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Basketball Basketball Recaps

North Texas Beats Tech 51-50 in Battle of CUSA Leaders

The Mean Green were ready for the moment in Ruston, jumping out to a big lead, with some crisp offense and their typically tough defense. This was typical of NT in conference play, where they have been at the top of the league in efficiency offensively and strong defensively even if slightly undersized.

The Bulldogs came in as a top-60 opponent, and this win is a feather in NT’s cap in a season that has seen McCasland’s group play some tough competition strong until the end. Even in the lone conference loss to super-talented WKU (although missing Bassey) they played tough until getting out-executed in the end.

This game saw something similar. NT withheld a surge from Tech and briefly lost their lead. NT went to Zach Simmons for some clutch buckets in the middle of the second half until Tech wised up and changed up their coverage to disallow easy entry passes to him.

After Jacolby Pemberton made a free throw to make it 49-48 North Texas with 4:09 left in the game, no one scored until Amorie Archibald’s layup over Zach Simmons with 5 seconds left in the contest. He was fouled but missed the free throw. NT inbounded and Javion Hamlet drove the length of the floor to get a floater off at the last possible instant — this was reviewed –and scored the winning bucket.

The review went on for ages, and there was no clear view on the broadcast that could say definitively either way. The Thomas Anderson Center scoreboard operator refused to adjust the score even after the referees announced the decision and NT came away winners.

Offensive Execution

North Texas struggled against the harassing Tech defense late, again, something that is commonly seen. North Texas had trouble running clean sets either through miscommunication — McCasland screaming the play to the ball handler or yelling instructions to a given player on his intended responsibility — poor passing, or just bad reads.

The fact that NT can run the offense crisply at times indicates this is just a familiarity problem. They can run their sets sharply when they know what to expect, but adjusting on the fly and reading the defense is still a work in progress.

North Texas got a big buckets from Gibson, Simmons and of course Hamlet when it counted and that is what it takes to win. Someone needs to make the buckets and everyone needs to play great defense.

Yes, The Defense

The defense was incredible, with Zach Simmons defending all over the floor. One reason teams do not like their big men going to challenge shots on the three point line is that that leaves no one to rebound inside. NT has played with smallish lineups for two seasons and still manages to get huge rebounds. NT defended and rebound. Unfortunately, the one time they blew a coverage — allowing Amorie Archibald to get middle on the screen-and-roll — was the biggest moment. Before that they forced Tech into tough looks and one-shot possessions for four clutch minutes.

In the end, NT is at 5-1 in league play after beating one of the toughest teams in this league. Charlotte was previously undefeated in conference play but dropped their game in Bowling Green this afternoon.

NT gets a day break before hosting Rice on Monday and then UTSA on Thursday.

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Basketball

MBB: Let’s Get Hopeful

Back in November we discussed this team and were less than enthused. Some of those concerns remain, like the fact that NT has no obvious closer or system to generate crunch-time buckets. Others have been addressed — the new guys are getting comfortable.

North Texas handled FIU handily to open conference play in Denton yesterday, and blew out FAU on this afternoon. Before that, the squad split the WKU/Marshall road trip but impressed enough to be frustrated at the WKU loss.

North Texas sits at 3-1 and KenPom has them favorites for most of the rest of the way. The team plays hard, gives good effort, and is well-coached.

Against the Herd, there was some good fortune that helped NT in the win column rather than excellent play. The good news is that NT puts itself in positions to win and be in those tough situations. The hope is that eventually the team learns and grows from being in that position so often.

Umoja Gibson is shooting 40% from three, on 101 attempts thus far and stretches the floor for the slashing of Hamlet, Bell, and opens space for Zach Simmons and Deng Geu, everyone’s favorite player.

NT is still not overly long or big, but they play tough, fight for every possession, and have shooters. It is a nice basketball team. The most exciting recent development was the play of Roosevelt Smart against FIU. Two seasons ago he was NT’s best offensive player but has lost that position these last two seasons.

