North Texas was up 28-0, and if you have been paying close attention all season you know this was a bad sign. For some mysterious reason, North Texas has been unable put together a full game. Everyone on the internet has their own reason to offer for this situation, but no one has the answer for unlocking it.
Were NT not 7-3, one of the better records in NT history at this point in a season, there would be more than a little bit of concern. As it is, there is frustration.
Coming into this game North Texas had to find some kind of motivation after dropping the Division Championship game to UAB in Birmingham. NT followed that up with a nice win over Rice that took a fourth quarter explosion to make the scoreboard look nice. In this one, NT jumped out to an easy 28-0 lead where the offense looked explosive and the run game powerful. The defense intercepted Blake LaRussa on the first possession and went down and scored a TD.
NT got their first two TDs from Rico Bussey on a 23-yard score and the second from DeAndre Torrey ran in from 37-yards out. Torrey finished with 145 yard on 25 carries. He also added 34 yards on five receptions. Unfortunately, he also fumbled early in the fourth quarter.
NT moved the ball easily and often early. NT went 7 plays and 54 yards for the third score, Torrey’s second TD of the game without seeing a third down. On their fourth TD that made it 28-0, Rico Bussey took a 4th and five pass for a 26-yard TD. That would all the TDs for NT this day. Cole Hedlund added a third quarter FG but NT was otherwise shutout.
ODU would go on to score 34 points beginning with the late-second quarter TD from LaLa Davis.
This would be the third time NT has failed to show up in the second half after going up big. They led Tech 21-6 (after one quarter), UAB 21-10 at half, and ODU 28-0 at half. All three ended as losses. The fans think it is play-calling. Littrell has credited the opponents and blamed his team for poor execution and his own staff (himself included) for preparation and coaching.
Whatever the reason, NT has failed to execute in short yardage in crucial situations and also turned the ball over. In the third quarter of this game NT went 1-5 on third down and 0-1 on fourth. The fourth-down attempt came at 4th and 7 from the ODU 9 on a fake field goal attempt. It was a curious move, but ultimately somewhat understandable. When being aggressive, you risk failure. NT still led 28-17 at that point. NT ultimately forced a three-and-out and then got their lone points — the field goal — to make it 31-17 with a little over a quarter remaining.
In the fourth quarter of this game, after ODU scored to end the third and make it 31-24, DeAndre Torrey fumbled on 1st and 10 on the ODU 36. NT had moved 33 yards in 6 plays, had overcome a 1st down sack. Torrey had just picked up 16 yards on a pass on 3rd and 6. This was the last good drive NT had.
In the fourth quarter NT was 1-3 on third downs and 0-1 on fourth.
ODU kicked a FG. NT turned it over on downs. This was a six play drive that ended with a failed Torrey 4th-and-1 attempt. Of the 19 yards NT gained that drive 14 of them were rushes. That is what makes the whole thing frustrating. The run game can run but also fails when it counts.
NT forced an ODU punt on a three-and-out and then followed with their own. Fine lined up to throw three times but scrambled for a yard, and completed two to Torrey for only five yards. NT punted on 4th and 4. Then ODU went on their 14-play 71-yard game-winning drive.
What Does It All Mean
Look, none of this is new now. NT has had trouble with efficiency. This blog thinks the lack of a Jeff Wilson type runner has meant NT is without a go-to play or series of plays. Jeff Wilson was a reliable source of grinding yards and explosive plays. NT could build their entire offensive game plan on the threat of Wilson and the counters built on that. This season Mason Fine is the threat — but in what context?
Sure if Mason Fine has the time to throw he can be dangerous but increasingly teams are flooding the field with defenders and getting pressure with their front-four. Jalen Guyton has been off the pace he set for himself last year when he was the Newcomer of the year. He has had the dropsies all season and that happened again in this one. Mike Lawrence has been schemed out of the game. Bussey and Darden are the only consistent performers.
The run game has been boom and bust and mostly bust when it comes to crucial conversions. The team has been able to convert early in games, but late against UAB and here in the fourth quarter when NT needed a 4th down conversion, it came up short.
Contrast that with Old Dominion’s 4th and 6 conversion (and the 4th and three earlier that drive). QB Blake LaRussa threw a 36-yard pass to Jonathan Duhart, who made the grab over Tyreke Davis. When it came time to make a play that wins or loses the game, ODU made it and North Texas did not. That, is this season in a nutshell.
Everyone wants someone to blame and I do not know where to lay it. Sure, it is easy to blame the coaching staff but what exactly is the problem? What did the staff do to make Guyton the newcomer of the year and then let him develop the dropsies?
“Adjustments” need to be made, but failing to get a 4th and 1 is just a failure of execution. Most of the focus is on the offense, for failing in the same way for the third time (they have also done this inconsistent thing for longer than that) but the defense deserves a little attention. Allowing 34 points is not good. Sure, ODU is good and has talent, but some of the plays were silly. Big plays to their wide receivers and allowing a second-effort on 4th and 3 on ODU’s final drive.
Tyreke Davis getting burned on 4th and 6 is just one bad play, but the series of poor defensive plays before that set that up to hurt much more than it should have.
It takes a village to blow a 28-0 lead, y’all.
North Texas hosts a renewed and reinvigorated FAU squad on Thursday night. This was supposed to be a marquee game. Now? Well, it will just be a game.