2019: North Texas at Louisiana Tech Preview

Last year in Denton, this battle was played before a record Apogee crowd and contested by equals.

This season North Texas comes in the clear underdog. We have noted all season that reasonable fans should have expected to see an unbalanced team with a powerful offense and a young inexperienced defense.

That has mostly held true, however the offense has disappointed in most games save for the recent two. The opening quarter duds can be explained by injury, personnel, and the quality of opponent but those are just different names for “excuses”.

The fact is that the offense had all the tools to be good and was not ready to start the games that way.

Two things have happened in the last fortnight: 1) The teams NT faves were very bad. 2) The WRs got a little better.

Playing Tech means going up a level in difficulty.

North Texas needs to win out to have a shot at a division title (need two USM losses, and one more Tech loss FYI) and probably a bowl invite. My thinking is that seven wins — not six — is the magic bowl-invite number for this team. That means no losses the rest of the way.

NT has struggled despite the offensive talent. Some of that was growing pains with new faces on the field and in the coaching booth. Some of that was ill-preparation and ill-execution.

Whatever you think of SMU and Cal, they were beatable. The Houston let down was also frustrating given the circumstances. Losing to USM was understandable but the one to Charlotte was nigh unforgivable.

As Bill Parcells said, ‘you are what your record says you are’. NT is an unbalanced team that is trying to get better every week.

Louisiana Tech

Skip Holtz has had a nice run in Ruston. Close, cynical observers will note that he had a lot fewer league titles than is desired but compared to the league he has been a model of success.

In seven years he has only the one losing season: his first. His teams have had NFL talent and have produced some quality entertainment to boot.

The criticism is right on, however. Going back to his days at South Florida and Wast Carolina, he has never won more than nine games and none of those have come with fewer than four losses.

This year’s team is right out of that mold: talent everywhere, but enough questions that we can have hope they will do North Texas a favor and fumble the ball away.

They have started 7-1, losing only to Texas when they were good. They have played to their competition, battling close against Grambling and Rice, but stepped up and got a big win vs USM at home. That same USM team took apart NT in Hattiesburg.

They have a ton of talent — again– and senior leadership to guide it.

Attacking Tech

Amik Robertson is the name you probably already know. He blocked the kick to seal the game last season. He also nearly intercepted the previous ball to Bussey down the sideline.

He is a tough competitor and intercepted Jack Abraham thrice in the big west division matchup this season.

We cannot expect Jyaire Shorter or Deonte Simpson to win the majority of those battles. He is the league’s best cornerback and our outside guys are still learning to be consistent.

That said, one cannot coach size. Shorter is a big dude and running through a smaller guy does not take any coaching.

The concern will be that North Texas will have to grind out some drives in this one. Sure, throw it up to Shorter here and there, but we cannot expect that will go for six the way it has recently.

In all the ways that UTEP and Charlotte are bad defensively, Tech is much better. The stats show that Tech gets off the field on third downs better, and stops the opposition from gaining any momentum early. UTEP is 129th in stop rate — the measure of a team’s percentage of defensive drives ending in punts, turnovers, or turnovers on downs. Charlotte is 116th. (NT is 99th) and Tech is 40th.

Still, looking down the Tech schedule there is only one win that impresses: 45-30 winners vs Southern Miss. They were scored upon in that game, but they got three big turnovers late to win it.

The other corner is Michael Sam, a redshirt senior at 6’1″ 194 lbs. Safety L’Jarius Sneed likes to come up and make a ton of tackles. OLB Ezekiel Barnett will bring pressure — he leads the team in hurries but Amik Robertson will come on a corner blitz, too.

Best case scenario: NT’s offense continues its run of play, and scores 38 with no turnovers.
Worst case scenario: The Tech pass rush causes interceptions, and NT’s WRs cannot get open against the talented secondary

Defending Tech

J’Mar Smith has all the tools and he has come up big when it has been needed from him. He will not set any league passing records, and that has been something like source of frustration. A lot of fans criticism him for what he is not instead of appreciating what he is. That said, he is a little frustrating.

As we saw the last two seasons, Smith can get the ball to his playmaking wide receivers. That is really the entire job description so in that respect he is a good QB. He does also make the odd mistake here in there. Odd not in frequency, but in character. He will fumble, throw the ball to no one, and take sacks.

It may be in NT’s favor that he is at home and can feel the crowd’s nervous energy instead of drawing inspiration from a bunkered-down mentality on the road. He was great last season against NT, and has come up big for Tech in crunch time this season.

That said, he had to pull out an OT run against Rice so it is not super impressive that he had to be clutch there.

The OL has experience. NT has not had a ton of success bringing pressure, and J’Mar Smith can elude whatever pressure that is brought. See last year’s preview for a little video. His targets include Adrian Hardy again. Last season his acrobatic receivers made incredible catch after incredible catch that helped calm the crowd a bit.

RB Justin Henderson is a load — 218 lbs! — and will run through arm tackles. Jaqwis Dancy is still good, and shifty and a senior.

This is by far J’Mar Smith’s most efficient season. He has 13 scores to only 3 interceptions and one of those was a freak play. NT may not be able to rely on Smith doing self-harm in this one, although they did not get much of that last year either.

Best case scenario: North Texas gets some fortunate turnovers and gets off the field often enough to get the ball back to Fine.
Worst case scenario: An endless conga line to the end zone for Tech players.

Coaching

Skip Holtz is a good coach and Seth Littrell is a proven program-builder in this league. Neither can be said to be an outstanding in-game adjuster. Call this a wash. The home field advantage is well, an advantage.

NT has had solid game plans throughout the season but has also fell on its face to start games too often to discount. The depth chart has changed in reaction to performance — a good thing — but it also means there has been some inconsistency.

Let us count special teams with coaching today. Marty Biagi’s group has allowed some awful returns this season, even while the kick and punt games have been solid. If the offense and defense keep it all even, we cannot expect to have an advantage in this area.

MGN season preview prediction: W 31-24
MGN prediction today: L 28-38

While I have appreciated the offensive explosion the last couple of weeks I absolutely know that has much more to do with the opposition than anything. Tech is good — not great, but good — and NT has had trouble being consistent. If things go the right way, I can see NT pulling this out. This is one of those seasons where NT needs to be perfect on offense and lucky on defense. I do not see it.