North Texas will run into problems when it faces talented teams like WKU and UTEP, and will struggle against good defensive teams like ODU and Charlotte, but no one in this league is unbeatable.

Javion Hamlet and James Reese — two of those newcomers — were stars of Saturday’s win vs FAU. Last year, NT had a balanced scoring attack but was overly reliant on Ryan Woolridge getting inside the paint and Zach Simmons doing a one-man wrecking crew at center to initiate much of that action. This season the improvement of Geu and the others gives NT a little more variety in attack and Hamlet, Bell and others can all attack off the bounce or slash to get second-chance buckets.

NT played a tough schedule and competed well even if they did not put up wins. They’ve opened conference play on a great note, but they’ll face some challenges and we will see how much improvement they have made. March and the conference tournament is just two short months away and McCasland will want to build his team to play the best basketball right as the tournament starts.

That is everyone’s goal, sure, but playing good basketball in the conference season is how you make it easier on yourself in Frisco. Long term, we see the kind of program that Grant Mac wants to build in Denton. He won 20 at Arkansas State, but escaped that situation as soon as he was able. He won 20 in Denton, and followed that up with a good team with some obvious flaws.

This season is his third in Denton and we know the style he wants to play and the kind of guys he wants to coach. In short, this season can possibly result in some championship hardware and the future is bright.

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Football Football Recruiting

Class of 2020 National Signing Day

This year’s class was nowhere near as hyped as the ones from previous years when it was something of a novelty to get a good class on signing day. NT last year tried to sign everyone but this year they still have “three or four” scholarships to fill.

The fans at GoMeanGreen.com, the forum of choice for NT crazies, will tell you that they saw last year coming because of some faulty classes in the previous years. To that I say “sure”. While we can speculate and criticize the results we know very little of the process of recruiting at North Texas.

The things we do know are that NT has missed out on some guys, that they have tried to fill “holes” in the classes with some risky JUCO guys that have not panned out. That is a fairly common occurrence as JUCO guys are risks almost by definition.

The staff at NT has recruited guys that have won all-conference awards, that are playing in the NFL, and have won some freshman awards (the defensive guys last year).

Whatever you think of the talent in CUSA, NT has recruited enough guys to compete with the top of this league. There was only two games where we could think “wow, we just do not match up with that” and those were the FAU games in 2017.

The most glaring whiff in the JUCO recruitment ranks was the CB play last year, after two-straight nice signings. So it goes.

Below are the new crop of Mean Green guys, with the data straight from MGS. North Texas has 19 commits and the average rating puts them at 2 (just being FAU with their 10 commits) on 247’s ratings. As always, the ratings do not matter when it comes to individuals, but they do when it comes to aggregate. Every player represents some chance they will reach their potential. The higher the rating, the higher the chance they will be impactful.

You cannot win by hitting consistently low rated guys and hoping to find that many diamonds in the rough. Everyone on the list was three-stars and that is nice. One of last year’s 3-star impact guys was Deonte Simpson. Two years ago, you might have seen Jyaire Shorter on the list. Maybe KD Davis. In 2017 you saw Tre Siggers and Jaelon Darden with three stars next to their names.

The point is that this is a class full of solid players and you can expect them to contribute soon. There are a lot of lineman and LBs here, which is good. One interesting thing is there is no QB on this list. NT has something of a logjam at the spot formerly occupied by Mason Fine and no true clear option.

There is always the transfer route.

