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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.

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North Texas vs UAB Halftime Thoughts

The audience for Mason Fine’s last game was paltry. We can go without saying that Mason Fine deserved a great sendoff, but Fine has nothing to play for today but to remain healthy for the NFL draft process.

UAB has dominated physically through most of the game, but have gotten in their own way through penalties and miscues. Mason Fine has not had enough time to string together multiple scoring drives due to UAB controlling the line of scrimmage.

North Texas continues to try to run up the middle for little success, and attempting deep pass plays and leaving Fine vulnerable for extended periods time. DeAndre Torrey was finally able to score one on the ground – his first of the season on the ground, late in the second half. North Texas’ play-calling has been a head-scratcher against this dominant defensive line this half, and you have to question how much they have left in the tank.

UAB has mostly been rolling with their backup QB, letting him and his backs run through the North Texas defense. While coming at the expense of North Texas, UAB has always had interesting personnel using more than 5 offensive linemen at a time. UAB’s passing game is not strong, but it is enough against this North Texas secondary who allowed many big pass plays.

UAB leads North Texas 17-14 heading into halftime.

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Mean Green Soccer Take On Arkansas

North Texas won the CUSA Tournament again. The team travel to Arkansas to play in the first round of the tournament against the 3rd ranked Razerbacks in this side of the bracket.

BRACKET

The NCAA site hype for the Razorbacks:

No. 3 Arkansas (16-3-2): The Razorbacks are the 2019 SEC runner-ups and are the only team to beat No. 1 seed North Carolina, this year. Watch out world, Arkansas can beat anybody. 

Of course, NT is pretty good also.

Game is Friday, November 15 in Fayetteville at 6:30pm. No word on broadcast as of yet

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UTEP vs North Texas Halftime Notes

The offense has gone heavy uptempo and heavy pass against UTEP this game. With the help of a special teams fumble recovery, Mason Fine scored three touchdown passes in less than three minutes of play in the first quarter. This is what the uptempo offense has hoped to be all season. The major factor in wins and losses has been the defense’s ability to stop scores.

The receivers have been getting open at will against UTEP’s defensive backs. Because of the pass game success, the running game has been quiet. This was likely part of the game plan going into this matchup.

So Mason Fine has got five (FIVE) touchdown passes. Two to Jaelon Darden, one to Jason Pirtle, one to Deonte Simpson, and one to Jyaire Shorter.

The special teams group had been performing very well this half, up until they allowed the kickoff return for a TD. The punt coverage has also wanted a piece of the pie and has stepped in and tipped at least one punt.

The defense allowed UTEP to march down the field on only a couple drives, giving up one offensive score. Additionally, the defensive backs have played aggressively – even with a few missed assignments here and there. An added wrinkle in this game is UTEP’s Treyvon Hughes being used in the wildcat, leading to UTEP’s lone score. That man is 6’1” and 235lbs. He is difficult to bring down.

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It’s Friday

It’s Mean Green Friday so yes, I am wearing green. It’s cold and so that means a sweater.

A thing that sucks about being a North Texas fan: there are a limited amount of sweater styles.

I have found myself resorting to some 1930s-style fandom and wearing green but without a logo.

This can also be interpreted as a sign of oncoming Old.

I have no response to this.

I want to eat some Trix and am excited to report that I have some in the pantry. Two points for me grabbing some on my Target run.

There is a halloween party later and I am dubious on the prospects of good food. The plan is to get a little food in me before heading out.

But, one never wants to be bloated in a halloween costume. Planning is key in this area, folks.

Enjoy. Remember Football should destroy UTEP tomorrow and we can all obsess about it.

Tonight, let us Friday.

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North Texas vs Middle Tennessee Half-Time Notes

North Texas has made it a tough game for themselves. The defense has given the offense enough opportunities to put some distance on Middle Tennessee, but the offense has not taken advantage. The offense has been slow to adjust to Middle Tennessee’s pressure. North Texas leads 17-16.

Fine marched the team down the field to earn the rushing touchdown on the first drive. Torrey had the start today, but it has mainly been the Jaelon Darden and Michael Lawrence show. The offense initially moved well against Middle Tennessee, winning with agility. MT adjusted and considerably slowed down the North Texas offense.

