2017: Army Preview

For the third time in thirteen months, North Texas and Army will contest a football game. The previous two have been entertaining and interesting — one with 7 turnovers and the other an overtime affair — and we can only hope this one can reach that bar.

For North Texas fans, a bit of dessert is deserved after a season with thrilling close wins and close finishes. North Texas is undefeated at Apogee with one November game to play for the second time since it opened. In 2013, the Mean Green famously lost on an ice-cold November game against UTSA.

There are parallels to the teams — both put together promising previous years, and found a nice balance between offense and defense though one side of the ball was the clear strength.

For the fans of the program who sat through the coldest NT football game in memory, this will be a nice do-over.

Army comes in at 8-wins, matching the number from last year (that they achieved by beating NT in the bowl) and their best at this point since 1996. The Black Knights (neé Cadets) have not had this two-year consistency since the 80s and 90s. Jeff Monken has truly returned Army to respectibility. This version of Army plays smart and tough.

Much was broadcasted last year about Monken’s use of analytics to decide when and where on the field to go for 4th down conversions. Army did four times in the bowl, converting twice. The most important one was late in the OT to go up a touchdown.

Army: Defending The Option

Above is a link to last year’s Army preview.

Here are the parts that need updating:

Advanced Stats Predictions:

Massey: Chance of Winning: 39%, Army #55 NT 94
FEI: Chance of Winning 24.5%. Army 50th NT 92nd
Sagarin: Army 7.5 point favorites . Army ranked 63rd, NT 91st
ESPN FPI: Chance of Winning: 38.2%. Army 62nd, NT 92nd
S&P+: Chance of Winning 62%. Army ranked 59th. NT ranked 46th.
SRS: Army ranked 56th. NT ranked 82nd

Defending The Option

I recommend you read the Defending The Option series by Shakin The Southland. I’ll link to a few things later in this post also. It will help you football nerds really get into it. The great thing about the above series is that Clemson ran the 3-3-5 (like NT) and had to defend Paul Johnson’s Georgia Tech. I already told you Jeff Monken is a PJ disciple so you see how valuable this will be in your footballing education.

Again, not much has changed since the last time NT played this team. Army will still try to do the same things it has done against NT’s smaller defensive line and discipline will be the order of the day.

Below you will find the issues NT had defenidng Army the last time these teams play. NT gave up 480 yards rushing mostly because of one or two big misses. The defense was able to stop Army at some crucial points but got down by 17 early. NT was able to force a fourth down stop before marching down to get the game tying FG to force OT.

HOD Triple Option Problems

The key to the bowl game — and to a lesser extent the Oct 2016 game — was the offense’s ability to score quickly. Army dominated possession last December but NT was able to score in the limited time. One key was the then-burgeoning pass game. Alec Morris had his best day as an NT QB and Mason Fine is in better command of a more powerful version of that offense today. NT will mix in a few more bunch sets and other wrinkles but look for these staple plays as Army tries to keep the offense in front of them.

HOD Bowl: North Texas Pass Game

Finally, the run game was explosive. NT’s run game has not changed much at all, and relies on execution of the same inside and outside zone runs with a few gap runs to keep the defense off balance. For the most part, the run game was effective but had short yardage issues. That might sound familiar as NT still has those issues. Jeff Wilson will again be the focus for Army, but NT has enough outside in this matchup to keep Army honest enough to keep the running lanes open for Mr. Wilson.

HOD Recap: NT Run Game

Milestones

The Record Watch continues. Even the NT game notes are getting in on things.
Jeff Wilson is 9th on the single-season list at 1,143 and can psas Malcom Jones’ 1980 season (1,144) and Patrick Cobbs’s 2005 year (1,154) today. Jeff is three TDs away from tying Jamario Thomas’ 2004 and Lance Dunbar’s 2009 years with 17 TDs in a season. Jeff’s next 100 yard game will tie him with Jamario Thomas for 4th all time in career 100 yard games at 13.

Mason Fine is just 14 yards away from Steve Ramsay’s 1969 record of 2,828. He’s just 291 yards away from reaching the single-season mark held by Mitch Maher in 1994. He’s four TDs away from equaling Maher’s 26 TD in 1994 which would set the single season mark. Fine is 27 completions away from Derek Thompsons’ 2013 mark of 251.

This is the best offense in NT history at 476.2 per game.

Summary

North Texas is a much better team than it was in 2016. Army is only slightly better. The Mean Green have not played exceptionally well in the last few weeks, but still have enough offensive firepower to make up for the inevitable Army TOP advantage. The Black Knights are tough, and NT’s defense is a bit more thin up front than last year. Instead of relying on superior athleticism, Reffett’s group will have to execute the game plan.

For the most part, NT has been able to do this against nearly every team they’ve faced. Army will score, but should not dominate the game or the scoreboard. NT’s offense has enough quick strike ability, and enough of a run game (Jeff!) that the game should not get away from them.

Alec Morris had a lower quality group of recivers and threw for 300+. Mason Fine has a burner in Jalen Guyton, a fully healthy and weaponized Rico Bussey, Turner Smiley, Mike Lawrence and a healthy Kelvin Smith at his disposal. That, and Jeff Wilson is in better condition for this one and is coming off a phenominal game against UTEP.

Simply put, NT’s offense has too many weapons for Army and will be the best team they have faced not named Ohio State. For NT’s defense, while this offense is unusual, it is not completely unfamiliar nor is it the first group that will try to run directly at NT’s lightweight line. Andy Flusche and company have answered every question asked of them outside of Boca Raton and they should have enough to slow this Army attack.

MGN Prediction: NT 35 Army 26