Bear Attack Too Much for North Texas, Lose 17-23

BERKELEY, CA. — North Texas came into the game as underdogs and played like it to begin the game on a warm but nice California afternoon. Down 20-0 at the end of the first quarter, the contingent of Mean Green fans were antsy and thinking of the SMU game the week prior.

California was able to do the same type of things that the Mustangs did the week before: capitalize on single coverage on third downs, take advantage of penalties, and well, score.

Mason Fine and the offense were unable to muster much early, and things weren’t helped after Rico Bussey went down after nearly catching a ball thrown his way near the Cal sideline.

Tre Siggers still looks like a good option in the run game, powering through tackles and getting “should not” yards. In the end the comeback fell short. The defense got the stops it needed late — forcing a punt with just under 2 minutes left in the game after holding Cal to only 3-points in the final three quarters.

The offense did manage to get a touchdown when it needed one — a 4th-and–7 strike from Fine to Shorter to cut the lead to six. The Mean Green scored three in the first half and 14 in the second. Fine also hit Jaelon Darden on a bubble route that he took 68-yards for a score.

This was a missed opportunity as California was and is vulnerable but one that ultimately did not matter as much. The conference season begins next week against UTSA.

Offense

The much-maligned offense began slowly but with some new attacks. Adjusting to Cal’s 1-v-1 coverage (because of their quality secondary) the Mean Green tried to get the ball on the edge to their backs and to playmakers in space. Fine was hit and sacked too much and after Bussey went out there was no one that obviously stepped up to make plays in the pass game.

In the second half, there were seemingly some opportunities for up-temp action but NT moved a little slowly — even when trying to get the first of two needed touchdowns. Ultimately they scored when they needed one, but came up short on the other.

Mason Fine threw some questionable balls and also threw a terrible interception. Still, he is the best offensive player and he is in a tough position.

Defense

The defense had a different sort of challenge here. Cal’s RB Brown is 230 lbs and the Bears leaned on him throughout the game — especially after taking a lead. NT had Chase Garbers scramble, but he did manage to pick up a ton of first downs. Cal was able to take advantage of single-coverage and later, zone-backed three man fronts to pick up first downs.

This was going to be a test of physicality and not scheme. SMU’s Dykes and his staff are proven offensive schemers. Cal’s staff? Not so much that. There were fewer adjustments and NT’s lapses came because they were inexperienced and then the aggression did not pay off.

Hamilton, Johnson, LeBlanc played well, among others.

Coaching

Someone somewhere needs to stop the first quarter issue. Both Cal and SMU came out to 20+ point leads and while there were adjustments made, they made it harder on everyone.

Biagi’s group allowed a big return, but managed a FG and did not miss any kicks. Kenworthy pinned them back deep a couple of times.

Seth Littrell and Bodie Reeder have some questions to answer. On the podcast we speculated that it could be just a roster imbalance — young receivers and an 4th QB.

There is talent on the roster — Darden, Bussey, Siggers, Torrey, Easly et al. The idea that league play will bring some more even games is probable, but there are still good players in CUSA.

Next up:

UTSA at Apogee. The Roadrunners played NT well at the Alamodome to close out last season. The new offensive coordinator is bringing them out of the dark ages a bit, and they have some talent at QB now, but that has only shown twice in four games — NT last year, UIW this year. Against two good teams — Baylor and Army — they struggled to do much.

It is always difficult to gauge a team coming off a game against Army, but we know NT cannot take this game for granted. The record stands at 1-2 and this is a league game at home.