  • Kade Bond OL 6-3 298 Magnolia, TX Magnolia HS 7:21 a.m.
  • Jordan Brown LB 6-0 200 Huntsville, TX Huntsville HS 7:22 a.m.
  • Garnett Burke S 5-11 170 Garland, TX Lakeview Centennial HS 7:17 a.m.
  • Jett Duncan OL 6-2 291 The Woodlands, TX The Woodlands HS 9:21 a.m.
  • Anterrious Gray OL 6-2 329 Macon, MS Northwest Mississippi CC 10:00 a.m.
  • Dane Jackson OL 6-0 277 Berea, KY Madison Southern HS 7:00 a.m.
  • Isaiah Johnson RB 6-0 200 Lubbock, TX Cooper HS 7:11 a.m.
  • Jacobi Johnson LB 6-3 230 Oklahoma City, OK Midwest City HS 7:53 a.m.
  • Ta’Shoyn Johnson DL 6-1 288 Killeen, TX Killeen HS 9:05 a.m.
  • Christian Lee TE 6-3 210 Friendswood, TX Friendswood HS 7:05 a.m.
  • Davontae McCrae DL 6-4 250 Miami, FL East Mississippi CC 7:29 a.m.
  • Jordan Nichols S 6-1 199 Waco, TX Connally HS 7:59 a.m.
  • Kortlin Rausaw DL 6-3 259 Wylie, TX Wylie HS 7:16 a.m.
  • Jake Roberts TE 6-4 235 Norman, OK Norman North HS 8:29 a.m.
  • Upton Stout DB 5-9 165 Houston, TX North Shore HS 9:34 a.m.
  • Loronzo Thompson WR 6-0 160 Friendswood, TX Clear Brook HS 7:30 a.m.
  • Ron Tiavaasue TE 6-3 244 Akid, New Zealand Snow College
  • Tavorice Weaver DB 5-11 190 Dallas, TX Madison HS 8:19 a.m.
  • Erik Williams OL 6-4 247 Lubbock, TX Coronado HS 9:14 a.m.
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Football

Seth Littrell Hires Clint Bowen as new Defensive Coordinator

Last time we hired Clint Bowen to be the defensive coordinator we said “Seriously, the guy has some skins on the wall and looks to be a solid hire. Excited to see what he can do.”

That is generic praise and I was but a youngin’ then and what did I truly know? He went on to coordinate the defense that went 5-7, allowed 30.7 points per game and 6 yard per play. North Texas finished last in yards and yards per play in the Sun Belt that year.

This year the Reffet defense allowed 32.5 points per game and 5.73 yards per play. His best coordinated defense was last year’s 24.2 per game squad, which averaged 5.32 per play.

Bowen was a 4-3 guy the last time he was here, but that is mighty out of vogue now. He is known for his prowess with the secondary, something Reffett was known for also. The 4-3 is going to probably be a multiple 4-2-5/ 3-3-5 look, something that NT had done also.

Remember our 3-stack defense was mostly name, as we played with two linebackers and the third “linebacker” was the Jack, which is a glorified rush end that would sometimes be swapped for a true linebacker.

I was never a Reffett hater, but I also did not absolutely love how often the defense looked like it had no ideas beside “bring all the guys, let the corners win their 1v1 battle”.

I really do not remember Bowen doing much in 2011, but I certainly know he will benefit from all the young guys growing into quality, experienced players last year.

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Football

House Cleaning: Seth Littrell Fires Bodie Reeder and Troy Reffett

“It is difficult any time we don’t meet our own expectations as coaches and this was one of those years. I have a lot of respect for Troy and Bodie and I’m grateful for their passion for this program and their leadership of our student-athletes. Sometimes a different perspective is needed for the growth of a program, and I feel like this is one of those times.”

There you have it in press release form. The Mean Green head coach changed coordinators just one year after hiring Bodie Reeder to replace new USC coordinator Graham Harrell.

Littrell (and Fine) has praised Reeder for his football acumen and Littrell in particular remarked at the shared philosophy that would benefit the team. “I want to be more involved and Bodie really understands what I like to do with tempo and being aggressive” he said at league media days.

North Texas had some big numbers at times but ultimately the poor execution that lingered and contributed to early non-conference losses was present into conference play. NT went scoreless in the fourth vs UAB and struggled in the red zone vs Rice.

While injury contributed to the issues and coaching changes at WR, QB/OC, and RB no doubt effected the group, a change at the top makes sense.

