cheer squad distracting you from the right read.
It’s different is all I’m saying. We cannot extrapolate much of anything aside from a general trend based on what we saw.
Here are some of those things:
We’ll see lots of passes. There was nothing in the offense that was overly complicated. A lot of the routes were staple parts of the core. The quarterbacks showed some ability to hit short and intermediate routes with more accuracy than DaMarcus Smith, and right about on par with Andy McNulty. That said, there were some awful throws that came on some bad reads. Those were either intercepted or just incompletes.
North Texas has had a hell of a time spreading the ball around the last few years. Litrell’s offense is designed to do a better job of that with a little more unpredictability. That’s great, and I fully expect to see more guys beside Tee Goree shine. We know he has talent, and he showed off some skills in the terrible passing exhibition that was the 2015 season. In the Spring Game, we saw some other guys pull out some nice catch-and-runs. Now before we fall into the trap of thinking those specific guys will be doing the catch-and-runs, remember that this offense is designed to let playmakers shine in space. I hope (and so do they) that Willie Robinson and Kelvin Smith are taking 10 yard passes to the house with regularity. If not them, we’ll maybe Kenny Buyers. You get my point here.
What is important is that this offense is producing those 10 yard passes in the first place. The seed of philosophy of the offense is repetition, and getting all those receivers those repetitions catching and succeeding in practices — even this one — is great. That’s what we need to get away from the awfulness of last season’s pass game. Despite all rhetoric to the contrary, the players running the patterns didn’t really believe the ball was coming to them, nor were they ready if it magically fluttered in their direction. I’m being extreme for effect here, obviously but my point remains. You saw evidence of this the last two years when good players were dropping passes, or routes were flubbed by backups. Littrell’s offense is designed to eliminate those kinds of mistakes. In 2016 a wideout will have run that route countless times, and the quarterback will have thrown it countless times, and no one should be skeptical of it getting to them. This will increase the chance of success and all should be better than it was before.
So I’m happy to see staple short routes being run and most of those passes completed. There was even the occasional deep toss, which requires lots of practice to perfect. If they didn’t look amazing this early, I’m not surprised. It will be better in the fall than now, and better in December than September and so on.
Defensively, we didn’t learn very much at all. The defensive line couldn’t really pass rush like they wanted (no hitting the QB) and the secondary still managed a couple of turnovers. The DBs allowed some big plays here and there but because of the nature of the offense, we did not see the interior of the defensive line get tested. Remember, that defense was awful last season, allowing four teams to get 7+ YPC, ten (of 12) teams to go over 4+ YPC, and nine games with 200+ Total Rush Yards allowed. Again, this was all largely through the middle. As I wrote previously,
A look at the game film will show the DL getting pushed 5 yards back often. The Worst Defense In NT History got that way because pretty much every team could run through the A gap at will. As a whole, the defensive line was okay when pass-rushing, but never could get into defensive third and longs, because of the porous run defense. When Mike Canales talked about lacking size and strength I have to believe he meant here. After all, he made that comment after the Louisiana Tech game that saw Kenneth Dixon scorch his guys for 195 and 6 TDs, largely through the middle.
Did we see anything that signals improvement here? No. We will not know until we begin the first season under SL. That’s not a bad thing, just the nature of the Spring Game.