While I was thinking North Texas would focus on rushing the ball against Middle Tennessee, they have focused on the outside pass game. The Fine interception was to the outside, when he expected Greg White to cut inside, when instead White sat on his route.

North Texas defense has played man against the receivers while mostly rushing three. The defense has played conservatively in an attempt to contain O’Hara.

Middle Tennessee was a little more aggressive after the first UNT touchdown, blitzing multiple guys. On some plays, Middle Tennessee had ten guys within five yards of the line of scrimmage. The NT offensive line just can’t block the volume of defenders being blitzed, and passes aren’t being thrown to the inside.

Austin O’Hara frankly doesn’t give a damn (sorry not sorry) about protecting his body, juking guys or drop kicking those he can’t. It seems that the MT offense runs through his legs, and he continues to keep drives alive for his team. The North Texas defense has held, allowing only 16 points on multiple trips to the red zone.

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North Texas Gets Stomped by SMU: 27-49

I have an unofficial rule that when two teams are evenly matched it will result in a blowout. SMU came in with talent and depth in certain positions, and NT with talent and depth in others.

What happened was that their best players played better than the Mean Green versions. It is no more complicated than that. SMU’s Shane Buechele finished with big numbers, but his totals came in bunches in a very specific area: max-protecting and throwing lobs to James Proche or one of his colleagues at WR.

North Texas is young and/or inexperienced at nearly every position across the defense and a few busted plays are to be expected. We saw that tonight, as the pass rush — aided by extra LBs and occasionally DBs — was slow in execution and Buechele was left to throw to his talented WRs who were in single coverage.

NT occasionally won those battles, but too infrequently. Jameel Moore was called for 4 pass interference calls. Some were iffy, but some were right on.

All told, NT gave up too much too often and did not help the cause on that side of the ball.

Again, this was to be expected or at least be unsurprising to the knowledgable fan. SMU has a great offensive head coach who has had teams that produced big numbers and tons of yards at every stop in his career.

The thinking was that NT would be able to go toe-to-toe given the personnel on the Mean Green roster: Mason Fine, Rico Bussey, Mike Lawrence, Jaelon Darden, DeAndre Torrey and the like.

SMU came out aggressively, and NT looked like they wanted to finesse their way down the field to little success. Mason Fine was under pressure, and SMU was able to get three scores up quickly — 21-0.

NT found yet another bright spot on the running back depth chart in converted safety Tre Siggers (he played RB in HS). He brought the physicality that was lacking and trucked his way through multiple Ponies. Siggers finished with 164 yards on 18 carries (he had 9 for 124 at the half).

What success NT had on offense came in a spread-and-shred situation — going wide and letting Tre run through dudes. This was a nice change from the first quarter when NT could not convert on short yardage — and issue that has been present throughout Littrell’s tenure.

NT was within two scores but couldn’t hold off SMU in the second half. The Mean Green managed two field goals to start the third, while SMU got touchdowns. That is emblematic of the game.

NT’s offense needs to be a TD-a-possession type unit, and they were not. The NT defense has to come up big in some moments where they should not, but they did not do so early.

Coaching

Seth Littrell is in a tough situation, and he and Bodie Reeder probably got a little to clever to start things out. NT did not match the physicality early, and they paid for it. Aggression is more than just going for it on 4th down.

They did well to adjust and get Tre Siggers in to change the game. Troy Reffett’s defense got a little bit better, and if you squinted, you could see how the plan would work if everything was clicking.

I am not a fan of running Mason Fine in a keeper pretty much ever any more. Also, Fine played about one series too long .Bean did come in and throw a TD when the white flag was a-wavin’.

Offense

I mentioned aggression earlier and North Texas is sorely lacking in that department. There is talent all over the roster but precious little bully-ball on the outside. Deion Hair-Griffin is a burner but he did not challenge for one ball that was intercepted.

Jaelon Darden dropped three passes while he otherwise played fine. No one else could get open or make tough catches that require some fighting. Contrast that with SMU’s Roberson and Proche making some tough grabs while fighting some good coverage. They either won their matchups or made tough catches.