Meanwhile, a similar story can be told for Troy Reffett, whom Littrell defended often over the four years here. The head coach wanted an attacking, aggressive defense and there were glimpses of that vision realized last year when EJ Ejiya, Brandon Garner, Nate Brooks, and Kemon Hall led a defense that got sacks and forced turnovers.

This year the roster is young and mistakes can be attributed to youth and inexperience. The overall fact is that the defense still made a lot of mistakes and the game plan was inflexible. NT brought a lot of pressure but it did not put the defense in a great position.

Example: NT bringing extra pressure vs Rice and QB Tom Stewart being unaffected by it, and finding his big WR in a size mismatch.

As with most things, when it worked it looked genius. When it did not, it looked awful. I do not know that Reffett lost his job because of the performance this year, but maybe because of the overall direction of the program.

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General

Mean Green End Disappointing Season, Mason Fine’s Last Game

The entire season can be summed up in the third quarter game-losing interception: tough scenario, bold plan, terrible execution, awful result.

North Texas kicked off the last season of Mason Fine’s collegiate career with much fanfare. There was a little G5 Heisman talk, some beat writer-led division hype, and the lingering good feelings from back-to-back nine-win seasons.

Instead North Texas finished 4-8, with three straight losses. Seth Littrell and Mason Fine produced their second losing season in four season’s time and miss out on a bowl game for the first time.

Readers of this fine publication will no doubt remember that we warned and cautioned and talked about how when we talk about the wins that could have been we have to acknowledge the losses that were nearly there as well.

Two seasons ago the Mean Green went to the league title game and lost. The louder part of the internet fandom complained that it was the beginning of greatness but it was a few bounces away from being nothing.

This season felt like that one — but with all the bad luck and none of the good. It was difficult to enjoy but Mason Fine said the right things about it in the end. “It wasn’t the way we wanted it to go but that’s life and that’s football.”

It is true. Life does not always reward hard work with triumph and immediate glory. The “mysterious ways” cliché comes to mind.

For supporters and interested parties, it was difficult to enjoy. There is little shame in finding something else to do besides watching a seemingly meaningless game in a losing season.

It did mean that Fine got to go out like Lance Dunbar and Patrick Cobbs: in front of empty crowds.

Ultimately it reinforced his feelings that the people he cares most about are the guys in uniform with him that went through the grind every day. “I’m excited to see what [his teammates] do. They are going to become better men, husbands, and fathers because of this season”.

Sure.

We all want to give a greater meaning to our efforts to justify it to a critical eye, and yes, every moment can be learned from in some small way.

Ultimately, the program put together a bad season and fell victim to its weaknesses: limited depth, unbalanced recruiting, coaching turnover, and well, some misfortune. Oh yeah, and the other teams played well on the day.

Another truism: If this was easy they would not pay the coaches so much.

The young defense was learning big the seemingly stacked offense sputtered and cane up short too often. Last week NT could not score the game winning TD against Rice despite having the ball in the red zone.

This week NT threw a game losing interception in the third, because the offense got shut down and sacked too much.

Seth Littrell said he was proud of the team because he saw effort and fight. That’s all we want out of anything we spend our precious attention on. Let us applaud them.

It has been clear since about midsession that the real root causes were systemic and not something that would be fixable in-season let alone in-game.

Yes, Jyaire Shorter and Deonte Simpson grew as recovers, but it was not enough to get the offense unstuck for long periods. The line was still allowing sacks, still snapping low or high, and they were not going to be able to improve quick enough for it to matter. There were big numbers but the inability to get first downs and touchdowns in the fourth against Rice and UAB were the reason for the losses.

It’s Blame Season across the nation and coaches are getting ready to pack up and move. NT fans want Seth Littrell to do like Herman at Texas and fire the defensive head man. There are more still that want Bodie Reeder gone for the sin of coaching Mason in a losing season.

