Ladies and gentleman, our favorite little college football team will host Florida Atlantic at home this Saturday. The game marks the start of the October schedule wherein North Texas will play (in our estimation) four of the top five or so in the league. FAU is not a great team, but they have a better than average shot of winning the league. Sometime next year we could be talking about this game as the matchup with the eventual league champion. If you think that simply means CUSA has parity then, sure, you are right there too. The difference is the same.
Willie Taggart has another talented team in Boca Raton this season. That is a combination of his skill as a recruiter, something he made his name on as far back as an assistant at WKU in the early 2000s. He has coached at WKU, USF, Florida State, and now at FAU. Along that journey he has been acknowledged for his Gulf Coast offense, known for the power run and explosive passing games. FAU is not quite at the level of that powerhouse 2017 team that dominated the league under Kiffin and Kid Briles, but some of that can be attributed to the pandemic and weirdness. This seasons’ squad has scored quickly, and explosively, and is going to be a threat in Denton.
N’Kosi Perry is (as of this writing) the fifth rated passer in the league, with 13 TD tosses to his name against only three picks. He can sling it. Check these two tosses on the same drive against Purdue this past weekend.
There have been times Perry’s career where he looks like the clear best player on the field. He can run, but his ability to sling the ball is the difference maker. In Denton, we’ve seen some runners who spray the ball wildly, but Perry has shown some things this season. He probably still is a little too loose with the ball than is comfortable, but in his third season he’s been better.
FAU as a team is averaging 6.32 yards per play, which is just behind North Texas’ 6.38 against very similar competition. I’d put the quality higher for FAU’s schedule and they’ve done better overall.
|W UTEP 31-13||W Charlotte 43-13||W vs bad team|
|L SMU 48-10||L @ Ohio 38-41||L vs a solid team|
|W TxSO 59-27||W So La 42-9||W over overmatched in-state FCS|
|L @ UNLV 58-27||L 40-14 UCF||L vs non-conference|
|L @ Memphis 44-34||L @ Purdue 26-28||L vs solid team|
Perry has done his best work when it has mattered most — I suppose this is a matter of perspective — throwing eight of his thirteen scoring tosses when tied or within fourteen points. That is to say, the game is close or within reach and he can make things happen. They’ve needed a couple of comebacks to get in things, and Perry has not been perfect. He made a couple of bad decisions vs Purdue that cost them, but overall it was a good effort.
Seth Littrell and DC Phil Bennett have probably done a good amount of scheming for the QB run game. Perry can scoot, and a QB run threat was a big problem vs Texas Southern and UNLV. For the most part, Memphis signal caller was contained, but he’s not nearly the threat in space as Perry is.
LaJountay Wester has been very good, grabbing 29 for 329 and 7 scores. NT’s defense will need to tackle in space, get pressure, but in containment mode and not allowing big runs from the QB after a breakdown.
Offensively, NT will be looking to do more of the same. Memphis packed the box, and dared Austin Aune to throw. He did, and well, for the most part. The two interceptions were returned for touchdowns, and there were missed tosses that left points off the board, but Aune played relatively well. He kept the defense honest. FAU trusts their defensive backs. Taggert was quoted as saying “This year coming in, we felt this is the most depth we had as a team” and will likely make NT prove that the NT wideouts can get enough separation. No one wants to let NT run against them.
Seth Littrell brought up mistakes again in his press conference. “It’s the little mistakes that add on together and stack on top of each other. They’re little but they become big. We have a good football team and a very talented football team that can win games, but at the same time it still takes execution and it’s not just about effort and energy.”
NT has talent. It is an incomplete team. FAU has talent. They are an incomplete team.
In Boca Raton, there are rumblings of unhappiness with Taggert because of his relative underperformance compared to the two championships under Kiffin. Here in Denton, there is not enough money to replace Littrell midseason but the message boards are filled with “My Favorite Head Coach Candidate” threads. You do not need me to tell you a loss for Seth would be bad for his long term employment prospects.