The bullying that Tre Siggers was doing to the SMU defense was invigorating. He got yards that should not be gotten — breaking a tackle and running through guys. For all the benefit of out running, out faking, out scheming the opponent there is much benefit to being stronger than the guy in front of you.

This is football, after all.

Bussey was held without a catch and Mason Fine managed just 152 yards on 17/32 throwing. There were too few NT guys open and when they were, they did not do much with it.

No one group wins or loses the game but this group had the ball 35 minutes and produced only 20 points in the competitive portion of the game. That is about 20 points fewer than the defense needs to keep in this thing.

Defense

We knew they would struggle this season but it was not fun to watch it happen. The pass rush was nullified early by some tempo, some good pass blocking, and some good scheming. Eventually LaDarius Hamilton and company were able to get to Buechele.

Sonny Dykes and Rashee Lashlee made some great adjustments — calling for a tunnel screen right after Buechele was laid out by Hambone. The defense is most vulnerable to screens after a sack, after all.

The execution of said screen was amazing and Proche was off into NT territory. The Ponies dialed up great plays to put their guys into winning positions and they won their battles. NT corners Nick Harvey and Cam Johnson had tough matchups and came in 2nd best all night — that is not a knock, just the facts.

Tyreke and KD Davis were able to show their speed at times and overall NT was aggressive in pursuit of the ball. The tackling was not always so amazing and NT had a handful of missed gap assignments that led to big runs for SMU’s Xavier Jones.

Overall this group struggled and missed some golden opportunities to get the ball back to the offense.

Special Teams

NT was 2/2 from field goal range and there was a blocked SMU kick. The punt game flipped the field a couple of times and pinned SMU back deep. Solid, winning football from this group even if it wasn’t in a winning effort.

Next up: California at Berkeley. The Golden Bears have a good defense and a questionable offense, but they have talent enough to take advantage of a young defense.

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Fine Throws Four, NT Rolls 51 ACU 31

If you had paid close attention, you knew that Mason Fine is good and that the defense had a lot of inexperience. North Texas jumped out big quickly but allowed Abilene Christian to outscore them in the second half 17-13 to make the score look something like respectable.

Mason Fine and company were up 38-10 at halftime, including 31-0 with 2:42 left in the first half.

The first game in Bodie Reeder’s offense started out brightly: Fine threw a TD on his first pass of the game. He completed his first ten passes and seven of those went for either first downs or touchdowns.

He finished 28/37 for 383 4TDs and 1 interception. His former HS teammate Jason Pirtle had four catches for three scores and 88 yards. NT had wanted to future the TE more, and it was converted WR Pirtle, and not Kelvin Smith who shined bright from the TE spot.

The Mean Green struggled a bit in short yardage, but were aggressive all night — going for it on 4th and 11 at one point (which saw Bussey get injured and leave for the night) and kept Fine in until midway through the 4th quarter.

The defense, filled with young and new faces, struggled late. ACU scored 10 to end the first half, and then had 21 in the second. There were some blown tackles and missed assignments, and NT was a step slow getting to the QB which allowed the ACU receivers to win one-on-one matchups outside.

With so many new faces, there was always going to be some growing pains. So it goes.

Heisman Watch

Mason Fine put up big numbers but they are relatively pedestrian for the competition faced, and the offense he runs. Four scores is nice, but fairly common for good QBs in the modern game. Still, good enough to hit the milestones: Big number of TDs, big yardage.

Offense Watch

Bodie Reeder called a nice first quarter. He had ACU reeling. Some of that was unfamiliarity — NT was going to a new offense and showed a lot of new looks and play calls.

There were still a few too many Fine designed runs for my taste and NT struggled in short yardage — kicking field goals instead of scoring touchdowns.

Seth Littrell wanted more aggression and he got it. NT went for it on 4th down a number of times but that also meant they were not getting 3rd down conversions — just 5/13 for the night.

I expect there were a number of things held in reserve ahead of SMU and later California. NT felt they could beat ACU with one or two new things but some basic stuff. For the most part, that was the case.

Totals: 575 total offense, 383 passing, 192 rushing for 8 yards per play. Yes it is an FCS squad.