Littrell practically turned over his coaching staff last off-season and the scientist in me dislikes the idea of changing another variable. The offense will be led by a new QB — one of Jason Bean or the other guys or maybe a transfer? — and so much change while breaking in yet another staff sounds like a recipe for another losing season.

Note: It has since been reported that Bodie Reeder is out as offensive coordinator, but that has yet to be confirmed by the program.

That said, the strength of the team was not well, strong. That means there is some soul-searching. The good news is that Littrell and his staff are the kinds of people that are willing to put in work and take accountability.

For the fans and stewards of the program that means adjusting expectations a bit. Do we want progress or perfection? If the former (as it should be) then we must acknowledge that progress is not always linear.

So while we should not blindly demonize a set back season, we also should not blindly trust every and all decisions. Littrell hit big on Harrell and Fine, but maybe not so much on Reeder (pending) and has some work to do building a more consistent defense.

Recruits like Simpson, Shorter, Tre Siggers, KD Davis and the young guys have impressed while some of the transfers have not. Compared to the rest of the league NT is in good shape. Finding one QB is a hell of a way to get a program on its feet. NT did that. Finding the next one is how a career is made. That’s yet to be seen.

Categories
Football

Athletic: Bodie Reeder Out As Offensive Coordinator

Chris Vannini of the Athletic reports that Bodie Reeder is out as coordinator immediately following a mistake-filled showing in his first year in Denton.

More to come.

Vannini updated his report to include Troy Reffett as well.

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Football

Seth Littrell And Disappointment

This week, over at CUSAReport, we wrote about the disappointing season the Mean Green and Seth Littrell had this year. His weekly press conference confirmed some of the disappointment he must have had watching his team get dominated by the Rice Owls.

“It was a disappointing game on Saturday. I didn’t think we came out with the right mentality, especially in the first half in order to have the success that we wanted. Ultimately we didn’t do a good enough job as coaches and players in order to have the success we wanted and ultimately that falls on me. I take full responsibility, we haven’t had the success in terms of wins and losses that I believe we should have had this season. I don’t think it’s been from a lack of effort or talent, ultimately you have to do the little things right and necessary each and every week in your preparation to have that success. We need to make sure that we find a way to get that fixed for the future. This week provides a great opportunity to show what this team was capable of and it should be a great motivation for our team and our coaches to make sure we send these seniors out the right way. I will always have a special place in my heart for this senior class, we started this journey together, they’ve done some great things and accomplished a lot and they have helped us create a foundation and culture for our program. I’m going to do everything in my power this week to send them out the right way.

Seth Littrell, 11/26

Soul-searching time in Denton. To reiterate the piece on CR, it was always going to be an unbalanced season considering the defensive losses to graduation. We all expected more from the offense and we were very disappointed.

Perhaps we should have expected a bumpy transition to the new Bodie Reeder offense but even I thought that would be mitigated by Seth Littrell staying involved. He and Mason Fine represented the existing knowledge, and the transition should have been much smoother.

The quotes from the head man are a little vague — something that is part and parcel of Mr. Littrell’s statements — What are those things that were not done right in preparing? What does that look like? This week Will Healy, head coach at Charlotte, mentioned the turnaround in conference came about when they were began reenforcing their ‘culture’ things.

Count me skeptical of such things as the main driver — sometimes it is the opponent and luck. There are so many factors that go into winning a game that it is silly to point to any one thing as the issue. North Texas dropped their heads when they did not execute immediately but asking the players to react with something different than “here we go again” is asking them to not recognize a pattern and thus go against human nature.

The real question is why the team was starting slowly yet again. There, we can point to some personnel things and maybe some coaching items. We will not go into detail at this point because it largely does not matter anymore. The staff may not be the same next year, and the roster most definitely will not.

Mason Fine has one more game at NT and that will be the end of it. It was record-filled and the most memorable games came in the regular season — the 2017 season in particular is filled with some gems — and that is all disappointing. The man with all the QB records should have a league title or a bowl game to their name, yeah? It underlines the importance of seizing the opportunity of the moment. That 2017 title game was not to be taken for granted, as it was the only one that Mason Fine would see in four tries.