North Texas will be looking to run, first and foremost. The box was stacked in Memphis. “We have to run the ball to have success, but last week (against Memphis) there weren’t many good run plays with seven, eight or nine guys in the box. You have to be able to make plays on the perimeter and pitch and catch the ball. We made some plays which will only build confidence. We’re gonna need that because we can’t allow people to load up the box on us like that.”
Ideally, a defense doesn’t need to stack the box to stop the run. I imagine FAU will try their hand at stopping things with the base defense thanks to their talented line (Jones, Jean, et al) and good backers with size (Williams, McRae). The corners are good tacklers as well (Mungin caused a fumble in space last week, and jumps out as talented). Overall there is a lot to like on the defense, but it is a little banged up and they play a lot of guys. That can lead to some cohesion problems and partly why FAU doesn’t have a better record.
For NT fans, the focus will be on Austin Aune and his ability to find his targets. He misses too often for everyone’s liking, but he can sling the ball and is gamer. There is a lot to like in number 2, even if he isn’t going to win hearts and minds with just one game’s performance. He has found a rhythm with J’ayire Shorter and Ja’Mori Maclin — especially in recent weeks. Watching Var’Kees Gumms run free vs UNLV was fun. There is a lot of talent on NT’s offense.
Littrell chalks that up to health and time. He’s right. NT lost a ton of starters at the pass-catching positions in the first half of last year, and had to resort to focussed running because of it. Unlocking the pass game potential is the hope for the rest of the season and the best chance of upsetting anyone going forward. NT will need to score vs FAU, and that means making plays in the pass game.
Elsewhere, the stable of backs — Adaway, Adeyi, Johnson, Ragsdale — is very good and done some good hard running. Rotating a new guy in often keeps the run game fresh, but sacrifices a bit of rhythm.
NT mixed in Kaylon Horton in the offense late vs Memphis and he scored. He is nominally the NT kick returner and has already scored once on special teams, so it makes sense to get him involved. Having so many dudes that can score is a great problem to have.
We discussed Perry and his LaJohntay Wester, but the run game is better than NT’s on a per-carry basis. A lot of that has to do with defenses having to account for Perry’s legs on the attack and that opening up the blocking schemes. McCammon is at 6.28 yards per pop on 68 carries in five games. Perry has 34 carries and is putting up 6.8 per tote. Again, that is a simplistic analysis but the idea is to help you conceive of Perry’s ability to extend plays and get crucial yards. Against Memphis, a two-yard keeper on 3rd-and-1 is more effective than a 6-yard scamper on 3rd-and-13.
North Texas’ linebackers get praise from opposing coaches every week. KD Davis and Kevin Wood III are very good backers, and tackle well and read the play. A deficiency vs UNLV was the line and the safety support. Last week in Memphis that was much improved, if not perfect. Mazin Richards made some things happen, and in the secondary DeShawn Gaddie tackled well. The defensive backs were roasted by SMU but were locked in in Tennessee.
Both programs like to do self-harm. Littrell’s teams have a habit of holding, roughing the passer, and snapping the ball poorly at the most inopportune time. Last week, NT held, interfered with the pass offensively, and threw an interception on the same play. FAU does something similar. There is talent, but these guys will try to give the game away for a second. Watching them both do the same to each other will be frustrating for both fans, undoubtedly.
North Texas is at home, but the excitement level is low enough that the athletic staff will be scrambling to give away tickets. FAU played at Purdue last week, and has experienced all of CUSA previously. The most raucous and loud place to play right now is down in San Antonio (good team, dome) and the home field advantage is not one. In fact, a slow start by Littrell will likely bring out some boo-birds that can change the demeanor of the team.
Beyond that silly stuff, Hurricane Ian hit Florida this week. FAU’s campus sustained minimal damage and will actually host South Florida in Boca.
The oddsmakers are putting NT at 3.5 point dogs at home. That’s fair. These are fairly evenly matched teams on paper, and NT has performed worse against worse teams. FAU has shown they can do things but have a tendency to play to their opponent’s level and need a comeback at some point.
I really liked the offense I saw in Tennessee, but I don’t know if the defense can do the necessaries against an explosive FAU offense. I think Perry gets some crucial first downs late, and NT loses a heartbreaker.
NT 32 FAU 37