Clutch In Ruston: North Texas 24 La Tech 23

North Texas went into Ruston, LA and gutted out a victory. Sure, it required a missed Louisiana Tech Field Goal attempt and all of the 203 yards passing by Mason Fine but victories are victories. North Texas is now 6-3, 5-1 on the year and bowl eligible (by wins) for the first time in Seth Littrell’s two year career.

The offense managed 415 yards of offense but a good majority of that came late, as NT closed the game out with a scoring drive and then killed the clock.

Jeff Wilson accounted for 45 yards on the 9-play 78-yard drive to put NT ahead 24-23 with 6:04 left in the game. Then he accounted for 34 yards to seal the final drive and kill the clock.

North Texas’ best offensive player struggled in Denton against ODU but showed his quality in Ruston this afternoon, sealing the win. He had 20 carries for 165 yards and 2 scores, and 2 receptions for 16 yards.

In a game where the much-maligned North Texas defense held Louisiana Tech to only 23 points, and 3.58 yards rushing, Jeff Wilson provided just enough offense to putll out the clutch road victory.

Mason Fine was held to 203 yards, 1 TD and 1 back-breaking INT as La Tech’s gameplan of keeping everything short and in front of them worked. NT only managed a couple of 15+ yard passes, but all were hugely important. The 22-yard dime to Rico Bussey tied the game at 17 (thanks to a penalty, NT was allowed to rekick the PAT). Later, Mason Fine found Mike Lawrence for 25 yards to get to the La Tech 42 yard line that helped set up Jeff Wilson’s go-ahead 14 yard TD.

Offense

The offense struggled with La Tech’s secondary and took more sacks than was necessary. This blog has posited that NT is quality in the 4th quarter and that showed today, as the offense produced two quality drives to go-ahead, and then seal the game.

Mason Fine struggled and the interception was probably more miscommunication than anything, but it is his fifth straight game with at least one interception and his 9th on the year.

Jeff Wilson likely could have gotten the rock earlier, but was handed the ball when it counted. He produced when it counted which was huge. Despite everything NT’s offense came up when it counted and that is all that can be asked.

Defense

The much-maligned defense produced quality stop after quality stop, as the held the La Tech offense to FG after FG, and were rewarded with a bit of luck late as the final attempt went wide left.

Tech has talent and were held to 315 yards and only 168 passing, a weak spot for this defense. The 14 points in the second quarter were the only TDs allowed by the defense all game. Eric Jenkins played an incredible game and was robbed of a huge interception that would have held La Tech in the 3rd.

On a day where the offense struggled, the defense came up big and held La Tech to only 23 points and gave the NT offense a chance to win it late. That is all that can be asked of this group.

Rod Young and Tillman Johnson had sacks, and Kishawn McClain led the team in tackles with 8.

Overall

Seth Littrell hasn’t had great success on the road and this game brought a lot of pressure. His group pulled out an ugly win and that cannot be dismissed out of hand. La Tech was the favortite to win the divison and North Texas beat them in their house to take control of the divison.

NT is bowl eligible (by wins) for the first time since 2013, and that is significant progress just two years removed from the Portland State fiasco. The Mean Green are 5-1 in conference play and undefeated in the West division with UTEP and Rice — two of the worst teams in college football — remaining. NT just needs one more win to clinch the division and still has a longshot to host the CUSA title game in Denton if FAU were to drop a couple of games.

This has been a remarkable turnaround for a program that was thought to be years away from challenging for a CUSA title.

Next up

UTEP in Denton for homecoming. North Texas can wrap up the division and maintain the undefeated home record by beating the Miners next week.