Seth Littrell has brought a different culture and a new standard for NT. He had more than one 9-win season, something McCarney was unable to do, but has two losing seasons to his name also. In this decade (2010 season to 2019) NT has had seven losing season and three nine-win ones. Two of those are by Seth Littrell. Two of the losing season are by him also.

It is hard to pick up and win anywhere, but it is a little harder at North Texas. None of that is an excuse, however, as it is difficult to win anywhere in this league. Part of the evaluation of a coach and a staff is to properly set expectations and also to adjust for the level of difficulty.

Seth Littrell is a good coach and has brought success, but he has also coached a disappointing season. There is nothing damning about a mistake or even a disappointing season, but there is if no one learns from it.

Categories
Football Football Recaps

Rice Beats Up North Texas 20-14

HOUSTON, TX — As usual, the traveling North Texas crowd looked bigger than the home supporters, but that did not matter. Mike Bloomgren’s Rice Owls came to play on Saturday at Rice Stadium, and Seth Littrell’s Mean Green did not.

Of course, things are not as simple as effort and desire and the twenty-two starters on each team cannot be summed up by a simple adjective. Still, North Texas preaches being the “most excited to play” and it looked like the green team was not.

NT went down 20-0 and the same old problems emerged: could not protect Fine, mistakes in execution, and some questionable play calling. Defensively, Reffet’s player okay but could not generate the consistent pass rush that would have put Rice in reaction mode.

Late in the game, needing a stop, the defense surrendered two first downs that sealed the game for Rice. They ran out the clock and celebrated their second win of the season, and their first at Rice Stadium.

Rice had that to play for — Bloomgren has done a great job of keeping his team ready despite so many close calls — and NT had just a chance at a bowl game in a season that started with much higher hopes.

This season is effectively over. There is one game to play: next week vs UAB on Senior Day. Outside of sending off Mason Fine and the other guys who helped revive the program, there will be nothing extra to play for.

Long time North Texas fans will remember that the last time the season ended this way it was 2015, and we had a coaching change. Seth Littrell will not be fired, but he will still he sought after despite this season’s outcome. He can point to the record book, the young talent on the roster, and the three bowl appearances as proof that he built something at NT.

The setbacks can be explained by acknowledging that he is a first-time coach and learning mistakes happen. There probably could have been some better decisions made in recruiting and hiring but it all has been for the good and this has been one of the most successful eras of the program that does not include a trophy case.

It is important to keep that perspective when attempting to digest an ugly loss such as this one. Rice, for all the very due praise they have gotten all season for being tough, is not as talented as NT from 1-85.

They made that not matter for a large portion of this game, however. A lot of that is coaching.

Offense

putting their The offense had only 238 yards on 57 plays. Rice wanted to choke the game by holding the ball but the real culprit was the poor execution. Fine threw an ugly early interception and missed a few receivers — including Greg White in the end zone. The line could not create space for Siggers not protect Fine often enough to get a rhythm.

Later, NT had a shot from the red zone after Rice fumbled. The refs did not call an interference call on 3rd-and-12 but NT was not exactly not exactly putting the Owl defense on their heels. They needed a 4th down conversion the previous drive and a ball to go through a defender’s hands on a pass to Lawrence.

Ultimately, NT had their chances to win and did not capitalize.

Defense

The Rice offense was solid and unspectacular. They scored 20 in the first half, aided by some short fields but scored when they needed to. The NT defense allowed some conversions early and that hurt them. Later in the second half they did well to force punts except on the final drive when they allowed a big first down on third and long.

NT brought heavy pressure and left Nick Harvey in single coverage. QB Tom Stewart lofted a pass to his big target Austin Trammel who had inside position and used his superior size to go up and get it. Rice used up more clock and then converted a game-sealing 3rd down on the ground.

