FRISCO, TX — You may say bowl games have diminished. You may say they do not matter. You may say that kids are opting out and not playing anymore. You would not be wrong in absolute terms, but in specifics about this team and this game you would be incorrect.
North Texas rallied from a poor start to the 2022 season and earned a championship game berth, and a bowl game. The former was a disappointing result that forced the Leadership to make a change. That change has meant Eric Morris is the new head coach, a guy who promises his time to each and every player to “find out what makes you tick.”
It has been notable that the transfer portal was not filled with North Texas players. Many waited until they could speak with the head man himself, whoever he might be. The major parts of this otherwise successful season on the coaching staff are making their way to new and different locations. Mike Bloesch, offensive coordinator, is gone to coach the line at Cal. Randy Clements, line coach, will be at North Carolina. At least Bloesch will remain and call plays in the bowl game, a testament to the closeness that this staff and group of players have.
There will be a bit of a send off for Seth Littrell, in spirit if not in fact. Littrell was close to the players and motivated everyone to at least power through some poor starts in consecutive seasons, he never got to hoist a trophy with these guys. This will be a chance to send him out with a moral victory represented by hardware.
Boise State is a name program, and one that used to share the conference with North Texas about a year before Boise blew up and became the model G5 program. North Texas spent some time in the sports wilderness after winning a few Sun Belt titles. In recent years Boise has settled to being a solid top of G5 program, while North Texas is fighting to get up to and through that tier. It is fitting then, to see these two teams battle for some kind of notice in Frisco in a soccer stadium during the World Cup.
Boise hasn’t played in a bowl since 2019, for reasons having to do with COVID. in 2018, they had a game vs Boston College cancelled after a quarter due to inclement weather. It has been a while. The Broncos lost the Mountain West title game, and North Texas lost the CUSA game. Yes, this is a battle of inter-conference second-place supremacy.
This is a Boise team that can run the ball, and prefers to do so. This is a Mean Green team that can run the ball, but is willing to pas it. The game should end quickly, if everyone does what they want to do. Boise State is 13-1 under head coach Andy Avalos when running for 140+ yards, including 7-1 in 2022. They’ve put up 2400+ yards rushing and have 200+ in six of their last nine.
The Mean Green have had three straight sub-400 yard outings, and have gone 1-2 in that span. There were moments of good and some of great in there, but without the head coach it is unclear what version of the Mean Green we will see. Against UTSA, NT came out with a powerful run game, and threw the ball with purpose. After an interception, and because of the defense’s struggles against the UTSA offense, NT forced the ball down the field and struggled.
For North Texas, the plan is to stop the run game and George Holani. He has good burst, will power through the first tackle if you let him, and can run away from people if you aren’t running hard. The Broncos will throw off that run game, but everything is built off the run so you need to be great to stop it. Fresno state got run off the field, but corralled the attack in the title game.
Like most good run teams, Boise has a good line that moves well and stays organized. NT has not been great stopping the run out of conference, or in championship games (okay there was only the one). Boise will look like UAB in the way they move the line, but Holani isn’t necessarily DeWayne McBride or Kevorian Barnes.
For North Texas, the run game will be paramount again. Boise is better at stopping the run and Avalos was a defensive coordinator at Oregon and played linebacker at Boise in his playing days. He will take particular pride in taking away the strength of North Texas’ attack, folks. The Broncos rated highly in the Mountain West against the run, and in overall defense. They will be tested by North Texas’ attack, but expect an organized and well-prepared defense.
Best case scenario: North Texas is motivated to win, and bolstered by the home crown on a cold Saturday. The run game is angry, and the defense is aggressive while Shorter et al run free in the secondary.
Worst case scenario: NT finds it tough to muster the attention to detail after losing a coach, and losing the title game. Big gaps are in the run game, and the offense isn’t as crisp as we’ve seen.
Game Plan: Hey, it is a bowl game. Go out and play and have fun. Execute with purpose, but also break out the trick plays and dig deep in the roster.
What does it all mean? North Texas can win its first bowl since after the 2013 season. Interim head coach Phil Bennett will take over coaching duties for the bowl game, and it won’t be the first time he has done so. This game is important to continue to build some momentum. One reason NT parted ways with Littrell was that the enthusiasm of the fans was low. It became harder to convince people to show up for big games given the record in postseasons. NT has a chance to exercise some demons in that respect. There are staff members likely coaching for a shot to continue at NT, but the likely outcome is that most if not all head to a new spot. Eric Morris is filling out his staff now. There will be some players that impress here, and maybe change some minds of the new staff but a season+ of tape is where the truth lies. This is mostly about fun, and putting on a good show in front of a good crowd of North Texans.