2017 Bye Week: Where Do We Stand?

Let us gather ’round and join in on the fun of a team status report.

Folks, we have a good football team. Well, you can say we have a good offense and a defense that is leaky. Count me among the number who think the defense is on its way to improving to at least mid-table CUSA. The NT Daily’s Matthew Brune had a solid little post on the secondary and the troubles it is having. While NT has been godawful on third downs, they were better against USM, and — read: since Eric Jenkins joined the starting lineup — is playing solidly on other downs.

This team is not built to hold teams to under 13 a game. Still, 30+ ppg is not going to do it either. Last year’s defense held teams to 32 ppg, 439 yards per game on 6 yards per play. This year that is at 34 ppg, 400 ypg, and 5.3 ypp.

As with any statistic, I encourage you to not take any of those numbers as gospel and instead use them as tools as part of a holistic evaluation. The defense has been much improved — especially on the defensive line. The hope is that NT Bryce English joins the front three and contributes another dimension as NT continues in conference play.

NT’s schedule looks like this after the bye:

  • UTSA
  • @ FAU
  • ODU
  • @ LaTech
  • UTEP
  • Army
  • @ Rice

No coach or player will say they are taking any of these lightly but we can. UTSA has a solid run game and a senior QB with big, tall WRs that can make plays. FAU has slowly been improving and runs Kid Briles’ offense under the tutelage of one of the nation’s best offensive coaches in Lane Kiffin. FAU’s run game is no joke right now, and NT will be challenged after the long trip to Boca Raton.

ODU is down this year but they have a good staff.

La Tech is this blog’s number one CUSA team, based on the combination of talent, coaching, and on-field performance. While the Bulldogs lost some talent from last season’s potent team, they have the home field this year and a good QB in J’Mar Smith.

Army is always tough and NT does not have the tactical advantage of a bye week to prepare. While the team and the staff have prepared twice for Army in the last year, the Cadets* are always tough.

Finally, we have Rice. They are eminently beatable but do not forget last year’s battle in Houston required a 17-point comeback from the boys in green.

That Was A Hoot: NT 42 Rice 35

* I know they are officially the Black Knights

Offensively, our favorite football team is sitting pretty. The number one offense in the conference is explosive and scoring well. There are a few things it improve upon, as Seth Littrell mentioned this week. NT has been giving a way a quarter or two of offense before revving up. Last week NT had 500 yards in about three quarters. Imagine if they could play at full tilt for four quarters? That will be the challenge in the second half of the season.

What To Play For?

Winning a bowl game is always the goal under Littrell. That is a team goal. NT is halfway toward the goal of making a bowl game. The Heart of Dallas Bowl is not an option this year but the Armed Forces Bowl might be. The bowls share an administration, after all.

Interestingly, that is not all on the table. NT has a real shot at more hardware. The team is 2-0 in conference with six to play. UTSA will be tougher than UAB and about as tough as Southern Miss but in a different way.

La Tech remains the toughest win in Ruston against the most complete team in the division — staff to players.

Beyond that there is an up-and-coming FAU squad to deal with. Before the season I pencilled that one in as a win but they have shown improvement quicker than expected — much like NT.

Winning a conference championship is probably a bridge too far, but the league is in rebuilding mode right now (WKU changed coaches, LT is young, everyone else is good but not great) and so NT finds itself a bit ahead of schedule.

After all NT beat Southern Miss in their house while being a 9-point dog.

Here are the conference standings in the West division:

  • NT – 2-0
  • LT – 1-0
  • Rice – 1-1
  • UTSA 0-0
  • USM – 0-1
  • UAB – 0-1
  • UTEP – 0-1

Other

Littrell preaches getting a week better and the bye week should be helpful in the recovery aspect of that. The offense was rolling in the last two weeks — 44.5 points and 544.00 yard per game at 6.80 yard per play — and losing that rhythm is a shame. Still, the staff felt the team was too banged up by the end of last season and this bye should help keep everyone fresh. So far there are no major lingering injuries outside of Fine’s knee and Darden’s issue. Bryce English should come back for UTSA but there has been no official announcement.