Defense should be judged in two ways: comprehensive and situational. North texas did well overall and poorly in the latter category. The overall numbers are solid. Holding a team to 20 and under 350 is usually winning defensive football.

However, allowing red zone touchdowns and game sealing drives when you need a stop is not. The staff takes a lot of heat and some of it is very deserved — how, in a scheme that is designed to get pressure, does the squad not get enough pressure?

Some of it is undeserved — this defense is young and getting better weekly.

In this one everyone will remember that the defense was the last unit to make a losing play, but the gave the offense enough possessions and therefore opportunity to win.

Coaching

We wrote that Seth Littrell would earn his paycheck this week, as he had to motivate his group in a game that is very easy to dismiss against a team with nothing to lose, and hunger to impress.

There are a string of bad starts to this season — on the road and at home. SMU, Cal, this game come to mind quickly. North Texas is simply not ready to play to start the game. That is coaching.

The head coach is an offensive guru, and handpicked his new offensive coordinator. He said in preseason that he always had changes in mind for this year and wanted to be aggressive and more explosive.

Injuries have taken some of the experience from the team, but the mistakes that have plagued the group all year do not inspire confidence.

The criticism of the Air Raid system Littrell brought with him was of empty calories: big numbers but little in the way of details. Put another way it is “yes, you can have big per-game numbers but can you win a big game, or a big drive, or a high-leverage moment?”

Littrell’s group has pulled off some big plays in crucial moments but also has some huge, glaringly bad performances in others. It is discouraging to see his offense be the inconsistent performer in those games and moments.

Overall

This was a terrible loss. Rice deserves a lot of credit and Bloomgren has them playing well. Still, NT is further along the process than Rice is and had an all-timer at QB.

There is little reason to expect better in the finale against a better team than Rice, and a more experienced coach than Bloomgren. UAB beat Tech this day and combined with the USM loss to WKU, controls their fate in the west division.

Put simply: NT has nothing but pride to play for while UAB has a championship appearance on the line.

Categories
Football

2019: North Texas at Rice Preview

This has been a frustrating season, but one that was very predictable given the circumstances. The defense is young, and the offense has struggled to score enough to keep up. Mason Fine is the linchpin, and he has not finished something like four games this season due to injury.

It is easy to become “entitled” as a fan, especially in 2019, when every form of entertainment is a version of on-demand in your hands. Watching a college football program progress is very slow, and not as binge-able as Disney+ shows.

So it goes.

There is beauty and drama in this whole thing. All of the stories and entertainment we consume is because we love stories about other humans and while there is no unified, coherent, narrative beamed at your face there are lots of great stories here.

Mason Fine’s is the oft-told, and most compelling, obviously. He is a talented kid but undersized and under recruited until Seth Littrell’s staff took a chance and he made the most of it, becoming the all-time leader in practically all the passing statistics that North Texas tracks.

The frustrating thing about these stories is that we do not know where we are in the tale. Is this the end of a chapter or the entire tale of Mason Fine: Athlete Who Overcame Being Short? That kind of uncertainty can be off-putting because it is scary. It can remind you of your own life and how you cannot know what chapter you are on.

This weekend very well may be the end of your tale or mine. So we like the neater ones, buttoned up and ready for consumption and decidedly not existential.

So it is with our fandom of this program. There is some amount of over-caring about this football program because the rest of life can be so unwieldy and unmanageable. Some people treat the college football team with more oversight than they do their own local government — this site included.

It is not wrong, necessarily, but it is worth a bit of reflection. This site and this author can only tell you that I will be in Houston this weekend and that does not make me a better or worse fan. I will be there trying to enjoy my favorite college football team.

Rice

The best one-loss team in the nation was previously the best no-win team in the nation. Yes, the Rice Owls finally won a game — last week against Middle Tennessee in Murfreesboro. Head coach Mike Bloomgren is all-in on the Stanford-like offense he wants — Intellectual Brutaility he calls it — and he has built a program in that image.