Reffett-endum

Troy Reffett calls an aggressive defense and if everyone is not on time getting to their spots, openings will be exploited. We mentioned this in the season preview. There were some nice things shown by the defense, but the free rushers were a step slow too often and allowed ACU to go one-on-one against the new DBs.

Nick Harvey was beat a couple of times, but he had no help in the middle of the field. ACU was running post routes there and had way too much time to throw them.

While the starters are the “starters”, there are a number of spots that were just won in fall camp and so things can change. The good news is that Reffett has Mason Fine giving him some cushion, but the bad news is that is a precarious situation.

Biagi Time

Deion Hair-Griffin took one to the house and started the game off with a big return that set up the offense with a short field. It is a three-phase game, as Seth Littrell so often says, and that is important to remember.

Ethan Mooney kicked three FGs from under 30, and Kentworthy pinned the ACU offense inside the 20 twice in two kicks.

Future Thinking

North Texas has SMU next week. They are a full-FBS squad but are still in year two of their rebuild. Shane Buechele has more talent and will make North Texas pay for mistakes in the secondary.

Meanwhile, NT will get a little talking-to this week, and look to improve on the things that can be improved upon.

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MGN Book Club

On the MGN Slack, a slacker posed the question “What should I do now?” after the men’s basketball team lost in the tournament.

Typically, this is when MGN takes a break and talks to immediate family, and checks in with the world. On the Slack channel, I joked “you should read.”

I thought a little more about it and, desiring an increased knowledge level that comes with book-sumption (that is book consumption combined because we are kewl) I figured a book club would be something to do.

There are about five or so people that have either liked this on twitter or said ‘sure, why not’ on the Slack. That is enough.

The Goal: 10 Books by Start of Fall Practice

Yeah, that is ambitious but we are quality men and women and we can do such things. Again, the goal is to get some reading done and also have a place to discuss it with like-minded folks. To that end, I will suggest some books and curate this list.

Please get at me with your suggestions. We will begin the reading April 1st.

I’m going to list some books that are on my desk, and some others that may be interesting and relatively available. Email, tweet, or DM me with your suggestions and I will formulate a list.

Book Suggestions

Damon Young — What Doesn’t Kill You Makes You Blacker
Jon Meacham — Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power
Christopher Hitchens — Love, Poverty, and War
Brent Schuldner and Rick Tetzeli — Becoming Steve Jobs

Ernest Hemingway — The Sun Also Rises
Fyodor Dostoevsky — Notes From The Underground
John Le Carré — Tinker Tailor Solider Spy
JG Ballard — High-Rise

Let me know your suggestions. We will talk about this on the next podcast, which should record this Sunday.

photo credit: nhighberg Chicago -- June 2018 via photopin (license) | MGN
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2019 CUSA Basketball Tournament

It all begins today.

The men and women get started — with Jalie Mitchell’s team to begin against Southern Miss this morning at 11am. Last season, the women made a little run only to be snuffed out by the eventual tournament champs WKU. This season the roster looks a bit different, but the team is still the hard-fighting squad we saw last year.

The men, of course, are the most well-known and begin this run with a huge challenge: beat FIU, the team that won twice in Florida and just a few days ago by a huge margin. Zach Simmons was quoted saying “they won’t beat us three times” but that comes off as self-hyping bluster.

The kind of quote to help a person believe what they are saying.

It is helpful and necessary and the fans hope he backs it up. This season started out with prowess and acclaim and is now in head-scratching mode. The period from the tough loss vs Tech in the first round of last year’s tournament (in front of a big crowd) to just after the loss at home vs WKU this season was a period of sustained success.

It was inevitable that NT sort of played something like the sum of its parts or succumbed to injury, but the bad luck and poor shooting are like a curse hanging over this team. For the good of everyone with something of an interest in the program — from Grant all the way down to the concessionaires — here is hoping the program can find one game where they do not have offensive woes.

FIU is tough and probably does not need much introducing. The problems for North Texas lie with themselves and their ability to shoot. The talented scorers on the Mean Green team have not been able to put the ball in the basket. This has been said on many a podcast and many a blog post and now, even by Grant himself.

That we all recognize the truth and the facts does not necessarily help anyone change those facts. NT will have 40 minutes to change the story.