As you might imagine, it has taken a while. Rice is not a particularly easy place to recruit to, but that is why the brass picked the former Stanford coordinator. So far, they need a quarterback, but they have the running backs.

In a lot of ways, this reminds me of the UTEP squad under Sean Kugler. Remember the Mean Green lost to that squad in late-season games also. Rice has the second-worst offense in the league (ODU) and cannot seem to get out of their own way.

North Texas is still playing for bowl eligibility while Rice is looking for a home win.

Defending Rice

Well, Rice does a lot of the defending for you, because they are not good. Yes, they are physical, but they are predictable. They run, run, pass, and when they do pass it is about a 50% proposition they will complete it.

North Texas has done well against poor offensive teams this season (UTSA, UTEP) and we can expect a lot of the same. A good portion of the game will hinge on the desire of the squad. If NT has checked out mentally, this can be a Rice win. If NT is hungry still, well they should beat Rice handily.

The Vegas line reflects this a bit: they have NT as about six-point favorites. Bloomgren has done a remarkable job of keeping his guys focused despite numerous near-misses. North Texas had higher expectations and has essentially failed to achieve them. That is the most compelling part of this matchup.

RB Aston Walter is nice, and has run for 100+ in four games this season. He can break one. QB Tom Stewart was not asked to do much for a large part of this season, but had a nice game against Middle’s poor secondary. He went 18/22 for 222 yards and three scores.

Attacking Rice

Rice is ranked 12th of 14 teams in the league in opponent passer rating. The teams below them are UTEP and Charlotte, the two squads against whom Mason Fine tossed 12 scores. The two above are UTSA and Middle, and Mason tossed three scores against those two combined.

Against all four of those, Mason Fine has a QB Rating of ~176, which is very good. All told, he should be able to put up numbers against this Rice squad. If he is unable to go, and we have to see Jason Bean or Austin Aune, they should be good in this one.

While Rice was able to hold USM to a muted game offensively, Southern Miss is known for their play at home, and poor road performances. The same can be said for Louisiana Tech, which struggled with Grambling also. Essentially, the teams that Rice defended well against are known for self-harm. The good teams they played were unaffected.

North Texas has been able to tear up the bad defenses in this league — Charlotte, UTEP, UTSA. All things being equal (everyone playing hard) this should not be a difficult game.

Every time NT goes to Rice, it is a satellite home game, as the NT section is loud and populated.

Random Notes

The last time NT played here (2017) they were sacked a ton, and we were upset with the performance. NT went on to get blown out by FAU in the title game and then again by Troy in the New Orleans Bowl.

Last year, NT started slowly at Apogee before blowing the game open and going on to win big. In 2016, we also played at Rice because of the change in league membership (UAB came back) and North Texas got its first big win in OT against the Owls.

Mason Fine finished 8/15 for 58 yards vs LA Tech. Last year he finished 8/12 for 59 yards against Utah St.

Fine is still 8 TDs away from 100 for his career.

The 2017, 2018, and 2019 teams all rank in the top-5 points-per-game in school history. This year’s squad is at 33.2. The 1951 team set the record with a 36.2 mark.

Since 2017, this year’s team has the lowest yards-per-game of those three teams at 449.6. In 2018, it was 460.5 and in 2017 it was 455.1. However, this year’s yards-per-play average is 6.22, which is the highest of the three seasons by a slight margin.

In Littrell’s four years, NT has not led the league in scoring or total offense but has been 2nd in each of the last three seasons.

Bowl Thoughts

We have said this year looks like seven wins is needed to guarantee a bowl appearance. That is out of reach, so NT is hoping six will do it. Rice is the easier of the two. UAB comes to Denton the next week, and that will be tough but UAB is going through some QB issues right now.

My gut tells me if NT gets invited to a bowl it will be close by, and that is probably best for all parties. The season has not built up anyone’s appetite for travel and NT has already been to New Orleans — the nearest “destination” bowl.

If NT can take care of getting eligible — a gigantic ‘if’ — my guess is like a Frisco Bowl.